Delhi, one of India’s fastest growing cities, has spread far beyond the “seven cities” created between the 13th and the 17th centuries. It has sprawled over the west bank of the Yamuna and now straddles the river. Delhi, India’s capital territory, is a massive metropolitan area in the country’s north. In Old Delhi, a neighbourhood dating to the 1600s, stands the imposing Mughal-era Red Fort, a symbol of India, and the sprawling Jama Masjid mosque, whose courtyard accommodates 25,000 people. The history of this centre of power dates to the first millennium BC. In 1955 excavations within the Purana Qila revealed that the area was inhabited more than 3000 years ago. This was Indraprastha, a site associated with the epic Mahabharata. Nearby is Chandni Chowk, a vibrant bazaar filled with food carts, sweets shops and spice stalls. Delhi has some of the finest museums in the country. Its boutiques and shopping arcades offer access to a wealth of traditional and contemporary crafts from all over the country. A clearer picture emerges at the end of the 10th century. The Tomar Rajputs built Lal Kot, the core of the first of Delhi’s seven cities. Later, another Rajput king, Prithviraj Chauhan — the hero of ballads and legends —extended it to create the Qila Rai Pitbora.
It is the earliest extant mosque in India and within its courtyard stands the 4th-century standard of Lord Vishnu, the famous, uncorroded Iron Pillar. Nearby, he raised the towering minaret, the Qutub Minar, one of Delhi’s landmarks. Other architectural gems within this complex include the tomb of Iltutmish and the Alai Darwaza.
Chandni Chowk, the moonlit square, is adjacent to the mosque and leads to the heart of the walled city. This was once a tree-lined bazaar with a canal flowing through its centre. Today, it is one of the largest trading centres in northern India – thriving, congested and chaotic. Chandni Chowk is replete with historical landmarks and each of its bylanes leads into a world of spices or silver or perfumes or textiles.
Around 1311, Allaudin Khilji established Siri, the second city and dug a vast reservoir at Hauz Khas. Very little remains of Siri, but Hauz Khas was extensively renovated a few decades later. Now, ethnic boutiques and cafes dot the Hauz Khas village and the location is as attractive as the exclusive goods on sale.
In April 1639 the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan laid the foundation of Shahjahanabad, Delhi’s seventh city, and it epitomizes the grandeur of his empire. The Red Fort, Shah Jahan’s sandstone citadel encompasses grand audience halls — where the legendary Peacock Throne once stood — and marble palaces ornamented with exquisite pietra dura. Opposite the Red Fort is the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque.
New Delhi was built in 1911. The classy commercial centre of Connaught Place was planned as part of New Delhi. Along with stalls on Janpath, and Emporia on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, it is a shopper’s paradise. Rather characteristically, an 18th-century masonry observatory, the Jantar Mantar, lies in the midst of this commercial area.
The 340-roomed Viceregal Lodge, now the Rashtrapati Bhawan, was raised on Raisina Hill. Nearby are India Gate, a World War I memorial. Parliament House, the prestigious National Museum and the National Gallery of Modern Art. On Republic Day, Rajpath witnesses a display of pageantry.