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Delhi can take you aback with its vibrancy and growth. Less than 60 years ago the spacious planned city of New Delhi was still the pride of late colonial British India, while the lanes of Old Delhi resonated with the sounds of a bustling medieval market. Today, both worlds have been overtaken by the rush of modernization: shining malls, glitzy bars and a gleaming metro system. And, as Delhi’s population surges, its tentacles have spread in all directions.
Old Delhi was built by Shah Jahan between 1638 and 1648 and is dominated by the Red Fort (Lal Qila) and Jama Masjid. The fort was built out of red sandstone, hence the name, and is modelled on the fort at Agra. It is said to have cost 10 million Indian Rupees, much of which was spent on the opulent marble palaces within. The magnificent Jama Masjid, meanwhile, is the largest mosque in India and the last great architectural work of Shah Jahan. To appreciate the dense network of narrow alleys, tightly packed markets, noise, bustle and smells of the old city, take a bicycle rickshaw along Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s principal thoroughfare.Read more
Just south of the old city, the cheap guesthouses of Paharganj cluster around New Delhi Railway Station. South again is Connaught Place, the notional ‘centre’ of New Delhi. At the Delhi Durbar in December 1911, George V announced that the capital of India was to move from Calcutta to Delhi. A new city was planned by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, characterized by grand government buildings and wide avenues, and was inaugurated on 9 February 1931. Among the sights in this area is the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a fine example of Sikh temple architecture. To the south, Lodi Gardens are a perfect place to escape the mid-city madness.
As Delhi’s centre of gravity has shifted southwards, a newer chrome-and-glass Delhi has grown up, and rural areas have been taken over by shopping malls, banks and private housing estates. This development has brought the Qutb Minar within the limits of the city. Built at the turn of the 12th century to proclaim the victory of Islam, the 73metre tower dominates the countryside for miles around.
Across the Yamuna River from central Delhi is the remarkable new and vast Swaminarayan Akshardham. Surrounded by landscaped gardens and theme park rides, the temple-monument took 11,000 volunteer craftsmen 300 million hours to complete.