Things to Do in New Delhi
Considered one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, and elected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal is a living testament to grandeur, romance, and historical significance. As India’s most recognizable structure, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory to his favorite wife. Its interior is complete with blossoming and vibrant exotic gardens, reflecting pools, and an impressive mosque.
Although the Taj Mahal has been photographed time and time again, photography does no justice to the majesty of this awe-inspiring tomb. The wells of unfathomable emotion are drawn from its exterior, as the sun from dusk until dawn radiates an exquisite reflection upon its white marble composite, proudly coating itself in divine shades of red, orange, gold and pink.
Located at the end of Sansad Marg in New Delhi, the Parliament House (or Sansad Bhavan) is one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in the city. It was designed by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, with construction beginning in 1921.
Having been modelled on the Great Stupa of Sanchi, Parliament House is a huge circular building, surrounded by gardens and fenced off by sandstone railings. Inside, the Central Hall holds particular significance, since this is where the Indian Constitution was drafted. The building also houses the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and a giant library hall. The Parliament Museum stands next to Parliament House and offers information on the democratic heritage of India. This is conveyed in an interactive way, with sound and light videos plus oversized computer screens used to depict the significant events of India’s democratic history.
Designed by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, India Gate sits at the center of New Delhi in the middle of a traffic circle at one end of Rajpath. Built in 1931, the Arc-de-Triomphe-like gate commemorates the 90,000 members of the British Indian Army killed during World War I and the Third Afghan War.
Another memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti or eternal flame, was added to India Gate in the early 1970s as a memorial to India’s unknown soldiers, particularly those who died in the Indo-Pakistan War in 1971.
The superb buildings in this complex date from the onset of Islamic rule in India. The Qutub Minar (Qutb Minar or Qutab Minar) itself is a soaring 240 foot (73 meter) high tower of victory that was started in 1193, immediately after the defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi. At its base is Quwwat ul-Islam Masjid (Might of Islam Mosque), India's first mosque.
The tower has 5 distinct stories, each marked by a projecting balcony, and it tapers, like something out of a fairytale, from a 50 ft (15 m) diameter at the base to just 8 ft (2.5 m) at the top. The first 3 stories are made of red sandstone, the fourth and fifth of marble and sandstone. The stairs inside the tower coil so steeply that they're enough to make the hardiest climber dizzy and claustrophobic, and it was no surprise when a stampede during a school trip in 1979 resulted in a number of deaths. The inside of the tower has since been closed to visitors.
The Bahá'í Temple in Delhi is one of the most visited buildings in the world, attracting over 50 million people since it opened in 1986. Also known as the Lotus Temple for its distinct half-open lotus design, the belief behind the Bahá'í house of worship is that it should be open for all, regardless of denomination. There are however certain rules: no sermons can be delivered, no ritualistic ceremonies and no musical instruments can be played. There are also no religious images displayed.
Bahá'í temples must all be a nine-sided circular shape as set out in their scriptures, hence the solution of a lotus shape. Bahá'í is an independent religion founded around 1844. Their belief is in a mystic feeling with unites man with God and they do not dictate how that be done, hence their openness to other forms of worship within their temples.
According to local Sikh belief, a boy prophet by the name of Sri Guru Hari Krishan Sahib moved among poor Hindu and Muslim communities during a time of small pox and cholera in New Delhi in the seventeenth century, distributing sanctified water to the sick which was believed to cause miraculous healing. Gurudwara Bangla Sahib his dedicated to his memory.
The most important place of worship for Sikhs in New Delhi, this golden-domed gurudwara still distributes sanctified water to devotees who come from around the world seeking its healing properties. Unlike many Hindu temples, non-Sikhs are welcome into the gurudwara, where it’s possible to listen while hymns are sung from the Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptures) or take prasad, the Sikh equivalent to Communion.
