The road was stretching out for miles beyond me with green fields on either sides and the sound of rushing wind was pleasant to the ears at the moment when I decided to close my eyes and take a short nap.
I woke up, still on the road, except that I was in heavy traffic, horns were blaring and bright red and yellow lights pierced my ears. “We’ve almost reached”, declared my dad from the drivers seat, with a bored expression on his face, waiting for the traffic to move.
Such was my sad welcome to the city of New Delhi, in the dark of the night.
My dad dropped me and my friend Ashwin to our hotel in Jasola which was booked by the client we were working for.
Delhi, at first sight, is a constant buzz of traffic noise, jam-packed crowd and garish lights. It is a pain to travel in Delhi, even with a Metro train which are almost always full. People are always on the run, money and material wealth is of prominence in society. Not necessarily a place for me.
But then again, as with everything else, the city of Delhi also sports another side to it: The beautiful architecture, rich culture, mouth-watering food, the grandeur of the royal heritage and the vibrancy of crowded markets. All of which I discovered in the following article about my crash tour of Delhi, how it left me wanting for more.
We got up, got ready and were on our way to explore and document the mighty capital of our country.
Our first visit was to Rajghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. The place was almost empty as it was quite early in the morning. It was beautiful. Well kept gardens flanked the stone footpath that lead to the walled enclosure that houses the memorial. We removed our shoes before entering the enclosure.
In the centre of the sanctuary is a black marble platform that marks the spot of Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation, Antyesti (Antim Sanskar) on 31 January 1948, a day after his assassination. It is left open to the sky while an eternal flame burns perpetually at one end, a symbol of the undying spirit of the Father of our Nation.
We crossed over to the National Gandhi Museum, opposite Rajghat. According to my research, the museum first opened in Mumbai, shortly after Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. The museum relocated several times before moving to Rajghat, New Delhi in 1961. It was a walk into history as we stepped into the museum. We were only to visit the Photographic Gallery of the museum due to time constraints. Although I didn’t like the interiors that much, the collection was amazing.
Gandhi statue outside the Museum
We passed through numerous photographs, caricatures, letters and news articles related to and depicting the life of Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom struggle in India. There was a large collection of objects from his personal life: a stage replica of the Sabarmati Ashram, Gujrat, a boat that Gandhi used to cross the river Mahi in Kanikapur during the Salt March of 1930, the jeep which carried the mortal remains of Gandhi from Birla house to Rajpath, and many other fascinating things.
The jeep which carried the mortal remains of Gandhi.
We headed straight to the Red Fort next, sad about the overcast day which played spoil sport for our photography. Hazy smog meant more trouble as low contrast in distant buildings gave us a difficult time. However, the might of the residence and political centre of the Mughal Emperors of India for nearly 200 years, engulfed us. The history of this place was still rich inside its walls and the beauty well preserved.
We entered through the Delhi Gate, the south exit of the fort and came up to Chhatta Chowk, where silk, jewellery and other items for the imperial household were sold during the Mughal period. In today’s time, it doesn’t really seem to have changed much, except for the addition of the handicrafts and art shops.
The vaulted arcade of the Chhatta Chowk ended in the centre of the outer court. To the left stood the now-isolated Naubat Khana (also known as Nakkar Khana), the drum house. As we walked futher, we arrived at the inner coutyard which had the Diwan-ai-Am at the other end. The hall’s columns and engrailed arches were fine craftsmanship. In the back in the raised recess the emperor gave his audience in the marble balcony (jharokha). I tried to imagine the sight it must’ve been in the peak of the Mughal empire, when thousands of people would come to the court to attend the emperor’s hearings, the music and the ceremonies.
The Diwan-ai-Khas was a spectacle in itself. Constructed of white marble and inlaid with precious stones, it speaks of the royal grandeur and the luxurious taste of the emperors of India. The once-silver ceiling has been restored in wood. At either end of the hall, over the two outer arches, is an inscription by Persian poet Amir Khusrow:
If heaven can be on the face of the earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this.
It truly is. I mean, I wouldn’t mind sitting on that peacock throne (which is isn’t there as it was captured and taken as a war trophy in 1739 by the Persian king Nader Shah, and has been lost ever since) and listening to sufi music while enjoying the breeze and listening to the matters of the state. (Just kidding. It got to be a damn tough job, being an emperor of India.)
Note: Restoration was in progress of the structures, therefore entry was not permitted inside them, except for Diwan-ai-Am.
We did a quick tour of the Hamam, the Moti Masjid and other monuments, and headed out of the walls of the Red Fort, straight to the busy, bustling and mind bogglingly crowded Chandni Chowk, Delhi’s most cherished places from what I have experienced.
Chandni Chowk – Entry
The first thing that struck me was the presence of a temple right next to a gurudwara, opposite a church and a mosque in close distance. On the streets were people from Hindu, Muslim and Sikh community predominantly and it was all fine. They were all working together and mutual respect is maintained. The market was busy, the people, always on the move. That place was like a beehive.
The crowd under the layers and mass of wires in Chandni Chowk.
