The Majestic Delhi – By Dr. Sameena Khan


 

Rich and deeply embedded in history, contemporary in every aspect and a hyper metropolis; Delhi is a complete holiday package. It is one of the favorite destinations of tourists who want to get a taste of Indian culture, history and a world class experience. Being a capital of various imperial dynasties for over a millennium, being sacked and restored multiple times over the ages, Delhi will continue to enthrall and awe every lover and researcher of history. But history is not just what Delhi has to offer. Being the capital of present day India, it is modern in every sense of the word with a high class metro rail transport system, an excellent hospitality legacy, malls and avenues with world renowned designer stores, a film city, multiplexes, state of the art resorts, relaxation centers and spas and so much more. So if you are looking for an amalgamation of leisure and a step back into time, Delhi is the place for you to be this year.

One would like to begin their trip to Delhi with a 2-3 day tour of the city’s many historic monuments. To purchase a travel guide which focuses on these monuments would be a fabulous idea. It would be prudent to begin one’s sight-seeing experience with monuments in a chronological order so as to see the transition in architecture, lifestyle, administration and culture brought about by different dynasties unfold before the eyes, in a manner as if it is really happening in this day and time. Although the old city contains the most famous of these monuments, one will find a wall, a small tomb, a Saray (resting stations on highways in by-gone days) or even a fort in the new city as well. There is a mix of both Muslim and Hindu architecture to admire;  the monuments that best survive till date are Muslim as they ruled for the maximum duration in Delhi, as late as the 18th century. Almost all of them have been enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage sites.  There is definitely a list of absolute essentials that one needs to fit into their itinerary on a trip to Delhi, no matter how short the visit is.

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Qutub Minar, the oldest surviving monument and the second tallest minaret in India is a winner. What makes it alluring is that being so old, it stands tall to this day and lives to tell the tale of the rulers who had it built.  Its construction began in 1193, commissioned by Qutub ud Din Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi and was completed by a ruler of another dynasty in 1368. It is surrounded by a beautiful complex known as the Qutub Complex comprising of the Quwwatul Islam Mosque that was built around the same time and ruins of structures from preceding Hindu dynasties. An iron pillar, believed to date back to the 4th century CE, is another attraction of this complex because of its extreme corrosion resistance, demonstrating the superb skills of ancient Indian blacksmiths and also because of the inscriptions on the pillar which are believed to be an ode to the King Chandragupta II of that period. Being 1600 years old, this pillar is the only structure that remains of the Jain temple that once stood here before the Muslim conquest. After reveling in the experience of the Qutub complex, one would like to move to the Red Fort which is a pride and hallmark of not just Delhi, but India itself. Built centuries later by the fifth Great Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in 1648, this colossal structure of red sandstone, high walls, imposing gates and beautiful palaces inside it demonstrate the glory and splendor of the Mughal Dynasty which was at its zenith during this period. Indian National Day celebrations begin at this iconic monument twice every year. The fort is located in the old city which was once known as Shahjahanabad. Very close to the red fort is the historic Chandini Chowk market and the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque of India (also built by Shahjahan).

Kareem Restaurant
Karim Restaurant

The old city visit is incomplete without a meal in Karim’s, the oldest and most famous restaurant of Delhi offering calorie packed but delicious Mughlai cuisine. The restaurant itself is believed to have been pioneered by the successors of the royal cooks of the Mughal palace themselves, bringing royal food to the common man’s plate.

The Tomb of Mirza Ghalib

Other sites of interest would be the city zoo housed inside Sher Shah Suri Fort believed to be the oldest fort of Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb, tombs of various other rulers, spiritual figures like Syed Mohammad Nizamuddin as well as the world renowned, lovelorn poet – Mirza Ghalib.  The British era has also left a significant contribution in Delhi and this is visible in nearly the entire new city, popularly called Lutyens’ Delhi after the city’s planner, British architect Edwin Lutyens.

