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Sightseeing in New Delhi

With a wide range of options available for places to visit in New Delhi you can easily spend days exploring the city.

Central New Delhi

Central New Delhi is where the government offices and the main commercial area is centred. Designed and built by the British architect Edwin Lutyens and his friend Sir Herbert Baker, the new capital was formally inaugurated in 1931. The Rajpath, formerly known as King’s Way, runs from west to east with the Rashtrapati Bhavan at the top of the Raisina Hill in the west and India Gate standing on the eastern end. Flanked by manicured lawns, Rajpath hosts the Republic Day celebrations in January.

Down Rajpath, in the eastern end is India Gate, the war memorial designed and built by Lutyens in 1921. This 43 metre arched gateway rises on a base of light brown Bharatpur stone. It commemorates some 90,000 Indian soldiers who were killed in the first World War and thousands of British and Indian soldiers killed on the Northwest Frontier and Afghan War of 1919.

Under the arch is the Amar Jawan Jyoti, a memorial added on for Indian soldiers killed in the Indo-Pak war of 1971. In front of India Gate is an open cupola that originally housed a statue of King George V.

Rashtrapati Bhavan, built as the Viceroy’s residence, now houses the President of India, the constitutional head of the Indian Union. This H-shaped building with its Mughal-style domes, Indian chhatris, and filigree carvings along with a distinctive classical structure was designed to reflect an amalgamation of Indian styles with western architecture. Sitting on top of the Raisina Hill, the interiors of the building are closed to the public.

At the entrance iron gates, there is a ceremonial change of guards every Saturday between 09:35 am and 10:15 am that is worth viewing. Between the inner residence and the entrance stands the 145 metre high Jaipur Column, donated by the Maharaja of Jaipur. Topped by a five-pointed glass star on a bronze lotus, the base of the column has an etching of the original plan of the new city. The Mughal Gardens, laid out in the formal style of the Muslim quadrangular pleasure gardens, has beautifully laid out parks and flowerbeds intersected by water channels and fountains. The gardens are opened to the public in February, when the winter flowers are in full bloom.

On both sides of Rajpath are the Secretariats, called the North Block and the South Block. These long office blocks topped with Baroque domes, and overlaid with Indian motifs like the lotus and elephants, were built by Sir Herbert Baker. In front of the Secretariats is the Vijay Chowk (Victory crossing) where the ceremonial Beating Retreat is performed culminating the Republic Day celebrations.

Northeast of the Rashtrapati Bhavan is the Parliament House or Sansad Bhavan. This circular building spread over more than five acres has high buff pillars in front and a dome concealed by an upper storey. The building is divided into three sections, housing the library, the Council of States, the Rajya Sabha and the Assembly or Lok Sabha. The library, which was originally the Council of Princes, is heavily decorated with teak panels and the coats of arms of the erstwhile Indian Royal families. It has an extensive collection of books and historical records from the 1920s.

Close to Parliament House are the Church of the Redemption and the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, both designed by Henry Medd. The Church of the Redemption with a domed tower, curved vaults and a group of angels looking down from the curved roof of the altar, was highly favoured by Lord Irwin. The Church of the Sacred Heart, with a distinct Italianate influence, has a façade of white pillars and dark brick background. It has a towering curved roof, polished stone floors and deep arches set into the walls.

On Pandit Pant Marg, off Parliament Street is the Rakabganj Gurudwara. This 20th century shrine of white marble marks the place where the ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur’s body was cremated. The Guru was executed by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb in 1657.

On Ashoka Road, close by, is another much revered shrine, the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. Built of white marble and topped with a golden dome, it is a popular pilgrim spot. In the main hall is the shrine containing the holy Granth Sahib; covered with flower petals. There is a continuous recitation from the holy book, and a free dining hall opens for visitors thrice a day.

The commercial centre of Connaught Place is one of the best option for sightseeing in New Delhi. It was designed by Robert Tor Russell, chief architect of the Government of India. Originally designed in a horseshoe shape, this double storied arcade complex now almost completes a full circle. Divided into blocks from A to N with seven radial roads running out, the complex is surrounded by a radial road called Connaught Circus.

To the south is Janpath, which houses the popular Tibetan market selling readymade garments, leather products, brassware, paintings, and all sorts of knick-knacks. In the centre of the complex is an underground shopping area called Palika Bazaar, mostly filled with electronics goods shops. On the surface is a lawn where hawkers amble around people stretching out to catch the afternoon sun or savour the shade.

