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Delhi: The Heart Of India

April 09, 2015

It’s always a thrilling experience to explore new places, especially when they are home to ancient civilizations, culture and heritage. The moment I stepped off the plane in New Delhi, I was overwhelmed by a rush of conflicting emotions. Delhi is a symbol of both old and new India. Even the stones here appear to be whispering to us tales of the past, and the air here is filled with fragrances of the past as well as the fresh and piercing winds of the present.

 

India’s capital, New Delhi, is a buzzing international metropolis that draws people from across India and the globe. Home to millions, it is big, sprawling and still growing. Yet tucked away inside Delhi’s modern suburbs and developments are tombs, temples and ruins dating back to centuries. In some places, the remains of whole cities from the dim and distant past nestle among homes and highways built in just the last decade or two. The result is a city full of fascinating nooks and crannies that you could happily spend weeks or even months exploring.

 

The thought of exploring this enchanting land was interesting to say the least. I was staying at the fascinating Taj Palace hotel, where I first took a nap and then treated myself to a glass of chilled mango milkshake. With a cab and a city guide, I was ready to start my journey.

I first hit the famous Chandi Chowk, which is the business hub of the city. People here are so engrossed in their work that they hardly notice the passersby. My guide insisted that I try the popular ‘Badhe Miya Kabab,’ a mouth-watering delicacy that the Old Delhi is famous for.

 

We walked toward the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, which is hardly a five-minute walk from the bazaar. Chitli Kabar Road is famous for various types of food stalls, including the world famous Karim Restaurant. A number of shops serving ‘lassi’ (a yogurt based drink) dot this area.

 

A small street called Gali Qasim Jan is famous here because poet Mirza Ghalib stayed there for around 10 years. It was taken over by the government in 1999 and renovated as the great poet’s memorial. Old Delhi is the city of the Mughals and dates back to the seventeenth century. It’s the capital’s most frenetic quarter, and it has a mostly Islamic feel to it, a reminder that for over 700 years Delhi was a Muslim-ruled city. While many of the buildings enclosing Old Delhi’s teeming bazaars have a tale to tell, its greatest monuments are undoubtedly the magnificent constructions of the Mughals, most notably the mighty Red Fort, which was built by Shah Jahan, the entry of which is through the three-story Lahori Gate.

 

Beyond this lies the Naubat or Naqqaar Khana, where musicians used to perform thrice everyday. It is also called Hathipol, as everyone, except members of the royal family had to dismount from their elephants here. The first floor of the Naubat Khana now houses a war memorial museum.

We then decided to head toward New Delhi in the south. The Rajpath or the Rashtrapati Bhawan, stretching from the India Gate to the Presidential Palace, is a mighty statement of imperial power. It is home to the city’s museums and prime shopping areas, centered around the colonnaded facades of Connaught Palace, the heart of downtown Delhi. Among the modern infrastructure and newly developed business areas, you will find some of Delhi’s most ancient and fascinating attractions, such as the Mughal Gardens, Humayun’s Tombs and the Safdarjang Tomb. You will also find the remains of six cities that preceded Old Delhi, most notably the Qutub Minar and the ruins of Tughlubad.

Delhi is home to several museums and art treasures and hosts cultural performances and crafts that showcase the country’s diverse heritage. The city’s growing nightlife scene boasts designer restaurants, chic cafés and decent clubs. Its auditoriums host a wide range of national music and dance events, drawing on the richness of India’s great classical traditions. Smart new cinemas screen the latest offerings from both Hollywood and Bollywood, while its theaters hold performances in Hindi and in English. And if it’s from Delhi that you’re flying home, you’ll find that you can buy goods here that are made in pretty much anywhere else in India, so it’s a good place to stock up with souvenirs and presents.

 

Delhi is alluring, a sprawling metropolis with a stunning backdrop of ancient architecture. Once you’ve found your feet and got over the initial impact of the commotion, noise, pollution and sheer scale of the place, the city’s geography slowly slips into focus. Monuments in assorted states of repair are dotted around the city, especially in Old Delhi and in southern enclaves such as Hauz Khas.

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