New Delhi (and Delhi)

New Delhi (and Delhi)


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The area around Delhi has been inhabited since about 500 BC. In the 12th century Delhi became northern India's most important Hindu center, when the Chauhans took control over the area. In 1193 Muslim Qutab-ud-din Aibak conquered the city and the Delhi Sultanate ruled from 1206 until 1526. After that the powerful Moghuls took over and in 1857 six centuries of Muslim rule ended. During the time of the Moghuls, most of Delhi's Old City was built. The most significant monuments were built by emperor Shah Jahan who ruled from 1628 to 1658.

In 1803 the British installed a British administrator in Delhi. At that time it was not the country's capital, but it was one of its most important commercial centers, with a population of about 150,000 at the beginning of the 20th century (15 million at the start of the 21st century). In 1911 they decided Delhi would become India's capital and New Delhi was built.

Only 16 years after the inauguration of the new capital, India and Pakistan became independent and the Partition caused 1 million of Delhi's Muslims to move to Pakistan and 2 million Hindu's, mostly from Lahore to move to Delhi. Nowadays Delhi is an overcrowded, smelly, polluted and noisy city, but despite of all that there are numerous sights that make the capital an interesting place to explore. Some of Delhi's monuments belong to the most architecturally striking in India. The city is home to several formidable mosques, monuments and forts. It's a lively area of colorful bazaars, narrow streets and barely controlled chaos and although it's a very large city, it is easy to navigate.

Delhi sits at the western end of the Gangetic Plain, bordered on the eastern side by the state of Uttar Pradesh, and on the other three sides by the state of Haryana. It is an excellent place to base yourself if you want to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal, as well as Jaipur. Delhi is northern India's main transportation hub, so you'll probably end up there one way or another when traveling through the country.

Places to Visit in 'Old' Delhi

Red Fort

The Red Fort (or Lal Qila) is called so, because it was built out of red sandstone, causing its reddish color. The walls around the fort were built in 1638 by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan. They are 33 m (108 feet) high and provide good views over the surrounding neighborhoods. Inside the walls, all the noise and hustle of the city disappear and the fort is a haven of peace in the chaotic city. There are beautiful gardens around the Red Fort and large crowds gather around the Lahore Gate, the fort's main gate, each year on Independence Day.

The Chatta Chowk is the covered bazaar that leads into the fort's compound. Within the fort's walls are several buildings, including the Drum House, the Hall of Public Audiences, the white marble Hall of Private Audiences, the Pearl Mosque, the Royal Baths and the Palace of Color. In the evenings a sound and light show displays the fort's history.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India. About 25,000 devotees can fit in its courtyard. Shah Jahan, who also built the Red Fort, constructed the mosque in 1644. The mosque is beautifully decorated and its two 40m (135 feet) tall minarets have distinctive strips of red sandstone and white marble. The Jama Masjid has four smaller towers and three entrances. You can visit the mosque and you can hire robes that cover your shoulders and legs. It will probably by one of the few times you can dress like one of the locals and don't feel like an idiot.

Chandni Chowk

The Chandni Chowk is 'Old' Delhi's main drag. There is a colorful bazaar and the chaos is just unimaginable. There are street-vendors and artists, rickshaws and traffic congestions 24 hours a day. During the times of the Moghul emperors the street was renowned throughout the continent for its beauty. It was lined with marvelous mansions and a canal ran through its center. At the eastern end of the street, not far from the Red Fort is a Jain temple, while the Fatehpuri Mosque is at its western end. The mosque was built in 1650 by one of Shah Jahan's wives.

Spice Market

The street that runs from the Fatehpuri Mosque to the western end of the old city is called Khari Baoli. It is one huge spice market and it hasn't changed for centuries. It is a unique experience to wonder around there and take in the sights and above all the smells of innumerable different sorts of spices and herbs. Laborers bring in the goods that include lentils, rice, jars of chutneys, pickles, nuts, tea and of course spices, on long, narrow barrows.

Humayun's Tomb

The beautiful Humayun's Tomb was built in the 16th century and is one of the best-preserved Moghul buildings. It has high, arched entrances and a massive dome. There are nice gardens around it. Haji Bagum, the wife of the second Moghul emperor Humayun, erected the tomb after her husband's death. Decorations similar to the ones on the tomb were later used in refined forms on the Taj Mahal in Agra. Smaller tombs in the gardens were built for Humanyn's wife and his barber.

Qutab Minar

Qutab Minar is a 73 m (240 feet) high tower that symbolizes Islamic rule of Delhi. The tower was erected by Qutab-ud-din to celebrate his victory over Delhi's last Hindu kingdom in 1193. It has 5 stories, each one narrower that the one below. At its base the tower measures 15 m (50 feet) in diameter, while the top it is only 2.5 m (8 feet). The two highest floors are made out of marble and sandstone, while for the rest of the tower only sandstone was used. The stairs inside are very steep and narrow and have been closed to the public ever since a stampede caused several deaths in 1979.

India's oldest mosque stands at the foot of the tower. The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque was built from the rubble that was left after 27 Hindu temples were destroyed, or so an inscription above its eastern entrance says. In the mosque's courtyard stands a metal pillar, where you can make a wish if you can encircle it with your hands whilst standing with your back to it.

Raj Ghat

A commemorative ceremony takes place every Friday in the district of Raj Ghat, at the black marble monument that stands on the place where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated after his assassination in 1948. The monument stands near the banks of the Yamuna River. Two museums dedicated to Gandhi are in the vicinity.

