The main street of 'Old' Delhi is a magnificent bazaar and as fine a monument to
congestion, colour and chaos as you'll find in India today. In Shah Jahan's day,
it was endowed with fine mansions, had a tree-lined canal flowing down its centre
and was renowned throughout Asia; today it's jam-packed with artisans, traders and
auto-rickshaws and comprises a fantastic cocktail of stench, movement, uproar and
fumes. There's a Jain temple at the street's eastern end, near the Red Fort; at the
western end is the Fatehpuri Mosque, built by one of Shah Jahan's wives in 1650.
Built in the mid-16th century by the senior wife of the second Mughal emperor, this
is the first important example of Mughal architecture in India. It's also one of
the most beautiful buildings in the city and should not be missed. The elements of
its design are echoed in the later Taj Mahal.
It comprises a squat building with high arched entrances topped by a bulbous dome
and surrounded by formal gardens. The gardens also contain the red-and-white sandstone
and black-and-yellow marble tomb of Humayun's wife and, somewhat surprisingly, the
tomb of Humayun's barber.
The great mosque of 'Old' Delhi is the largest in India, with a courtyard capable
of holding 25,000 devotees. It was built in 1644 and was the last in the series of
architectural indulgences of Shah Jahan, the Moghul emperor who also built the Taj
Mahal and the Red Fort.
The highly decorative mosque has three great gateways, four towers and two 40m (135ft)
high minarets constructed of strips of red sandstone and white marble.Travelers arriving
bare-legged can hire robes at the northern gate. This may be the only time you get
to dress like a local without feeling like a prat, so make the most of the hallowed
New Delhi is a monument to British Imperial ambitions solidly set in a city so fluid
and chaotic that it took less than 20 years for the entire planned municipality to
be historically obsolete. Under the leadership of architect Edward Lutyens, New Delhi
was to encapsulate the spirit of British sovereignty in marble, stone and grandeur.
The scale of the city and its wide ceremonial avenues echoed Moghul architecture,
but the buildings are classical in design and play only the merest lip service to
Indian styles. The result is indeed spacious and palatial and, compared to many planned
cities of the 20th century, still remarkably useable despite its large unshaded areas.
The major landmarks include Rashtrapati Bhavan (once the Viceroy's House, but now
the official residence of the President of India); Parliament House; the north and
south Secretariat buildings; the 40m (135ft) stone war memorial known as India Gate;
and the broad Rajpath, which is flanked with ornamental ponds and is tailor-made
for parades. Connaught Place is the day-to-day hub of New Delhi, a good place to
shop, and the scene of some fantastic traffic accidents.
The superb buildings in this complex date from the onset of Muslim rule in India.
The Qutb Minar itself is a soaring 73m/240ft-high tower of victory that was started
in 1193, immediately after the defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi. At its
base is Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid (Might of Islam Mosque), India's first.
The tower has five distinct storeys, each marked by a projecting balcony, and it
tapers, like something out of a fairy tale, from a 15m (50ft) diameter at the base
to just 2.5m (8ft) at the top. The first three storeys are made of red sandstone,
the fourth and fifth storeys of marble and sandstone. The stairs inside the tower
coil so steeply that they're enough to make the hardiest climber dizzy and claustrophobic,
and it was no surprise when a stampede during a school trip in 1979 resulted in a
number of deaths. The inside of the tower has since been closed to visitors.
An inscription over the mosque's eastern gate provocatively informs that it was built
with material obtained from demolishing 27 idolatrous (read Hindu) temples. A 7m
(23ft) high iron pillar stands in the courtyard of the mosque and it's said that
if you can encircle it with your hands whilst standing with your back to it, your
wish will be fulfilled; however, the pillar is now protected by a fence.
The red sandstone walls of the massive Red Fort (Lal Qila) rise 33m (108ft) above
the clamour of 'Old' Delhi as a reminder of the magnificent power and pomp of the
Moghul emperors. The fort's main gate, the Lahore Gate, is one of the emotional and
symbolic focal points of the modern Indian nation and attracts a major crowd each
The walls, built in 1638, may have been designed to keep out invaders, but today
they mainly keep out the noise and confusion of the city, making the fort and its
gardens and pavilions a peaceful haven from the surrounding chaos.