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Delhi Sightseeing

Agra: the Taj Mahal

Red Fort

The Red Fort, or Lal Qila, is a massive red-sandstone fortress with 33 meters high walls. It was built during the period 1638-1648 after the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan moved his capital from Agra to Delhi and created Shahjahanabad, a city that corresponds to the area of Old Delhi. The Red Fort is the focal point of the old city and during the Mughal period it was the Emperor's place of residence.

There are two main entrances to the Fort: the Lahore and the Delhi Gates. The Delhi Gate is on the western side and has statues of life-sized elephants by the entrance. The Lahore Gate derives its name from the fact that it faces Lahore, which is nowadays in Pakistan. In front of the gate, spreads the famous Chandni Chowk, or busy wholesale market area. The gate itself has a historical significance as in 1947 Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed India’s independence by hoisting the Indian flag above the gate’s entrance. Nowadays, the official ceremony and public festival celebrating India’s Independence takes place here every year, on the 15th of August.

Red Fort in Delhi

Beyond the Lahore Gate lies Chatni Chowk, a fine shopping arcade selling crafts, jewels, and local food at low prices. A roof was added to the market to satisfy the nobles living inside the fort, in particular, the ladies of the Mughal Harem were allowed to shop here on Thursdays. The arcade leads to the Drum House (Naubat Khana). The building served as a residence for the court musicians and daily concerts and special ceremonies were performed outside. Now it is occupied by the Military Museum.

The two most notable structures inside the Red Fort are the Halls of Public, and Private Audiences: Diwan–i-Aam, and Diwan–i-Khas. Diwan-i-Aam was the place where the Mughal Emperors listened to the complaints of the common people, while Diwan-i-Khas was used to receive private guests. It was decorated with marble, and at its centre stood the Peacock Throne teeming with precious stones. The Rang Mahal, or the ‘Palace of Colours’, was the ladies’ territory where the emperor’s wives and concubines lived.

The Red Fort is open for tourists and visitors from dawn to dusk. Apart from the daytime visits, the Red Fort has a sound and light show every evening, telling the story of major events in Indian history.

Chandni Chowk

Chandni Chowk in Delhi

Chandni Chowk is the market area of Old Delhi. It begins near the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort and extends to the Jama Masjid area. The market was designed by Jahan Ara, Shah Jahan’s daughter, when the Red Fort was built. The name Chandni Chowk means “moonlit market”, because in the days of the Mughals there used to be canals in this area, and the water reflected the moonlight. Nowadays, this large vibrant market area has special zones dedicated to particular types of commerce. For instance, next to the Jama Masjid mosque, the shops of Meena Bazaar sell objects of Islamic culture: scents, praying mats, ladies shawls, men’s hats, etc. West of the mosque, the Chawry Bazaar, specializes in decorative statuettes, bells and lamps made of bronze and copper.

To the south of the mosque, there is market that sells vehicles’ spare parts. Not far from here, is the market for poultry, with live chicken being held inside wooden cages. Often, the chickens are sold and sacrificed on the spot. If market crowds and smells don't present a problem, then visitors should explore this authentic hustle and bustle of the old Indian city. On the side streets that branch from Chandni Chowk, it is possible to buy many things: saris, musical instruments, jewellery, carpets, etc.

If you are intent on buying something and want to avoid the inevitable bargaining in the street market, then visit beforehand the official shopping centre, the State Emporia near Connaught Place that has fixed prices. The popular tourist attractions in Chandni Chowk are Dariba Kalan, a jewellery street; Paratha Walan, which is called so after the traditional bread and is the street for cafes, restaurants and small eating establishments; Kinari Bazaar is a place for sari, turbans and other traditional clothing; and there is a posh area between Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk called Nai Sarak where you can see old palaces of the wealthy merchants.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid in Delhi

Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India and another of the architectural marvels created during the rule of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emperor. This emperor was responsible also for the construction of such remarkable structures as the Taj Mahal in Agra, and the Red Fort in Delhi. Jama Masjid lies approximately one kilometre west of the Red Fort and stands on a mound surrounded with bazaars and the busy streets of Old Delhi.

