homeIndiaDelhi travel guide > Delhi sightseeing
Delhi guide
Regions
Traveler café 
Travel directory
 
Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Delhi Sightseeing
Delhi Sightseeing Guide - TravelPuppy.com
Overview

The most well-known sights are the 2 buildings that dominate Old Delhi, the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. A walk through the chaotic, smelly alleys of the Old City – better known as Shahjahanabad, after the 17th-century Mughal emperor who constructed it – is a fascinating experience. The bazaars of Chandni Chowk are colourful and full of frenetic activity. The Old City is rapidly decaying but it is still possible to see a mosque here or the courtyard of an old townhouse there, hidden behind a shop front.

South of Old Delhi and in complete contrast to it, are Rajpath and the buildings on Raisina Hill – Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Secretariat – the focus of British New Delhi. After the commotion of the Old City, the serene elegance and baroque vistas of this most magnificently laid-out scheme is a welcome relief. Connaught Place, between Old Delhi and Rajpath is the arcaded bull’s eye of New Delhi, where bars, restaurants, shops, banks, and hotels tout loudly for business.

Going south once more, through the leafy enclaves of New Delhi – which have an attraction of their own, as they are lusciously green, spacious and , shady– this is where the bulk of the ancient monuments of medieval Delhi can be found. . Lodhi Gardens and humayun’s Tomb are easily accessible from the city centre. The Qutb Minar complex, the vast and remarkableTughluqabad and the remains at Haus Khaz are situated further into the southern suburbs.

As a result of protests from the tourist industry, the increases in admission charges to monuments in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), imposed in October 2000, have now been regulated. The new rates only apply, somewhat notoriously, to foreigners.

The easiest way for one to travel between sites is by taxi or auto-rickshaw. Sightseeing in Delhi can be tiring– negotiating the urban sprawl and traffic is long-drawn-out and exhausting, especially in the heat. Although tiring, sightseeing in Dehli is an experience that no traveller will regret.

Tourist Information
Government of India Tourist Office
88 Janpath
Tel: (011) 332-0005. Fax: (011) 332-0109.
E-mail: newdelhi@tourisminindia.com

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 09:00-18:00, Sat 09:00-14:00.

Passes

Tourist passes are currently not available in Delhi.

Key Attractions in Delhi

Lal Quila (Red Fort)

The Red Fort’s huge curtain wall and battlements dominate the skyline of Old Delhi. Inside, the bastions – constructed, like the nearby Jama Masjid, by Shah Jahan – are a range of exquisite 17th-century Mughal buildings. They provided the living quarters for the Emperor, his family, and courtiers. The precise proportion and balance of these buildings, along with the intricate decoration, is delightful to behold and in complete contrast to the military might of the fort itself.

Unfortunately, the water conduits that once cooled the dwellings and gardens are now dry. The Lahore Gate, on the west side of the fort, was a strong symbol in the battle for Independence and is still regarded as a shrine of the Republic.

Entrance from Lahori Gate or Chatta Chowk
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday dawn-dusk.
Admission: Rs100 (foreigners).

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque is 1 of the masterpieces of the Mughal’s greatest builder, Shah Jahan. A large courtyard, bounded by an arcade and pierced with 3 gates, sits in front of the prayer hall, which permeates tranquility from the harmony of its arches, domes and spaces.

Able to accommodate 25,000 worshippers, the courtyard is dominated by two red-and-white-striped sandstone minarets, 70 metres (230 feet) tall. The active visitors who ascend the 122 narrow steps to the top will be find a spectacular view of Delhi, smog and all. Short-sleeved shirts and shorts are not allowed– wraps can be borrowed.

Matya Mahal, Bho Jala
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk; closed during prayer times.
Admission: Free (mosque); Rs10 to shoe wallah; Rs10 (minaret) and Rs100 (for cameras).

Qutb Minar

The Qutb Minar is a very big tower, started near the end of the 12th century, to commemorate the Muslim conquest of Delhi. At 72.5 metres (238 feet) tall, it is constructed of fluted red sandstone and decorated with calligraphy representing verses from the Koran. The 2 top levels are faced in white marble.

The Minar stands above a site that is home to the oldest extant Islamic monuments in India. There is the Ala-i-Darwaza, complete with lotus leaf squinches, horseshoe-shaped arches, and intricate geometric patterns. Next to that, stands the Quwwat-ul-Islam, the 1st mosque to be built in India.

The new rulers of Delhi were so focussed in building a mosque that they shamelessly pilfered 27 Hindu and Jain temples for building materials. Several of the pillars around the courtyard are carved with Hindu iconography, which is strangely at odds with the Islamic calligraphy of the Muslim prayer screens.

In the center of the mosque, somewhat out of place, stands the 4th-century Iron Pillar, bearing inscriptions from the Gupta period. Beyond the mosque is the elaborately carved Iltutmish's Tomb.

