Delhi through my eyes – A slice of history and old Delhi experience
They say if you have grown up in this city, there’s no other place on earth you would ever find quite like it. It is quite an experience for those visiting it for the first time. For me Delhi is somewhere in between. I love exploring the rich history of the place, immerse myself in the culture, tickle my taste buds with delectable food that only Delhi can serve and soak in the experience that is Delhi.
Here are some of the things we did while in Delhi. I do hope you find then equally enthralling.
1) Explore famous historical monuments
These give Delhi its identity as much as they are known for the city they call home.
a) Qutub Minar – A tower from the 12th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Within the Qutub Complex, which houses an array of monuments and buildings at Mehrauli in Delhi is this soaring 238 feet minar (tower) – 47 feet at the base and tapers to nine feet at the apex. The origin and purpose of the tower is mired in controversy.
Built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak, who was inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and wished to surpass it. The most commonly agreed theory is that Qutub Minar was erected as a tower to mark his victory over Rai Pithora, the fort of Prithviraj Chauhan in Delhi and thus to mark the advent of Muslim dominance in Delhi (and India). There are some who argue that it was built as a minaret to call Muslims to the mosque for prayer.
You cannot be but awed by this magnificent 5 storeyed structure. Made of red sandstone and marble, the intricate architecture and designs on this minar is par excellence. While the mosque area adjacent to it is in ruins , this still stands tall and majestic. The intricate carvings and inscriptions at the base of the first tower and at the balcony of each minaret floor is exquisite. Inside the tower, a circular staircase with 379 steps leads to the top. Access to inside the minar is barred ever since the tragic stampede incident in which 45 lives were lost on 4 December, 1981.
Trivia : The last song filmed in Qutab Minar “Dil Ka Bhanwar Kare Pukar” from the film Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, featuring the handsome Dev Anand and the pretty Nutan.
Remember it ?
b) Quwwat-Ul-Islam (Glory of Islam) Masjid
Within the premises of Qutub Complex, which houses these gems from the 12th century is the first ever mosque built in India. After Qutub-ud-din-Aibek’s occupation of Delhi, he ordered demolition of ’27 Hindu – Jain temples’ in the area to furnish building materials for the construction of Delhi’s first mosque. The ornamented columns from these temples were heavily plastered over and re-used for this construction. After centuries of neglect the plaster has fallen away, revealing the original Hindu carvings.
The mosque is in ruins today, but traces of the architectural beauty can be seen in the arches, pillars etc.
Fine calligraphy on the arches of the mosque
c) The Iron Pillar
This 23 feet high iron pillar stands in the courtyard of the mosque. It bears inscription that dedicates it to God Vishnu and in memory of Gupta King Chandragupta II (375-415 AD), thus dating back to 4th century BC !
As a child I remember this to be one of Delhi’s most curious antiques. It was a popular practice to stand with one’s back to the pillar and make one’s hands meet behind it, for wish fulfillment. And what a big queue it used to be ! Now a fence is created around the iron pillar for preservation and to avoid wear and visible discoloration of the pillar owing to this practice.
This pillar is a symbol of progress of metallurgy in ancient India. Made of 98% wrought iron, it has survived 1600 years without rusting !
The complex area is lush green and well maintained. The kids had a great time running around on the grass, while the rest of the family sat down for some conversation.
Trivia – Smith’s Folly
Due to the immense height of Qutub Minar, it is prone to damage due to lightning striking and other natural calamities. After a lightning strike in 1368 which destroyed the top storey of the minar, Sultan Firoz Shah Tughluq got it replaced with two floors, introducing white marble, and crowned it with a cupola. The next damage done by the earthquake of 1803 was significant enough to destroy Firoz Shah’s cupola completely. The then British Governor-General of India , Lord Wellesly tasked Major Robert Smith with the repair work. Only, Major Smith exceeded his brief and replaced an Indo-Islamic cupola with an Indian style chatthri (umbrella)! The tower of Muslim dominance was adorned with a Hindu cupola! It was eventually taken down in 1848 and placed it on the outer lawns of the Qutub Complex, where it still lies. It has been called Smith’s Folly ever since.
d) India Gate
I have such fond memories of this place. My uncle was in the defence services and his living quarters was very close to India gate. We used to visit mostly during the summer vacation and would look forward to the cooler evenings near India gate to play, sit around and just talk.
The India Gate at Rajpath, is a war memorial to 82,000 soldiers of the undivided Indian Army who died during the First World War. Sir Edwin Lutyens design of this memorial is often compared to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and the Gateway of India in Mumbai.
I remember this as a memorial for any soldier, decorated or unknown, who sacrificed his life for India in any war. It is a black marble plinth with reversed rifle, a war helmet and bounded by four eternal flames – called Amar Jawan Jyoti (Flame of the Immortal Soldier).
2) Experience purani dilli (Old Delhi)
While we were very keen on the visit to Red fort and Chandni Chowk, the commute was not an easy one. Especially since we had children and parents accompanying us. We decided to hop on to the metro, the first time for my parents. Changing lines at Rajiv Chowk, the busiest station on the network, was a challenge and an experience. Once at Chandni Chowk, it got busier – if possible.
After haggling with the autorickshaw on price, we headed towards Red Fort. You need to be very brave, especially if you on your first visit to India, to survive a drive on these narrow roads of Chandni Chowk. I may take pride in my driving skills – but Chandni Chowk is a definite NO !
