India - Culture
Welcome to Delhi
Clint Misquitta explains how to explore the best of Delhi from the moment you land at Indira Gandhi Airport. The city witnessed the rise and fall of empires and is ready to tell visitors of the 21st century its history and culture. From Mumbai.
Delhi, a citadel that welcomed the dawn of history, and through the passage of time, saw the birth of a civilization, witnessed many a war, and today, she tells her story, one of victory, triumph and jubilee. Over the last 5,000 years the city of Delhi boasts of a rich and varied legacy.
The years gone by have seen the rise and decline of many an empire, and her ruins tell of her imperial past. Today Delhi, a bustling city, home to more than 8 million people exudes a radiance, characteristic of India.
Delhi goes back to the time of the Pandavas the Kauravas and fast forwards into the reign of umpteen number of conquerors. The battleground of many wars, Delhi has always been identified with ‘power’. It is now the capital of a great country. A city that sits undisputed, at the helm of the largest and oldest democracy in the world.
‘Resilient’, is another word that you would use to describe her, if I walked you through Delhi. You will notice the palaces that speak of the splendor of the monarchs and the opulence in which they lived. But behind these palaces have been various attempts of bloody wars against Delhi, and each time this buoyant city stayed afloat. Infact, emperors like Nadir Shah, Abdali and Taimur Lane plundered the city on various occasions, to the extent that they could not carry their looted wealth back home. However, each of those times, this resilient city regained its lost splendor.
What makes a city is not only what it is now, but also the past that shapes its every detail. No other city in India epitomizes this more than Delhi.
Delhi was at centre stage in the first war of independence in 1857. Though the attempt to break free from the British failed, Delhi became an obstacle to the British Raj. The British shifted their capital from Calcutta to Delhi, and all eyes were fixed on this capital, now the center of the freedom struggle which would eventually be the flag bearer of independence. The British built New Delhi in 1911. During the unrest, the focus of the liberation, that is the Azad Hind Army was to capture Delhi and establish Swaraj. The slogan 'Dilli Chalo' is still chanted at political rallies and speeches. Its efforts were brought to fruition and the tricolor was hoisted at the Red Fort in Delhi which marked a glorious chapter in the history of India, now independent. After Indian Independence in 1947 the Indian freedom fighters retained Delhi as the capital. It became a Union Territory on 1st November, 1956.
The British shifted their capital from Calcutta to Delhi, the center of the freedom struggle which would be the flag bearer of independence.
In the present day, the Indira Gandhi International airport, one of the busiest in the world welcomes you to an experience, of India. Behold a city of dreams, of culture, of majestic proportions and one with a story to tell like no other. National and international carriers make a beeline at this historical destination. As the tourist lands in Delhi he will find it easy to relate with what he might have seen in pictures or heard through a friend.
Scenes of elephant and camel rides, snake charmers, the Taj Mahal and the innumerable festivals that make life in India very noisy and colorful. And this entire package he is eager to embrace and experience. But first, as the tourist leaves the air terminal he/she is devoured by a sea of humanity and undisciplined traffic. He/she is left in curious awe of how there is no road mishap at the way the pedestrians cross the roads and the rickshaws speed across highways. There seems to be a secret code for these traffic rules and the foreigner is resigned to the thought that he will be safe in the milieu. A wry smile on the local face as he watches curiously the experience show on the tourists face. Anyway since it is something different from what you see in western cities, the tourist is happy with the novelty. After all he realizes that he has reached India, hitherto a Third World country, but now on the way to development and higher standard of living. This is easy to spot as all over there are tell tale signs of income inequalities and a nation struggling to distribute its wealth homogeneously.
The visitors to India are engrossed with the poverty and affluence, the food stalls, the hawkers that abound in the narrow and crowded streets, the guide who wants to take them to massage joints, the milk shakes and lassi that are tempting in this humid climate. He wipes off the perspiration and takes a sip, ‘umm’ ‘refreshing’ ‘wow’ ‘interesting’ ‘different’ ‘sweet’ ‘very nice’ ‘ek aur’ that is ‘one more’ are the range of responses you would hear. And of course the eternal Indian chaat, “shev puri” and “paani puri’ that are tongue twisting and mouth watering. But first things first and the visitors have to find their hotel accommodation that is either previously arranged or found at the spur of the moment. So long as it is a decent place with an airconditioner, television and an internet connection the visitor is happy. While getting there though, he is aware that he needs to be on guard, as the locals have a reputation of being opportunists.
All said and done, one settles into Delhi and grows to like its offerings. Tasty food delicacies are something the tourist is ready to sample with instructions that it should not be too spicy. Watch out for the street food and kebabs, and no sir, no more of that green chutney for me…controlled indulgence, the order for the day.
Tasty food delicacies are something the tourist is ready to sample with instructions that it should not be too spicy.
The icing on the cake is a relaxed evening with smooth Indian beer like the Kingfisher or Haywards. While you’re lost in these intricacies, mind you, you’re still connected. Fortunately our newspapers especially The Times of India, are highly informative and the television covers world topics and the news analysis - a boon to the avid viewer. A tourist generally would resign with a grateful heart to be through the day, unscathed.
The places of interest in Delhi are the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mughal Gardens, Chadni Chowk, Red Fort, Juma Masjid, Raj Ghat, (samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi), Shantivanam, (samadhi of Jawaharlal Nehru), Qutb Minar, Jantar Mantar, India Gate, Zoological Gardens, Nehru Memorial Museum, Vigyan Bhavan to mention a few. No tourist misses the other two legs of the Golden Triangle that is Agra and Jaipur. Agra is known for the immortal monument of love, the Taj Mahal and Jaipur is the Pink city of India, where shopping and sightseeing is a treat. But again, visitors to Delhi should be very careful in moving about in the city. The taxi and rickshaw drivers are very astute and may take you to your destination via a longer route unless you assert your knowledge of the city roads. Unaccompanied women are also not very safe especially in the wee hours of the morning and at night time. Women must make sure they have a friend or relative who will pick them up from the airport. Also one must be very careful not to flash money in public or withdraw too much money from the ATM as you can be watched and followed. General and basic precautions and you are set for Delhi’s next attraction.
Shopping is a treat in Delhi with a variety of textiles and trinkets that are again very portable and also moderately priced. Indian dresses are a hit with foreign men and women. The comfortable kurtas and pajamas, sherwanis for men and the embroidered dresses, shalwar kameez and saris for women, handloom apparels and various trinkets made of leather and ivory and clay, miniature camels and elephants are very popular with the tourists. The handloom cloth is especially very light and is fabricated in various colors with fantastic designs. This fabric is meant for warm climates and so many tourists patronize handloom apparels for daily ware.
Another dimension is that Delhi is a melting pot of sorts. The infrastructure and opportunities available in Delhi have attracted Indians from various parts of the country. Besides Delhi houses various multinational companies, breathtaking monuments, and political edifices, thus bringing together professionals, investors and hordes of tourists.
On the whole Delhi presents to a tourist a perfect overture to India. It is traditionally layered with depth, profoundly rooted in history, one of the greenest cities in India and a symbol of cultural wealth. Like any one who survives to tell a story, Delhi has the dynamism and intensity to constantly change with the times.
It is indeed a true symbol of the marriage and harmonious juxtaposition of a rich past, a brimming present and an expectant future.