|Delhi is an amazing
city, spreading over a tract of the Jamuna plain. Its population
of 13.8 million at the last count is a seething mass
of humanity. Delhi's pollution and poverty challenge the respiratory systems
and sensibilities of even the most seasoned travellers. Those
who look past the nastiness that cloaks much of the city, the frantic
traffic, the acrid smog and the ever present demands of the hustlers
will discover delights at every turn – architectural, historical,
floral and culinary – quite different from the lively color,
eastern eccentricity and vibrancy that give Delhi its spirit.
Delhi has been the capital of India since it
gained Independence in 1947 but, even prior to that, the British
moved its capital here from Calcutta in the year 1911. For most of Delhi's history,
Delhi controlled the numberous Muslim dynasties
that governed swathes of the subcontinent from the 12th century
Today, Delhi is actually two cities – Old Delhi,
packed into the narrow, dirty streets underneath the Red Fort's
imposing walls, is the polar opposite of the lavish Imperial refuge,
broad, leafy boulevards and well spaced bungalows of New Delhi,
as laid out by Lutyens and Baker in the 1920s.
Delhi was constructed by Shah Jahan in the 17th century, and
is only the latest of 7 cities that have existed since the Muslims
first arrived. Around New Delhi, especially in the area called Transjamuna which is over the river from the Old City, are the
slums and suburbs that have popped up to house a population that
has risen, more by migration than by natural increment, by 46% between
1991 and 2001. This population explosion has brought increased
poverty and more wretched degradation in its wake – 45% of
Delhi’s population live in slum conditions and beggars are
on every street corner. In India, literacy rates are sharply improving,
however, in Delhi, illiteracy continues, marginally, to grow.
Delhi is a base for visiting Agra – the home
of the Taj Mahal – or the cities and forts of Rajasthan, and has a lot to offer. The architectural legacy of the
Islamic conquerors is abundant and varied while the colonial centre is
very attractive; there are some interesting museums. The city’s
bazaars and shops offer a bewildering choice of goods, from silks
and spices car spare parts.
The city’s restaurants beckon the visitors with a large number
of delicious cuisine which – by European standards –
is mainly very reasonably priced.
Summer in Delhi is
best avoided as from mid-April, the temperature rises relentlessly. Most of May, June and July, the temperature stays at around 45°C
(113°F), before the monsoon offers some relief. The best
time to visit is from February to March.
Delhi is, even with its long history, a very young city. At Partition
in 1947, Delhi was changed permanently and radically, almost overnight.
With the creation of a predominately Hindu India and an exclusively
Muslim Pakistan, a mass migration of peoples occurred in
both directions along with sectarian bloodletting on a horrifying
As it was largely Muslim, before 1947, at Partition Delhi became
a Hindu and Sikh, Punjabi-speaking city. Consequently, the population
virtually doubled, despite the mass migration of Muslims. This unbelievable,
artificial demographic change explains Delhi’s brashness and
insecurity – in many respects; Delhi is a city that is
only half a century old.