If you want to see a fancy, modern lifestyle alongside some very traditional ways of living, New Delhi is the place to visit as it offers an interesting mix from both worlds. A fascinating feature about the city is that it is divided into old and new. The old part is made up of breathtaking sights and structures from the past, while the new area boasts a rapidly growing metropolitan landscape, populated by modern shopping malls and buildings. In just a few minutes, you can go from exquisite hotels and state-of-the-art cinemas to tiny residential neighbourhoods, complete with open bazaars, and lit only by lanterns. New Delhi’s history dates back to the 6th century BC and has been ruled most notably by the Mughals and the British. Being the capital of a large nation like India, the significance of New Delhi goes without saying and with so much going on every day, it is a city that truly never sleeps.
There is so much to choose from and it really depends on what you like best, the old or the new. The old wins every time for me and so the Jama Masjid is a place I never grow tired of. It offers a calming respite from the surrounding mayhem of Old Delhi and is one of the largest mosques in India, able to accommodate up to 25,000 people at one time. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned its construction and the mosque was built between 1644 and 1658. One striking feature is the three large domes, while the vast courtyard allows for some great photo opportunities. If you can bear the 121-step climb up the 40-metre-high minarets that tower above the city, you will be rewarded with some great views, with Connaught Place, Sansad Bhavan (Parliament House) and many of New Delhi’s other buildings all in the direct line of sight. Perhaps best of all, you can enjoy this whole experience for free.
Both New and Old Delhi have a lot to offer in terms of places to visit, shop and eat. There are some luxury hotels that are decorated in such a way that they transport you back to olden times. Then there are the narrow streets of Old Delhi, as mentioned in William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns, where you can totally lose yourself in a labyrinth of bazaars and side streets, while the upmarket Connaught Place is a popular haunt for the city’s elite. The Lotus Temple is a breathtakingly exotic structure, with the exterior of the building shaped to resemble a lotus flower, complete with 27 free-standing marble-clad “petals”. Make sure you stop by at night when the temple is beautifully lit. On the banks of the Yamuna River, you’ll find the Raj Ghat, a simple black-marble platform that marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated following his assassination in 1948. New Delhi also offers a wealth of Unesco World Heritage Sites that are worth checking out, including the Red Fort, Qutb Minar (the largest freestanding minaret in India, decorated with ornate Islamic texts) and Humayun’s Tomb. Gurudwara Bangla Sahib and Swaminarayan Akshardham temples are also beautiful places to visit if you have time.
Delhi is a fast-growing city and because of this, many people travel from neighbouring suburbs and the outskirts to look for jobs. They are not always successful and the result is a lot of beggars on the street. I keep some change ready with me at all times, but make sure you try to only give it to the really needy ones. You should also be careful and keep a constant eye on your belongings as crime can sometimes be a problem. It’s best not to loiter in the dark after about nine or 10 at night.
There are dozens of places to find beautiful souvenirs. The city is a magnet for people from all over India, so you will most likely be able to find pieces of art and other hand-crafted items from all regions of the country. It’s also a great place to stock up on good-quality textiles, so ladies can pick up a sari or two, while can men get fitted for a kurta. Picking up some traditional spices and pickles allows you to bring the unique flavours of New Delhi back home with you to Oman.
With the arrival of the Commonwealth Games to the city in 2010 came a huge range of new accommodation options, spoiling visitors for choice. Some hotels in New Delhi have a beautiful charm to them, so if your budget will stretch, take a look at The Imperial hotel in Connaught Place, one of the best heritage hotels in the capital. There is also the The Oberoi New Delhi Hotel and Hotel Palace Heights, as well as a range of mid-level and budget places where you can lay your head. Just make sure you book in advance, as vacancies go quickly during busy months.
1. Take a food tour and sample some delicious New Delhi delights
2. Discover the district of Hauz Khas, with its crumbling Mughal tombs and tempting boutiques.
3. Read William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns and explore the city from his perspective
4. Visit the Jama Masjid
5. Discover a wealth of Indian art at the National Museum