There is something in the air in Delhi that you can sense the centuries of history of the place. Some say the Hindi accent is pure here. For others it is just another city in this big nation. For me it was the city and the aura it emanated.
Delhi might be a crowded city. It’s streets bustling with every day life of the million people making a living here and calling it home. The ancients called it Indraprastha. A city that had a glorious past. Life has not been the same since the British made it the capital of the British Empire in India just over a century ago.
My first encounter with Delhi was on my way back from the North east of India. I had one night and a day to spend here before returning home. Keep no expectations, that has been my mantra. It works out as the best way to enjoy your travels. Delhi was one such place. I have heard bad things and good things about this city but Delhi proved to be more than that.
I bid goodbye to Guwahati and the North east and landed in Delhi at around 6pm. It was the end of April. The mercury was slowly rising. A friend had arranged a place for me to stay for the night. All I had to do was to phone his cook and he would be ready to host me. I rang him up and took an Ola cab to this guesthouse. The cook at the guesthouse hailed from Tripura. Right from the time I met him I shared about my trip to the North east of India and how much I enjoyed travelling that part of India. He made a simple dinner for me of some roti and chicken curry and I was off to sleep after the long day.
The next morning, I woke up and planned to take a tour of the capital. I found out there was a HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) service in Delhi which is quite efficient and well planned. It is a localised version of the Big Bus Tours found in other cities.
The HOHO Delhi is an official initiative by Delhi Tourism. Depending on your time you can opt for the Delhi Sightseeing One Day Tour or the Two Day Tour. I opted for the quick One Day Tour. The buses are fully air-conditioned and they even have a guide who announces the places of interests and gives you a brief history as we pass by them. But this was from last year so things could be different now.
When the cook heard about my plan for the day, he asked me if he could join me on my solo tour. And I said why not, he would be good company. The young chap had been living in the city for about 4 years but never got the chance to visit some of the historical places in the city.
I had only a few hours of the day to spend and had to use the time wisely. With nothing really planned, I decided to HOHO for the day. The buses start from near Rajiv Chowk.
I walked to the nearest Metro station from Greater Kailash where I stayed for the night and boarded the metro to Rajiv Chowk. It was my first ride in the Delhi Metro and it was packed with daily commuters. The metro is a life-line for thousands of commuters and is an efficient and economical mode of transportation in an otherwise crowded city. Having lived in India for 17 years this experience was new to me and I enjoyed the ride.
CP, abbreviation for Connaught Place, now known as Rajiv Chowk and Indira Chowk, is the commercial and business district of Delhi. Here you can find buildings that were built in classical English architecture and is modelled after the Royal Crescent in England consisting of two concentric circles.
We got 2 tickets for the HOHO bus from Connaught Place and started our bus tour. On my list for the day was a visit to the Red Fort, India Gate and Humayun’s Tomb. There wasn’t much but we were excited and wanted to explore the city.
Built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. This sprawling complex used to be the capital of the erstwhile Mughal Empire and the royal residence of the emperor at one point of time and in the recent past it was the seat of the British Raj in India. The name Red Fort or Lal Qila comes from the red sandstone that was used in its construction which, still stands strong to this day. The architectural brilliance of the Persian inspired Mughal empire was something to behold at its time and is evident with the Red Fort. It is with pride that all of India celebrates the Independence Day when the Prime Minister hoists the national flag and delivers his speech from its ramparts every year.
The Red Fort is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One can pick audio guides in different languages at the entrance. As soon as you enter from the Lahori Gate, which serves as the main entrance to the fort itself, a long passageway leads you to a bazaar called the Chhatta Chowk or the covered Bazaar used to be known as the Bazaar-i-Musaqqaf in earlier times. In the reign of Shah Jahan, this catered to the imperial luxury trade of silk, brocades, velvets and gold jewellery of the imperial.
There are also other major structures inside the fort’s sprawling complex such as the Naubat Khana, the Drum house from where the musicians used to announce the arrival of the emperor. Diwan-i-Aam, the Hall of public audience was where the emperor received the general public and at its center is a marble canopy where the throne is placed. There is also a light and sound show held at the fort premises in the night. I would easily recommend this as a must visit place when you are in Delhi.
After having a cold fresh lime soda from outside the fort to beat the heat, we slowly moved through the crowded streets of Delhi on the bus. We passed by the Supreme Court of India, the highest judicial court in India, The National Gallery of Modern Art and then towards the India Gate.
India Gate, a war memorial from British times built as a memorial to all the soldiers of the Indian Army who died in the first World War. This resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Following the Bangladesh Liberation War, a structure called the Amar Jawan Jyoti, or the flame of the Immortal Soldier was built below the gate. We paid our respects to the fallen soldiers and moved to our next destination.
The bus went past some of the other historical places such as the Purana Qila or The Old Fort. One of the oldest forts in Delhi built by an Afghan king, Sher Shah Suri. Since the heat was becoming unbearable and time was ticking to catch my flight, I had to skip this place and move straight to Humayun’s Tomb.
My final destination for the day was the Humayun’s Tomb. Another UNESCO listed World Heritage Monument. The mausoleum was built by Bega Begum, the widow of the late emperor. The tomb complex has over 100 graves earning the name “Dormitory of the Mughals”. Built with a mix of red sandstone and white marble, it stands as a precursor to the world-famous Taj Mahal which was influenced by Persian, Turkic and Islamic styles of architecture.
As you enter the complex, you will not fail to notice the Charbagh garden, a Persian style garden that encompasses the main tomb. Thought to depict heaven or Jannat from the Qur’an. Several other tombs dot the landscape. In the centre of the main tomb, lies the cenotaph of Emperor Humayun while his burial chambers lies beneath.
Soon after visiting the tomb, with time running out, I had to skip the tour and head back to the guesthouse for lunch and then to the airport. I would have loved to stay back and complete the entire tour. Maybe the best is yet to come another day.
My time in this city was short and this by no means is an exhaustive list of things to see or do in Delhi but it helped me to discover my love for history and appreciate the things of the past. The past might be history but it has a lot to teach us. I was filled with awe and respect for the previous rulers of this historical city and the times it has had. This is a land of cultures intertwining with each other and Delhi truly lives up as the capital of the great nation that is India.
If you are a responsible tourist, here’s something you can do to experience India a little differently.