The massive Red Fort (or Lal Qila) stands rather forlornly, a sandstone carcass of its former self. In ages past, when Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan paraded out of the fort atop an elephant into the streets of Old Delhi, he and the fort that he built were a grandiose display of pomp and power. The walls of the fort extend for 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) and vary in height from 60 ft (18 m) on the river side to 110 ft (33 m) on the city side. Shah Jahan began construction of the massive fort in 1638 and it was completed in 1648. Shah Jahan never completely moved his capital from Agra to his new city of Shahjahanabad in Delhi because he was deposed and imprisoned in Agra Fort by his sly son Aurangzeb.
The Red Fort dates from the very peak of Mughal power. Their reign from Delhi was a short one, however; Aurangzeb was the first and last great Mughal emperor to rule from here. The 33 ft (10 m) deep moat, which has been bone-dry since 1857.
Built in 1570, Humayun’s Tomb was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent, earning it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The construction of the tomb, ordered by the widow of Mughal emperor Humayun over a decade after his death, marked the beginning of an era of Mughal architecture, a style characterized by symmetry, scale and intricate decoration. This sixteenth century tomb went on to inspire the design of the Taj Mahal more than 100 years later.
The red sandstone and marble structure sits within a symmetrical square garden divided into four parts. The garden, dotted with small pools joined by channels, also contains several other tombs of important figures, including Haji Begum -- the wife who built the tomb and mother of Emperor Akbar -- and Isa Khan Niazi, an Afghan noble. While it’s possible to visit Humayun’s Tomb on your own, you’ll do yourself a great service by bringing along a guide who can tell you more about the history behind each structure.
The stunning Jama Masjid mosque is the largest in India and the final architectural magnum opus of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Construction of the mosque began in 1644, but it wasn't completed until 1658. It has 3 gateways, 4 angle towers and 2 minarets standing 130 feet (40 meters) high, and is constructed of alternating vertical strips of red sandstone and white marble. The main entry point is Gate No 3. The mosque's courtyard can hold a mind-blowing 25,000 people.
For Rs20 it's possible to climb the southern minaret (women must be accompanied by a male; sometimes unaccompanied men may also not be permitted), where the views are superb. From the top of the minaret, you can see one of the features that architect Edwin Lutyens incorporated into his design of New Delhi - the Jama Masjid, Connaught Place and Sansad Bhavan (Parliament House) are in a direct line.
Nicknamed the Baby Taj, the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah in Agra was built from 1622 to 1628 by the daughter of Mizra Ghiyas Beg, the Persian nobleman entombed within the marble structure. While not as jaw-dropping as the Taj Mahal, this smaller tomb has many connections to its more famous counterpart. As a forerunner to the Taj Mahal, the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah was innovative for its time -- it was the first Mughal structure made entirely out of marble. The two structures also have a personal connection. Mizra Ghiyas Beg was the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, for whom the Taj Mahal was built.
While smaller than the Taj, this tomb is arguably more delicate and ornate. The inlays, mosaics and marble lattice screens likely served as inspiration to Shah Jahan, and it’s possible to see them up close without the crowds that often plague the Taj Mahal. It’s a place most travelers to Agra never see, but it’s well worth a visit.
More Things to Do in New Delhi
Delhi Zoo opened its gates in 1959, changing its name to the National Zoological Park of Delhi in 1982. Located near India Gate in the heart of New Delhi, the zoo is spread out across more than 170 acres and is home to almost 130 species of animals and birds from around the world.
The National Zoological Park aims to house animals in a similar way to which they would live in their natural environments. It houses a number of endangered species, which it helps to breed in captivity with the aim of eventually releasing them to thrive again in the wild.
The grounds can be explored either on foot or by using one of the zoo’s electric buggies. Just some of the larger mammals visitors can expect to encounter include chimpanzees, lions, hippopotamus, African buffalo, Indian elephants, giraffes, spider monkeys, and zebras. There are also a number of migratory bird species of note, along with water birds, crocodiles, hyenas, macaques, and jaguars.