On Parliament Street, just off Connaught Place is the Jantar Mantar observatory. The first of five such open-air observatories placed in other cities of India, it was built in 1725 by Maharaja Jai Singh II. Huge plastered brick sundials surrounded by palm trees were used to make astronomical calculations and update the solar and lunar calendars. The Jantar Mantar is now also a popular site for dharnas or sit-ins supporting some cause or the other.

The Lakshmi Narayan Temple, also called the Birla Mandir lies west of Connaught Place. Faced with red and ochre stone and white marble on its exterior, the temple is built on several levels around a central courtyard.

The main shrine is dedicated to Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and Narayan (form of Vishnu).The inner walls have quotations from the holy Bhagavata Gita and the Upanishads, some of which are also translated to English. Next to the temple is a dharamshala (rest house) and a Buddhist monastery.

Away from the prosperous and somewhat orderly shopping areas of Connaught Place, is the market area of Paharganj. To the west as you leave the New Delhi railway station, the Paharganj area is popular with budget tourists for its cheap hotels and eating places. Besides the travel agencies, telecommunication outlets and roadside snack stalls, Paharganj is an important trading centre. Shops here sell almost everything from furniture to locks to spices. Owing to the tourist traffic, this area is infested with unscrupulous drug dealers and touts.

Leaving New Delhi, as one proceeds on the Ring Road are the ruins of Firoz Shah Kotla. The most remarkable structure in this citadel complex is the 3rd century BC polished sandstone Ashoka column. A circular baoli (step well) and the ruins of a great mosque can be seen next to the pillar. To the south of the Firoz Shah Kotla is the exhibition ground or Pragati Maidan where international and Indian fairs and exhibitions are hosted during winter.

Beyond Delhi Gate the River Yamuna is fringed by several ghats or landings, which were originally used for bathing and washing clothes. This waterfront has now been developed into a line of memorials for prominent post-independence national leaders who were cremated here. Raj Ghat is the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, assassinated just after independence in 1948. Alongside Raj Ghat are Shanti Vana, the memorial of Jawaharlal Nehru, Shakti Sthala for Indira Gandhi, Vijay Ghat for Lal Bahadur Shastri and the memorials of Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Opposite Raj Ghat is the Gandhi Memorial Museum displaying photographs, writings, and articles associated with Mahatma Gandhi. Every Sunday, there is a special screening of a film on his life.

South Delhi

Most of Delhi’s early settlements, including Lal Kot and the Qutub Minar complex, Tughlaqabad, Jahanpanah, Shergarh and Purana Qila are all in the southern part of modern Delhi. Over time, these cities got lost in the forests of the ridge, or swamped by later habitations. Now most of South Delhi is a posh residential area, which has stretched its boundaries far south to engulf several villages and farm lands.

On the road to Mehrauli just 13 kms south of Connaught Place is the Qutub Minar Complex on the ruins of Lal Kot, the first city of Delhi. At the centre of the complex stands the Qutub Minar. The five-storied tower with a 14.4 metre base that tapers up to two and a half metres at the top is visible for a long distance around. Built mainly of red sandstone, the fifth storey of the Minar was restored by the emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq in 1369, who used contrasting elements of marble.

The sides have inscriptions of Koranic verses and praises to its builders. Leading up to the top is a narrow winding staircase now closed to the public after several suicide attempts and incidents of stampede. The Quwwat-ul-Islam (Might of Islam) mosque, completed in 1198, was the first mosque to be built in India. Using remains of 27 Hindu and Jain temples that had been destroyed by Qutub-ud-din’s army, the mosque also reflects technique used by traditional Indian artisans, especially in the detailed masonry and corbelled arches. Steps lead up to the courtyard with decorative Hindu pillars and ornamental arches marking the prayer hall. The focal point of the mosque is the carved sandstone screen which is an amalgamation of Indian and Islamic motifs. Along with Koranic calligraphy, the carvings incorporate the lotus motif, with the western façade facing Mecca.

In the courtyard of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque stands a 7-metre high iron pillar, from the 4th century Gupta period. Almost completely rust-free, this 98% pure iron pillar continues to be a puzzle for metallurgists. A popular tradition says that a person standing with back to the pillar and encircling it with his hands has any wish granted.

The Alai Darwaza, built in 1311 by the ambitious Ala-ud-din Khilji, is an 18-metre high sandstone gateway with lattice screens. It is ornamented with geometric and floral designs, with marble inlay work that reflects the craftsmanship of artisans from Turkey. Near the south entrance of the Qutub complex is the Alai Minar, planned by Ala-ud-din Khilji to surpass the magnitude of Qutub Minar. However, only the first storey could be completed before Khilji died and the project was abandoned.

