Delhi is more than just the capital and the political epicentre of the country. A fascinating paradox describable only through experience, it is a microcosm of cultures, ethnicities and mindsets. Mughal architecture juxtaposed against sky-scrapers, slums in the back alleys of multi-storey shopping malls, 5-star monoliths beside derelict buildings, sedans alongside rickshaws and aristocracy amidst poverty; the city will thrust you into a whirlwind of firsts.
The numerous places to visit in Delhi will leave you enthralled to the core. A mélange of mystery, mayhem and history, the city is the political epicentre of the country and is also home to the most significant historical marvels of India. While the alleys of Old Delhi and its teeming bazaars are a riot of colours and street fare, the greatest monuments like the Jama Masjid, Red Fort and the Qutab Minar uphold the magnificence of Mughal architecture. Even as the city expands swarming with developments, massive colonial architectures continue to be preserved alongside. The city’s lesser known wonders like the Safdarjung’s Tomb or the tomb of Mirza Ghalib are equally enjoyable. Spend a good time here to fully explore Delhi’s major hubs, in the tiny nooks and crannies and there’s a chance that you’ll run into something spectacular at almost every turn.
The subsequent paragraphs give an overview of the best places to explore in Delhi. Have a look:
Named after the Muslim sultan Qutab-ud-din Aibak, this striking tower is 238 feet high, with 376 steps, and the tallest stone tower in India. Qutub-ud-din Aibak began construction in 1193; his son-in-law and successor, Iltutmish, added the top four stories. The result is a handsome sandstone example of Indo-Islamic architecture, with terra-cotta frills and balconies. At its foot lies the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid, the first mosque in India. The Muslims erected the mosque in the 12th century after they defeated the Hindu Chauhan dynasty—they built it on the site of a Hindu temple and used pillars and other materials from 27 demolished Hindu and Jain shrines. (Which explains why you see Hindu and Jain sculptures in the mosque) The mosque is also famous for a 24-foot-high, 5th-century iron pillar, inscribed with six lines of Sanskrit. According to legend, if you stand with your back to the pillar and can reach around and touch your fingers, any wish you make will come true. (Unfortunately, it’s now fenced off.)
Red Fort/Lal Qila
The Red Fort, also known as Lal Qila, was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan between 1638 and 1648, after he shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi. Now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also an enduring symbol of political authority. The fort houses official buildings such as the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) and the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), religious structures such as the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) as well as private ones such as the hammam (bath) and the Rang Mahal (painted palace). If you’re visiting during the day, it’s best to hire a guide to take in the fort’s history and architecture.
Old Fort/Purana Qila
It is widely believed that the Old Fort stands on the site of the ancient city of Indrapasthra, legendary capital of the Pandavas in the Sanskrit epic ‘Mahabharata’. The construction of Purana Qila, or Old Fort, was initiated by Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1533 AD, not long before he was defeated by the Afghan Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah added to the complex, resulting in a fascinating blend of Mughal, Afghan and Hindu architecture. Only one of three original entrances to the fort, the Bara Darwaza, remains open to the public and it is here that a visit begins. Via lawns and formal gardens you’ll find your way to the impressive Qila-I-Kuna mosque and the two storey, red-sandstone ‘Sher Mandal’ pavilion library where it is believed 16th century Mughal emperor Humayan fell to his death.
An exquisite statement in red sandstone and marble, India’s largest mosque was the last monument commissioned by Shah Jahan. Completed in 1656 after six years of work by 5,000 laborers, it’s arguably one of the loveliest houses of worship in the world. Three sets of broad steps lead to two-story gateways and a magnificent courtyard with a square ablution tank in the center. The entire space is enclosed by pillared corridors, with domed pavilions in each corner. Thousands gather to pray here, especially on Friday.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Humayun’s Tomb is one of the prominent historical places in Delhi. One of the finest examples of Mughal architecture before the Taj Mahal, it is surrounded by charbagh, or four square garden with water channels and a central mausoleum. Although Sikandar Lodi’s tomb was the first garden-tomb to be built in India, it is Humayun’s tomb which set up a new vogue, the crowning achievement of which is the Taj at Agra. There is also a somewhat common human impetus behind these two edifices-one erected by a devoted wife for her husband and the other by an equally or more devoted husband for his wife.
Several rulers of the Mughal dynasty lie buried here. Bahadur Shah Zafar had taken refuge in this tomb with three princes during the first war of Independence (AD 1857).
On the southwestern side of the tomb is located barber’s tomb (Nai-ka-Gumbad) which stands on a raised platform, reached by seven steps from the south. The building is square on plan and consists of a single compartment covered with a double-dome.
Jantar Mantar (Yantra – instruments, mantra – formulae) was constrcted in 1724. Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur who built this observatory went on to build other observatories in Ujjain Varanasi and Mathura. Jai Singh had found the existing astronomical instruments too small to take correct measurements and so he built these larger and more accurate instruments. The instruments at Jantar Mantar are fascinating for their ingenuity, but accurate observations can no longer be made from here because of the tall buildings around.
Source: Fodors and Frommers