And it smelled so DELICIOUS! Between the sweet smell from the age-old mithai shops and the chatpata tangy flavour of the Pani-Puri Chat stalls, we reached the world famous Paranthewali Gali. And the olfactory receptors in my nose just lost it. The smell of frying flour, sweet khoya, laal-mirch, lemon, and what not hit it instantly.
Pundit Kanhaiya Lal Paranthe Wala, now that’s a name that commands respect. Not able to resist any further, we sat down and ordered a variety of paranthas like Khurchan (sweet), Tomato (Tangy), Rabri (sweet), Mix Veg (medium spice), Green Pea and Cheese. Along with it we had their lassi which was quite amazing too. It was a great and a memorable food experience.
Making of Paranthas at Gali Paranthe Wali
With our tummies full and satisfied, we travelled to the next monument of great importance of our country, India Gate. Now I don’t need to write much about India Gate, everyone knows it as the war memorial to 82,000 soldiers of the undivided British Indian Army who died in the period 1914–21 in the First World War. The Amar Jawan Jyoti built in1971, following the Bangladesh Liberation war, is a small simple structure, consisting of a black marble plinth, with reversed rifle, capped by war helmet, bounded by four eternal flames, situated beneath the soaring Memorial Archway. This structure has served as India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The architecture of the monument is truly awe-inspiring, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. I remember I used to visit India Gate with my parents as a child to enjoy the cool breeze in summer nights, enjoying ice-cream, marvelling the beauty of the place and running around the well kept lawns. And the might and sight of it during the Republic Day parade as the Prime Minister arrives and pays respect to the martyrs every year on 26th January that we watch live on Doordarshan. It truly is a sight to behold.
The Rajpath, considered as one of the most important roads of India, is where the annual Republic Day parade takes place on 26 January. The avenue is lined on both sides by huge lawns, canals and rows of trees. The road speaks of the authority that it leads to.
And so it did lead us to the Rashtrapati Bhavan which was sadly and frustratingly for us, all covered in smog and haze and the overcast sky made for depressing lighting conditions.
But that did not stop me from gaping at the sheer smartness of the place.
The North and the South block on either side of street were result of beautiful English architecture and excellent care taken by the Government of India. All those people inside thesehigh profile buildings. Running the whole country of India. I felt really small there, in a strange way. Proud, yet small.
NORTH BLOCK, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Rajpath
Sadly the permissions to enter the Rashtrapati Bhavan couldn’t be arranged on time, so we obviously weren’t allowed to go inside.
So next, we move to Connaught Place , the hip place of Delhi. Everyone knows it, everyone loves it. And for a reason. It’s a shopping hub, food hub and commercial hub for all classes of people. Palika Bazaar, below CP, the first underground market of India hosts 380 numbered shops selling a diverse range of items; however, the market is dominated by electronic items and clothing. I found out over wiki that Palika Bazaar is estimated to have some 15,000 people within its confines at any given time!
Connaught Place, Delhi
It also has a reputation for a wide availability of illegal products such as pornography, stolen goods, fake designer products and pirated CDs, software and movies. I do remember going there to buy pirated GTA CDs and other PC Games and they would turn out to be blank or corrupted XD
Historically too, CP is quite important. The former location of the headquarters of the British Raj, the area’s environs occupy a place of pride in the city and are counted among the top heritage structures in New Delhi. It was developed as a showpiece of Lutyens’ Delhi with a prominent Central Business District. But sadly, due to negligence of common public, the white towers and walls of CP are painted red with paan stains. People litter around the area inspite of public dustbins present in abundance. It’s indeed a place worth keeping clean.
The next on our list, we arrived at Jantar Mantar. This is a place that really interests me. Aside from looking epicly cool, the primary purpose of the observatory was to compile astronomical tables, and to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets. The 13 astronomical instruments built in 1724 have seen considerable degradation since then. Restoration efforts are being taken right now as it a heritage monument of India and of great importance to the scientific and architectural history of the nation.
The Agra Yantra consisting of Niyati Chkra in the middle flanked by two small Samrat Yantras.
As you can see from the picture above, the juxtaposition of an old historical monument inside the commercial heart of the city is of much interest for me. The two glass and concrete skyscrapers in the background are of extreme contrast to the old architecture.
The Ram Yantra at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi.
Even though I couldn’t see the Ram Yantra in full action telling me the zenith and the altitude of the sun due to the gracious overcast sky ( I must’ve been cursing it for a while now ) , the design and aesthetic just blew me off. This is my faviorate image from this trip.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral is one of the oldest Church buildings in Delhi. The architecture was designed by British architect Henry Medd and was based to Italian architecture. We did not spend much time here but the interior of the Church was quite impressive to me.
Interior of Sacred Heart Cathedral
The next day- morning time, nice breakfast, good tea. A good start to the day. And it was going to get better. The first monument of the day took my breath away in a go. It was exquisite work of pure art, architecture and engineering. This monument that I so quickly fell in love with, is the tomb of the great Mughal Emperor Humayun. Humayun’s Tomb was a sight to behold.