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His architectural genius is demonstrated by the regal Rashtrapati Bhawan (President House); which was formerly known as Viceroy House, India Gate; another modern Indian icon, the Secretariat,and a serene Bungalow Zone among others.  This pretty much suffices the historical expedition of Delhi and one can safely move on to explore other Delhi attractions like the Lotus and the Akshardham temples; other architectural treats, the various museums and art galleries in the city including the National Museum of Delhi, the Nehru Memorial Museum and the Gandhi Smriti.

Zari Embroidery of Delhi
Zari Embroidery of Delhi

Delhi is a shopper’s delight. Whether one wants to splurge on local designers, or just street shop from the many flea markets of Delhi, there will be no disappointment. The most frequented markets of Delhi include the aforementioned Chandini Chowk, which offers the best there is in traditional Indian embroidery and ‘Zari’ threadwork which is a specialty of this zone, a magnificent skill passed on through generations of artisans that lived here from the times of the ancient Muslim rulers to the present day. Other places to visit include Central Market of Lajpat Nagar, often jokingly called Jhatpat Nagar (meaning QUICK PLACE) due its “one stop-shop” nature; everything you need to buy is available in this market.

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The market at Connaught Place is also worth a visit. Dilli Haat is a favorite of those who like to buy handicrafts and handloom articles. The traveler must make sure to bargain in most of these markets as tourists; especially westerners are often mugged with very high prices. The city also has high-end malls and multiplexes for entertainment purposes.

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When in Delhi, one must leave all diet plans and calorie conscience behind them for the vast platter of dining choices that await the visitor are amongst the most evil of temptations in this city. Delhi is a food lover’s paradise. The Garden of Five Senses in Mehrauli is an exquisite retreat for those wishing to enjoy the serenity and calmness of nature coupled with ‘tantalize your senses’ multi cuisine dining. The Bukhara restaurant in the ITC Maurya hotel in Delhi is one of the most loved restaurants. A meal for two would cost around 100-150 USD. The choice of restaurants in this city is extremely vast and the traveler is advised to research beforehand and make a wish-list. The traveler is further advised to pre-book a gym membership back home to shed the extra flab. One must also not miss the street food offered by local vendors in the markets.

Gol Gappa

Try not to miss the Gol Gappe (crispy, fried, hollow wheat balls filled with spicy, flavored water; boiled potatoes and Indian sauces), the Aloo Tikki (a cutlet of fried mashed potatoes seasoned with Indian spices and herbs and topped with Indian sauces), the local version of Dumplings and Chowmein and other treats you find on the carts during your stroll in the markets.

The city offers a wide range of five star as well as affordable hotels and resorts to make your stay comfortable yet within your budget. The Ashoka Hotel is a favorite of anyone who wishes to enjoy the highest level of hospitality services clubbed with the best dining experience in the city. The price of a standard room for a couple ranges between 100-150 USD. Other five star hotels include The Hitlon, The Intercontinental and Shangri La among others. All these luxury hotels offer relaxation and spa services. Those on a budget can opt for a wide range of cheaper options with prices ranging from as low as 10 USD to 50 USD per night for a standard room. The best time to visit Delhi would be early March or October as the weather is pleasant. The climate in Delhi is otherwise extreme; very hot summers with temperatures soaring to as much as 48 degrees Celsius and cold winters, temperatures dropping to as low as 1-2 degrees Celsius. Travelling within the city is made convenient and highly affordable by the local Metro Rail which connects every major part of the old and new cities with typical fares for a distance of 10 kilometers costing a meager 0.1 USD. There is tolerance for most faiths in the city with places of worship for every major faith. There are activities to do for children as well, like visiting the zoo, amusement parks, water parks and game zones.

A visit to Delhi is a visit back in time. As travel writer William Dalrymple so aptly inks down in his book, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, “Watched over and protected by the mischievous, invisible djinns, Delhi has, through their good offices, been saved from destruction many times over the centuries”. It has been saved for posterity, saved for travelers and citizens alike, to dwell in its history, to dwell in its culture. To savor and preserve in our memories the experience that is called Delhi.

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