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.
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.
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 culminatingthe Republic Day celebrations. Northeast of the Rashtrapati Bhavan is the Parliament House or Sansad Bhavan.
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 commercial centre of Connaught Place was designed by Robert Tor Russell, chief architect of the Government of India. Originally designed in a horseshoe shape, this double storeyed arcade complex now almost completes a full circle. Divided into blocks from A to N with seven radial roads running out, the complex is surround by a radial road called Connaught Circus.
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.
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.
Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad)
Further northwards along the western bank of the Yamuna, you arrive at the 17th century city of Shahjahanabad, known as Old Delhi. The walls of the city spread over 7 miles, enclosing the Lal Qila (Red Fort), the Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque), Chandni Chowk and the residential quarters. Once the power centre of the Mughal empire with wide streets, waterways and lively bazaars, old Delhi has now degenerated into an overcrowded cluster of shops and dilapidated houses. Standing on the banks of the River Yamuna, the huge red sandstone Lal Qila or Red Fort was built between 1639 and 1648 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Modelled on the Agra Fort, the opulent fort is said to have cost 10 million rupees.
A path running down east through extensive lawns reaches the Diwan-I-Am or Hall of Public Audience. This long pillared hall on a raised platform was originally plastered with a thin white coating on which floral motifs were painted. Silk carpets, tapestries and heavy curtains embellished the interiors, where the emperor would appear to hear grievances and administer justice to his subjects. In the western wall is a high platform that housed the emperor’s marble throne.
The Mumtaz Mahal, south of the main zenana, was also used by the royal princesses. Now it houses a museum which exhibits textiles, weapons, carpets, elaborately carved chess sets, metalwork and other items used in the royal court. The Khas Mahal was the emperor’s personal palace, with separate enclosures for praying, sleeping and sitting.
At the Mussaman Burj or octagonal tower overlooking the Khas Mahal emperor Shah Jahan would appear every day before crowds gathered on the banks of the River Yamuna. A balcony added to this tower in 1809, was used by King George V and Queen Mary, who sat before the citizens of Delhi during the Delhi Durbar. The Diwan-I-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience, was used by the emperor to confer with his nobles.
Every evening, a Sound and Light show is put up by the Delhi Tourism department at the Red Fort. The palaces and other monuments within the fort are lit up and a dramatic recount of history is presented through commentary and music. The show is presented after sunset, first in Hindi and then English with tickets priced at Rs. 10 and Rs. 20 respectively. Timings vary from summer to winter.
Visitors should remove shoes and cover their heads, arms and legs before entering. Inside, the main prayer hall is covered with three marble domes, fronted by arches. A niche in the western wall shelters the mihrab reserved for the prayer leader.
The Nicholson Cemetery, named after John Nicholson who led the British troops that fought the mutineers in 1857, is Delhi’s oldest cemetery. About a kilometre from Qudsia Bagh are the Civil Lines, which was the centre of British administration before the new capital was formally inaugurated. The Old Secretariat, now the seat of government for the Delhi State administration and the Oberoi Maidens Hotel are some of the colonial buildings that stand from those days.
Most of Delhi’s early settlements, including Lal Kot and the Qutb 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.
13 kms south of Connaught Place on the road to Mehrauli lies 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-storeyed 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 Firoz Shah Tughlaq in 1369 who used contrasting elements of marble.
About 4 kms southeast of Connaught Place, and very close to the Yamuna is the Purana Qila. This fort is what remains of Humayuns capital Din Panah, which was rebuilt and named Shergarh by Sher Shah Suri.
6 kms. from Connaught Place is the old Muslim area of Nizamuddin, which has now been surrounded by large bungalows of modern Nizamuddin West. The area grew around the shrine of the 14th century Sufi saint Sheikh Nizamuddin Aulia. The Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah was originally built in 1325, and was renovated several times. The Dargah is popular for its evening recitals of qawwali (Sufi devotional songs) and special recitals on Thursdays and during the Urs festivities.
Originally built during the rule of Ala-ud-din-Khilji, the tank complex was expanded by Firoz Shah Tughlaq who added a double-storeyed 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.
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.
The Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum at Safdarjung Road showcases a collection of letters, photographs, and press clippings on the life of Indira Gandhi. It is housed in the apartments where she lived and was assassinated in 1984. A section of the Museum is devoted to her son Rajiv Gandhi, who was also killed brutally by a suicide bomber in 1991.