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Few cities have been built and rebuilt as many times as Delhi, with at least eight independent cities being established here, each leaving its ruins in the patchwork of the modern city. The earliest reference to a city in the Delhi area was made in the Mahabharata, with Delhi supposed to be Indraprastha, the legendary city of the Pandavas. According to legend the Yogmaya Temple dates back to the Pandavas; more certainly, it is believed to be the only temple from the pre-Muslim era remaining in the city.
Nearby is the iron pillar, said to be constructed during the reign of Chandragupta II (375-415 CE), believed to have been constructed elsewhere and later moved to Delhi. Despite being over 1600 years old, the pillar has not rusted due to its extreme purity.
The next city to emerge in the area was Anangpur, established as a royal resort for King Anangapala around 1020 CE. King Anangapala later moved Anangpur about 10 km to the west, to the walled complex known as Lal Kot, now an archaeological ruin open to tourists.
In the late 12th century, the city was conquered by the Muslim King Quṭb al-Dīn Aybak, who made Delhi the seat of his capital. He built the Qutub .Minar complex, home to a soaring 73 metre minaret, as well as one of the earliest mosques in India.
At the end of the 13th century, the Khaljī dynasty came to power in Delhi. In response to Mongol incursions on the outskirts of the city, he built a new fortified city at Siri, the first city to be built by Muslims on the subcontinent. Delhi then passed between a number of rulers before falling under Mughal rule in 1526. Though Babur, the first Mughal, established his capital at nearby Agra, his son Humāyūn founded a new city, Din Panah, on the banks of the Yamuni River. Humāyūn was overthrown by the general Sher Shar Suri, who had Din Panah razed, and established his own city, the Sher Shahi, in southeastern Delhi. Haji Begum, Humāyūn’s Persian-born wife nevertheless established a magnificent tomb in red and white sandstone and perfect proportions, which is thought to have inspired the Taj Mahal.
While the next two Mughal rulers, Akbar and Jehangir, preferred to rule from Agra, in 1639 Shah Jahan ordered his advisors to select a location for a new city, somewhere between Agra and Lahore, with a mild climate. Their choice was on the western bank of the Yamuna River, just north of the Sher Shahi. Shah Jahan started the construction of his grand capital, beginning with the Lal Qila, or the Red Fort, an architectural masterpiece and one of Delhi’s most popular tourist destinations.
Jahan also constructed the Jama Masjid Mosque, one of India’s most beautiful mosques, in marble and red sandstone. The majority of Old Delhi dates back to Jahan’s reign, with much of the old town remaining within the original gates. Other Mughal heritage sites include the six captivating tombs located in the Lodi Gardens, laid out by the British Lady Willingden in the 1930s.
After a period of instability, Delhi came under British rule in 1803. In 1911, the British decided to move their capital from Calcutta (Kolkata) to Delhi – and once again, established a new city. Construction of New Delhi began in 1913 and was completed in 1931. The straight and diagonal street plan of New Delhi contrasts sharply with the warren-like old city. New Delhi remains the capital of India, and is home to Parliament House, where the Indian parliament sits today. Delhi continued to grow rapidly through the 20th century, with New Delhi and the ancient ruins incorporated into the metropolis. Today, Delhi has a population of over 26 million, making it the largest metropolitan area in India, and the second-largest in the world.
As the capital city, Delhi is home to important places of worship for many of India’s numerous religions. The Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is one of the most important Sikh gurdwara (or temples), associated with the eighth Sikh guru, Guru Har Krishan. The beautiful and serene Lotus Temple is an important site of worship for the worldwide Bahai faith, designed by the Iranian-Canadian architect Fariborz Sahba in 1986. Not to be outdone, India’s Hindu population built the grand Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in 2005.
One of the highlights to any visit to Delhi is getting to taste the delicious local cuisine. In addition to your Indian food favourites, make sure to try chole bhature, a Northern Indian meal combining spiced white chickpeas with bhatura, or fresh fried bread. Often eaten for breakfast, chole bhature is also a common street food.
Delhi is a common starting point for international visitors to India, due to its close proximity to many of Northern India’s most popular destinations. To see the iconic Taj Mahal, its easy to make a day trip to Agra, with the train journey from Delhi to Agra only two hours. Rishikesh, the home of yoga, is also an easy trip from Delhi by railway.
Articles about India published by Odyssey Traveller.
- India’s Mughal Empire
- Clash of the Mughals and the Marathas
- History of British Rule in India
- Discovering India
- Top 20 World Heritage Sites You Must Visit
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.