New Delhi Travel Guide
This is where it all begins. And this is where it ends. For centuries, this is the place that has given hope to dreamers.
The Mughal invasions, the British conquest, a free India – Delhi has been the hub of it all. This is not a poet’s paradise – no nightingales singing on full moon nights – but a place crowded with the dreams of pioneers. Here, even a poet will sing of power.
Situated about 160 km south of the Himalayas, Delhi, the capital of India, stands on the west bank of the Yamuna River, a tributary of the Ganges. It is bounded on the east by the state of Uttar Pradesh and on the north, west, and south by Haryana. The Red Fort, Rashtapati Bhawan, Qutub Minar and India Gate occupy pride of place here. Other prominent historical monuments include Jama Masjid, Safdarjung Museum, Diwan-i-am, Diwan-i- khas, Jantar Mantar and Lotus temple. No visit to Delhi, is complete without a stopover at Connaught Place, the commercial centre and just the place for a quick bite or to pick up a souvenir.
The summer season lasts from mid-March to the end of June, with average maximum and minimum temperatures of 36º C and 25º C. The monsoon season, following the hot summer, continues until the end of September, with an average rainfall of about 26 inches. The winter season extends from late November to mid-February. The coldest month is January, when both the mean maximum temperature and the mean minimum temperature are at their lowest–21º C and 7º C, respectively. Best time to visit: October to March.
Republic Day (26th January) is a big affair with marchpast, colorful parades and floats from various states. The Beating Retreat which marks the end of celebrations on 29th January, is a moving ceremony with military bands playing at Vijay Chowk. The Surajkund Crafts Fair, near Delhi, in January, is another must-visit. The Garden Festival, a spectacular flower show is held in February. In June, is the International Mango Festival. Other festivals celebrated are Holi, Diwali, Baisakhi, Id, Good Friday, Christmas, Mahavir Jayanti and others.
Baisakhi The solar new year’s day is observed on this day throughout northern India, which is also the new year’s day of Tamil Nadu. For Hindus, it is significant of the days of the descent of the Ganges to the earth, and people take holy dips in rivers. The Sikhs attach religious significance to day, as it is day of the formation of the Singh, who converted the Sikhs into a martial race. It is also the harvest festival of the Punjab and is celebrated with dances and gaiety.
Places to See
Old Delhi Kashmir Gate, Mutiny Memorial, Ashoka Pillar The Kashmir Gate, at the northern end of the walled city was the scene of desperate fighting when the British retook Delhi during the Mutiny. West of here near Sabzi Mandi, is the Mutiny Memorial erected by the British to the soldiers who lost their lives during the uprising. Near the monument is Ashoka Pillar, and like the one in Feroz Shah Kotla it was brought here by Feroz Shah Tughalaq.
The red sandstone walls of Lal Qila the Red Fort extend for two km and vary in height from 18 m from the river side to 33m on the city side. Shah Jahan started construction of the massive fort in 1638 and it was completed in 1648. The Red Fort dates from the very peak of the Mughal Power. When the emperor rode out on elephant- back into the streets of Old Delhi. It was a display of pomp and power at its most magnificent. Today the fort is typically Indian with would be guides leaping forth to offer their services as soon as you enter. The Yamuna river used to flow right by the eastern edge of the fort and filled the 10 cm deep moat.Now the river is about 1 km to the cast and the moat is empty.
Jain Temple, Sunehri Masjid, Fatehpuri Mosque. The main street of Old Delhi is the colorful shopping Bazaar known as Chandni Chawk. At the east end of Chandni Chowk, there is a Digmbara Temple with a small marble courtyard surrounded by a colonnade. There is an interesting Bird Hospital here run by the Jains. Next to the Kotwali (old Police Station) is the Sunehri Masjid. In 1739, Nadir Shah, the Persian Invader, who carried off the Peacock throne when he sacked Delhi, stood on the roof of this mosque and watched while his soldiers conducted a bloody massacre of Delhi’s inhabitants. The west end of Chandni Chawk is marked by the Fatehpur Mosque, which was erected in 1650 by one of Shah Jahan’s wives.
