December 8, 2010 – Apart from the fact that the headlines kind of rhymes, Qatar Airways now flies to New Delhi, India every week. With a population of roughly 13.7 million, let’s take a look at what’s to see in India’s capital city.
Delhi is a thoroughly inscrutable onion of a city – every layer you peel off reveals a still deeper layer of history. Rebuilt eight times by its many conquerors, it has been the seat of the Hindu, Muslim and British Empires, and they have all left their mark in the architecture, customs, food and people of this relentless city, now undergoing a new transformation as the capital of modern India.
The area of plain to the west of the Yamuna River, where Delhi lies today, has been a centre of civilization for millennia. Delhi is a city of metamorphosis – in terms of physical buildings and people and culture – from the early Hindu rulers to the arrival of Islam. There was a succession of Islamic dynasties, reaching their zenith with the architectural wonders of the Mughals, and in particular Shah Jahan, builder of the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. His city, Shahjahanabad, is today’s Old Delhi with its tangled, intoxicating streets and bazaars.
All this contrasts with the imperial project of the last rulers of India, the British, who, in 1911, decided to build their own imperial capital to the south of Old Delhi. The broad boulevards and geometric order of New Delhi gives the capital its other distinct half. Designed by Lutyens, the European classical grandeur now has a distinctly Indian flavour, and much of New Delhi is fast acquiring the shiny glass-and-steel look of the modern Asian metropolises.
Its people, increasingly cosmopolitan, still have a deep reverence for their past. You will find all the races, faiths and customs of every region of India alongside each other on the streets of Delhi.
Some of the sites that are not to be missed include: The Red Fort (lal Quila), Qutb Minar, The National Museum, Humayun’s Tomb, Chandni Chowk, Old Fort (purana Qila) and Connaught Place.
Indian cuisine is justifiably famous throughout the world. With its use of spices, it conjures up the most subtle and explosive tastes. Delhi is a feast for food lovers, bringing together not just the best in North Indian cuisine, but also offering excellent regional styles, Far Eastern cuisines and contemporary fusions. Some of the restaurants you can sample are: Masala Art, Bukhara, Taipan, United Coffee House, Punjabi By Nature, Swagath, Karim’s, and Chor Bizarre. Café-wise, there is Barista, Basil & Thyme, Café Turtle and Big Chill
Bars & Nightlife
Alcohol is not deeply engrained in Indian culture, though New Delhi’s bar culture is fast becoming world-renowned. The best bars are found in the more upmarket hotels, with ordinary drinking holes still very much all-male affairs.
This city of more than 13 million people offers world class nightlife, often increasingly glitzy and expensive. There are plenty of places to rub shoulders with the rich and beautiful in New Delhi’s hotel clubs and bars, and if you are after something more traditional, you can also find some of the best in Indian music and dance.
Delhi is a shopper’s paradise with just about anything you can think of available somewhere at some price. One thing that often intimidates visitors from abroad is the art of haggling, though, with a few days practice, it can become an integral part of the shopping experience and puts the hunt for a bargain in your own hands. Delhi is split into two very different cities.
In the north is the tangled, chaotic and intoxicating streets of Old Delhi with the manic Chandni Chowk thoroughfare selling everything under the sun, the colourful spice market on Khari Baoli and the jewellery quarter of Dariba Kalan. Also recommended is a stroll down Chawri Bazaar – the wholesale paper market.
To the south are the wide, planned streets of Lutyens’ New Delhi, built by the British to be airy and European in character. Though distinctly Asian today, they are home to the new Asia – with the shopping centres such as Santushti Shopping Complex, M-Block & N-Block Market, Khan Market and Sunder Nagar Market offering the consumer the latest modern technology and gadgetry, designer clothes, interior décor, books and textiles. The area around Connaught Place has a number of state-run emporiums where you can buy Indian handicrafts at fixed prices. And the thoroughfare of Janpath, running south from Connaught Place, is also a top spot for textile shopping.