Commissioned by his wife, I hear. No wonder the Taj Mahal has been modelled on this gorgeous structure. It is no less a symbol of romance than the great Taj. <3
Entrance to main building of Humayun’s Tomb
Why this monument is special, is because it represented a leap in Mughal architecture, and together with its accomplished Charbagh garden, typical of Persian gardens, but never seen before in India, it set a precedent for subsequent Mughal architecture.
A paradise garden to lie in for the rest of your death. Sounds nice, right? :P
But wait till you hear about how awesome and ultra-cool the restoration story of this place is!
Pre 1999: Vandalism and illegal encroachments were rampant at the site of the tomb. Dingy stalls and illegally parked heavy vehicles polluted the entrance. Slum dwellers outside premises. In short, the holy place of rest of the mighty Mughal Emperor had become a messy cesspool.
In comes Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) + Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). With a mighty fund of $650,000 ( thanks to Oberoi Hotels), these people set out to do what was the need of the hour.
Lawns : Replanted. Water channels : Relaid. Rainwater harvesting : Check. Re-vitalising old wells : Done. Removal of 40 cm of cement from the roof : Done. Painting, mending, cutting, cleaning, and hell lot of other jobs. All Done.
And if you wanna know the difference, check out the pre restoration pictures of Humayun’s Tomb on Google. You’ll be surprised, I’m sure.
Tomb of Isa Khan Niyazi
Several monuments dot the pathway leading up to the tomb enclosure from the main entrance. Prominent among them is the tomb of Isa Khan Niyazi, an Afghan noble in Sher Shah Suri’s court of the Suri dynasty, as the information board outside states. He fought against the Mughals.
Brave soul, I must say.
The tomb is about 20 years predated to the Humayun’s Tomb. The octagonal tomb bears a striking resemblance to other tombs of the Sur dynasty monuments in the Lodhi Gardens, which is where we were to visit soon. The architecture of Humayun’s tomb seems to use a little direction from here as well, like it being situated in a walled enclosure.
Next on our list, the National Museum impressed me with its vastness. The collection was amazing! Things old and new, from cultures ours and other’s; it literally is like walking through history of art. I hear that the museum has around 200,000 works of art, covering over 5,000 years. Right from archaeology to anthropology, from ancient manuscripts to decorative art, from jewellery to paintings and photographs and what not. This place has it all.Spread over three floors, this place will overwhelm the art, history and not surprisingly, architecture lovers alike. The place is again, octagonal in shape and built with fine detail and planning. I give it a thumbs-up! :)
Exhibits in National Museum
Due to time constraints, we could only cover the ground floor of the National Museum and moved to our next place on the list : Lodhi Gardens. I never knew it was called ‘Lady Willingdon Park’ during the British Raj XD
Anyways, the current hotspot of morning walkers and lovers of Delhi alike; the Lodhi gardens contain, Mohammed Shah’s Tomb, Sikander Lodi’s Tomb, Sheesh Gumbad and Bara Gumbad, architectural works of the 15th century by Lodhis, an Afghan dynasty, that ruled from 1451 to 1526. As there is little architecture from these two periods remaining in India, Lodhi Gardens is an important place of preservation.
Lodhi Gardens, Sheesh Gumbad
Also I must add this little bit : The Bonsai garden there is actually quite a sad place to be, if honest truth be spoken. The plants look like they’re there for just a formality. :/
So next, we enter the complex of Qutub Minar. It soars 73 meters above us all, so tall, you can’t follow the beautiful inscriptions on the structures up to the top as they become indistinctly small for the eye. The tower was to serve the purpose of a minaret from where the adhan (call for worship in Islam) could be issued. The red sandstone of the minar shines beautifully by the setting sun and the blue of the sky adds to its grace. It is covered with intricate carvings and verses from the holy Qur’an.
Standing tall, the Qutub Minar
The nearby standing Iron Pillar, 7 meters in height, is notable for the rust-resistant composition of the metals used in its construction. There is a popular tradition that it was considered good luck if one could stand with one’s back to the pillar and make one’s hands meet behind it. Sadly, good luck be damned. The pillar’s not liking your tradition. Due to the wear and dis-coloration caused by people, it now stands inside a fence.
The Iron Pillar
The oldest inscription on the pillar is in Sanskrit, written in Gupta-period Brahmi script. And it’s much older that the Qutub Minar. I wonder what really is the true history of this pillar and how it ends up standing in a Mughal compound. Hmm.. Interesting.
Next and the last of the monuments I grace with my presence ( Just Kidding :P), is the Bahai house of worship, the Lotus Temple. Not a misnomer, the temple is literally in the shape of a lotus flower! It also is, a multiple architecture award winning temple. It is also one of the most visited building in the world. Sweet! :D
The sun setting right behind the centre of the temple made a beautiful halo around the place, giving that spiritual feel to it.
And that brings me to the end of my journey, my crash tour of the city of hearts, Delhi. I hope to visit it again, soon. I’ll check out some new places, eat more and of course, write more :) Farewell, fellow explorer, until next time. :*
This trip was first published on https://watchherworld.wordpress.com/.