Khirki Masjid & Jahanpanah
This interesting mosque with its four open courts dates from 1380. The nearby village of Khirki also takes its name from the mosque. Close to the mosque are remains of the fourth city of Delhi Jahanpanah including the high Bijai Mandal platform and the Begumpur Mosque with IRS multiplicity of domes.
This 42 km stone arch of the triumph stands at the eastern end of Rajpath. It bears the names of 85,000 Indian army soldiers who died in the campaigns of WWI the North west Frontier operations of the same time and the 1919 Afghan fiasco.
The north and south Secretariat Buildings lie on either side of Rajpath on Rajasthan Hill. These imposing buildings topped with chattries (small domes) now house the ministries of finance and External Affairs respectively
The main gate to the fort takes its name from the fact that it faces towards Lahore now, in Pakistan. During the struggle of independence, one of the nationalist’s declarations was that they would see the Indian flag flying over the Red Fort in Delhi. You enter the fort here and immediately find yourself in a vaulted arcade, the Chatta Chowk.
or the Palace of Color further south of Diwan-i-Khas ,took its name from the painted interior which is now gone.On the floor in the center is a beautifully carved marble lotus and the water flowing along the channel from the Shahi Burj used to end up here.
There is a small museum of archeology in Mumtaz Mahal still further south along the eastern wall.
The great mosque of Old Delhi is both the largest in India and the final architectural extravagance of Shah Jahan. It has three great gateways, four angle towers and two minarets standing 40 km high and constructed of alternating vertical strips of red sandstone and white marble. The eastern gateway was originally opened for the emperor and is now only open on Fridays and Muslim festival days. The courtyard of the mosque can hold 25,000 people. It is possible to climb the southern minaret. The views in all directions are superb, Old Delhi, the Red Fort and the Polluting factories beyond it across the river and New Delhi to south.
This modest three storeyed octagonal tower at the north eastern edge of the fort was once shah Japans private working area.From here water used to flow south through the Royal Baths the Diwan-a -Khas, the Khas Mahal and the Rang Mahal.
Khas Mahal, south of the Diwan-I-Khas, was the Emperor’s private palace, divided into rooms for worship, sleeping, and living.
Built in 1659 by Aurangzeb for his own personal use the small and totally enclosed Pearl Mosque made of marble is next to the Baths. One curious feature of the mosque is that its outer walls are oriented exactly to be in symmetry with the rest of the fort while the inner walls are slightly askew so that the mosque has the correct orientation with Mecca.
Coronation Durbar Site
This is a must for incurable Raj fans looking for their fix of nostalgia. It’s north of Old Delhi and is best reached by an auto rickshaw. In a desolate field stands a lone obelisk and this is where in 1877 and 1903 the durbars were enacted. It was also here in1911 that King George V was declared emperor of India. If you look closely you can still see the old boy, a statue of him rises ghost-like out of the bushes nearby where it was unceremoniously dumped after being removed from the canopy midway along the Rajpath between India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan. Further inspection reveals other imperial dignitaries languishing in the scrub. These days this historic bit of spare ground is used for backyard cricket matches.
Feroz Shah Kotla
Erected by Feroz Shah Tughlaq in 1354 the ruins of Ferozabad the fifth city of Delhi can be found at Feroz Shah Kotla, just off Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg between and New Delhi. In the fortress-palace is a 13 m high sandstone Ashoka Pillar inscribed with Ashoka’s edicts. The remains of an old mosque and a fine wall can also be seen in the area, but most of the ruins of Ferozabad were used for the constriction of later cities.
About 3 km to the west of Humayuns’s tomb and adjoining the India International Center are the Lodi Gardens. In these well-kept gardens are the Tombs of the Sayid and Lodi rulers.
Beside the small Safdarjang airport, this tomb was built in 1753-54 by the Nawab of Avadh for his father, Safdarjang and is one of the last examples of Mughal architecture before the final remnants of the great empire collapsed. The tomb stands on a high terrace in an extensive garden.
