Delhi is the symbol of old India and new…even the stones here whisper to our ears of the ages of long ago and the air we breathe is full of the dust and fragrances of the past, as also of the fresh and piercing winds of the present.Jawaharlal Nehru
India’s capital, Delhi is the hub of the country: a buzzing international metropolis which draws people from across India and the globe. Home to fifteen million people, it’s big, sprawling and still growing. Yet tucked away inside Delhi’s modern suburbs and developments are tombs, temples and ruins dating back centuries; in some places, the remains of whole cities from the dim and distant past nestle among homes and highways built in just the last decade or two. The result is a city full of fascinating nooks and crannies that you could happily spend weeks, or even months, exploring.
From a tourist’s perspective, Delhi is divided into two main parts. Old Delhi is the city of the Mughals and dates back to the seventeenth century. It’s the capital’s most frenetic quarter, and its most Islamic, a reminder that for more than seven hundred years Delhi was a Muslim-ruled city. While many of the buildings enclosing Old Delhi’s teeming bazaars have a tale to tell, its greatest monuments are undoubtedly the magnificent constructions of the Mughals, most notably the mighty Red Fort, and the Jama Masjid, India’s largest and most impressive mosque.
To the south, encompassing the modern city centre, is New Delhi, built by the British to be the capital of their empire’s key possession. A spacious city of tree lined boulevards, New Delhi is also impressive in its own way. The Rajpath, stretching from India Gate to the Presidential Palace, is at least as mighty a statement of imperial power as the Red Fort, and it’s among the broad avenues of New Delhi that you’ll find most of the city’s museums, not to mention its prime shopping area, centered around the colonnaded facades of Connaught Place, the heart of downtown Delhi.
As the city expands, however – which it is doing at quite a pace – the centre of New Delhi is becoming too small to house the shops, clubs, bars and restaurants needed to cater to the affluent and growing middle class. Many businesses are moving into South Delhi, the vast area beyond the colonial city. Here, among the modern developments, and new business and shopping areas, is where you’ll find some of Delhi’s most ancient and fascinating attractions. Facing each other at either end of Lodi Road, for example, lie the constructions marking two ends of the great tradition of Mughal garden tombs: Humayun’s Tomb, its genesis, and Safdarjang’s Tomb, its last gasp. Here too, you’ll find the remains of the six cities that preceded Old Delhi, most notably the Qutb Minar and the rambling ruins of Tughluqabad.
As a place to hit India for the first time, Delhi isn’t a bad choice. The city is used to foreigners: hotels in all price ranges cater specifically for foreign tourists, and you’ll meet plenty of experienced fellow travellers who can give you tips and pointers. And there’s certainly no shortage of things to see and do while you acclimatize yourself to the Subcontinent. Quite apart from its historical treasures, Delhi has a host of museums and art treasures, cultural performances and crafts that showcase the country’s diverse heritage. The city’s growing nightlife scene boasts designer bars, chic cafés and decent clubs. And – particularly useful if it’s from Delhi that you’re flying home – you’ll find that you can buy goods here from pretty much anywhere else in India, so it’s a good place to stock up with souvenirs and presents.