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DELHI - NEW AND VERY OLD

Dancing from Rajasthan, at a traditional show in DelhiDelhi is India's richest city in sightseeing potential and is the prime base for side trips to Agra and Jaipur that comprise the so-called 'Golden Triangle'. 

South to north through the sprawling capital, historians and archaeologists count seven or eight distinct cities built by successive rulers. 

The first city was established around 1060 BC, though there is evidence of continuous settlement from 3rd century BC. The great monuments range from the early Moslem era of 12th century onwards, through Moghul rule (1526-1857), and thence to the buildings of modern Delhi.

Broad, tree-lined avenues and parks separate the teeming bazaars, temples and mosques of Old Delhi from the British-built administrative capital of New Delhi, with its India Gate memorial, government ministries, embassies and modern hotels in garden settings. 

Travel Facts

 

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TRAVEL FACTS

Delhi sprawls across 580 square miles, with 13.8 million population. 

Avoid April till late June, when temperature rises above 110 degrees F, often with choking dust. Then it's monsoon till October. November to March are the most comfortable tourist months, but pack a woolly for chilly evenings in December- January.

Unless you're a backpacker on very tight budget, don't tangle with public buses. 

Taxis are low cost, especially if you agree the price first. Meters may not work, or are out-of-date. 

Don't miss a traditional music and dance programme. 

Really determined shoppers could go bargain hunting in Chandni Chowk, especially if they have well-sharpened haggling skills. Otherwise, Connaught Place and Connaught Circus in New Delhi offer a complete range of Indian products, with honest shipping by reputable firms. 

Even so, some bargaining is still necessary, except in the various State Industries Emporia which operate on a strictly fixed-price basis. Highly recommended is the Central Cottage Industries Emporium in Janpath. 

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City tours are normally split to give half-day each for New and Old Delhi. Sightseeing of New Delhi is combined with many ancient remains including Jantar Mantar, the Qutb Minar and Humayun's Tomb.

Surrounded by ultra-modern office blocks, Jantar Mantar is a fantastic astronomical observatory built in 1724 during the reign of Maharajah Jai Singh II of Jaipur (1699-1743). 

He took a keen interest in astronomy, both eastern and western, and built similar structures at Jaipur and Varanasi. The red stone instruments' look like surrealistic sculptures, with graduated markings to take readings. The centrepiece is a sun-dial, 40 ft high.

A truly more modern sightseeing highlight west of the central area of Connaught Place is the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, a colourful Hindu temple built in 1938. It is often called Birla Temple, after the philanthropist who financed the building.

Humayun's Tomb Humayun's Tomb, built 1565, is the first major example of Mughal architecture, with an octagonal ground plan, lofty arches, pillared kiosks and a double dome. These details became a prototype for the Taj Mahal in Agra. 

There are rich photo opportunities, such as pictures of bullocks that power the lawnmowers. Visitors are waylaid by women with pots on their heads, all ready to pose for a modelling fee of ten rupees. Snake-charmers tune up whenever a Westerner approaches.

The Qutb Minar is the tallest stone tower in India a 13th-century landmark 240 ft high, visible for miles. The fluted minaret tapers gracefully from a base of 47 feet diameter to the summit which is a slender 8 feet. 

Alongside the Qutb Minar is India's earliest surviving mosque, which translates as The Might of Islam Mosque. Completed in 1197, it was greatly enlarged by later rulers. Twenty-seven Jain and Hindu temples were demolished to provide building materials. The carved decorations blend Islamic and Hindu traditions. 

A famous 5th-century Iron Pillar in the mosque courtyard shows not a trace of rust, a tribute to the skill of ancient India's metalworkers. By tradition, anyone who can reach backwards to clasp hands around the pillar will have good luck. 

Moving across to Old Delhi, the 7th city dates from 1638 when the Emperor Shah Jahan moved his capital back from Agra to Delhi. 

Former cities were demolished to build the magnificent red sandstone fort and extend the city walls to a circumference of over five miles. Five of the fourteen huge entrance gates still remain: Delhi Gate, Kashmiri, Turkman, Ajmeri and Lahori.

The Red Fort is virtually a town in itself, covering a very large area. Some parts of the grounds are still fenced off as a military area. Deeper into the Fort, you pass through a gateway where tickets are sold for Sound and Light Shows. Be sure to return after dark for a staging of the great historical events that took place within the citadel walls.

In contrast to the teeming highways outside, the Fort is a haven of tranquillity. The buildings are low profile, most of them glistening white, set around green lawns bordered by floral displays. Indian women tourists in their flowing saris add rich colour to the scene.

The palaces of the inner courtyard provide excellent perching and nesting places for the resident birdlife, like a gigantic aviary. From the palace balconies one can look down on snake-charmers who hope that coins and banknotes will flutter down in appreciation of the music and the swaying snakes.

The historic Main Street of Old Delhi called Chandni Chowk is a ceremonial avenue widened during Shah Jahan's reign for his glittering processions to Red Fort. 

In 17th century it became a street of great houses, jewellers and cloth merchants, who gave it a long-standing reputation as the world's richest thoroughfare. Today, the Imperial glory and wealth have gone, but the area remains rich in interest.
A restaurateur prepares food on Chandni Chowk
Much city life is lived in the open. Chapati sellers are surrounded by customers eating the pancake-style bread hot from the griddle. Men and children wash at street standpipes. Barbers and their clients squat for an open-air shave. Nimble-fingered flower sellers string garlands of blooms. Cycle repairers festoon tree branches with tubes and tyres.

Virtually any time of the day, Chandni Chowk is totally clogged with cycle rickshaws, scooter-taxis, horse-drawn tongas, bullock-carts, gaily-painted trucks, taxis and private cars. Through the jam move the myriad, colourful characters of India men pushing hand-carts; a one-stringed fiddle salesman, with day's stock balanced on his head as he walks along playing; the fortune-tellers, holy men, beggars, porters and countrymen.

Entrance to Jama Masjid Almost opposite the Red Fort is another of Shah Jahan's great buildings the Jama Masjid, the largest and most beautiful mosque in India. Admission for non-Muslims is permitted every morning until noon, and from 14-16 hrs.

Further out past the Kashmiri Gate, the Grand Trunk Road leads to a 14th-century fortress area called Feroz Shah Kotlah, the historic fifth city of Delhi famed for the 27-ton Ashoka Pillar dragged from 125 miles away. The pillar dates from 3rd century BC.

Consider including other areas of India in your itinerary

  GOA - Go away to Golden Goa


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Delhi, Agra and Jaipur (DK Eyewitness Travel Guides)  - offers a wealth of useful advice, in addition to the usual descriptions of guidebook sites.

Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra (Lonely Planet Country & Regional Guides) by Abigail Hole - Due for publication in October 2005, this will be the most up-to-date guidebook available. 

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi  by William Dalrymple - for a 'different' approach to the multilayered history of the city, by an author who spent a year on his journey of discovery


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