Can you imagine: millions and millions of people living together in a city: a place where cultures, habits, joy and pain come together. Where people search for privacy, but actually cannot live without the other. Where life happens out on the streets and buildings are merely the framework that holds it all together.
It’s is even harder to imagine that such a place would be without any interesting places to visit…..
Take New Delhi in India. For many visitors Delhi is nothing more than their place of arrival in India. After only one day many already leave the city to travel to other destinations. Delhi is considered a terrible city with hardly any touristic attractions. Man, are they wrong…
32 million eyes watching you
“How many people live in Delhi?” I caught the eyes of our TukTuk driver in his rearview mirror. “No idea Sir……many!”, he answered.
Delhi is a magnet to people from other places in the country. In Delhi they have the possibility to earn some money that is being send home to families. We met hotel employees working in Delhi and visiting their families in Northern India only every 3 or 4 months.
We can but estimate the number of inhabitants. They say that around 16 million people live, work and play in Delhi….OMG, that’s like the total number of people living in Holland! Can you imagine the faces of our kids when we explained this to them?
I want to convince you. I want you to think differently about cities like Delhi. Let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights of this indeed chaotic, but impressive city. Let’s call them: Delhi Surprises.
1. Humayun’s tomb
A beautiful tomb surrounded by wonderful gardens, also called the ‘Mini Taj Mahal’. Yes, it has some similarities, but certainly not the number of visitors! It was very quiet so we had lots of time to wander around.
The Mughal emperor Humayun died in 1556 and his widow started the construction of his tomb fourteen years after his death (don’t ask me why it took that long). It’s an example of beautiful Mughal style, inspired by Persian architecture. They say this tomb inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the (real) Taj Mahal!
2. India Gate
The India Gate is the national monument of India, inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (but I guess you already guessed that). The monument commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army that lost their lives in World War I and the Indo-Pakistan war. It was built in 1931 and is 42 meters high.
Today it’s a place of gathering. On summer evenings it is a popular picnic spot. At 6 pm in the evening locals gather to cool down after a long day of dry heat. Kids swim in the nearby fountains and parents lie down on the lawns. Be prepared that all eyes are on you. As a Western traveler you are an interesting attraction as well!
3. Old Delhi and the Sikh temple at Chandni Chowk
Chandni Chowk is one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi. It was built in the 17th century by the Emperor of India, Shah Jahan, where the market was once divided by canals to reflect moonlight….that’s indeed hard to imagine if you see how busy it is right now!
There is a large Sikh temple where you can enter without any charge (actually, you are very welcome to join!). Go up to the first floor and watch the chaos outside. It was great to scan the crowd and meet the eyes of some of the people, who then started to smile as if there was no chaos at all….
By the way, if you are afraid to lose your way, go on of the guided bicycle tours!
4. Jama Masjid
Also in Old Delhi, visit the Jama Masjid, the largest and best-known mosque in India. Wash your hands and feet in the central area and sit down to relax and watch people. Don’t forget to go up on one of the minarets (the towers on each of the corners). You have to buy an additional ticket, but the views are great (although not really suitable for people who don’t like narrow places…)
5. Birla Mandir
Birla Mandir is an interesting place. It was built between 1933-39 by one of the famous business tycoons of India, Mr. Birla. The Birla family built and supports many temples across the country. This famous temple in Delhi is accredited to have been inaugurated by Mahatma Ghandi in 1939 and Ghandi kept the conditions that the temple should not be restricted to Hindus and people from every caste would be allowed inside.
Our kids loved the temple with all its corridors and separate rooms. They made a sport out of collecting as many bindi’s on the forehead as possible! My wife and daughter spent about an hour negotiating on a souvenir right outside the temple….which was great for me to just sit down and watch people!
If you are not able to spend more time in Delhi, there is another option. There are all kinds of hotels in Delhi: just step out of your hotel and sit down on the sidewalk (if you can find any, true). Great things pass by on the street: awkward vehicles, beautiful colors worn proudly by women, animals and your regular bunch of people who just find it interesting to see you sitting down on the street. It’s a feast for the photographers eyes.
And yes, there are more Delhi Surprises to be found: the Lotus temple, the Akshardam temple, The Qutab Minar, the Red Fort and even the peaceful Lodhi Park. What is your favorite place in Delhi?
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