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Delhi/New Delhi, India

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Did You Know … ?

  • It took six years for 5,000-plus workers to build India’s largest mosque, the Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque).
  • There are approximately 150 graves in Humayun’s Tomb.
  • The name of Delhi’s market street, Chandni Chowk, means Silver Street.
  • India has 15 official languages, more than any country; English has “associate” status.
  • The Red Fort’s massive red sandstone wall was copied from the older Red Fort in Agra.

From Moghul to modern

The name Delhi generally refers to a single huge metropolis in northern India. Technically, it’s two cities, Old Delhi and New Delhi. The latter, built by the British to be their capital, has been India’s capital since independence (1947).

The older Delhi was the site of a series of cities built in succession on top of and around one another, the most recent being Shahjahanabad, created by Shah Jahan (also builder of the Taj Mahal) to be the capital of the Moghul Empire.

For most of the last 800 years, Delhi or its predecessors have been India’s capital. As a result, standard sightseeing includes the gates, forts, tombs, mosques, temples and monumental buildings that reflect a long and colorful history.

These three UNESCO World Heritage Sites provide a sampling of Old Delhi’s attractions: Qutub Minar, an ornate red sandstone tower from the 13th century; Humayun’s Tomb, the 16th century burial site of the second Moghul emperor and precursor to the Taj Mahal, and the 17th century Red Fort, built as Shah Jahan’s palace.

New Delhi is a planned city with wide tree-lined boulevards, gardens and major government structures such as the Parliament House and Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential House).

Delhi, taken as a whole, is a bustling business center as well as government center, and absolutely in the 21st century. At the same time, it remains very much an Indian city with lifestyles that have deep roots.

Westerners often stay in modern hotels with all the conveniences of the best properties anywhere, but they still see cows wandering about unmolested, women heading to their offices in saris and crowded outdoor markets in the middle of town.

The best known of these is Chandni Chowk, a huge marketplace that starts in front of the Red Fort. However, the products have evolved since 1650 when this market opened; nowadays shops sell electronics as well as traditional Indian goods.

Tourists also connect with the culture by eating regional specialties and by watching a program of traditional dance and music, which can seem very exotic indeed.

Delhi can be uncomfortably hot, but the weather is pleasantest between October and March.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Shop and watch the action in the very crowded and vibrant market, Chandni Chowk. You may be uncomfortably squeezed and buffeted in this chaotic place, while entertained and enlightened about life in India’s capital.
  • Visit the Majnu ka Tilla Tibetan Colony, home to Tibetan refugees and now a favorite hangout for Delhi University students. Attractions here are eclectic: You could shop for Tibetan jewelry — or use the colony’s Internet cafes.
  • Join the morning joggers in Nehru Park or at the Lodhi Gardens.
  • Set out on a pub/club crawl in the market at New Friends Colony.
  • Bet on the horses at the weekly (Monday) races, or get tickets to a cricket or soccer game.
  • Do your bird-watching in the Keoladeo National Park and Bird Sanctuary, where you may travel by bicycle rickshaw to see wildlife, including pythons. In winter, Badkhal Lake is another good choice for birders.

Things to do for Centrics

  • If in town on Jan. 26, which is Republic Day, the anniversary of the date the Indian constitution became effective, watch the city’s celebratory parade which moves from the India Gate to the Rashtrapati Bhavan (the president’s residence).
  • See the sound-and-light show at the Red Fort.
  • Take a (long) day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Or, make that an overnight excursion.
  • Take in the views of Delhi from the South Minaret at Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque).
  • Ride a train around the National Rail Transport Museum. For other unusual museum experiences, see the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, which promises to provide some humor, and Tenzing Norgay Museum. Named for the Sherpa who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the top of Mount Everest, the latter museum is all about the Himalayas.
  • Eat tandoori chicken, or have vegetables and other meats that have been marinated in spices and yogurt then cooked in a clay tandoor.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Study the architectural wonder that is the Red Fort and spend time in its museum viewing manuscripts, paintings, costumes and textiles from the Moghul era.
  • Hire a guide to take you on a sightseeing tour built around the Moghul period in Delhi’s history. Then look at the British capital, meaning New Delhi with its public buildings constructed toward the end of the colonial era.
  • In winter, see a show of classical dance and music at the Red Fort Complex. Alternatively, see a classical dance performance at one of the hotels.
  • When visiting the Quwwatul-Islam Masjid, the mosque at the base of the Qutub Minar tower, make a wish. Then, stand with your back to the Iron Pillar that stands in the courtyard, wrap your arms around it so your fingers touch and, it is said, your wish will be granted.
  • See art from across the centuries in India at the National Museum, the country’s largest museum.
  • Get another kind of culture fix at the Crafts Museum, where you see examples of traditional ceramics, textiles, wood and stone carvings and can buy current examples from local artisans. You may see traditional dances here as well.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Delhi Tourism at www.delhitourism.gov.in/delhitourism/index.jsp