New Delhi

One of the largest cities on the planet, home to 25 million people, a fraction of India’s 1.3 billion, Delhi doesn’t feel like it to a visitor. It’s almost entirely flat and lacks any significant high rise buildings so doesn’t feel that large on the ground, but from the air it sprawls for ~1,500 square kilometres. It was less crazy than I was expecting (though my tolerance is quite high by now) and there was plenty to fill a few days at the start and end of a couple of trips.

Delhi has been India’s capital since 1911 when work started on New Delhi, a planned city within a largely unplanned city, designed by Edwin Lutyens. This is filled with seemingly endless roundabouts and greenery lined boulevards, home to architecturally interestingly embassies and government buildings, though most are hidden behind large walls.

Some traces of the past do remain though, notably the tombs of Mughal kings, the most impressive of which is Humayun’s Tomb. A precursor of the Taj Mahal, when it was built in the mid 16th century it was significantly larger than any previous tomb. Unusually it is home to tombs of around 160 members of the family, far more than typical Mughal tombs.

Three of these neighbour Humayun’s Tomb, the most attractive and eclectic of which is the colourful Isa Khan’s Tomb.

The deliberately most simple is Barber’s Tomb.

There is less remaining of Afsarwala Tomb as much of it was plundered to build the next tomb.

Which was my favourite, the striking Safdarjung Tomb, the last significant Mughal building built in Delhi, erected in 1754. Sunset brought out the colour in the sandstone red walls, and it was wonderfully quiet at the end of the day.

The nearby lush Lodhi Gardens are home to a number of Mughal tombs from the 15th and 16th centuries. Sikandar Lodi Tomb, Shish Gumbad, Bada Gumbad, and Muhammad Shah Sayyid Tomb were all filled with interesting features, and the gardens were bustling with life later in the day.

Close to Humayun’s Tomb, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah gets some impressive write ups online and in the guide books but it was the only time in India I felt unsafe and unwelcome. I didn’t even make it to this Sufi shrine after the amount of hassle and unease in the narrow and crowded streets leading to it, full of rubbish, beggars, zero other foreigners, and many people yelling at me about shoes, despite locals walking ahead in their shoes. I fully understand the need to take them off before entering a mosque or shrine but suspect that these were touts offering to look after my shoes well in advance in exchange for some money. I beat a retreat feeling a bit shaken.

The National Museum is huge, with 64 sections in 22 galleries. When I visited 6 of the galleries were closed but even at my super fast pace it still took nearly an hour and a half to walk around. An audio guide is included, bring identification to use it. There are endless statues and some impressively decorative paintings. The lighting is pretty terrible though and the place feels fairly run down.

India Gate is a monumental 42m high memorial arch dedicated to Indian soldiers who lost their lives. On a public holiday it was bustling with selfie taking locals, who roped me into a few.

Nearby the National Gallery of Modern Art is an attractive sandstone series of buildings though no photographs are allowed inside.

Delhi is an ancient city, apparent when you come across things like the Sher Shah Suri Gate and neighbouring Masjid Khairul Manazil which aren’t mentioned in any guide books.

Purana Qila was well worth visiting, a huge 16th century fort with a couple of impressive gates and the beautiful Qila-i-Kuhran Mosque.

One of Delhi’s most iconic sights, the 73m tall minaret at Qutub Minar forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of 38 in India. It was built over 800 years ago by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi. It is an understandably busy place though I was a little underwhelmed other than for the minaret and an unusual 7m high iron pillar that is over 1,600 years old. It is so pure that it hasn’t rusted, scientists haven’t figured out how it was made using the technology of the time.

Far quieter and free was the neighbouring Mehrauli Archaeological Park, home to the somewhat ruined Tomb of Mohd Quli Khan, the 16th century step-well of Rajon Ki Baoli, and the sizeable Jamali Kamali Mosque.

Across the road is the impressive Azim Khan Tomb, built on a rare Delhi hill, but it felt quite dodgy visiting alone and has a reputation for thieves / drunks kids, so I photographed it from the safety of Ahinsa Sthal.

Ahinsa Sthal is a well maintained Jain temple on an equally high hill, topped with a statue of Tirthankara Mahāvīra, not Buddha as I first thought.

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