Considered one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, and elected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal is a living testament to grandeur, romance, and historical significance. As India’s most recognizable structure, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory to his favorite wife. Its interior is complete with blossoming and vibrant exotic gardens, reflecting pools, and an impressive mosque.
Although the Taj Mahal has been photographed time and time again, photography does no justice to the majesty of this awe-inspiring tomb. The wells of unfathomable emotion are drawn from its exterior, as the sun from dusk until dawn radiates an exquisite reflection upon its white marble composite, proudly coating itself in divine shades of red, orange, gold and pink.
The superb buildings in this complex date from the onset of Islamic rule in India. The Qutub Minar (Qutb Minar or Qutab Minar) itself is a soaring 240 foot (73 meter) high tower of victory that was started in 1193, immediately after the defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi. At its base is Quwwat ul-Islam Masjid (Might of Islam Mosque), India's first mosque.
The tower has 5 distinct stories, each marked by a projecting balcony, and it tapers, like something out of a fairytale, from a 50 ft (15 m) diameter at the base to just 8 ft (2.5 m) at the top. The first 3 stories are made of red sandstone, the fourth and fifth of marble and sandstone. The stairs inside the tower coil so steeply that they're enough to make the hardiest climber dizzy and claustrophobic, and it was no surprise when a stampede during a school trip in 1979 resulted in a number of deaths. The inside of the tower has since been closed to visitors.
Designed by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, India Gate sits at the center of New Delhi in the middle of a traffic circle at one end of Rajpath. Built in 1931, the Arc-de-Triomphe-like gate commemorates the 90,000 members of the British Indian Army killed during World War I and the Third Afghan War.
Another memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti or eternal flame, was added to India Gate in the early 1970s as a memorial to India’s unknown soldiers, particularly those who died in the Indo-Pakistan War in 1971.
The heart of New Delhi -- and one of its top attractions -- is the palatial Presidential Palace known as Rashtrapati Bhavan. British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens helped design the grand estate as part of a larger plan for Delhi’s new city after it was decided to move the capital from Kolkata to Delhi in 1911. Lutyens designed the palace as a symbol of British colonial power, and it remains one of the most impressive colonial-era monuments in Delhi today.
The former viceroy’s residence, now the home of the president of India, contains 340 rooms, well over twice as many as the White House. The entire estate covers an area of 320 acres (130 hectares), including the sizable Mughal Gardens, open to the public on only a few select days each year.
Located at the end of Sansad Marg in New Delhi, the Parliament House (or Sansad Bhavan) is one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in the city. It was designed by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, with construction beginning in 1921.
Having been modelled on the Great Stupa of Sanchi, Parliament House is a huge circular building, surrounded by gardens and fenced off by sandstone railings. Inside, the Central Hall holds particular significance, since this is where the Indian Constitution was drafted. The building also houses the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and a giant library hall. The Parliament Museum stands next to Parliament House and offers information on the democratic heritage of India. This is conveyed in an interactive way, with sound and light videos plus oversized computer screens used to depict the significant events of India’s democratic history.
The Bahá'í Temple in Delhi is one of the most visited buildings in the world, attracting over 50 million people since it opened in 1986. Also known as the Lotus Temple for its distinct half-open lotus design, the belief behind the Bahá'í house of worship is that it should be open for all, regardless of denomination. There are however certain rules: no sermons can be delivered, no ritualistic ceremonies and no musical instruments can be played. There are also no religious images displayed.
Bahá'í temples must all be a nine-sided circular shape as set out in their scriptures, hence the solution of a lotus shape. Bahá'í is an independent religion founded around 1844. Their belief is in a mystic feeling with unites man with God and they do not dictate how that be done, hence their openness to other forms of worship within their temples.
Built in 1570, Humayun’s Tomb was the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent, earning it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The construction of the tomb, ordered by the widow of Mughal emperor Humayun over a decade after his death, marked the beginning of an era of Mughal architecture, a style characterized by symmetry, scale and intricate decoration. This sixteenth century tomb went on to inspire the design of the Taj Mahal more than 100 years later.
