Delhi, the capital city of India, may seem a little overwhelming for first-timers, with its tidal wave of heat, traffic, energy, and abundance of fun things to do. It is home to spellbinding mosques, forts, and monuments left over from the Mughal rulers that once occupied the city. There’s an immense contrast between the rambling Old Delhi and the well planned New Delhi, and you’re sure to have a wonderful time exploring both.
Delhi happens to be the only city in the world, having not one, but three UNESCO World Heritage sites within its boundaries. You can find mesmerizing temples, palaces, and gardens that speak of their rich history and culture, and also explore exciting nightclubs, international cuisines, and fantastic shopping experience – all at the same time.
Binge on Delhi’s legendary street food
Tangy delights such as papri chaat (fried wafers loaded with potatoes, chickpeas, yoghurt and chilli) or golgappas (fried hollow dough filled with chickpeas and spicy potatoes), are must haves while you’re in Old Delhi. Also, don’t miss out on their stuffed parathas, sizzling kebabs, delectable Hyderabadi biriyani, and mouthwatering jalebis (sweet swirls of fried dough).
Explore the Lal Quila
The Lal Quila, more commonly known as the Red Fort, was built in 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an architectural marvel in itself, and is a representation of the culture that the Mughals brought to India.
At the entrance of the monument, lies the Lahori Gate, which contains the Chhatta Chowk or covered bazaar. This Bazaar was earlier known as “Bazzar-i-Musaqqaf”. Walking through the Lahori Gate, one immediately enters this covered, two storied passage, flanked by apartments on both sides. During Shah Jahan’s time, there were shops on both the upper and lower levels, catering to the luxury trade of silk, brocades, gold and silver ware, velvets, jewellery and gems. Today, the Lahori Gate is flanked by small shops on both sides, that sell local jewellery, bags, shawls, and footwear.
Among the most important and beautiful rooms to visit at the Red Fort are theDiwan-i-Aam(hall of public audience) and the Diwan-i-Khas(hall of private audience). At the entrance of the Diwan-i-Aam, is the Naubat-Khana, or Drum House. In its days of glory, musicians announced the arrival of the emperor or other prominent dignitaries from the Naubat Khana. Music was also played five times a day at chosen hours. The Diwan-i-Aam was where Shah Jahan received the general public and heard their grievances. With an impressive facade of nine arches, the hall was originally ornamented with gilded stucco work. The Diwan-i-Khasis said to have hosted Shah Jahan’s famous peacock throne, while other notable places inside the Red Fort include the Mumtaz Mahal (which has now been converted to a museum), the Rang Mahal or the “palace of colours” (which consist of the emperor’s private apartments), the Moti Masjid or “pearl mosque” (which was built by Aurangzeb), and the Khas Mahal, which is also part of the emperor’s private palace with the Khwabgah (sleeping chamber), Tosh Khana (robe chamber) and the Baithak (sitting room).
Moreover, the huge monument opens up to a lofty garden called the Hayat Bakhsh or “life bestowing garden” with causeways and channels, laid out in the “char bagh” pattern (in four quadrants).
How to get there:
Located at Netaji Subhash Marg in Delhi, the Red Fort is open everyday of the week, except Mondays. The nearest metro station is at Chandni Chowk, or one can also grab a taxi or auto-rickshaw to get there.
Marvel at the beauty of Humayun’s Tomb
The final resting place of the Mughal emperor, Humayun, is an excellent combination of Persian elegance with fine Indian craftsmanship. This splendid piece of architecture was ordered to be constructed by Humayun’s chief consort empress, Bega Begum, in the year 1569, and is one of the very few structures that was almost completely made of red sandstone at that time.
This magnificent tomb is actually part of a large complex that has several other garden tombs that include the tomb of Isa Khan (an Afghan nobleman during the reign of Sher Shah Suri), Nila Gumbad (the Blue Dome), Afsarwala tomb, and mosque (built for noblemen working in Emperor Akbar’s court), and the garden tomb of Bu Halima (about whom, not much is known).The Arab Serai, where the Persian craftsmen who built the tomb stayed, is part of the complex as well, and has a splendid gateway that has been restored. The entrance to Humayun’s tomb is through the western gate, which opens up to an expansive garden, designed to replicate the gardens of heaven.
Because of its magnificent design and illustrious history, Humayun’s Tomb was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1993. Stroll through the gardens of this mausoleum at dusk, or any time of the day, to get the best photos.
How to get there:
Located in the Nizammudin East area of Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and the easiest way to get there is to take either a taxi or an auto-rickshaw. Even though the Nizamuddin Railway Station is quite nearby, you’d still need to get a taxi or an auto-rickshaw from there as it is a two kilometre walk to the entrance of the tomb, and in the hot temperatures of Delhi, that’s not fun.
Visit the Qutub Minar
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Qutub Minar is a soaring 73 metre high tower, that was built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak in 1193. The magnificent minaret is made from red sandstone, but the reason behind its construction still remains a mystery. Some say it was built to celebrate the Muslim rule in India, while others believe it was built to call the faithful to prayer. The tower has five distinct stories, and is covered with intricate carvings and verses from the holy Quran. There are also a number of other historic monuments on the site.
How to get there:
The Qutub Minar complex is open daily from sunrise until sunset, and is located in Mehrauli, South Delhi. The closest metro train station is Qutub Minar on the Yellow Line. You’ll need to walk for nearly 20 minutes from there to the monument. You can cover the distance on foot during the cooler, winter months. However, in summer, you’ll want to take an auto rickshaw, bus or taxi.
Find some spiritual healing at the Lotus Temple
The Lotus Temple in Delhi is made of pure white marble, and is an absolute architectural delight. The lotus flower, which is the universal symbol of peace, gives the temple its name, as well as its shape. It is one of the seven major Bahá’ítemples in the world, open to people of all castes and creeds, looking to meditate and pray. Taking photographs is strictly prohibited at the inner sanctum of the temple, and upon entering, the entire complex has a heavenly feeling to it, with its scintillating pools and landscaped gardens.
How to get there:
Located near Nehru Place in South Delhi, the Bahá’í place of worship is open from 9am until 5.30pm everyday, except Mondays. The nearest metro station to the Lotus Temple is the Kalkaji metro station that falls on the Violet Line route, or one can even take an auto-rickshaw or taxi to get there.
Listen to qawwalis
The best place to enjoy some qawwali in Delhi would be the the dargah (tomb) of the Sufi saint Nizam-ud-din Auliya. Buried close to this saint, is the 13th century Sufi poet, Amir Khusro. Hidden away in a tangle of bazaars selling rose petals, perfumes, and offerings, the marble shrine of Nizam-ud-din Auliya offers a window through the centuries, full of music and crowded with devotees. One needs to walk through the narrow lanes to reach the main shrine, which are beautifully lit, and have various local eateries offering delicious food.
How to get there:
Sarai Kale is the nearest bus stand of Delhi which is almost eight kilometres from the shrine. You can easily get buses from there on a regular basis. Apart from this, you can also hire a taxi or auto-rickshaw to reach the dargah.