Situated midway between Safdarjang and the Qutab Minar, this area was once the reservoir for the second city of Delhi, Siri which lies slightly to the east. Interesting sights here include Feroz Shah’s Tomb and the remains of an ancient college. It was around this area that Tamerlane defeated the forces of Muhammad Shah Tughlaq in 1398 .
Bahai House of Worship
Lying to the east of Siri is this building shaped like a lotus flower. Completed in 1986, it is set amongst pools and gardens and adherents of any faith are free to visit the temple and pray or meditate silently according to their religion.
The official residence of the president of India stands at the opposite end of the Rajpath from India gate. Completed in 1929, the palace-like building is an interesting blend of Mughal and western architectural styles, the most obvious Indian feature being the huge copper dome. To the west of the building is a Mughal garden which occupies 130 hectors.
Although another large and imposing building, Sansad Bhavan, the Indian Parliament building, stands almost hidden and virtually unnoticed at the end of Sansad Marg, or Parliament St, just north of Rajpath.The building is a circular colonnaded structure 171m in diameter. Permits to visit the Parliament and sit in the public gallery are available from the reception office on Raising Road, but you will need a letter of introduction from your embassy.
Located at the northern end of New Delhi, Connaught Place is the Business and tourist centre. It is a vast traffic island with an architecturally uniform series of colonnaded buildings around the edge mainly devoted to shops, banks, restaurants and airline offices.
A short stroll down Sansad Marg from Connaught Place, this red structure is one of the oberservatories built by Maharaja Jaising II. This was built in 1725 and there is a huge sundial known as the Prince of Dials.This is an interesting place to visit.
Laxmi Narayan Temple
Situated due west of Connaught Place this garish modern temple was erected by the Industrialist BD Birla in 1938. It’s dedicated to Lakshmi the goddess of prosperity and good fortune and is commonly known as Birla Mandir.
The kingsway is another focus of Lutyen’s New Delhi. It is immensely broad and is flanked on either side by ornamental ponds. The Republic Day Parade is held here on every 26th January.
North-West of Firoz Shah Kotla, on the banks of the Yamuna, a simple square platform of black marble marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated following his assassination in 1948. A commemorative ceremony takes place each Friday, the day he was killed. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian Prime minister was cremated just to the north at Shanti Vana (Forest of Peace) in 1964. His daughter Indira Gandhi who was killed in 1984 and grandsons Sanjay (1980) and Rajiv Gandhi (1991) were also cremated in this vicinity. The Raj Ghat area is now a beautiful park. The Gandhi Memorial Museum here is well worth a visit; a macabre relic is the pistol with which Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
Qutab Minar Complex
The buildings in this complex, 15 km south of Delhi gate from the onset of Muslim rule in India, are fine examples of early Afghan architecture. Qutab Minar is nearly 73m high and tapers from a 15 m diameter base to just 2.5 m at the top. The tower has five distinct storeys each marked by a protecting balcony. The first three storeys are made of red sandstone, the fourth and fifth of marble and sandstone. Although Qutab-ud-din began construction of the tower, but he could complete the first storey only. His successors completed it and in 1368, Firoz Shah Tughlaq rebuilt the top storeys and added a cupola. The earthquake brought the cupola down in 1803, an English man replaced it with another in 1829.
At the foot of Qutab Minar stands the first mosque to be built in India, the Might Quwwat of Islam Mosque. The original mosque was built on the foundations of a Hindu temple and an inscription over the east gate states that it was built with materials obtained from demolishing “27 idolatrous temples”.
When Ala-ud-din made his additions to the mosque, he also conceived a far more ambitious construction programme. He would build a second tower of victory, exactly like the Qutab Minar, except it would be twice as high! When he died the tower had reached 27m and no-one was willing to continue his over ambitious project. The uncompleted tower stands to the north of the Qutab Minar and the mosque.
This 07 metre high pillar stands in the courtyard of the mosque and has been there since long before the mosque’s construction. A six line Sanskrit line indicates that it was initially erected outside a Vishnu Temple, possibly in Bihar. It was raised in memory of the Gupta King Chandragupta Vikramaditya who ruled from 375 to 413.