The National Museum, just south of Rajpath, provides a good overview of Indian culture and history. The foreigners’ entry fee includes a free audio tour, but you need to leave a passport, driving licence, credit card or a cash deposit, and the exhibits the tour covers are rather random. At a trot, you can see the museum in a couple of hours, but to get the best out of your visit you should set aside at least half a day.
The most important exhibits are on the ground floor, kicking off in room 4 with the Harappan civilization. The Gandhara sculptures in room 6 betray a very obvious Greco-Roman influence. Room 9 has some very fine bronzes, most especially those of the Chola period (from south India between the ninth and the thirteenth centuries), and a fifteenth-century statue of Devi from Vijanaraya in south India, by the left-hand wall. Among the late medieval sculptures in room 10 is a fearsome, vampire-like, late Chola dvarapala (a guardian figure built to flank the doorway to a shrine), also from south India, and a couple of performing musicians from Mysore. Room 12 is devoted to the Mughals, and in particular their miniature paintings. Look out also for two paintings depicting a subject you wouldn’t expect – the nativity of Jesus. It’s worth popping upstairs to the textiles, and the musical instruments collection on the second floor is outstanding. The Central Asian antiquities collection includes a large number of paintings, documents, ceramics and textiles from Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) and the Silk Route, dating from between the third and twelfth centuries. On your way out, take a look at the massive twelve-tiered temple chariot from Tamil Nadu, an extremely impressive piece of woodwork in a glass shelter just by the southern entrance gate.