Qutb Minar complex
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk.
Admission: Rs250 (foreigners).

Rashtrapati Bhavan

Rajpath runs between the Secretariat Buildings and India Arch, the war memorial constructed by Lutyens, in 1921. Rajpath is a formal conception, lined with fountains, trees, and pools, intended by its architects, Lutyens and Baker, to be the epicenter of British India. The Secretariat Buildings mix monumental classical and oriental detail and, while not stunning, are definitely a striking statement of colonial power.

Rashtrapati Bhavan is a sprawling palace, supposedly bigger than Versailles, which was constructed as the residence of the Viceroy and is now the official home of the President of India. Every Saturday morning (09:35-10:15), guards parade in front of the iron grille gates. While the apartments are private, the gardens are open to the public every year in Feb/Mar.

Rajpath
Opening hours: By appointment; gardens open daily 09:00-16:00 (Feb-Mar).
Admission: Free.

National Museum

At least a few hours are needed to get a decent overview of Indian culture at the National Museum, which is full of exhibits covering over 5000 years of history. Features include excavations from Indus Valley civilization sites, and statues from the Mauryan empire (250BC), Carved pillars, sandstone figures from Pallava temples, Gupta terracottas dating from AD400, Tibetan manuscripts, stone and bronze Buddhist statues, Naga models and masks, Tibetan manuscripts, silk paintings from Central Asia, a gallery of 300 musical instruments, and Mughal clothing,ornaments tapestries, and weapons.

Janpath
Tel: (011) 301-9538.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 10:00-17:00.
Admission: Rs150 (foreigners).

Chandni Chowk

The bazaars around Chandni Chowk, in Old Delhi, display a colorful, heaving and pungent slice of Delhi life, with shops and stalls offering a fabulous array of goods, from fish and poultry to ‘second-hand’ goods, gold and gemstones, turbans, garlands, tinsel and spare car parts. They are a "must see" part of any visit to the city.

Naya Bazaar is the spice market on Khari Baoli, where porters lift sacks of spices onto ox carts to be peddled to other parts of the city, while the covered Gadodial Market, near Khari Baoli, is the wholesale spice market with an awesome display of turmeric, aniseed, dried mangoes, pomegranate, saffron, ginger, lotus seeds, reetha nuts, sugars, pickles, and chutneys.

Chawris Bazaar became notorious in the 19th century, for its dancing girls who beckoned to men below from the arched balconies and windows of the mansions that once lined the street. Today, the mansions have been replaced by shops specializing in copper and brass Buddhas, Krishnas and Vishnus.

Chandni Chowk
Opening hours: Daily, approximately 10:00-18:00; most shops closed on Sunday.
Admission: Free.

Humayun’s Tomb

Often known as a forerunner of the Taj Mahal. Humayun's Tomb is in its own right, a spectacular example of the Mughal architectural style, combining dome, mausoleum and plinth in proportional perfection. The Tomb sits in a square garden designed along Persian lines, geometric and shaded, crisscrossed with paths and waterways. In the grounds, there are additional monuments, including the Tomb of Isa Khan.

Lodhi Road and Mathura Road
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk.
Admission: Rs250 (foreigners).

Baha’i Temple

Also known as the Lotus Temple, the modern Baha’i Temple has often been compared with the Sydney Opera House. Huget white petals of Rajasthani Macrana marble extend out from nine pools and walkways in the shape of an unfolding lotus, signifying the 9 spiritual paths of the Baha’i faith. Inside, the central hall reaches to a height of over 30 metres (98 feet), without the visible support of any columns.
Shoes should be removed before entering.

Kalkaji Hill
Opening hours: Daily 09:00-19:00 (summer); daily 09:30-17:30 (winter); closed during prayers (10:00-11:00 and 16:00-17:00).
Admission: Free.

Purana Qila

At the center of Humayun’s 16th-century Delhi was the fortress of Purana Qila, which allegedly stands on the site of Indraprastha, the city of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata.

Of the buildings still standing today, the Qila-i-Kuhna Masjid was constructed in 1541, by Sher Shah, and represents a successful mix of the Islamic and Hindu styles. The Sher Mandal is an octagonal observatory and library.

The north gate, Talaqi-Darwaza, has been partly reconstructed and gives an impression of how intimidating the fortifications would have been in their heyday. The chattri surmounting the west (entrance) gate commands a spectacular view of New Delhi.

Purana Qila is currently being rebuilt and restored. There is a small museum just inside the south gate.

Mathura Road
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk (fortress); daily 08:00-18:30 (museum).
Admission: Rs110 (foreigners).

National Gallery of Modern Art

The National Gallery of Modern Art has a big collection of 20th-century Indian art. There are examples of the art of the painters of the Bengali Renaissance and of the artist and poet, Tagore.

