Being the governmental, cultural and arguably the commercial centre of India, Delhi is where most travelers will begin their Indian adventure. Despite the initial shock of high levels of pollution, poverty and widely divergent social norms from western culture, Delhi, as with the rest of the country that it governs, is rife with history going back to the dawn of recorded civilization, as this city has been around for well over 5,000 years.
In this time, the city has been sacked on eleven different occasions by various empires and fiefdoms, only to grow back stronger than ever with each setback. The Delhi of today is mostly comprised of the various peoples of Northern India, though as this place is the capital of the entire nation, communities of Southern Indians of significant size also exist here.
The climate will also initiate you to this challenging corner of the world, as the heat that billows over from the deserts of Rajasthan push thermometers to their breaking point in the summer, with temperatures soaring well over 40 degrees Celsius (well over 104 degrees Fahrenheit), while chilly air sinks down from the Himalayas in the winter, with temperatures nearing the freezing mark in a city where most structures don’t have central heating.
If you are up to the task of enduring these trials, as well as the innumerable challenges that Indian society will present you with your opening days in Delhi, then getting through the rest of your stay will only get easier from here.
After you’ve had a chance to beat your jetlag, as well as your initial culture shock, head out to what is generally considered to be Delhi’s greatest highlight, the Red Fort. Serving as the palace from which Mughal Empire ruler Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) ruled India with a steady hand, this red sandstone structure still stands proudly, though the elements and a somewhat lackluster upkeep has worn away at this complex over time.
In addition to the buildings themselves, other attractions in the complex include a building that had been converted to a tea house by the British, whose function continues to this day, museums, and a bazaar that tends towards the touristy end of things. Here, you will likely get your first taste of Indian style merchant tactics (aka relentless pressure), and touts that will pretend to be with the tourism ministry and offer tours/advice. Ignore the latter, and be prepared for a long, pitched bargaining battle with the former!
Next up on the bill in Delhi should be the UNESCO-recognized Humayun’s Tomb, the final resting place of the second emperor of the Mughal Empire, made of the same magnificent red sandstone of which the Red Fort is constructed. The best feature of this place, aside from the tomb itself, is the immaculately kept gardens on-site. The grounds also include the tomb of court aristocrat Iza Khan, whose remains lay within the building with the bulb dome roof, and the body of an unknown person, who sleeps in the interestingly named Barber’s Tomb.
Another site within Delhi to add to your UNESCO World Heritage bucket list is Qutub complex. This complex of Islamic structures is noted for having a minaret (Qutub Minar) that was the world’s highest freestanding manmade structure for over 150 years from 1193 to 1368 at 72.5 metres high. Entrance is no longer permitted, but via the miracle of webcam technology, you can catch a view at the top … for ten rupees, and five minutes of viewing time…!
Having just arrived in the country, you are only just beginning to unravel the chestnut that is Indian culture. To aid in your understanding, a visit to the National Museum is essential. Though the layout can be confusing, it does contain a wealth of relics and artifacts that cover the entire history of civilization on the subcontinent: Indus Valley, Buddhism, the Romans, the Mughals, and modern historical implements … it’s all here!
A major architectural symbol of Delhi is India Gate, an arch that commemorates India’s casualties from the First World War. An eternal flame burns here in memory of those who lost their lives, and India’s tomb of the Unknown Soldier is also located here, making it an introspective stop in addition to merely admiring the grand scale of the massive 42 metre high monument.
India boasts a cuisine that is consistently ranked as being one of the best in the world, so it makes sense that the local food in Delhi would be an attraction by virtue of its status of being the capital of this grand country. Many Indian food tours are offered throughout the city, taking you on a wondrous trip through chapattis, curries, and other aromatic favourites of those that call this city and country their home!