At first glance, Delhi embodies all that is exasperating and chaotic about modern India. It can take nerves of steel to face the frenetic pace at which it whirls through daily life. But grant Delhi a more discerning gaze and you’ll uncover a host of redeeming features.
Delhi’s first foundations at Lal Kot
Early records link Delhi to the mystical city of Lal Kot, founded by the Hindu king Anangpal Tomar in the eighth century, but apart from remnants of an easily missed fort wall beyond the Qutb Minar, little remains of the city that thrived here for over 300 years. More can be seen of Qila Rai Pithora, established by King Prithviraj Chauhan, who seized, rechristened and expanded Lal Kot in the 11th century. Punctuated by bastions, the once impenetrable walls today enclose a well-maintained public park along the Saket-Mehrauli Road. A circular building across from the main gate contains a small library, crowned by a massive statue of the legendary Rajput ruler.
The Qutb Minar and mighty Mehrauli
In the 12th century, the Mamluks, first of four consecutive Turkic dynasties to rule Delhi, arrived on the scene, founding another new capital at Mehrauli. To celebrate, the victorious sultan Qutbuddin Aibak commenced with the construction of the Qutub minarthe tallest brick minaret in the world at 73m – sadly, it can no longer be climbed after a deadly stampede in 1981. One of Delhi’s top tourist attractions, the sprawl of ruins also includes the Quwwat ul Islam, reportedly north India’s first ever mosque. More Mamluk-era buildings are dotted around the Qutb Minar complex, but the Mehrauli area is going upmarket, with high fashion design stores, lifestyle boutiques, buzzing fine-dining and hip casual cafes. In September, Mehrauli is the focal point for Phoolwalon ki Sair, when flower vendors offer floral offerings at shrines, praying for an efflorescent Spring.
The Purana Qila, heart of short-lived Shergarh
The rule of Humayun, the second Mughal Emperor, was interrupted briefly by Sher Shah Suri, a feisty Afghan soldier who stormed into town in 1540. Humayun’s half-finished fort, Dinpanah, was captured and renamed Shergarh, but just 15 years later, Sher Shah tripped down the stairs of his private library and died from his injuries, putting the Mughals firmly back in the saddle.
Sher Shah’s architectural efforts, collectively referred to as the Purana Qila, are mostly in good repair, set in expansive grounds off Mathura Rd, near the National Stadium.
The octagonal jewel box of the Sher Mandal was the site of Sher Shah’s fatal fall, and nearby is the magnificent Qila-e-Kuhna Mosque, finished in red sandstone and gleaming white marble. A sound and light show illuminates the ruins daily (except Fridays) from February to April. While here, you can duck south to the green surrounds of Delhi Zoo, or check out what is taking place at the Pragati Maidan, a 150-acre exhibition space that hosts the annual India International Trade Fair every November.
If you are planning to visit Delhi soon. Then, here is something for you to start with.
Good luck ahead!