The tomb of Iltutmish, built in 1235, is the first Muslim mausoleum in India. It was an unusual feature in those times, since Hindus cremate their dead. The plain exteriors and triple-arched doorway leads into a square inner chamber. Using a combination of Muslim and Hindu styles, the doorway is decorated with arabesque patterns and calligraphy along with the lotus and wheel motif. A dome covering the sandstone chamber collapsed due to imperfect building techniques, and pieces of it can be seen lying in the courtyard.

Southwest of the mosque is an L-shaped complex with Ala-ud-din-Khilji’s tomb and a madrasa (Muslim seminary). To the south east of the Alai Darwaza is the tomb of the 16th century Sufi saint Imam Zamin. The saint came to India from Turkistan during the rule of Sikandar Lodi. The octagonal tomb with jali screen decorations is typical of the Lodi buildings.

About 4 kms southeast of Connaught Place and very close to the Yamuna is the Purana Qila or the Old Fort. This fort is what remains of Humayun’s capital Din Panah, which was rebuilt and named Shergarh by Sher Shah Suri.

It is also believed to be the site of ancient Indraprastha, associated with the epic Mahabharata. Humayun made the beginnings of the gateway and outer walls in 1534, while buildings inside are attributed to Sher Shah. The main entrance is through the double storied Bara Darwaza. Two enclosures inside the gate were used by Muslim refugees for shelter during the carnage of 1947.

The Qila-I-Kuhna Masjid was built by Sher Shah in 1541 in the Indo-Afghan style. With five arches, the mosque has white and black marble decorations set against the red sandstone. It is one of the few well-preserved buildings in the fort. An octagonal sandstone tower called Sher Mandal to the south of the mosque was used as an observatory with a view of the river. It also served as a library and one day while rushing down the steep staircase at the muezzin’s call to prayer, Humayun stumbled and fell to his death. Excavations to the south of Sher Mandal revealed Grey Ware pottery, which indicates its antiquity to the time of the Pandavas. A small museum displays artefacts and sculptures from the Mauryan era (321 BC – 104 BC).

Across Mathura Road stands the grey and red Sher Shah’s gate that was used for entry into Shergarh. Alongside is the Khair-ul-Manzil Masjid, built in 1561 by Mughal Emperor Akbar, and housing a madrasa (Muslim seminary). Surrounding Purana Qila is a moat that used to be fed by water from the Yamuna. Now it is completely dried up except for a small section used for boating. The Delhi Zoo lies below the southern ramparts of Purana Qila. Laid out in extensive grounds with lakes the zoo has over one thousand animals, birds, and reptiles, including the big cats. A toy train runs through the zoo, stopping at intervals to allow visitors to climb on or off.

About a kilometre south of Purana Qila, and 4 kms from Connaught Place is the well laid out expanse of the Lodi Gardens. Inside are manicured lawns, walkways, and 15th and 16th century monuments that were built by the Lodis.

Popular with local residents for early morning walks and yoga, Lodi Gardens is also an ideal backdrop for the Indian classical music concerts that are held here. The Bara Gumbad or Big dome in the central area is a 15th century tomb along with a mosque. Made of grey and black stones, the interior has painted stucco work. The rectangular prayer hall is decorated with coloured tiles, foliage, and Koranic inscriptions.

The Shish Gumbad, Glass Dome, is another must-visit when you are on your sightseeing tour of New Delhi. It has a glazed dome with some traces of the blue tiles originally used. Built on a raised incline, this late-15th century tomb has friezes decorating the entrance and beneath the cornice. The Tomb of Mohammad Shah of the Sayyid dynasty has sloping buttresses, projecting eaves and lotus patterns on the ceiling. High walls and a surrounding garden enclose Sikandar Lodi’s tomb, built in 1517. The central chamber and veranda are decorated with Hindu motifs. In one corner of Lodi Gardens is the 16th century Athpula (bridge of 8 piers). It is an ornamental bridge built by one of Akbar’s courtiers.

Six kilometres from Connaught Place is the old Muslim area of Nizammudin, which has now been surrounded by large bungalows of modern Nizammudin West. The area grew around the shrine of the 14th century Sufi saint Sheikh Nizammudin Aulia. The Hazrat Nizammudin Dargah was originally built in 1325, and has been renovated several times. The Dargah is popular for its evening recitals of qawwalis (Sufi devotional songs) and special recitals on Thursdays and during the Urs festivities.