The cremation of Jawaharlal Nehru took place at Shanti Vana (Forest of Peace), not far away and the park is a nice place to get away from all the hustle. The Zinat-ul Masjid, which means the 'most beautiful of all mosques' is also situated in Raj Ghat.

Coronation Durbar Site

The Coronation Durbar Site is the place where the durbars were enacted in 1877 and 1903 and where King George V was declared emperor of India in 1911. It is marked by an obelisk in a large field, north of 'Old' Delhi. A walled garden nearby has the marble statues of former Imperial dignitaries, including a 15 m (50 feet) high one of King George V. That statue was removed from its original place along Rajpath, not long after India's independence.

Shalimar Bagh

The Shalimar Garden is on the outskirts of Delhi, some 10 km (6 miles) northwest of 'Old' Delhi. It is the city's most significant Moghul garden and the site where Aurangzeb was crowned emperor in 1658. The Shish Mahal, the garden's pavilion, was built by Shah Jahan.

Sulabh International Museum of Toilets

The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets is the world's largest toilet museum. Since you will probably have some uncomfortably toilet experiences when visiting the country, it might be a good idea to visit this museum as well. The money raised by the museum is used to install waste disposal systems in Delhi. Inside the museum you can see the development of toilets, including a sewer system from 2500 BC. India was the world's first country to develop a waste sewage system, although during your visit to the country you might sometimes thing that system is still in use today.

New Delhi

When the British decided that Delhi would become the capital of India in 1911, New Delhi was built on a grand scale by the Imperial rulers, not far (enough) south of Delhi. It only took 20 years before New Delhi became part of ever expanding Delhi again. Architect Edward Lutyens planned most of the avenues and marble buildings, on a scale that echoed the old Moghul architecture; although most buildings were build without any reference to Indian building styles. Because of its spacious design, there are few shaded areas in New Delhi.

There are several interesting sights in New Delhi. The Indian President resides in the Rashtrapati Bhavan (in British times it was the residence of the Viceroy). Parliament House is also in New Delhi, as well as the Secretariat buildings. New Delhi is India's seat of government and capital. The India Gate is a 40 m (135 feet) high memorial and the Rajpath is a wide avenue where parades are held occasionally. Most action takes place around Connaught Place.

Other Activities

Delhi has numerous sporting facilities, but they are all quite expensive. You can play tennis and golf at the New Delhi Golf Club. Most of the better hotels have private swimming pools, but you can also try the public one in the Talkatora Gardens. That one is not very hygienic though.

The same can be said for most of the city's water bodies. Dinghys can be rented along the Rajpath to peddle around the pools and pedal boats are available at the Purana Qila. Rock climbing can be done at Lado Sarai adventure park.

When to Go

The best time to visit Delhi is between November and March, when the weather is usually dry and not too hot, on average temperatures hover between 21 and 30°C (70-86°F) during that period.

Some of the city's major festivities are also held during the better time of year, including the Republic Day march in January and the Hindu festival of Holi in February or March, depending on the year. During the festivities that mark the end of the winter, people throw large quantities of colored water and powder at each other.

In March or April, Hindus celebrate Rama's birth by reading the Ramayana at temples all over Delhi. A similar festival by Sikhs, known as Baisakhi is held in April or May. They read the Granth Sahib and have massive feasts afterwards. In July the International Mango Festival is held in the Talkatora Stadium and during the months of August and September there are heaps of things going on, such as Ganesh Chaturthi, the celebration for the elephant-headed gods, Janmashtami, to commemorate Krishna's birth and Ram Lila, which lasts 10 days. During this last festival the Ramayana is reenacted and large pictures of the demon, Ravana are burnt. At the end of October, during the festival of Diwali, Hindu people light oil lamps to guide their god Rama home from exile.

Muslims in Delhi celebrate their usual Muslim festivals, including Ramadan to commemorate the revelation of the Qu'ran to Mohammed and Id-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Id-ul-Fitr is usually celebrated at the Jama Masjid.

At the end of April the weather starts to get very hot and until July it is intolerably hot. After that it gets cooler, but it rains most of the day until September/October.

Transportation

Delhi has air connections with most other large cities in India, as well as numerous international destinations. The Interstate Bus Terminal, at the Kashmiri Gate, just north of the 'Old' Delhi Railway Station is Delhi's main bus station, where coaches to other cities in India are available. Long-distance trains also connect Delhi with the rest of the country.

Transportation within Delhi can be problematic, as buses are overcrowded and traffic congestions make it almost impossible to drive anywhere anyway. Especially during rush hours it is better to stay in your hotel, or have a meal somewhere. Taxis are widely available, but negotiate the fare before getting in. Auto-rickshaws are usually cheaper and faster on short routes, but also negotiate the price first. Cycle rickshaws are only available in 'Old' Delhi. You can also rent a bike and explore the city cycling you. Be careful in the chaotic traffic though.

The first stage of a metro system, which should help to solve the city's traffic problems, was opened in December 2002.

Accommodation and Food

Connaught Place in New Delhi is a good place of reference when wondering around Delhi. There are many airline offices, banks and travel agents. 'Old' Delhi is only several kilometers to the north. Most of the cheaper hotels and hostels are situated around Paharganj, not far from the New Delhi Railway Station and along the Janpath. There are countless bars and restaurants all over the city, but nightlife is very limited because of the capital's restrictive licensing laws.


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Miscellaneous Information

Latitude:    18 58 N
Longitude: 72 50 E
Elevation:  n/a

Population: 15,000,000
Cost-of-living compared to Washington D.C.: n/a

Hours from UTC: 5:30
Daylight savings time: n/a

City phone code: 11
Country phone code: 91

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