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Published: January 13th 2020
Delhi, India’s capital city, actually consists of two areas -the historic Old Delhi and New Delhi.
Old Delhi was founded as Shahjahanabad in 1639, when Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor at the time, decided to shift the capital from Agra. This area is the chaotic and bustling heart of Delhi, crammed with narrow streets, crumbling buildings, laneways heaving with overstocked bazaars, vibrant colours, ambling cows, rickshaws, hand pulled wooden carts loaded high with merchandise, and lots and lots of people.
New Delhi, designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens, the Indian capital is a striking modern metropolis. A gracious contrast to Old Delhi's winding streets, the grand avenues and stately buildings of New Delhi are rich with history and culture. New Delhi serves as the capital of India and seat of all three branches of the Indian Government.
Delhi has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century BCE. Through most of its history, Delhi has served as a capital of various kingdoms and empires. It has been captured, ransacked and rebuilt several times, particularly during the medieval period. No records have been found of Delhi's ancient history prior to the 12th century, though it is one of the longest-serving
capitals and oldest inhabited cities in the world, along with Varanasi and Jerusalem.
Arriving in late afternoon, we caught the Metro into the city from just outside Terminal 3, for the princely sum of R60, just over a dollar. It was well signed, with a walkway heading underground, then a tunnel walk to the platform itself. The train wasn't crowded, we claimed seats, and disembarked at New Delhi Railway Station Metro Station 20 minutes later. A taxi would have taken an hour through Delhi's congested streets.
This metro station isn't in the railway station building, it's situated behind it, separated by a car park, food vendors, scam artists and dozens of taxis and drivers who pounced as soon as they saw us. We could see the back of the railway station easily enough, it had a huge illuminated sign across the facade and, to reach our accomodation, I knew we had to walk there, and cross the 16 platforms via an overhead foot bridge. So we headed in that direction, fending off taxi drivers, to be pulled up by a man with a clipboard wanting to see our security pass. We can't go that way, he informed us,
the foot bridge is closed due to a demonstration outside the front of the railway station. Next he's joined by two more men and we find ourselves standing next to a very handy auto rickshaw. Then I notice other people, mainly Indian nationals, were walking by, heading in the direction we were told we couldn't go. We had been pulled up by scammers, probably hoping to sell us an expensive fare or some new accomodation, at the very least. After a few choice words to this motley group, we tightened our hands on our suitcases and walked away, they made no attempt to follow us, thank goodness.
Once in the railway station we joined the queue to have our suitcases scanned, walked over the foot bridge, and exited the front of the station. I knew our hotel was towards the right, and on a corner a few hundred metres down the street. We found it easily enough and were soon settled into lovely, clean and modern rooms at Bloomrooms@New Delhi Railway Station. The streets outside were chaotic and filthy, as they were around most places we stayed, but once through those front doors, everything changed for the better.
After settling in we walked back the way we come, heading for the Paharganj District, directly opposite the railway station, looking for dinner.
Paharganj has the reputation of being Delhi’s cheapest and most hectic neighbourhood, the entrance to Paharganj's main thoroughfare is called the Main Bazaar. It stretches for roughly a kilometre and teems with an endless procession of people, animals, and vehicles. Paharganj is definitely not for the faint of heart. It's chaotic, noisy, dirty, and full of crumbling buildings. The area is favoured by backpackers and budget travellers for its multitude of cheap accommodation options.
The next morning we met at breakfast at 7.00am. A big day was planned, we were using the metro to get around Delhi so headed back to the railway station, back across that foot bridge, back to the metro station where we paid R150 ($3) each for a one day tourist pass. Had we bothered to returned our cards, we would have been refunded R50.
First stop was Qutub Minar, (accessable from Qutub Minar metro station on the yellow line) a minaret located in the Qutub complex, established around 1192. The complex was very well maintained, litter free, with sweeping
Delhi Street Scene
I had my photos taken in front of this door in 2013.
lawns and gardens.
This is the victory tower of Mughal, which indicated the beginning of Muslim rule in India. Inscriptions on site record that 27 Hindu and Jain temples were torn down, and used for its creation. Pillars from the destroyed temples were reused and the original images plastered over. Over the years the plaster has fallen off, revealing the original Hindu carvings.
The tower has five tapering storeys. The lower three storeys are made of pale red sandstone, the fourth is made of marble and the fifth is made of marble and sandstone. Each storey has a balcony surrounded by exclusive artworks. At the foot of the monument, you can find a mosque, Quwwat-ul-Islam. This is the first mosque that was built in the country, and so the earliest that still survives on the Indian subcontinent.
At one time the general public was allowed access to the top of the minaret, via the internal spiral staircase of 380 steps. In December 1981, the staircase lighting failed and visitors stampeded towards the exit, killing 47 people in the crush. Since then, the tower has been closed to the public.
The Iron Ashoka Pillar of Delhi is
Detail of the beautiful carving
also located in this complex. Ninety eight percent pure wrought iron, this column is a testament to the high level of skill achieved by ancient Indian ironsmiths. The interesting fact about it is that it has never corroded since it’s creation 1600 years ago. This is because of the accidental formation of a passive protective film during the making of the pillar, which has left 1/20th of a millimetre of misawite on its surface. Misawite is a compound of iron, oxygen and hydrogen which does not rust.
From here we headed to Humayun's Tomb, also on the yellow line, exit at Jai Bagh Metro Station. The tomb of Mughal emperor Humayun, is considered an architectural masterpiece and is the first garden tomb to be built in India. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993 which further adds to importance of this impressive structure of red sandstone, it’s the first structure in India to be built in the Mughal style.
Located in the middle of a garden complex, Humayun’s tomb is built on a raised platform 7 meters high. The garden around the tomb is Char Bagh garden, Persian in layout, symbolizing the garden of paradise. There are
around 150 tombs and many prominent buildings inside the complex.
Chandi Chowk, the 1.5klm road stretching from Red Fort to the Fatehpuri Misjid is a construction zone, the entire road has been ripped up with two metre high walls running down either side. An internet check tells me this work was started in December 2018, over a year ago. So far all overhead wiring and telecom lines have been moved underground but the road itself, which is being turned into a pedestrian only zone, is barely started, with the advertised deadline being March 2020.
Many of the traders here were closed, being Sunday, though the footpaths were crowded with bazaar stalls and pedestrians. There's always something to look at or click a photo of, and the hours passed effortlessly as we wandered around. There are so many sari shops here, streets of them, full of heavily embroidered and embellished saris in vibrant colours, and the most beautiful fabrics we've ever seen. One thing the Indian women aren't afraid of wearing is colour and bling.
We could have spent the afternoon at Red Fort and Jama Masjid, but I've visited both these places before and neither of us
What's left of the old mosque
was particularly interested. I think we have seen so many historical monuments over the past weeks, they have become just another fort and mosque. We enjoyed our ramble through the bazaars, eating from a vegetarian food stall and spending a little money on things we don't need. Or, as Hariom would have said, helping the Indian economy.
Tomorrow morning we have at 6.45am pickup by a private driver to the railway station, even though it's just down the road. Our driver will make sure we board the right train and see us on the way to our next, and final, destination - Amritsar.
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