The experience ? Exhilarating 🙂
a) Red Fort – A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Red Fort was constructed in 1648 by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and named aptly for its massive outer walls of red sandstone. It was the mughal seat of power for nearly 200 years, until 1857. It was residence to the Mughal emperor and the ceremonial and political centre of Mughal government. It is located in old Delhi area and is home to a number of museums.
Every year on India’s Independence Day (15 August), the Prime Minister of India hoists the national flag at the Red Fort and delivers a speech from here which is broadcasted to the entire nation.
A sound and light show describing Mughal history is a tourist attraction in the evenings. It is a must watch and gives you very crisp information about Delhi and its rich history.
The Red Fort is the largest monument in Delhi and attracts thousands of visitors and tourists every year.
b) Jama Masjid
India’s largest mosque, Jama Masjid, was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, between 1644 and 1656 AD. It has three great gates, four towers and two 40 m high minarets constructed by alternating vertical strips of red sandstone and white marble. The courtyard can accommodate a staggering 25,000 people.
One can enter from gate 1 or 3 and climb 121 steps up the narrow minaret. 7.45 am is when you may want to be there if you want to witness a prayer session, being a non-Muslim. Unaccompanied women are not permitted, but you may take a guide along who will expect a tip. From top of the minaret, you can see the design consideration of architect Edwin Lutyens for New Delhi – the Jama Masjid, Connaught Place and Parliament House are in a straight line.
As in any place of worship in India, visitors will need to remove their shoes before entering.
c) Gali Paranthe Wali
Being a foodie that we are – how could we miss the famous must-visit gourmet place when we were in the vicinity ! The first thing that greets your sensory organs as you approach the area is the smell of oil being heated and aroma of spices. There is a constant din of loud conversation and the hustle bustle of the narrow yet busy lane, known as Gali Paranthe Wali in the Chandni Chowk area . In this commotion, you will find a series of shops selling paratha, a fried Indian bread. The sight of the golden, deep fried paratha is a beacon to all the foodies that patronize this place. The parathas though deep fried are not very oily and are served with vegetables like aloo-methi, kele-sonth ki chutney and pumpkin ki sabzi. These are pure vegetarian places, run by Brahmins and the food does nor contain any onion and garlic even.
Chandni Chowk became a settlement around the Red Fort in 1650. During older days, this lane was known only for its silverware shops before the Parantha shops moved in the 1870s.
Of the 20 parantha shops in the Paranthe Wali Gali in 1960s, only three remain today: Pt Kanhaiyalal Durgaprasad Dixit (estd 1875), Pt Dayanand Shivcharan (estd 1882) and Pt Baburam Devidayal Paranthewale (estd 1886). Some of the oldest shops have been running for as long 120 years !
3) Dilli Haat
I just loved this concept. Dilli Haat, located in South Delhi opposite INA market, is a permanent open-air food plaza and craft bazaar. Spread over 6 acres, the small thatched roof cottages and kiosks render a village like atmosphere. These stalls are allotted on a rotational basis to craftsmen who come from all corners of India to sell their handicrafts, at nominal payment for a period of 15 Days. This ensures that visitors get access to authentic wares at prices not inflated by high maintenance costs.
Visit it during the day and the deluge of colors will blow you away. Browse these shops at your leisure and you have handicrafts and wares from numerous Indian states to choose from.
Visit it in the evening and you will be delivered a visual treat of lights and lamps, giving the whole setup a very rustic and festive look. Over the years, Dilli Haat has become a venue of crafts, music, dance and cultural festivals. In the evening you can catch some of these performances live.
You can also sample the inimitable flavors of local foods from the various regions of India, served in an Eco friendly manner.
This had been for the longest time one of the things to do for me in Delhi. Not for me the shops in Greater Kailash. It was the Lajpat Nagar, Sarojini Nagar and Karol Bagh that had me drooling. I just love the ambience, the haggling, the exploring and finally coming back with bags full of goodies.
Some of the charm of these shops are now lost either due to availability of these goods all over the country and significant modernization of these shops. Even then, if you have not had a chance to visit these markets – you must make it during your next trip to Delhi. You will not regret the decision.
Do you agree ? Are there other things you suggest I try ? Would love to hear from you !
Things you may want to know before the travel
- Traveling within Delhi, one case use a combination of metros and autorickshaw. Delhi metro details can be found here .
- In general it is advisable to avoid summers in Delhi, as it gets really hot. Best time to visit is September through March. Winter will be cold though.
- Entry fee to Qutub Complex – Rs. 10/- per head (for Indians and visitors from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Afghanistan, Thailand and Myanmar) and Rs. 250/- per head (for visitors from other countries).
- Entry to Qutub complex free for children up to 15 years.
- To reach Qutub Complex, get down at Qutub Minar Metro Station on the Yellow Line and walk the short distance or take an autorickshaw.
- Red fort visiting Hours: 9:30AM to 4:30PM daily (except Monday). Entry Fee for Red Fort: Rs.10/-(For Indian Citizens) and Rs.150/- (For foreigners). Entry Fee for Sound and Light Show: Rs.50/-
- No charge to enter the Jama Masjid mosque. If you are carrying a camera, you will have to pay for it irrespective of your intent to use it or not.
- Gali Paranthe Wali : All shops remain open from 9 am to 11 pm.
- To reach Gali Paranthe Wali, take the metro till Chandini Chowk Metro Station. Walk out of the station and head to the bylane on the opposite side of the road.
- Dilli haat : Cost of ticket is Rs.20/- for adult and Rs.10/- for child. Parking slot could be a bit far if it’s a self drive as the parking is always nearly full.