City Guide

Four hours in Delhi 2009

29 Oct 2009 by AndrewGough

1 - Old Delhi

Old Delhi, New Delhi, Delhi, India

Like everywhere in India, Delhi’s history lies close beneath its surface, and to understand the new, cosmopolitan city, it’s worth beginning with a visit to Old Delhi. Head to Chawri Bazar metro station (delhimetrorail.com) first. Originally called Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi was built as a fortified citadel by the Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. While the walls have now largely disappeared, the inner maze of narrow streets remains, and are now home to a market where you can find almost anything. The trick is to know what you’re looking for – if you’re after jewellery, go to Dariba Kalan, or for colourful trinkets, try Kinari Bazar. There are also areas specialising in spices and cameras, but be prepared to haggle. Take some time to explore the area around Chandni Chowk and don’t worry too much about getting lost – the friendly locals will point you back in the right direction. While you’re there, check out the narrow street known as “Paranthe Wali Gali”, dedicated to the paratha, a tasty, filled fried bread. They’ll make it while you watch, and it’s delicious as an afternoon snack or breakfast. Take it with masala chae, a wonderfully refreshing spiced, milky, sugary tea.

2 - Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid, New Delhi, Delhi, India

Head back to Chawri Bazar Road and aim for the elegant white domes of the Jama Masjid, which rise above the rooftops. Also built under the emperor, Old Delhi’s red sandstone mosque with delicate marble detail has seen daily prayers since it was built in the mid-17th century. Its construction took only six years, using a workforce of some 6,000 labourers and the leading architects of the day. The position of imam at the mosque has stayed in the same family since its completion in 1656, with the role passing from father to son. It has three entrances, with flights of stone steps leading up from the north, south and east, and is free to enter, though there is a Rs 200 (£2.50) charge to take a camera inside. The mosque is open from 30 minutes after sunrise to 12.15pm, and 1.45pm to 30 minutes before sunset. It’s also closed for

30 minutes in the afternoon for prayers. If you have the time, and the inclination, you can climb one of the towers (9am-5.30pm, Rs 100/£1.50) for a stunning view of the old city and nearby Red Fort.

Jama Masjid - Old Delhi

3 - Rashtrapati Bhavan

Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, Delhi, India

The area known as Lutyens’ Delhi, so named after the architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens, who designed the wide-avenued, grandiose New Delhi for the British, is a world away from the busy back streets of Old Delhi. Jump on the metro and head to Central Secretariat, where you can pick up an auto-rickshaw or taxi for the rest of the tour – tell the driver in advance where you want to go, and you can negotiate a rate. First stop is Rashtrapati Bhavan, otherwise known as the Presidential Palace. With its vast pillared edifice and Roman Pantheon-inspired dome, it was built to house the British Viceroy of India and is now the official residence of the President of India. You can’t go beyond the gates but it’s worth peering through the bars at the building’s perfect symmetry, while in the other direction, at the end of Rajpath, there is a great view of the India Gate war memorial and its surrounding lawns.

4 - Gandhi Smriti

Gandhi Smriti, New Delhi, Delhi, India

The place where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, less than a year after India gained independence, is now a place of pilgrimage. Located at 5 Tees January Marg, 15 minutes’ drive south of Rashtrapati Bhavan, there is a museum explaining how the Mahatma (“great soul”) came to be officially honoured as the Father of the Nation, and a glass case containing his few belongings. In the gardens you’ll find terracotta footprints in the outline of the distinctive wooden sandals that Gandhi wore, to mark the path he walked before he was shot at 5.17pm on January 30, 1948. The spot where he died is marked by a simple stone memorial. Behind this is an unassuming building – step inside to see the rich mural that illustrates Gandhi’s life, with scenes from his childhood, his time spent training as a barrister in London, his period in South Africa, and his return home to campaign for Indian independence. Visit gandhismriti.gov.in

5 - India Habitat Centre

India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, Delhi, India

Next, head south to the India Habitat Centre on Lodi Road, a 20-minute journey, traffic permitting. Designed by US architect Joseph Stein, the high brick building is home to a number of business institutions, a conference centre, a theatre and several gallery spaces. Entering into the complex is a little like stepping into a peaceful oasis, with shaded benches, water features and sumptuous greenery. Its exhibitions change regularly, so you might see paintings inspired by the Hindu epic the Ramayana, images of contemporary India by leading photojournalists, or abstract sculptures by Delhi art students. Visit indiahabitat.org or habitatworld.com

6 - Dilli Haat

Dilli Haat, New Delhi, Delhi, India

To pick up some arts and crafts to take home, head to Dilli Haat, ten minutes from Lodi Road on Aurobindo Marg. Designed to look like a traditional village, with low, thatched huts, it’s great for browsing and, as always in India, a little bargaining goes a long way. Hawkers come from all over to sell their wares – pashminas from Kashmir, camel-leather slippers from Rajasthan and bronze trinkets from Gujarat. There’s also a food section serving cuisine from across the country. Try a masala dosa, a delicious filled pancake from southern India, or steamed momos from Sikkim in the far north. Entry is Rs 15 (20p).

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