A Tale of Two Cities – Old Delhi and New Delhi

India Gate, New Delhi

India Gate, New Delhi

Delhi is a fascinating and historic city that has been the capital of many different empires. It is a challenging but interesting city, home to fantastic medieval, Mughal and imperial architecture and iconic sites.

After falling prey to a scam, being lost, scared and staying in a crack den, our visit to Delhi hadn’t got off to the best start but I was determined to find something positive to redeem Delhi.

We took a rickshaw through the maze of old streets and bazaars of Old Delhi to the Red Fort or Lal Quila. As usual the rickshaw ride was pretty crazy, the traffic, pollution and beggars were suffocating, the buildings grotty, the sewers smelly and the hawkers descend on you whenever they can. All of this is just something you have to learn to deal with on a daily basis when traveling in India but if you look deeper India will surprise you. There is a rhythm to the chaos, the grot can turn interesting and you can sometimes see a ray of hope behind the poverty and things don’t seem so bad.

The Red Fort, Delhi

The iconic view in front of the Lahore gate of the Red Fort was impressive with its towering red sandstone walls, Mughal bastions and turrets rising grandly to punctuate the sky while the Indian flag flies proudly in the middle. Although a lot of the buildings had been damaged, destroyed and looted there was a lot to explore inside. 

The Diwan-i-Am, Red Fort, Delhi

I enjoyed gazing at the elaborate red Mughal archways and columns of the Diwan-i-Am (the hall of public audiences) and the white marble columns and beautiful intricate patterning of the Diwan-i-Khas (the hall of private audiences).

We wandered the grounds while trying to imagine the medieval Mughal court in their palaces, exotic music playing, while water flowed through the streams and gardens, cooling the marbles palaces and buildings as they flowed through them. 

Inside the grounds of the Red Fort, Delhi

After the Red Fort we wandered through Old Delhi and Chandni Chowk. We stumbled across the elegant Jama Masjid. The largest, most famous mosque in Delhi with its elaborate domes and towering minarets.

The areas that we walked through were really run down, dirty areas. The poverty in Indian cities is on such a huge scale it’s hard to comprehend. It’s difficult to imagine how people live like this but they do and the streets have more of a buzz and hubbub than communities in the western world. 

It’s a cliché but life really is lived out on the street here. On a daily basis you see all spectrums and rituals of life played out on the path in front of you. There is so much happening its impossible to take it all in let alone describe it now.

It’s hard to imagine how but many people are just getting on with things and don’t seem that disparaged. Maybe there are just so many even less fortunate that they realise the value of what they do have and place great emphasis on family, community and religion. Maybe it’s something to do with the Hindu values, with ideas of fate, destiny, karma and the hope of reincarnation or maybe in the west we have just forgotten to appreciate the very notion of simply being alive. Even so it’s still sad to witness such poverty.

However, amongst the dirt and dust I captured a market stall seemingly dazzling like a ray of hope from all the bright colours of the fruits. 

Fruit Stall in Old Delhi

A bright fruit stall provides a ray of hope in a dusty street in Old Delhi

For lunch we headed to Raj era Connaught Place a white arcaded, circular development built by the British with posh shops and restaurants. It was a marked improvement from grotty Paharganj but a little disappointing as the white colonnaded walkways and shops that encircled a central green space were very much work in progress. 

It could have looked nice but the tiles on the pavements were cracked and missing, (some parts you had to step over holes) the paint work and power cables were peeling off. Most of the streets outside were dusty and being dug up and the scammers were out in full force.

Everyone wanted to talk to you, pretending they are taking an interest in where you are from and where you are going in order to lead you to an unofficial ‘official’ tourist office to part with your money. It was funny to see that the western fast food chains have security/doorman with uniforms and little hats to open the door for you and after our misadventures the previous day we enjoyed some familiar comforting fast food.

new delhi 3

India Gate

After we had refilled we went to Luyten’s New Delhi. British architect Edwin Luyten designed this area which was built between 1914 and 1931 as the British moved their Indian capital from Calcutta to Delhi. 

The grandeur was meant to spell out in stone the might of the British empire but, similar to the gateway of India in Mumbai, just 16 years after it was built the British were out and the Indians use these buildings as the powerhouse of the new independent republic.

We started at the towering India Gate and then walked down the Rajpath as the sun was setting to the impressive architecture of the government buildings.

I enjoyed strolling down the wide, grass lined avenues, where we actually got the feeling of space in this crowded city. The grand symmetrical architecture managed to be Indian, Mughal and British all at once. 

Luyten’s New Delhi

It was a little strange viewing the ambitions for India as a colony at the height of the British empire. These were the grandest buildings we had seen in Delhi and the fusion of architectural styles meant they wouldn’t have looked out of place in Britain, India or Washington DC, apart from the couple of mischievous monkeys roaming around on the top.

Apart from the hubbub around India Gate it was eerily quiet, it seems like these imperial buildings are still reserved for the privileged few in the world’s largest democracy. It’s strange to see such grand buildings and open spaces in a city otherwise so crowded and poor. 

Delhi may not be the most visitor friendly city and you really have to be on your guard here. However, the effort is worthwhile as it does offer alot of fascinating sights and history. I’m glad I persevered with Delhi after our bad start.

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