Swarming, noisy, extremely polluted and bottled… Delhi can be a shock for the traveller who has just arrived from the West, suddenly immersed in this city in perpetual change, where extreme poverty coexists with wealth, without transition. But the Indian capital is also a fascinating and exciting city, deeply marked by the rich heritage of the Mughal Empire. From the winding alleys of Old Delhi to the avenues drawn with the new city’s line, passing through its large parks, mosques, temples and monuments, it reveals many faces. To discover it without too much running, count at least three days. Here is a brief overview of the highlights of Delhi.
1st day: the new city, seat of power
To get to know the megalopolis, it is undoubtedly best to start by visiting New Delhi, less tumultuous and oppressive than Old Delhi.
Built by the English at the beginning of the 20th century, the new city became the capital of the British Empire of India in 1911. Today, it is still the official buildings district (government, Parliament, Supreme Court, embassies…).
Apart from the anarchic traffic, there is an impression of order, with wide avenues, some of which are arranged in a star-shaped pattern around large squares, such as Connaught Place, the nerve centre of commercial and financial life.
For your information, this is where the only government-approved tourist office is located (the others are impostors!).
Not far away is Jantar Mantar, the observatory that Jaipur Jai Singh’s maharajah, an astronomy enthusiast, had built in the 18th century. Set in a peaceful garden, the gigantic observation instruments resemble futuristic architectural works.
To the west, you can take a look at Birla Mandir, a large Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Lakshmi.
Further south, in the centre of another square, stands the India Gate, inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Built in 1921 in honour of the dead of the First World War, it also has its tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Day 2: Mughal treasures and gardens of New Delhi
South of the Gate of India, the picturesque Muslim quarter of Nizam-ud-Din is named after a Sufi saint who is the object of a fervent cult. The sanctuary (Dargah) gathers marble tombs and mosques, mixed with dwellings, in a maze of lively alleys where beggars, children, the faithful, the infirm… and some tourists spawn.
In the east, do not miss to visit the majestic tomb of Humayun (Humayun’s Tomb), the second Mughal emperor (16th century). The mausoleum, which served as a model for the Taj Mahal, takes on a flamboyant orange colour in the late afternoon light. It is the time when residents come to stroll and relax on the lawn of the large park that surrounds the building.
Another very pleasant place, the Lodi Garden, offers a real green break in the heart of the city. By following pleasant paths, we listen to the thousands of birds singing at the top of their lungs (it’s different from the horn concert!). Impressive royal tombs – including the oldest dating from the 15th century – blend harmoniously into this lush park, where families picnic on the grass, near children playing with balloons, while lovers meet for romantic gatherings.
After this walk, you can go to the nearby Khan Market for a shopping session, or you can push to Hauz Khas, the trendy district, where you can find designer shops, bars and restaurants.
Finally, even further south, do not miss the Qutb Minar minaret, India’s tallest stone tower (72.5 m), built in the early 13th century. Surrounding it are a series of remarkable monuments, including a tomb, a finely carved red sandstone portal, the ruins of India’s oldest mosque, and an amazing metallic pillar, mainly made of iron, which miraculously resisted corrosion.
Day 3: Old Delhi and its historic monuments
After the relative order of New Delhi, the bustling Old Delhi and its incessant ballet of rickshaws, bicycles, mopeds, pedestrians, cars and carts, to the sound of horns.
In the Chandni Chowk district, a market founded by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, is really a bazaar in every sense of the word. We wander as best we can on foot in the middle of the crowd, in a labyrinth of narrow streets where the shops line up.
On the stalls of street vendors: betel and a sample of local street food: all kinds of samosas and doughnuts, including the delicious jalebi, the sweet delicacies whose hero in the film “Lion” is crazy.
If the majority of the inhabitants of Old Delhi are Muslims, we also see Hindu temples, and a huge Sikh religious complex, the Gurudwara Sis Ganj, where we pray, eat, sleep, read… In short, a holy place full of life!
It is also home to India’s largest mosque: the Jama Masjid, built under Emperor Shah Jahan (1656). Perched at the top of a rocky hill, it can accommodate 25,000 people. After climbing a flight of steep steps and leaving your shoes at the entrance, you are invited to put on a kind of blouse if you are a woman, or a pareo to cover your legs if you are a man in shorts.
Thus adorned, you can enter the Great Mosque: a huge open-air esplanade bludgeoned by a blazing sun (it burns your feet!) and surrounded by shaded galleries, massive doors, towers and a large prayer room with two minarets and three marble domes.
Another unavoidable monument, the Red Fort, registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List, was built during the time of Shah Jahan, not stingy with architectural wonders since he was also responsible for the construction of the Taj Mahal and the other Red Fort, the one in Agra. Inside the immense red sandstone fortress, we discover palaces, gardens, mosques… There is all the refinement of Mughal architecture.