The mosque has three entrances oriented to the north, to the south, and to the east. The grand entrance is at the eastern gate. In the old days, it was reserved for the Mughal emperor and his family only. Currently, it opens its doors to the public, on Fridays and religious feasts. Most visitors enter by the northern entrance, after climbing the wide steps carved out of the red sandstone. The inner court of the mosque is 100 meters wide and during religious ceremonies it can take up to 25,000 believers. The marble floor of the mosque is divided into rectangles with black marble borders that serve as praying mats. Altogether, there are 899 spaces marked in this way. In the centre, there is a well (hauz) for the purification rituals. The façade of the praying hall has 11 arches, the largest one at its centre with two majestic 41-metres-tall minarets flanking its sides. The contrast between the white of the marble and the red of the sandstone makes the façade of this mosque very picturesque. The best time for the visit is during the first half of the day as the natural light illuminates the red and white stones of the façade.

For a fee, visitors can climb the 121 steps of the southern minaret for majestic panoramic views over Delhi. Particularly, one can appreciate New Delhi’s layout, with Connaught Place and Sansad Bhavan, the Indian Parliament, seen in a direct line from the mosque. The mosque is closed to visitors at praying times and for the visit it is obligatory to take off your footwear. The entrance itself is free; however, everyone is supposed to pay a camera charge whether you take pictures or not.

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb in Delhi

Humayun’s Tomb is the earliest example of Mughal architecture in India. It was constructed in 1569 on the orders of Hamayun’s widow, Hamida Banu Begam, to be a dynastic tomb. Even though the most prominent example of Mughal Tombs is the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Hamayun’s Tomb was the first to be designed in a mixture of Persian and Indian styles that came to define the unique character of Mughal architecture.

This tomb with its large surrounding garden is situated in East New Delhi, on the Mathura Road close to Purana Qila (Old Fort), a citadel founded by Hamayun in 1533. You enter the mausoleum through the Bu’-Halima Gates. The tomb is in a substantial building at the centre of a large, well-planned garden divided into four plots by ‘charbaghs’: causeways with shallow water-channels that run through them. The mausoleum rises on a seven metres’ high square terrace. It is built, mainly, of red sandstone contrasting with white marble which is also the material used for the cupola above. Hamayun’s Tomb is in the central part. Other tombs in the mausoleum belong to different members of the Mughal dynasty: among others, Hamayun’s wives, the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, and one of the sons of Shah Jahan, grandson of the legendary Akbar.

Qutab Minar

Qutab Minar in Delhi

The monumental complex of Qutab Minar is next to Qila Rai Pithora, considered the site of “the First Delhi”. It is believed that Qutbu l-Din Aibak, who conqueror Delhi from the Hindus, started building the minaret tower, in 1199. There has been fierce debate as to the origins of Quatab Minar, with some defending that it was erected a victory tower after the Islamic conquest of India; while the other side claim that it was a Muslim minaret. Anyway, Qutab-ud-din Aibak started the construction of the Qutab Minar but could only finish its base. His successors Iltutmush, and Firoz Shah Tughlak finished the tower in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The changing architectural styles from Aibak to Tughlak are quite evident in the Qutab Minar. The relief work and even the materials used for the construction differ. The tower of Qutab Minar is 72,5 metres high and the diameter of the base and the top are 14,32 metres, and 2,75 metres, respectively. There is an inscription honouring the minaret as “a projection of God’s shadow on east and west”. There are further inscriptions in the minaret tower and it has four projecting balconies supported by thoroughly decorated brackets. Next to the Qutab Minar is the Quwwat Ui Islam (Light of Islam) Mosque. Even though it is currently in need of restoration, it is still praised as one of the most magnificent structures in the world. Qutab-ud-din Aibak built it between 1193 and 1197. Later, Iltutmush, in 1230, and Alla-ud-din Khilji, in 1315, made several additions. The main mosque consistis of an inner and outer courtyard with pillars on all sides and decorated with column shafts. Most of these shafts are from the 27 Hindu temples, which were pillaged to obtain the materials to build the mosque. It explains why the Muslim mosque has a typical Hindu style. Close to the mosque is one of Delhi’s most curious artefacts from the period: the Iron Pillar.

The Iron Pillar, which some experts date from as early as 912 AD, has baffled scientist for the metal's rust-free properties. It is 6 metres tall, weighs 6 tons, and has various inscriptions carved in its wall, some of the oldest suggesting that the Pillar was erected to honour Vishnu, a deity of the Hindus.

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