Of all the big cities in India, it's the capital city of New Delhi that contains more attractions worth visiting, 3 of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. They're spread out quite apart so I got into a car this morning, driven by a Nepalese. As expected, traffic caught up with us and the haze hang thickly in the air as we move south from my hotel at the Karol Bagh area. If there's a consolation, Delhi's streets at least aren't as full of cows as Jaipur, Agra or Varanasi.
First destination is the India Gate, a war memorial dedicated to those who died in World War I. An eternal flame burns underneath as a reminder of lives lost in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War (which could erupt again given the tension both neighbors feel with regards to Kashmir). From here, a 2-mile boulevard called Rajpath leads to the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace that used to be the official residence of the British Viceroy.
The Qutb complex south of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main attraction here is the Qutb Minar, a red sandstone minaret which India's first Muslim ruler Qutbuddin Aibak started to build in 1193. Not until 1368 was the topmost story completed, reaching a height of 230 feet. The intricate work on the the tower is astounding. Within the complex are other structures that show Hindu-Islamic styles in construction: the Alai Darwaza (old gate) and the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque.
I meet Brijj and Amit of Idiscoverindia.com for lunch at Naivedyam, a well-known restaurant in Hauz Khas specializing in South Indian vegetarian dishes. As soon as we were seated, rasam was served, a spicy peppery lentil soup. Amit recommended dosa - a rice and lentil pancake - with some potato stuffing on it. A side order of coconut chutney and sambar came along with it. A very satisfying meal, I must say.
On the way to Humayun's Tomb, we passed by what I thought look like a flower. In fact, it is a huge marble building known as "Lotus Temple" or the Baha'i House of Worship. This contemporary temple is non-denominational and anyone can go in to pray or meditate inside.
When Humayun died in 1556, his grieving widow built him a grand tomb using red sandstone and marble designed in a Mughal architectural style. There are other outlying tombs that add to its sheer size but with the early afternoon heat bearing down heavily on me, it became an effort to fully absorb every nook and cranny of this World Heritage site.
RED FORT (LAL QILA)
Shajahanabad - as Old Delhi is called - is the city built by Shah Jahan (of the Taj Mahal fame).
Crumbling havelis (Indian mansions) dating back to the 17th century lord it over tight alleys clogged with rickshaws. But two imposing structures also built by Shah Jahan really make their mark in New Delhi's skyline: the Jama Masjid mosque and Red Fort (Lal Qila). The latter was the seat of power for Mughal emperors from 1639 to 1857 and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site.