Wednesday, July 4th, 2012. Delhi, India
Another full day of sightseeing, this time in New Delhi, and South Delhi.
New Delhi was designed by British architects Lutyens and Baker starting in 1931 after King George V confirmed that the city would be the new capital. All sorts of arguments about whether the architecture should be Indian or European in design ensued and in the end, it is a combination of both. New Delhi has wide, tree lined avenues and grand buildings in the European tradition. The main “drag” is called Rajpath, as it is still used for major processions. It reminded me of the National Mall in Washington DC.
At the end of Rajpath, on top of Raisina Hill is the Great Palace, originally the Viceroy’s house and now the President’s house.
Since the Mumbai terror attacks, you can’t visit any of these buildings so the best we could do was peek from the car. Although human visitors aren’t allowed, we spotted monkeys freely hopping the fence.
Humayun was the second Mughal emperor, after Barbur. He was forced into exile before being able to recapture India with the help of the Persian king, taking Delhi in 1555. Although he may not have been the most successful emperor, we was the father of Akbar, and in fact Humayun’s tomb was built by his mother, the senior widow, Hamida Begum, who was Persian.
The tomb is very beautiful, and it has a very nice small interpretive center that illustrated information about the history of the Mughals, the building of the tomb, etc.
One of these panels related a story about the prophet Mohammed. When he was fleeing from Mecca to Medina, he and his party hid in a cave while being pursued. A spider built a web over the entrance the cave and when the pursuers reached it, they assumed no one was inside. Apparently this is the inspiration for the jallis, or lattices that are so prominent a part of Mughal architecture.
Another unusual thing about this tomb is that it isn’t just for Humayun. Something like 160 different Mughals are buried at the site.
In fact, each of the Mughal emperor’s tombs is unique and distinct, although one can definitely trace some lineage in the design from tomb to tomb.
One other element of most of these tombs is that it was considered auspicious to be buried close to a Muslim saint, as we found with Akbar’s tomb. Here at Humayun’s tomb there is also a similar saint’s tomb, but it was closed for renovation.
To complete our Mughal tomb collection, we next went to Safdarjung’s Tomb. Safdarjung was the last of the Mughal Emperors and died in 1754.
Perhaps the most beautiful part of this tomb is the art work seen on the entrance gate, which resembles a peacock in its design.
The tomb itself is rather overstated, and if one can trace a progression in the designs of the tombs, they reached their zenith in the Taj Mahal, and it is no surprise that this is one of the world’s great buildings. From there, the tomb designs sort of decline in one way or another.
After we finished the tombs, we went to the nearby INA market, which has all sorts of stalls and is more varied than the other markets we’ve visited. This one has food (wet and dry markets), spices, clothing, cooking items, electronics, and so forth. We ended up buying a bunch of spices for us and the boys to set up their own Indian spice kits for when they start to make their own Indian food back home.
Our last major outdoor site of the day was the Qutb Minar, which is very impressive. Actually the Qutb Minar complex is a whole park full of different buildings, including palaces, tombs, and mosques.
The Qutb Minar itself is a magnificent victory tower, erected by Qutb ud din Aibak, the first Sultan of Delhi in 1199.
He was a slave that rose to the rank of general, so this dynasty is sometimes called the Slave Dynasty (1026 – 1290).
The other remarkable item, that is almost lost in the maze of buildings is actually even more impressive if you know a little about it. It is the iron pillar known as the Gupta pillar, which is over 1,600 years old and virtually without blemish, because the wrought iron in 98% pure.
Considering this was made around the year 400, the technology was far in advance of anything else to be found in the world at that time. There is a tradition that anyone who can encircle it with their hands behind their back will have good fortune, but you’d better find another way to try for good luck, as the pillar is now fenced off.
The detailed decorative work on the Qutb Minar is truly impressive, as is its height and stature.
Believe it or not, Alludin Khalji (the guy who caused so much trouble in Rajasthan by looking at the princess’s reflection) tried to build a bigger tower about 100 years later, but died before it could be finished The ruins of the base of the tower, about 30 feet high and twice the circumference still remain on the grounds.
It had become very hot, so we took refuge in a nearby restaurant and had some lunch and enjoyed their air conditioning.
In the afternoon we went to the National Museum, which has a superb collection of items from the country’s history. Entrance is RP300 per person, but we were able to get student rates for the boys – just RP1 each! Our foreigner tickets included the excellent audio guide, which we got for the boys, so in the end they were about 1/2 price. If you come to India, bring your student card if you have one – you’ll save a lot.
The guide picks out about 55 of the collection’s top items, but unfortunately about 1/3 of the galleries were closed for renovation so we had to miss some items.
It was now the late afternoon and we headed over to the India Gate, at the other end of Rajpath from the Presidential Palace. It commemorates more than 70,000 Indian soldiers who died during the first world war.
India Gate is usually the first place that most visitors (who usually arrive in Delhi) are taken. But in our case, this was effectively the last place our driver and erstwhile guide Sury took us.
Which is oddly fitting as we began our journey in Mumbai at the Gateway of India, and we now wrap it up in Delhi at the India Gate, a fitting set of bookends for the trip.
From here it was back to the hotel and time to say goodbye to Sury, who has driven us around for the past 3 weeks and somehow managed to avoid having any fender benders, an impressive feat indeed.
Tomorrow we will visit a few local markets and maybe do something else on our own before heading to the airport for our 2:35am flight home.