The red sandstone and marble structure sits within a symmetrical square garden divided into four parts. The garden, dotted with small pools joined by channels, also contains several other tombs of important figures, including Haji Begum -- the wife who built the tomb and mother of Emperor Akbar -- and Isa Khan Niazi, an Afghan noble. While it’s possible to visit Humayun’s Tomb on your own, you’ll do yourself a great service by bringing along a guide who can tell you more about the history behind each structure.
The massive Red Fort (or Lal Qila) stands rather forlornly, a sandstone carcass of its former self. In ages past, when Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan paraded out of the fort atop an elephant into the streets of Old Delhi, he and the fort that he built were a grandiose display of pomp and power. The walls of the fort extend for 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) and vary in height from 60 ft (18 m) on the river side to 110 ft (33 m) on the city side. Shah Jahan began construction of the massive fort in 1638 and it was completed in 1648. Shah Jahan never completely moved his capital from Agra to his new city of Shahjahanabad in Delhi because he was deposed and imprisoned in Agra Fort by his sly son Aurangzeb.
The Red Fort dates from the very peak of Mughal power. Their reign from Delhi was a short one, however; Aurangzeb was the first and last great Mughal emperor to rule from here. The 33 ft (10 m) deep moat, which has been bone-dry since 1857.
The stunning Jama Masjid mosque is the largest in India and the final architectural magnum opus of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Construction of the mosque began in 1644, but it wasn't completed until 1658. It has 3 gateways, 4 angle towers and 2 minarets standing 130 feet (40 meters) high, and is constructed of alternating vertical strips of red sandstone and white marble. The main entry point is Gate No 3. The mosque's courtyard can hold a mind-blowing 25,000 people.
For Rs20 it's possible to climb the southern minaret (women must be accompanied by a male; sometimes unaccompanied men may also not be permitted), where the views are superb. From the top of the minaret, you can see one of the features that architect Edwin Lutyens incorporated into his design of New Delhi - the Jama Masjid, Connaught Place and Sansad Bhavan (Parliament House) are in a direct line.
At the site of Mahatma Ghandi's cremation in 1948 is a memorial. In black marble, surrounded by lawn and with an eternal flame burning, Raj Ghat remembers the man who is known as the Father of India for his tireless and pacifist work to reclaim India's independence from Britain. The memorial has the words 'He Ram,' which translates as 'O, God,' said to be the last words spoken by Ghandi after his assassination. Every Friday, the day of his death, a memorial ceremony is held.
'Raj Ghat' loosely translates as 'Kings Bank' and Ghandi's memorial is not the only one here. There are also many others to India's Prime Ministers since independence, including Indira Ghandi, similarly assassinated, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.
Birla Mandir Temple, also called Lakshmi Narayan, is one of central Delhi’s best temples to visit. Located near Connaught Place, the temple is dedicated to Narayan, an aspect of the Hindu god Vishnu along with his consort Lakshmi.
Built in 1938 by wealthy entrepreneur and philanthropist BD Birla, the temple was inaugurated in 1939 by Mahatma Gandhi under the condition that people of all faiths and castes be allowed to enter. Since most Hindu temples do not allow non-Hindus to enter, Birla Mandir Temple has become one of the most popular stops for visitors to Delhi. It’s particularly worthwhile in the morning and evening hours, when devotees come for aarti, a traditional Hindu ritual.
Thousands of historic artifacts covering 5,000 years of both Indian and world history are on display in the spacious galleries of the excellent National Museum. Exhibits include rare relics from the Harappan Civilization, Central Asian antiquities (including silk paintings from the 1st century AD), Indian textiles, tribal masks, sculptures, musical instruments, old coins (Portuguese, Dutch and Danish), miniature paintings and weapons (including a battle-axe from 1739 AD). It is the largest museum in India so give yourself at least a few hours - preferably a half-day - to explore this museum.