The focal point is the room devoted to the art of female Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941), whose portraits – more victorious than her genre scenes – are painted with the bravura of the youthful Augustus John.

The galleries recently have been rearranged to accommodate a program of biannual exhibitions planned to bring a larger proportion of the 15,000-piece collection to the public. The museum is in Jaipur House – by any yardstick, a grandee’s townhouse – formerly the Delhi residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur.

Jaipur House, India Gate
Tel: (011) 338-2835.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 10:00-17:00.
Admission: Rs150 (foreigners).

Tughluqabad

The sprawling and atrocious defenses of Tughluqabad are a spectacular monument to the militarism of the Tughluqs, an antidote to any idea that the Delhi Sultans were simply effete builders of palaces and mosques.

Presently, the only living things to be seen at the vast, barren, sun-scorched site are donkeys, goats, and the occasional archaeologist. However, in the 14th century, the citadel, the third city of Delhi, was the Sultan’s capital.

Below the walls is the daunting tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq, the architect of Tughluqabad. It is approached from a causeway that crosses a dry lake. From the top of the citadel there is a sweeping panorama of southern Delhi.

Tughluqabad
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk.
Admission: Rs110 (foreigners).

Further Distractions

Raj Ghat

The ghats – steps leading down to the water – signify the cremation sites of the freedom fighters and leaders of India. Presently, they are located in a landscaped park, complete with an ornamental lake.

The most popular, Raj Ghat, is a simple square platform of black marble, where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, after his assassination in 1948. Pilgrims visit to touch the petal-strewn platform (samadhi) with respect and emotion. Prayers are held in remembrance Every Friday night and on the anniversaries of his birth and death (2 October and 30 January).

Close by are memorials to Indira Gandhi and to her son, Rajiv, both of whom were assassinated.

Ring Road
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk.
Admission: Free.

Gandhi Memorial Museum

Adjacent to Raj Ghat is the Gandhi Memorial Musuem, with a spectacular display of photographs illustrating the Mahatma’s life and death. There's also a large collection of Gandhi memorabilia, from toothpicks to spinning wheels, via the clothes he was reportedly wearing when he was assassinated. Among the bons mots about Gandhi, which are inscribed on the walls, is G.B. Shaw’s reflection that the Mahatma’s murder ‘shows how dangerous it is to be too good.’

Ring Road, opposite Raj Ghat.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 09:30-17:30.
Admission: Free.

Lodhi Gardens

An oasis of shaded serenity; the Lodhi Gardens are a popular and calming place to escape the heat and clamor of Delhi. The gardens are sprawling and boast a beautiful collection of tropical tree and shrubs. There is even a formal rose garden.

There are also many monuments of the Lodhi Sultanate (1451-1526), including the Bara Gumbad, the Shish Gumbad, and the Tomb of Mohammed Shah, all fine examples of the Lodhi style.

South-central New Delhi
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk.
Admission: Free.

Delhi Ridge and the Civil Lines

Delhi Ridge, overlooking Old Delhi, was the British position for the siege of the city, during the Mutiny of 1857. On its southern scarp, is the Mutiny Memorial, an unsightly neo-Gothic tower honoring those who took part in the fighting.

Higher up the Ridge is one of Ashoka's Pillars (third century BC), which was delivered to Delhi by Feroz Shah and restored and re-erected here by the British, in 1867. The Civil Lines, below the Ridge, are where the British lived prior to the construction of New Delhi in the 1920s.

Delhi Ridge
Opening hours: Daily 24 hours.
Admission: Free.

Haus Khaz

Haus Khaz contains a fascinating collection of ruins, the most important of which are the Tomb of Feroz Shah (died 1388) and the neighboring – and contemporary – madrasa (college). originally the site of the 50-hectare (125-acre) reservoir built by Aladdin (died 1316) to supply his citadel. Haus Khaz Village houses many trendy galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.

Haus Khaz
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk.
Admission: Free.

National Railway Museum

This is a small museum of railway memorabilia, including the skull of an elephant killed when it was hit by a mail train in Bengal, in 1894. But the main glory of the National Railway Museum is the open-air display of old steam locomotives and rolling stock. Most interesting are the ‘special’ carriages of the British and Indian grandees, such as the Viceregal dining car, the Maharaja of Mysore's personal train, which comprised both sleeping and day compartments, and the Gaekwar of Baroda’s Saloon, containing its ornate gold and enamel ceiling.

Also on display is the last steam engine in service on the Indian railways – as recently as 1995 – and the first electric-powered engine to do so – as far back as the 1930s.

Chanakyapuri
Tel: (011) 688-0939.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 09:30-17:00 (Oct-Mar); Tues-Sun 09:30-19:00 (Apr-Sep).
Admission: Rs10.