Sights of Delhi

Today, a tour of the capital takes you through a mixture of imposing ministries and embassies, modem office buildings and hotels, and along the Old Delhi of vibrant Hindu and Muslim communities crowding in on the Mughal monuments. For more orientation, visit the Tourist Information Office on Janpath.

Start at the southern end of the city, with the Qutb Minar, a symbol of Islam’s impact on India. Begun by Delhi ‘s first sultan, Qutb-uddin, and completed by his son-in-law lltutmish, the 73-m (240-ft) tower was erected to celebrate the Turkish conquest of Delhi. The tower comprises four stories, each a tapering cylinder with angular and convex ribs, separated by balconies.

The top of the tower is off limits, due to dangers inherent in the narrow staircase that leads to the look-out point, so the best bet for a panoramic view of the city is the top floor of one of the taller, more recent hotels.

The ruins of the ancient mosque Quwwatu 'l-lslam-Masjid (which means “The Might of Islam”), was built with the might of the Hindus. With no skill ed Muslim labor at his disposal, Qutb called on local craftsmen to build the mosque from the ruins of 27 Hindu and Jain temples, demolished by their own elephants. You can see the results of this construction method in the temple-pillars set on top of one another. Sculptures have been plastered over, but the Indian carving remain s. Islamic architecture shows in the five characteristic peaked arches of the prayer-hall screen, but even here the decoration. which includes the Arabic lettering. is naturalistic and Hindu in style. In the mosque’s courtyard, there is a 7-m (22-ft) Iron Pillar, from the fourth century, brought here by the Rajput founders of Dhillika, but nobody knows from where. Without 1600 years worth of monsoon, this monument to the Hindu god Vishnu is said to have special properties: if you stand with your back against it and completely encircle it with your arms-no mean feat-good luck is yours for the rest of the day.

Due east of New Delhi’s India Gate the much-plundered 16th century Purana Qila (Old Fort) stands on an ancient mound. now believed to mark the site of lndraprastha of the Mahabharat epic. Facts About India reports that the earliest Mughal building is the Qal'a-i-Kuhna Masjid. with its minutely detailed molding of graceful peaked arches. represents an important transition from the Turco-Afghan to the sophisticated style of the Persian-influenced Mughals. The mosque was built in the year 1541 by Sher Shah. the Emperor Babur·s General in office. Sher-Mandal, the octagonal tower due south of the mosque, carved the General’s pleasure-palace. but it was to be the death of his rival and successor, Humayun.

From Humayun’s death came the splendid monument located in Nizamuddin. the Tomb of Humayun, which was built by his widow Haji ikum and the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. A site for repose and serenity made from a delicate combination of materials - buff and red sandstone and smart, grey-trimmed white marble. With a majestic dome uniting the four octagonal kiosks over the terrace’s latticed arches, this is the first full y-realized masterpiece of Mughal architecture. The numerous six-pointed stars set in the abutments of the main arches are not the Jewish Star of David but an esoteric emblem that you’ ll see all over the country. Dominating Old Delhi, the Lal Quila (Red Fort) was built by Shahjahan when he transferred the capital back to Delhi from Agra.

Behind its ramparts, the Delhi citadel is more a palace than a fortress, with white marble preferred over the region’s red sandstone. It’s thought he used the same architect who worked on the Taj Mahal. From south of the Fort, notice the two monumental elephants outside the Delhi Gate. Part of the original design, they were destroyed by Emperor Aurangzeb, who refused images susceptible to idolatry. Viceroy Lord Curzon had these replicas installed in 1903. Enter the fort on its west side at the Lahore Gate, and you find yourself in a vaulted bazaar street, an idea Shahjahan borrowed from Baghdad.

Imagine administrators and Rajput princes riding on elephants through the arcade as far as the Naqqar Khana (Drum House). where the imperial band played and visitors were obliged to dismount. Pa’s with the ghosts of these nobles and commoners through the drum house to the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience). Here, under a baldaquin with 40 pillars, the Emperor sat cross-legged on hi-. throne. the “Seat of the Shadow of God.” He held audience, surrounded by nobles, m midday. while common petitioners attended in the courtyard below. As a visitor, you can admire the inlaid stone panel of flowers at the back of the hall.

The Diwan-i-Khas was for the ravages of Nadir Shah in 1739. His Persian troops chipped the gold out of its pillars and inlay off the ceiling, and then caned away the fabulous Peacock Throne. Above the arches you’ll see the inscription. The last emperor to enjoy it was King George V, for whom a painted wooden ceiling was installed.

One of the few surviving palace apartments is the principal harem, Rang Mahal (Palace of Color). The wall s· paintings have gone and water no longer flows in its indoor ahr-i-Bihi sht (River of Paradise). but mosaics made of mirrors ornament the ceiling and walls of six boudoirs. making a galaxy of stars when candle-lit (strike a match). Southernmost of the palace buildings. Mumtaz Mahal was pan of the imperial harem and is now a small museum of Mughal artwork.

To the northwest of the Diwan-i- Khas, the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) is the one contribution to the Fort by Shahjahan’s succesor Aurangzeb. Each evening. a sound and light show at the Red Fort tells its story; details can be obtained from the Tourist lnformation Bureau. Chandni Chowk. the road from the Fort ‘s Lahore Gate was once an avenue for processions. Today. it is the main thorough fare linking Delhi’s bazaars. which sell jewelry. clothes and traditional sweetmeats. On an outcrop of rock south west of the Red Fort. Shahjahan other great construction. the Jama Masjid (the great congregational Friday Mosque. is the largest mosque in India.

Raj Ghat, the simple memorial to Mahatma Gandhi overlooking the Yamuna river, is far in spirit from the Mughals but an integral part of Old Delhi. On lawns planted with trees donated by visiting heads of state, a square of marble marks the place where Gandhi was cremated. The platform has an inscription recording his last words, He Ram (Oh, God), and nearby, a sign declares that most famous Gandhi talisman: “Recall the face of the poorest and most helpless man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any help to him.” There is also a museum recording the highlights of Gandhi’s life.


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