As well as the displays over 3 floors, the museum has an active conservation and education program. Since it came into existence in 1983 the National Museum Institute of Art, Conservation and Museology has become a university and now trains people to preserve the rich heritage of India.
Chandni Chowk is one of Delhi's busiest and oldest marketplaces. Located in the walled city of Old Delhi, which is now central northern modern Delhi, it got its name from the canal which used to run down the middle reflecting the moonlight; 'chaandni' in Hindi means 'moonlight.' The street was a wide boulevard running between houses from the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid. The walled city was laid out in 1650 by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan and includes the Red Fort of Delhi.
These days the area seems like a congested traffic nightmare and quite challenging in its chaos and crowds. But you can find food, saris, jewelery, books, shoes, electronics and who knows what else in the surrounding narrow streets. The buildings along Chandni Chowk are interesting - there are many different religious buildings co-existing harmoniously in the area including famous Jama Masjid mosque of 1644, a Hindu temple and a Christian church.
According to local Sikh belief, a boy prophet by the name of Sri Guru Hari Krishan Sahib moved among poor Hindu and Muslim communities during a time of small pox and cholera in New Delhi in the seventeenth century, distributing sanctified water to the sick which was believed to cause miraculous healing. Gurudwara Bangla Sahib his dedicated to his memory.
The most important place of worship for Sikhs in New Delhi, this golden-domed gurudwara still distributes sanctified water to devotees who come from around the world seeking its healing properties. Unlike many Hindu temples, non-Sikhs are welcome into the gurudwara, where it’s possible to listen while hymns are sung from the Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptures) or take prasad, the Sikh equivalent to Communion.
The heart of New Delhi is the vast traffic circle of Connaught Place and the seven streets that radiate from it, which are divided into blocks. It has an architecturally uniform series of colonnaded buildings devoted to shops, banks, restaurants, hotels and offices. Named after the Duke of Connaught, it was constructed between 1929 and 1933.
Often creating confusion, the outer circle is technically called 'Connaught Circus' (divided into blocks from G to N) and the inner circle 'Connaught Place' (divided into blocks from A to F). There's also a 'Middle Circle'. In 1995 the inner and outer circles were renamed Rajiv Chowk and Indira Chowk respectively, after the late Prime Minister of India Rajiv Ghandi and his wife, but these names are rarely used.
The Gandhi Smriti in New Delhi is the location where Mahatma Gandhi spent his last 144 days before he was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948. The site was originally the house of Indian business tycoons, the Birla family, but is now home to the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum, which opened in 2005.
Concrete steps lead to the spot where Gandhi was killed, which is marked by a small pavilion. The adjacent house, where he spent his last days, contains rooms preserved just as Gandhi left them; in the room where he slept are his meagre possessions – just a walking stick, a spinning wheel, a pair of sandals and his glasses. Upstairs is where the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum is located, which presents abstract sculptures, video displays, and sound installations about Gandhi.
Opened in 2005, Delhi’s Swaminarayan Akshardham was built in only five years with the help of army of some 11,000 volunteers and artisans. The resulting temple is considered one of the most beautiful in Delhi and a must if you plan to do any temple visits during your stay in the capital.
Quite unlike most modern temples in India, Swaminarayan Akshardham is equal parts working temple, interactive museum and theme park. The Hall of Values depicts the values of Swaminarayan through a series of animatronic dioramas, while a giant IMAX-style screen shows a short film of the life of Swaminarayan from when he was an 11-year-old boy. The temple even has a 12-minute boat ride recounting India’s 10,000 years of history.
Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib is one of nine iconic gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) in Delhi. Situated in Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, this gurdwara was built to commemorate the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, who was beheaded by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb on this site in 1675 for refusing to convert to Islam.
