India’s frenetic and sprawling capital resists easy description. It plays host to both prosperous and poverty-stricken, and delivers beauty and brutality in equal measure. The cityscape itself is a pastiche, with remains from the European-style New Delhi, the Mughal-built Old Delhi and many other faded settlements coexisting with spanking-new modern developments.
Thanks to its sleek, well-functioning metro system, getting around Delhi is easier than ever, though it does get crowded with workers during rush hour. Cycle rickshaws and autorickshaws ply the streets. While autorickshaws are metered, more often than not, the meter won’t be turned on so negotiate your fare beforehand. Taxis are also metered though many drivers will ask for flat rates.
Delhi’s magnificent ancient monuments draw comparisons to Rome. Immerse yourself in the glory days of the old Mughal Empire at the colossal sandstone Red Fort and the 25,000-capacity courtyard of the Jama Mosque, both of which were constructed back in the empire’s wealthy 17th-century heyday. Even older monuments can be seen at the Qutb Minar complex, which houses a collection of Indo-Islamic monuments built to mark Muslim dominance in the region.
While the Mughals stamped their identity on Old Delhi, it was the British who developed New Delhi to suit their own taste. Stroll down the grand, tree-lined Rajpath, admiring the classical-inspired façades and the Lutyens-designed Indian Gate.
Another popular pilgrimage site is the peaceful Rajghat, a memorial commemorating one of the 20th centuries’ most inspiring leaders, Mahatma Gandhi. Southwest of here, on the very spot where Gandhi was shot dead by a Hindu extremist, lies Gandhi Smriti, where you’ll find another memorial and a museum housing the great statesman’s modest personal effects.
To experience Delhi at its most throbbing and cacophonous, dive into the melee of shoppers at the elbow-to-elbow bazaars of the Chandni Chowk shopping district. If the crowds are sending your blood pressure through the roof, snatch a moment away from the madness at the tranquil Lodhi Gardens.
From a barren swath of land ravished by mining to a thriving forest ecosystem, Delhi’s Aravalli Biodiversity Park is living proof of nature’s resilience. The park acts as a sanctuary for native bird, butterfly and animal species whose natural habitats were, prior to the park’s development in 2004, rapidly shrinking.
Delhi is littered with ancient monuments but few sightseers make it beyond the Red Fort. One set of underappreciated ruins is the 16th-century tomb of Adham Khan, a general of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. When Khan killed one of Akbar’s favourite ministers, the emperor had him killed, later commissioning the building of this tomb after Maham Anga – Adham Khan’s mother and Emperor Akbar’s wet nurse – died of grief.
The best place to sample the city’s famed street foods are within the walls of the congested Old Delhi. Weave through the lanes of Chandni Chowk where vendors dish out a tempting range of spiced delights, including aloo chaat (spiced sautéed potatoes), mutton korma, paratha (a wholewheat flatbread) and ram ladoo (deep-fried lentil balls served with chutney and shredded radish). For dessert, they’ll serve up kulfi (ice-cream) flavoured with tropical fruits and the famous daulat ki chaat (a frothy, feather-light dessert made from sweetened milk). Of course, street eats aren’t the only option, with an increasing number of luxury sit-down establishments, among them French-style Le Cirque and Japanese-focused Megu, luring in Delhi’s fat cats with high-end global cuisine.