Think about everything you’ve ever heard about India, in particular, Delhi. The one that stands out is probably that it’s “an assault on your senses”. It’s a cliché, and yet when you visit Delhi for the first time, you’ll understand why it’s such an overused phrase.
Delhi is quite unlike any other city. It is a city of contrasts – a city of extreme poverty and excessive wealth. A city packed full of people, a city of ancient Islamic and British colonial architecture residing side by side. But most of all, it is a city of intrigue.
Delhi, more than any other part of India is exhausting. But like the country overall, it gets under your skin and will remain with you long after you leave.
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Pahar Ganj, in the old part of the city, is dirty and grungy and you can buy pretty much anything very cheaply from the markets that line the main street. But it is also so very interesting. There is an urgency about the pace of life here, frenetic activity all around, and yet you’ll see the chai wallers amidst the stalls urging people to stop, rest and drink chai – make sure you do, it’s such a lovely sweet, comforting drink.
The old part of Delhi is a stark contrast to Connaught Place, the new part of the city, which could rival the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, with its sleek modern buildings and global chains.
And yet it all seems to fit together somehow.
There are more than 1000 monuments in Delhi, far too many to visit in any one trip, but it does mean there is something interesting to see regardless of your tastes or your mood. And there’s always one more “unmissable” site to return to.
The Red Fort is perhaps one of the most popular of the attractions in the city. The citadel was built from red sandstone on the banks of the Yamuna river in 1638 for Shah Jajan, the fifth Mughal Emperor. Shah Jahan is best known for building that other landmark in India – the Taj Mahal.
And while not as famous as that mausoleum in Agra, Red Fort is still impressive. Giant red sandstone walls rise up 33 metres to surround the fort. And the opulence and mite of the Mughal empire is reflected throughout. From the Royal Baths and Pearl Mosque to the Hall of Public and Private Audiences.
The Jama Masjid, also built by Shah Jahan, is the oldest mosque in Delhi and the largest in India. Built on a grand scale, the mosque has a courtyard large enough for 25,000 people. Building began in 1644 and was completed in 1656 at a cost of one million rupees.
Standing in the central court, watching the birds fly overhead and the thousands of locals and tourists meandering through the great corridors and central courtyard, it’s difficult not to be awed by the site of this impressive structure.
At 80 metres long, 27 metres wide and 41 metres high at its tallest point, the structure is immense. But it’s also visually spectacular. The red sandstone contrasts with the white marble inlay, three marble domes sit on top of the main Prayer hall, all topped with gold adornments.
The mosque has three gates, four towers and two 40-metre high minarets also constructed from red sandstone and white marble.
Perhaps one of the most significant structures in Delhi is Humayun’s Tomb. Built in 1565AD it is the first example of Mughal architecture in Delhi and, according to UNESCO is the first “grand dynastic mausoleum” which became synonymous with the Mughal architecture and resulted, finally, in the Taj Mahal.
Humayun’s Tomb features a four quadrant garden setting said to be inspired by the description of paradise set out in the Quran. Inside the walled enclosure the most notable features are the garden squares (Charbagh) set with water channels.
The octagonal mausoleum features a 42.5 metre high dome adorned with intricate designs of inlaid marble and glazed ceramic.
In contrast to the history and Islamic architecture of Old Delhi sits New Delhi. As well as modern buildings and global chains, the new section of the city houses several government buildings and official residences built in a British colonial architecture style.
Buildings include Parliament House, the Rashtrapati Bhawan, once the Viceroy’s residence and now the official residence of the President of India and India Gate, a 42 metre high archway that commemorates the 70,000 soldiers that lost their lives fighting for the British Army in World War I.
The best way to see Delhi is to jump in a tuk tuk or, preferably, on the back of a cycle rickshaw and get amongst the chaos. As you weave your way through the traffic and past the highlights you’ll no doubt be charmed by this fascinating city.
Want to see this for yourself?
Check out our 2019 highlights of India tour here.
Diane Squires is a tour host with Two’s a Crowd.