One of the guru's disciples managed to recover his body and cremate it, while the ‘sis’ (head) was taken to Anandpur Sahib by another devotee, where it was cremated by the Guru's son (later to become the 10th and last Guru of the Sikhs).
The present gurudwara structure was built in 1930. The trunk of the banyan tree under which the Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded still stands, as does the well where he bathed while imprisoned. Adjoining the Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib is the Kotwali (police station) – the actual place where the Guru was imprisoned and his disciples tortured.
Lodi Gardens (formerly called Lady Wellington Park), spread across 90 acres (36 hectares) of green space in otherwise crowded and chaotic Delhi, is famous for housing a series of ancient tombs, including the tomb of Mohammed Shah dating back to 1444. This tomb, along with the tomb of Sikandar Lodhi also found within the gardens, are two of the last remaining octagonal tombs from this period of Indian history.
While the tombs might be the biggest draws for those with an interest in history or architecture, many people -- tourists and locals alike -- come to the free Lodi Gardens to enjoy the outdoors. The park contains a well-maintained jogging trail, and the extensive gardens surrounding the tombs offer plenty of space to wander.
The Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi is home to the crumbling ruins of tombs and palaces that date back to early medieval times and up to the 19th century. The park is sprawled across 200 acres and is an atmospheric site that is less crowded than the Qutub Minar World Heritage site nearby.
One of the main attractions at the park comes in the form of two monuments that sit together – the Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb. The intricately chiselled ceiling of the mosque is well worth a peek inside. There is also a striking 16th-century stairwell within the park, along with the crumbling tombs of Balban and Quli Khan.
Mahatma Gandhi was one of the most charismatic leaders in Indian history. He lived from 1869 -1948, when he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse while climbing the steps to address a prayer meeting. Gandhi was the political and spiritual leader of India during its Independence Movement away from the British Empire. He strongly believed in and practiced non-violent forms of protest, including fasting, and inspired forms of peaceful protest worldwide. In India he is seen as the Father of the Nation and his birthday, October 2nd, is a national holiday. Internationally, October 2nd is marked as the Day of Non-Violence.
As soon as he was killed, devotees began collecting documents, books, manuscripts, personal relics, photographs and other artifacts from Ghandi's life to make an historic collection. In 1961, the current museum was inaugurated in the current location opposite the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi, a memorial at the place where he was cremated on the Raj Ghat.
With a history dating back thousands of years, the city of Delhi has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times by numerous leaders. Purana Qila serves as a reminder of the capital’s turbulent past as one of the oldest structures in Delhi and its oldest surviving fort.
Purana Qila was built during the rule of Afghan ruler Sher Shah between 1538 and 1545 in the midst of a power struggle between him and Humayun, the son of Babur, the first Mughal emperor. Humayun had built his own fort in the same spot in the 1530s but was forced out by Sher Shah, who proceeded to destroy what Humayun had built and establish his own capital.
Down a small, unsuspecting street in the Chandni Chowk area of Delhi, a throng of eateries selling the Indian fried bread classic, parantha, draws in locals and visitors in their droves. Gali Paranthe Wali is a bustling narrow lane lined with stalls and shops selling this flatbread street food favorite straight from the tawa (hotplate).
This is a place to surrender to the crowds as you indulge in a parantha smothered in ghee, choosing from an array of fillings ranging from the savory to the sweet, including paneer, mixed vegetables, and bananas – to name but a few. Wash it all down with a lassi before strolling along the shops, stopping off only to sample more classic Indian street foods along the way.
Rajpath, or King’s Way, is a grand boulevard running through the heart of New Delhi from Rashtrapati Bhawan through India Gate and on to the National Stadium. The 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) stretch of road, considered one of the most important in India, is home to some of Delhi’s top attractions, making it a perfect starting point for a walking tour of the new city.
Designed by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (also responsible for India Gate), Rajpath was meant to offer an uninterrupted view of the new city from the Viceroy’s palace, today the residence of the President of India.