The heart of New Delhi -- and one of its top attractions -- is the palatial Presidential Palace known as Rashtrapati Bhavan. British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens helped design the grand estate as part of a larger plan for Delhi’s new city after it was decided to move the capital from Kolkata to Delhi in 1911. Lutyens designed the palace as a symbol of British colonial power, and it remains one of the most impressive colonial-era monuments in Delhi today.
The former viceroy’s residence, now the home of the president of India, contains 340 rooms, well over twice as many as the White House. The entire estate covers an area of 320 acres (130 hectares), including the sizable Mughal Gardens, open to the public on only a few select days each year.
Chandni Chowk is one of Delhi's busiest and oldest marketplaces. Located in the walled city of Old Delhi, which is now central northern modern Delhi, it got its name from the canal which used to run down the middle reflecting the moonlight; 'chaandni' in Hindi means 'moonlight.' The street was a wide boulevard running between houses from the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid. The walled city was laid out in 1650 by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan and includes the Red Fort of Delhi.
These days the area seems like a congested traffic nightmare and quite challenging in its chaos and crowds. But you can find food, saris, jewelery, books, shoes, electronics and who knows what else in the surrounding narrow streets. The buildings along Chandni Chowk are interesting - there are many different religious buildings co-existing harmoniously in the area including famous Jama Masjid mosque of 1644, a Hindu temple and a Christian church.
Opened in 2005, Delhi’s Swaminarayan Akshardham was built in only five years with the help of army of some 11,000 volunteers and artisans. The resulting temple is considered one of the most beautiful in Delhi and a must if you plan to do any temple visits during your stay in the capital.
Quite unlike most modern temples in India, Swaminarayan Akshardham is equal parts working temple, interactive museum and theme park. The Hall of Values depicts the values of Swaminarayan through a series of animatronic dioramas, while a giant IMAX-style screen shows a short film of the life of Swaminarayan from when he was an 11-year-old boy. The temple even has a 12-minute boat ride recounting India’s 10,000 years of history.
Lodi Gardens (formerly called Lady Wellington Park), spread across 90 acres (36 hectares) of green space in otherwise crowded and chaotic Delhi, is famous for housing a series of ancient tombs, including the tomb of Mohammed Shah dating back to 1444. This tomb, along with the tomb of Sikandar Lodhi also found within the gardens, are two of the last remaining octagonal tombs from this period of Indian history.
While the tombs might be the biggest draws for those with an interest in history or architecture, many people -- tourists and locals alike -- come to the free Lodi Gardens to enjoy the outdoors. The park contains a well-maintained jogging trail, and the extensive gardens surrounding the tombs offer plenty of space to wander.
At the site of Mahatma Ghandi's cremation in 1948 is a memorial. In black marble, surrounded by lawn and with an eternal flame burning, Raj Ghat remembers the man who is known as the Father of India for his tireless and pacifist work to reclaim India's independence from Britain. The memorial has the words 'He Ram,' which translates as 'O, God,' said to be the last words spoken by Ghandi after his assassination. Every Friday, the day of his death, a memorial ceremony is held.
'Raj Ghat' loosely translates as 'Kings Bank' and Ghandi's memorial is not the only one here. There are also many others to India's Prime Ministers since independence, including Indira Ghandi, similarly assassinated, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.
ISKCON, short for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (a.k.a. the Hare Krishna movement), erected a flamboyant and eclectic temple in New Delhi in 1998 using a range of architectural styles, including Gupta, Mughal and Delhi’s own signature style, Punjabi Baroque.
One of the largest temple complexes in Delhi, ISKCON Temple of New Delhi features an inner sanctum with three idols, each a different incarnation of Vishnu in the form of Lord Krishna, as well as an art gallery and an upstairs “Vedic Expo” where visitors can learn about ISKCON scriptures, namely the Bhagavad Gita and the larger Mahabharata, through dioramas and audio-visual displays. Govinda, the temple’s onsite restaurant, serves buffet-style vegetarian fare.
