Delhi is India's capital and seat of government. It forms the National Capital Territory of Delhi, rather than being part of a state. Delhi is one of India's largest cities, and the core of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, with over 21 million inhabitants. Within India it is a major center of arts, commerce, education, tourism, and transit. As the capital of several empires over the last 2000 years, Delhi also contains a striking array of well-preserved historic sites for the tourist to visit.
Introduction to Delhi
Travellers with little experience of visiting developing megacities will find Delhi to be chaotic, crowded and for much of the year, polluted. During the late spring and early summer months, the city is scorching hot. Dig a little deeper however and you will get a glimpse of order beneath the chaos as well as India's traditional and modern cultural richness flourishing side by side. First-time visitors feeling the culture shock are recommended to not compound that by visiting during adverse weather conditions, and get a decent hotel room so you can stay in comfort between your sightseeing trips.
History of Delhi
With evidence of continuous settlement dating back to the 6th century BC, Delhi is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Thought to have been built and destroyed eleven times, evidence of at least eight distinct settlements can still be seen in Delhi. The most well-preserved historic sites are from the periods of Muslim and British rule, between 1193 and the 1947.
The legendary city of Indraprastha from the epic Mahabharata is said to have been situated where Delhi now lies, but no remains of it have been found.
From the 10th to 14th century, the city was centred in what is now South Delhi:
- Surajkund - Built in the 9th-10th century on what is now the far southern outskirts of Delhi. A large water reservoir can be seen, well preserved.
- Qila Rai Pithora (or Rai Pithora) – Founded in perhaps the 11th century as a city named "Lalkot" under Hindu rule, in the current Mehrauli area. In around 1180, Hindu ruler Prithviraj Chauhan expanded this city and renamed it Qila Rai Pithora. Some of the ruins of the fort ramparts from this period are still visible around Qutab Minar and Mehrauli.
- Mehrauli – Shortly afterwards, in 1192, Muslim leader Muhammad Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan in battle. Ghori left his slave Qutub-ud-din Aibak as his viceroy, who in turn captured Delhi the subsequent year. After Ghori's death in 1206, Qutub-ud-din proclaimed himself the ruler of Delhi and founded what has been known as the Slave Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. Qutub-ud-din contributed significantly in terms of architecture by building Mehrauli. His most prominent contribution is the starting of Qutub Minar (which was finally completed in 1220). The tombs and other buildings near the Qutub Minar also date to this period.
- Siri - The Slave Dynasty was followed by the Khilji (or Khalji) dynasty. In 1303 they established Siri, first as a military camp to protect against possible Mongol invasion, and later as a fortified city. Nowadays Hauz Khas complex (north of Mehrauli) contains ruins of Siri Fort, a madrassa, and other buildings from the period.
- Tughlakabad - After the Khiljis there was chaos until Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (a Turk governor) invaded Delhi in the 1320s, started the Tughlaq dynasty, and founded a new capital Tughlakabad, in South East Delhi. His son Muhammad Bin Tughlaq created another city called Jahapanah in the area between Siri and Qila Rai Pithora, uniting them into one city. Tughlakabad continued, however, to be the main capital city.
Starting in the 14th century, new areas were built further north, near the current city center:
- Firozabad (or Kotla Firoze Shah) - built by Muhammad Bin Tughlaq's son, Firoze, in 1354. There still are some ruins which are visible around the Feroz Shah cricket stadium in Central Delhi, near the river. The city was an enclosed a large area, and contained many palaces, masjids, pillared halls, and a multi-floored water reservoir. Firoze also erected a 1500-year-old Ashokan Pillar (previously erected in Meerut by Samrat Ashok) on top of the palace. Firoze was buried inside a lofty tomb in Hauz Khas. After his death, the sultanate became unstable and weak, and Delhi was conquered and sacked by Tamerlane. The Sayyid and Lodhi dynasties who ruled Delhi after the Tughlaqs did less building, and the only relevant architecture visible from this period are the tombs at Lodhi Gardens. The last of the Lodhis was defeated by Babur, who then proceeded to establish the Mughal Empire in 1526.
