I love the way people call Delhi, ‘Dilli’. It is so apt for this vibrant city in India. Delhi truly takes your heart away. And for someone who has lived most of her life in this city, I know you will fall in love with the effervescent culture, vibrant colors and spiritual presence, which makes this city so unique.
Delhi has a rich history. The city is dotted with spellbinding mosques, forts, and monuments left over from the Mughal rulers who once occupied the city. The contrast between rambling Old Delhi and the well-planned New Delhi is immense, and it’s interesting to spend time exploring both.
A Tale of Two Times
The first place one should experience on a visit is Red Fort (Hindi: Lal Quila). It is a 17th-century fort complex, constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to serve as the residence of the Mughal Emperors. It showcases intricate pieces of art and ornamental work. The artwork in the Fort is a synthesis of Persian, European and Indian. This fusion resulted in the development of the unique Shahjahani style, which is very rich in form, expression and colour. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. One can visit this great sandstone complex and imagine the days of the Mughal Empire. Each evening (except Monday) a one-hour sound-and-light show recreates events from India’s history, particularly those associated with the Red Fort.
The next thing would be to visit the Hauz Khas complex and village. It is in South Delhi and houses a water tank, an Islamic seminary, a mosque, a tomb and pavilions built around an urbanised village. Its medieval history traces back to the Delhi Sultanate reign during the 13th century.
Today, Hauz Khas village features an array of tempting art, antique, and designer boutiques. The area has also opened up to a variety of restaurants and pubs like ‘Amour’, ‘Raasta’ and ‘Out of the Box’ – a pure mix of Old and New Delhi at its best.
Visitors can easily dip into Old and New Delhi by spending half the day immersing themselves in history at the dramatic Red Fort and Jama Masjid, and the other half reviving themselves over frothy cappuccinos or frosty cocktails at one of Hauz Khas’s swanky cafés and bars.
Markets, Mosques, and Memorials
Visit Khan Market and browse its bookstores and cafes like Café Turtle and Big Chill. It is the costliest retail location in India. Favoured by expats and Delhi’s elite, the boutiques in this enclave are devoted to fashion (including tailoring), books, sunglasses, home-ware and accessories.
This is the place to find gourmet groceries, from Australian grapefruit to Italian pesto. You cannot miss the rolls of Khan Chacha (English: Khan Uncle!). From Mutton rolls to Chicken seekh Kebabs, this place is for foodies or those just looking for a taste of the local culture.
Close to Khan Market is India Gate; a memorial raised in honour of the Indian soldiers who died during the Afghan wars and World War I. The names of the soldiers who died in these wars are inscribed on the walls. The green lawns at India Gate are a popular evening and holiday rendezvous for young and old alike.
Jama Masjid new dehli mosqueI recommend visiting Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, which can hold a mind-blowing 25,000 people. Towering over Old Delhi, the ‘Friday Mosque’ was Shah Jahan’s final architectural opus, built between 1644 and 1658.
After experiencing the grandeur of the mosque, enjoy a classic non-veg meal at nearby culinary institutions Karim’s or Al-Jawahar, famous for their roasted meat kebabs.
A visit to any city is never complete until you have seen its National Museum. Delhi’s National museum gives you an overview of India’s last 5000 years. If you enjoy history and culture, this museum is a must visit when in Delhi.
Exhibits include rare relics from the Harappan Civilisation, Central Asian antiquities (including silk paintings from the 1st century AD), sacred Buddhist objects, bright jewels, miniature paintings, old coins (including Portuguese, Dutch and Danish), woodcarvings, textiles, musical instruments, fearsome Mughal weaponry, Persian manuscripts, and Indus jewelry made from shells and bones. Give yourself at least a few hours – preferably a half-day – to explore this museum, one of India’s finest.
But wait…there’s more
Kalkaji area in South Delhi has the famous Bahai temple, also known as the Lotus temple. If you want to experience a place that is serene and undisturbed, Lotus temple should definitely be on your ‘must visit list’. Designed by Iranian-Canadian architect Fariburz Sahba in 1986, this extraordinary temple is shaped like the sacred lotus flower with 27 immaculate white-marble petals as its facade. The Bahai philosophy revolves around universal peace and the elimination of prejudice, and adherents of all faiths are welcome to pray or meditate silently according to their own religion. It is particularly pretty at night when lit up. The prayer hall is the perfect respite in this bustling city; one feels peacefully sated.
Quite close to Kalkaji, is Gk 1 M- Block market. Please visit this market to try Dilli Ki Chaat, Delhi’s tangy local street food where you will find dishes such as chaat papdi (fried wafers loaded with potatoes, chickpeas, yoghurt and chili) or golgappas (fried hollow dough filled with chickpeas and spicy potatoes). The famous ‘Prince Paan shop’ is a great place to taste betel leaf combined with areca nut, tobacco, cherries and gulkand (preserve of rose petals).
Visit or stay in the Imperial Hotel. A trip through the doors is like a voyage back into the days of the Raj, with polished hallways hung with chandeliers and works of art.
The Imperial is a fine confluence of a rich historical past and contemporary international appeal. After many restorations, it still maintains its charm, and exudes its former glory. A drink at the 1911 bar is a must.
Gandhi Smriti, formerly known as Birla House or Birla Bhavan, is a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, situated on Tees January Road. It is the location where Mahatma Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life and where he was assassinated on January 30, 1948. It was originally the house of the Indian business tycoons, the Birla’s family.
I left my heart in Delhi
In the heart of New Delhi is the vast traffic circle of Connaught Place and the seven streets that radiate from it, which are divided into blocks. It has an architecturally uniform series of colonnaded buildings devoted to shops, banks, restaurants, hotels and offices.
Go to Connaught place and try Keventer’s milk shakes and also eat at Saravan Bhavan, which specializes in South Indian fare. You will find dosas, idlis and other southern specialties, accompanied by lovely fresh chutneys. Inventive sweets include cucumber-seed ladoos (sweet balls). Finish with a gratifying South Indian coffee.
To get a sense of contemporary New Delhi, visit Select Citywalk Mall in Saket district. It is a chic shopping centre that provides a modern, cutting-edge shopping experience. It houses the famous brands and many eateries and cafes.
I hope after you visit these attractions in Delhi you will remember it as Dil-li, or the place that took your heart.
Divya Patwari entered our Great Travel Writer competition for August.
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