Birla Mandir Temple, also called Lakshmi Narayan, is one of central Delhi’s best temples to visit. Located near Connaught Place, the temple is dedicated to Narayan, an aspect of the Hindu god Vishnu along with his consort Lakshmi.
Built in 1938 by wealthy entrepreneur and philanthropist BD Birla, the temple was inaugurated in 1939 by Mahatma Gandhi under the condition that people of all faiths and castes be allowed to enter. Since most Hindu temples do not allow non-Hindus to enter, Birla Mandir Temple has become one of the most popular stops for visitors to Delhi. It’s particularly worthwhile in the morning and evening hours, when devotees come for aarti, a traditional Hindu ritual.
Located in South Delhi, Chhatarpur Temple is one of the largest temple complexes in the country. Built in 1974, the temple complex was dedicated to the goddess Katyayani, a form of the warrior goddess Durga. Other shrines dotted throughout the white marble complex honor Shiva, Ganesh, Krishna and Rama.
Besides being credited as the second largest temple in India, Chhatarpur Temple is also known for its interesting blend of South and North Indian architecture. The 20 or so temples and shrines that make up the complex are surrounded by well manicured gardens.
The Khari Baoli Spice Market sits at the western end of the Chandni Chowk along the street of the same name and near the historic Delhi Red Fort. This is Asia's largest wholesale spice market, offering a wide variety of spices, nuts, herbs, teas and other items.
The market was established in the 17th century and has been running ever since, with very little change occurring across the centuries. In more recent years however, the Khari Baoli Spice Market has become something of a tourist attraction and is certainly well worth a wander around, particularly for those interested in the history of Old Delhi.
The market is a vibrant spot made up of some dazzling displays of colorful spices, along with everything from lentils and rice to jars of chutney and pickles. Huge bags stuffed to the brim with goods such as nuts and chili, are brought up to the market on old traditional barrows where vendors display their wares with pride.
The Banke Bihari temple, situated in the holy city of Vrindavan in the Mathura district, is one of the most famous Krishna temples in India. Dedicated to Lord Banke Bihari (a form of Lord Krishna), the temple was founded by Shri Swami Haridas in 1864. Here Lord Krishna is observed in his childhood phase, with the rituals and offerings made to the deity reflecting this.
Thousands of devotees visit the Banke Bihari temple each and every day where worshipping Bihari is expressed in three daily ‘sewas’ – Shringar, Rajbhog and Shayan. Shringar involves bathing and dressing the deity, Rajbhog means feeding/offering food, while Shayan in the evenings involves the preparation for sleep. During the monsoon months in north India, the temple is decorated with flowers and lights. Unlike other Hindu places of worship, the Banke Bihari temple doesn't comprise any bells because the sound is said to disturb Lord Bihari.
Located near the Ashram Chowk in south Delhi, the Lajpat Nagar Central Market is a typical Indian bazaar featuring a colorful mix of shops, stalls, and food kiosks. The market attracts huge crowds with its diverse choice of goods on offer, and is one of Delhi’s top spots to pick up some exceptional bargains.
Despite the crowds, the shops and stalls at the market are well-organized and divided into broad categories. From clothes shops to stalls selling kitchenware, everything has its place at Lajpat Nagar Central Market – and there’s certainly plenty to choose from. From curtains to shoes and from jewelry to dried fruit, unless it features a sign with a fixed price, everything here is open to bartering and bargaining for. Food-wise, the market features some fantastic Indian-Chinese eateries, along with plenty of Tibetan momos, and Ram Laddus served with green chutney.
India is home to the largest rail network in the world, and the National Rail Museum in Delhi is one of the best of its kind on the planet. Indoor and outdoor exhibits spread over 10 acres (4 hectares) of land feature dozens of authentic locomotives and old carriages, including the private saloon of the Maharaja of Mysore dating back to 1899 and the 1855 Fairy Queen, the oldest functioning steam engine in the world.
Train lovers will appreciate the collections of model trains and vintage railway maps, while a train ride that takes passengers in a loop around the site is always a hit with kids.
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