2 days exploring Delhi, India’a bustling capital city
Delhi is a busy city with around 19 million residents, and at times it feels that all of them are on the road at the same time. Getting around can be time consuming. There are lot of public transport option including metro trains, buses, taxis and of course auto rickshaws. These options are not for the faint of heart. Most tourists are likely to take a taxi or private car, although the metro system is growing in popularity and coverage.
WHEN TO GO TO DELHI:
The best time to visit Delhi is from October to March, when it is not too hot and the dousing monsoon rains are not present.
Pollution is a big issue in the North of India, especially in the fall when farmers burn the stubble in the fields. This can severely reduce visibility.
- Wander around the impressive Qutab Minar
- Visit the Humayun’s Tomb complex
- Gandhi’s Tomb
- India Gate
- Do a quick stop to appreciate the expanse of the Presidential Palace
- Stroll around the Masjid-i Jahān-Numā (World-reflecting Mosque) – The Jama Masjid of Delhi
- Take a high speed tour of the streets of Old Delhi in a cycle rickshaw from the Mosque to the Red Fort
- Visit the Red Fort Complex
Qutab Minar is a minaret that forms part of the Qutab complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The minaret is a 73-metre (239.5 feet) tall tapering tower consisting of 5 storeys, with a 14.3 metre (47 feet) base diameter, that reduces to 2.7 metres (9 feet) at the peak. The base of first storey has alternate angular and circular flutings, the second one is round. The third storey of the Qutub Minar has angular flutings. The top storeys have totally different designs as they were added later. When viewed from above the Minar looks like a lotus flower, which is sacred in Indian culture. The Minar is constructed from very durable and beautiful sandstone. The minaret itself is hollow and has a spiral staircase that takes you to the top, providing spectacular views across Delhi. Sadly, we couldn’t experience this view, which would have anyway been obscured by the smog, because the public are not allowed to climb the stairs. Before 1974, the general public was allowed access to the top of the Minar via the internal staircase. On 4 December 1981, the staircase lighting failed and between 300 to 400 visitors stampeded towards the exit. 45 were killed in the crush and many were injured; most of these were children. Subsequently, public access to the inside of the tower has been stopped
The Qutab Minar was established along with Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque around 1192 by Qutab-us-din Aibak, first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. The mosque complex is one of the earliest that survives in the Indian subcontinent. The Minar’s ground storey was built over the ruins of the Lao Kot, the citadel of Dhillika .Aibak’s successor, lltutmish, added three more storeys. The Minar’s topmost storey was damaged by lightning in 1369 and was rebuilt by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, who added another storey. In 1505, an earthquake damaged Qutab Minar; it was repaired by Sikander Lodi. On 1 September 1803, a major earthquake caused serious damage. Major Robert Smith of the British Indian Army renovated the tower in 1828 and installed a pillared cupola over the fifth story, thus creating a sixth. The cupola was taken down in 1848, under instructions from The Viscount Hardinge, then Governor General of India. It was reinstalled at ground level to the east of Qutab Minar, where it remains. It is known as “Smith’s Folly”.
Humayun’s tomb itself is set within a complex with extensive and lush gardens, amongst which are scattered several elaborate tombs. The largest structure is Humayan’s Tomb, a phenomenal structure which is believed to have been the template for the Taj Mahal. Humayun’s Tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun which was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife and chief consort, Empress Bega Begum (also known as Haji Begum), in 1569-70. It was designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, a Persian architect chosen by her.
The circumstances behind Humayan’s death were unusual. On 27 January 1556, Humayun, with his arms full of books, was descending the staircase from his library when the muezzin announced the Azaan (the call to prayer). It was his habit, wherever he heard the summons, to bow his knee in holy reverence. Trying to kneel, he caught his foot in his robe, tumbled down several steps and hit his temple on a rugged stone edge. He died three days later.
Born and raised in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat and trained in law in London, Gandhi first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, where the resident Indian communities struggled for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for various social causes and for achieving self-rule.
Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient community.
Eventually, in August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two dominions, a Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. As many displaced Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs made their way to new lands, religious violence broke out. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating in agreeing the division of India. Among them, was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu Nationalist who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948, firing three bullets into his chest. Godse was found guilty and executed the following year.
The monument itself is very simple; a black marble slab on a plinth, lovingly decorated with fresh flowers. Many Indians come to this site in reverence to Gandhi.
Designed by Edwin Lutyens, India Gate is a memorial to 70,000 soldiers of the Indian Army who died in the period 1914–21 in the First World War and elsewhere in the Near and the Far East, and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. 13,300 servicemen’s names, including some soldiers and officers from the United Kingdom, are inscribed on the gate. The India Gate, even though a war memorial, evokes the architecture of the triumphal arch in the style of the Arc de Triomphe.
The Presidential Palace
Partially set aside as the Indian Prime Minister residence, the Presidential Palace is a truly enormous complex which faces India Gate in the distance along an elegant mall. ‘Enormous’ does not do justice to its size; it makes Buckingham Palace look like a 3 bed, semi-detached house and the White House a dolls house. The Palace is officially known as Rashtrapati Bhavan and was previously the home of the Viceroy of India (how he was allowed to have a larger pad than the Monarch is hard to fathom!). At the far west end is the 340 room, main building where the President gets to live. In total the Presidential estate extends to 320 acres including a number of large buildings and formal gardens.
Masjid-i Jahān-Numā (World-reflecting Mosque)
The Masjid-i Jahān-Numā (World-reflecting Mosque), commonly known as the Jama Masjid of Delhi. This great mosque of Old Delhi is the largest in India, with a courtyard capable of holding 25,000 devotees. It was begun in 1644 and ended up being the final architectural extravagance of Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. The highly decorative mosque has three great gates, four towers and two 40m high minarets and is constructed of strips of red sandstone and white marble.
Note before entering the mosque, you had to pay the 150 rupees to bring in your camera, and remove your shoes. Ladies also have to cover their shoulder and legs; there are gowns you can borrow.
Take a cycle rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi
This is not a ride for the faint of heart and is much of a thrill ride as you would find at a Six Flags resort. It is truly exhilarating to speed (relatively) through the alleys dodging oncoming traffic. Taking photos is not easy as you will jerked from side to side.
The Red Fort
The Red Fort is a large complex in the center Old Delhi, and for 200 years, until 1857, was the main residence of the Mughal emperors. In addition to accommodating the emperors and their households, it was the ceremonial and political center of the Mughal state and the setting for events critically impacting the region. Sadly, the Red Fort today is not what it was once was. The fort was plundered of its artwork and jewels during Nadir Shah’s invasion of the Mughal Empire in 1747. Most of the fort’s precious marble structures were subsequently destroyed by the British following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The fort’s defensive walls were largely spared, and the fortress was subsequently used as a garrison. The Red Fort was also the site where the British put the last Mughal Emperor on trial before exiling him to Rangoon in 1858.
Once inside you get to appreciate the scale of the complex, with elegant gardens and numerous stately buildings. Sadly, many of the original structures were demolished by the British and replaced with barracks buildings. What remains of the original Mughal buildings are the imperial apartments, consisting of a row of pavilions connected by a water channel known as the “Stream of Paradise!” These buildings had been allowed to fall into a bad state of repair, but the government has stepped into refurbish them. Unfortunately, during our visit they were closed to visitors, so we could only stand and admire them from the outside.