The Jam-at-Khana mosque, with decorated arches, was built by Ala-ud-din-Khilji’s son. Next to the main Dargah are the tombs of some prominent Muslim personalities. The Tomb of Jahanara, Emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter is stark and topped only with a filling of grass as per her wishes. The tomb of Amir Khusrau, who was a disciple of Sheikh Nizammudin Aulia and the founder of the classical singing style -- khayal, is made of red sandstone. The tomb of the famous 19th century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib lies near this complex. While entering the complex, especially the Dargah and mosque make sure your head and limbs are covered, since this is a conservative area.

2 kms from Purana Qila is Humayun’s Tomb. The tomb has an octagonal shape with a 38 metre high double dome, which was perfected in later Mughal buildings.

Strikingly ornamented with contrasting black and white marble on red sandstone, the tomb has pointed arches and recessed windows with carved stone lattice screens. In the central chamber, a cenotaph marks the graves of Humayun and Haji Begum. Besides the main mausoleum other tombs include the Nila Gumbad (Blue Dome) with blue tiles, the tomb of Isa Khan, courtier of Sher Shah Suri.

Five kms southwest of Connaught Place on Aurobindo Marg is the little visited Tomb of Safdarjung. The double-storey mausoleum in red and buff sandstone has marble relief work on the outer walls. A cenotaph marks the place where Safdarjung and his wife lie buried. To the south of Safdarjung’s tomb is the battlefield where Timur’s fearsome army defeated Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq in 1398. Further south, off the same Aurobindo Marg is the area of Hauz Khas, with remains of the second city of Siri.

The original village next to a deer park has now been surrounded by a residential colony of the same name. A popular haunt of the glitterati of Delhi, the village has been turned into an ethnic show-piece, with designer shops and theme restaurants sitting next to old village houses along winding by-lanes. The main entrance road goes past to the ruins of Hauz-i-Alai, a large 14th century reservoir that supplied water to Siri.

Originally built during the rule of Ala-ud-din-Khilji, the tank complex was expanded by Firoz Shah Tughlaq who added a double-storied madrasa (Muslim seminary) and a mosque. Firoz Shah’s tomb sits at the edge of the tank. Surrounded by high walls, the tomb is stark as compared to other Muslim mausoleums. The reservoir has now run dry, and the bed is used for music and dance festivals and a sound and light show in the evenings.

The Moth ki Masjid, build during the reign of Sikandar Lodi (1488 – 1517) is situated at a distance of 2 kms from Hauz Khas. Standing on a raised plinth, the mosque has a triple-domed prayer hall and a decorated mihrab (prayer recess). Legend has it that Sikandar Lodi picked up a grain of moth (lentil) from a mosque, which was sown by his minister in a nearby field. The crop multiplied and grew till enough money was earned to build the new mosque. Another interesting place to visit in New Delhi is the monument is the Khirki-ki-Masjid (Mosque of windows), built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq. About 4 kms from the Qutub Minar complex, this mosque is famous for its heavy stone jali (lattice) windows. In an unusual departure from other mosques, the pillared courtyard is covered with a roof capped by domes. An opening in the centre allows light to filter into the dark interiors.

On the Mehrauli-Badarpur road, just 15 kms south east of Connaught Place lies the abandoned city of Tughlakabad. Only the battlements and some scattered buildings remain of this 14th century citadel. At the southern entrance off the main road stand the high walls of the fort. A long underground passage, ruins of some halls and a tower stand inside. A few traces of the palace and grid-laid streets are visible.

A causeway overridden by the main road links the fort to Tughlaq’s tomb. Built on a raised platform, the tomb has sloping walls topped with a marble dome. Remains of a later fort-settlement, Adilabad, can also be seen on a hillock to the southeast of the fort. 11 kms southeast of Connaught Place near Okhla is an Ashokan Rock Edict dating to the 1st century BC. With a ten-line epigraph etched in the ancient Brahmi script, the edict indicates that Delhi was an important link on the trade route of the Mauryan Empire.

Nearby, on a small hillock is the famous Lotus Temple of the Baha’i faith. A great tourist attraction, the temple is shaped like a flowering lotus with white marble petals. The petals rise from nine pools interspersed with walkways leading into the temple.

Across the road is the Hindu shrine dedicated to Kalka Devi (mother goddess), popularly known as the Kalkaji temple. Though the temple has no historical significance it is a popular site for the devout, especially during the Navratri celebrations in mid-October.

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