- Shergarh - In 1533, Babur's son Humayun built the new city of Dinpanah, near the river south of Firozabad. In 1540 Humayun was defeated by Sher Shah Suri and forced to withdraw from Delhi. Sher Shah Suri established the new city Shergarh on the ruins of Dinpanah. Shergarh is what you see at Purana Qila today, near the Delhi zoo. Humayun later reconquered Delhi and returned to power. He then completed the construction and proceeded to rule from Shergarh.
- Shahjahanabad - the following emperors moved away from Delhi and made Agra their capital. Shahjahan (Humayun's great-grandson) returned to Delhi and established Shahjahanabad (modern Old Delhi), including the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort. Much of the city wall, and three of its six gates, still exist today.
- Lutyen's New Delhi - New Delhi was established in 1911 after the British decided to move India's capital from Kolkata. It is a planned city, designed by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Not all descendants of the builders of Delhi's many Muslim monuments live in Delhi. Many of them migrated to Pakistan during the Partition, with the community in Old Delhi that is keeping old courtly traditions alive smaller than it once was. The city is rich in monuments, including 174 ASI protected monuments.
The population of Delhi is a heterogeneous mix of people originally belonging to different parts of North India and beyond. Among the prominent North Indian communities are the Punjabis. Delhi also has a prominent South Indian Community, primarily in neighborhoods like Karol Bagh, RK Puram, Mayur Vihar and Munirka. A Bengali settlement, the Chittaranjan Park in south Delhi, is the Mini Calcutta of Delhi. Quality education also draws students from different states, making up one of the most diverse student populations in the country.
Like the rest of the Gangetic Plains, Delhi is as flat as a pancake. The only geographical features of any significance are the river Yamuna, which flows down the eastern side of the city, and the Aravalli Hills which form a wide but low arc across the west. On the west bank is the crowded and congested Old (Central) Delhi and, to the southwest, the broad, tree-lined avenues of New Delhi, built by the British to rule their empire. The rest is an endless low-rise sprawl of suburbia and slums, with southern Delhi generally wealthier.
The colours of the districts represent the colour of a main metro line that travels through them:
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The British-built capital of India. Characterized by wide boulevards, roundabouts (traffic circles), colonial mansions, and government buildings dotted with monuments from various parts of India's history. Connaught Place (now called Rajiv Chowk) and Khan Market are popular shopping centres, and the nearby Paharganj area has many inexpensive hotels. New Delhi and Nizamuddin railway stations and a number of metro stations are here.
Contains the historic core of Delhi, also known as Old Delhi, with major tourist attractions such as the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid. Delhi Junction railway station is here. The red metro line runs east-west here, and the yellow line runs north-south.
Contains a number of upmarket neighbourhoods, many hotels and guest houses, shopping malls and markets, and restaurants. Major attractions include the Qutub Minar. The area is served by the yellow metro line.
|South East Delhi
Generally a high-income district similar to South Delhi. In addition, the current district borders of South East Delhi include a number of important sites near the city center, such as Humayun's Tomb, Purana Qila, and the southeast part of planned city of New Delhi. The area is served by the purple metro line.
Four western districts - North, North-West, West, South-West. Of little interest to the tourist.
The three districts - East, North East, and Shahdara - east of the Yamuna River. The most famous attraction is the Akshardham Temple.
The climate in Delhi goes through five distinct seasons. Winter, from mid-December to late January, is cold (the temperature drops to near freezing at night though the days are warm) and is notorious for the thick fog that hangs over the city resulting in cancelled flights and delayed trains. Spring in Delhi, in the months of February and March is pleasant with warm days and cool evenings. The hot season, April through June, is uncomfortably hot with soaring temperatures (going as high as 45°C/110°F). Temperatures moderate during the monsoon (rainy) season (July through September) but it is humid. October brings autumn and warm days with relatively cool nights.