The sounds, sights and smells are almost overwhelming. Clearly I am in a different world from my normal existence but I realise that I am enjoying the experience. I am in Delhi surrounded by ancient monuments, thriving markets, horrendous traffic, brilliant colours and enthusiastic people. I love it!
This is the capital of India and the largest city by area and population. Around 18 million call this place home and it is a vibrant and rapidly growing metropolis. The Delhi area has seen continuous habitation since the 6th century BC and has been a capital of various kingdoms and empires for much of that time. What you see today is mainly a combination of building over 400 years, but there are some reminders of earlier occupation.
Delhi has three World Heritage Sites — the Red Fort, Qutb Minar and Humayun's Tomb — but these are only three of a multiple list of attractions to see. Some of the other monuments that are not to be missed are the Jama Masjid; India Gate; the Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century astronomical observatory; and the Purana Qila, a 16th-century fortress.
The Red Fort dates from the very peak of Mughal power when the emperors would ride out into the streets of Old Delhi on elephants in a magnificent display of pomp and power. It is still easy to picture this on a visit today.
The Qutb Minar was built over many years from 1202. This is claimed to be the tallest brick minaret in the world, and is an example of early Afghan architecture. The tapered tower is 72.5 metres high and has five distinct storeys.
Humayun's Tomb was commissioned by his first wife and was designed by a Persian architect. It was the first structure to use red sandstone on such a large scale. The tomb's architecture and the attached garden are the best examples in Delhi of the early Mughal style of tomb and it set a precedent for subsequent monumental Mughal buildings.
The Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India, with a courtyard capable of holding 25,000 devotees. It was begun in 1644 and ended up being the final architectural extravagance of Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Raj Ghat and other memorials along the river pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and other notable personalities.
A place not to miss is Chandni Chowk which has existed as a market for hundreds of years. Most visitors enjoy an exploration of its winding, narrow alleyways. It is certainly an adventure which can be ruined by pickpockets but is great fun when toured on a pedal rickshaw.
It is chaotic, noisy and dirty, and is only for shoppers who are good at bargaining. Textile shops offer bags, bed spreads, cushion covers, wall hangings, and so on. Jewelry shops sell handmade beaded necklaces and bangles in every shape, size and colour. Handicraft places sell carved wooden statues, brass wares and decorations.
Best buys for foreigners are chic leather sandals, cotton clothing and funky T-shirts. Check the quality carefully before you buy, but the prices are some of the best in Delhi. It operates daily until around 9 p.m.
People come to Delhi for a variety of reasons but increasingly there is a spiritual attraction. New Delhi has a heap of spiritual-cleansing options for those seeking redemption. At the Prerna School of Inspiration you can regress to your previous lives.
There are numerous yoga centres offering classes in English, in different styles, and at various levels in and around Delhi. If you're just looking for some simple aura cleansing, sign up for the twin heart meditation or chakra cleansing at the MCKS Yoga Vidya Pranic Healing Trust. They have free monthly healing camps at the Lodi Gardens.
The Yoga Studio in the Hauz Khas neighbourhood is a good spot for a drop-in class. There are 90-minute classes in English at 8 a.m. and then again at 9:30 a.m. every day except Sunday. There are evening classes, too.
Getting around the city can be difficult if you don't familiarize yourself on the various transport options. For short distances, walking or a rickshaw can be used but for longer trips you need an alternative. Auto rickshaws ("autos," similar to a tuk-tuk) are often the fastest way through Delhi's horrific traffic, however, they are not the most comfortable.
Insist on using the meter as many drivers will not automatically turn it on when you get in, or else agree on a price first. You can also negotiate a half- or full-day rate.
Far more comfortable are the air-conditioned taxis. To hail a Black & Yellow Roofed Taxi, you normally just wait on the street or go to a taxi stand. Ask the driver to turn on the meter or negotiate a fare.
The Delhi Metro is cheap and clean but the exits from stations can be confusing. This is the best way for getting around the city if there is a Metro stop fairly close to where you want to go.
The system criss-crosses the city and goes deep into some neighbourhoods. While the Metro lines swiftly connect north and south, and east and west, there are still sections of the city where you have to rely on radio cabs and auto rickshaws to move around.
You are in India so naturally you want to eat Indian food. Delhi Haat has food stalls from almost every state in India, offering cheap and quality food. Quality food is coupled with a swanky market showcasing the arts and crafts culture of India. Elsewhere there is a great variety of offerings from C$1 roadside food stalls to C$100 swanky restaurants.
Delhi also offers much more than this. There are Chinese, other Asian, and continental food choices. The Royal China, India's Cantonese cuisine leader, is a favourite with lunching locals. New York-based French restaurant, Le Cirque, does excellent comfort food for people who don't mind paying a lot of money for a memorable meal. The Mediterranean-themed Olive Bar and Kitchen at the Qutb is a favourite for winter brunches.
There are flights from Vancouver to Delhi via several European and Asian cities.
For Part 1 of Len's journey to India visit www.piquenewsmagazine.com, July 9, 2015.
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