Visiting Delhi - What to See and Do
(Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport DEL, India)
The fabulous city of Delhi
is one of the world's oldest settlements, thought to have first been formed some 5,000 years ago and to have been destroyed and rebuilt at least 11 times over the millennia. Its first written mention was as Indraprastha in the epic poem Mahabharata. As befits such a city, Delhi has great monuments and landmarks dating from many of its diverse incarnations.
From the magnificent Mughal Red Fort, Delhi's most famous landmark and attraction, to the city's myriad temples, tombs, towers, pillars, mosques, museums and crowded traditional markets, there is enough to keep visitors entranced from the moment they arrive until they reluctantly leave. The government tourist office runs orientation tours taking in the premier sights, but the agendas are crowded and tourists need to be able to walk fast!
The city's bazaars are a shopaholic's dream day out, although only if you are happy with haggling as a way of life. Intricate gold jewellery is a great buy, and saris and other colourful silk items are the perfect reminder of your trip. Indian curries are now world gastronomic favourites, with all types of eateries from upmarket to street food offering delicious examples.
Ten things you must do in Delhi
- The Red Fort is Delhi's star attraction and was built as a palace in 1648 by order of Shah Jahan, famous for his Taj Mahal monument to his beloved wife. The glowing red sandstone exterior and the marble palaces inside the complex housed the Shah, his wife, his harem and buildings for receiving guests.
- A UNESCO World Heritage site, Humayun's Tomb was the place of burial for the second Mughal Emperor, built in 1562. Again, the rich red sandstone was used, with highlights in white marble. Of interest, the tomb is reputed to be a model for the Taj Mahal. Its immaculate gardens are laid out in the Persian style.
- Another of Delhi's World Heritage sites, the Qutub complex dates from the 13th century and holds several structures, including the soaring Minar with its exquisitely carved exterior. The ruined Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque is where you will find the 4th century Iron Pillar, seemingly untouched by time.
- The National Museum in Delhi holds unrivalled treasures of Buddhist heritage and the Indus Valley culture, including a Gandharan Buddha, exquisite miniature paintings on ivory and a massive temple chariot. Indian culture and heritage is well explained via displays of traditional handicrafts from across the sub-continent.
- The Tughlaqabad Fort is a massive defensive complex built in the 14th century by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq to defend what is believed to have been the third city of Delhi on the site. Truly enormous and now mostly in ruins, its only inhabitants are hordes of Langur monkeys and the visitors who come to see its fallen grandeur.
- The stunningly beautiful modern Bahai Lotus Temple shines in the sunlight and is set on a man-made lake. Its form is that of a half-open lotus flower, set in a beautifully kept park. The interior is plain, but this is surely the loveliest building ever sculpted from concrete.
- The spectacular Gurudwara Bangla Sahib backs a still lake and is Delhi's premier Sikh Temple. Visitors should cover their heads and remove their shoes in this and the other major Sikh Gurdwara places of worship, such as the Sis Ganj, which is a peaceful oasis amid the clamour of Delhi's old quarter, Chandni Chowk.
- For a completely different atmosphere, a visit to the Majnu ka Tilla Tibetan Colony in Delhi is a fascinating experience. One of the most accessible Tibetan refuges in India, its Buddhist religion and the Tibetan way of life is a total change from the chaos of the city.
- The Craft Museum displays traditional folk arts in a village setting, along with artisans working on handicrafts such as textiles, jewellery, woodcarvings, pottery, embroidery, metalwork and paintings. The museum shop stocks books on India's traditional crafts, as well as the crafts themselves.
- A green space in the crowded city and a great spot for picnicking and people-watching in Delhi, the Lodi Gardens is home to massive, ancient trees, quiet walks, a pretty bridge and several red sandstone tombs illuminated at night. Full of birds and other wildlife attractions, as well as flowers and romance in the evenings, this spot is an oasis away from the noisy streets.