India - Getting to know Delhi
India's capital is without a doubt one of the world's great cities. Many visitors head straight for its awe-inspiring architecture - the ultimate depiction of colonising power. But there's so much more to the place, from exotic forts and exquisite mosques, to lip-smacking street food, and shopping that caters to every taste and budget imaginable. And although you might not expect it, there are thankfully also some tranquil spaces for down time.
Delhi is in fact the site of eight cities, which have merged into an incredible smorgasbord of unique sites and cultures which you could easily spend several weeks exploring. It's this sheer variety that we particularly love. In a single day, you can leapfrog centuries, dine on food from three continents, lose yourself in the big city chaos and bustle, and find zen-like tranquillity amidst the leafy parks and atmospheric ruins. The cultural treasures are the city's biggest draw; the British Raj-era buildings are without parallel, but Old Delhi has an atmosphere all of its own, crammed with interesting nooks and crannies alongside the imposing citadel of the Red Fort, and the exquisite Jama Masjid mosque. Delhi is cosmopolitan, too - stately in its way, with a dining scene to match the world's best, and shopping that will leave you wondering if you need to buy another suitcase.
- Old Delhi: Created by Shah Jahan, and dating back to the 17th century, this is Delhi at its most enthralling, with the mighty Red Fort and its colonnaded walkways, and the exquisite domes and minarets of Jama Masjid, the Shah's huge mosque. Once you've explored them, take a wander down Old Delhi's main thoroughfare, Chandni Chowk. It's crammed with temples, bazaars and historic mansions. If you're a foodie, this is the place to be; the street food is spectacular. Don’t leave without sampling the aloo chaat fried potato cutlets with zingy chutneys and, if you’re a meat-eater, fragrant butter chicken.
- Humayun's Tomb: Set in tranquil leafy grounds, Humayun's tomb is a stately palace of domes and arches. Said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, its soaring red sandstone walls are inlaid with white and black marble, and it's fronted by a serene pool and fountain. Explore a little further, as there are a couple of other impressive mausoleums in the gardens, including one for Humayun's barber!
- Lutyen's Delhi, India Gate, Connaught Place: Exploring this part of the city evokes all sorts of reminders of empire. At its hub are the epic constructions of English architect Edwin Lutyens. The palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan is an incredible combination of Mughal domes and classical columns. And there's the towering archway of India Gate, commemorating the Indian soldiers who died in WW1. There are also some excellent museums, in particular the vast National Museum stuffed with treasures from India's past. Nearby Connaught Place is a regal radius of Georgian-style colonnaded buildings packed with shops and restaurants. There's a park at its centre, perfect for strolling in the cool of the evening.
Delhi away from the crowds
- Lodhi Gardens & Khan Market: These manicured gardens, full of shady trees and dotted with domed tombs to Shahs of old, are wonderfully atmospheric. They're a favourite of joggers and courting couples, a serene space that never feels busy. A short stroll away, Khan market is ideal for retail therapy. Shop for branded clothes and goods at really reasonable prices without the hustle and hassle that accompanies shopping in the bazaars.
- Early morning cycle ride: One of the most interesting ways to see the city is to hop on a bike before the heat and the crowds get too intense. Two wheels are perfect for exploring the back streets and alleyways, and witnessing Delhi as it wakes. You might see bakers preparing bread for the day, the old city gates, serene Sikh temples and the spice market. Stop and mingle with the residents over a traditional Indian breakfast at a local café.
- Gurudwara Bangla Sahib: Close to Connaught Place, this peaceful Sikh temple with its white marble façade and golden domes is the perfect spot for quiet contemplation. The waters of the large colonnaded pool are said to have healing properties, and you'll see people bathing in them. Primarily a house of worship, this Gurudwara also functions as a free community kitchen; every day, volunteers produce thousands of meals to feed the visitors who, regardless of race or religion, come to eat in the langar hall.
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