Delhi India’s capital territory
Delhi is a city where time travel is feasible. Step aboard your time machine (the sleek and efficient metro) and you can go from Old Delhi, where labourers haul sacks of spices and jewellers weigh gold on dusty scales, to modern New Delhi, with its colonial-era parliament buildings and penchant for high tea. Then on to the future: Gurgaon, a satellite city of skyscraping offices and glitzy malls.
This pulsating metropolis has a bigger population than Australia, and is one of the world’s most polluted cities. But woven into its rich fabric are moments of pure beauty: an elderly man threading temple marigolds; Sufi devotional songs; a boy flying a kite from a rooftop.
So don’t be put off. Delhi is a city that has been repeatedly ravaged and reborn, with vestiges of lost empires in almost every neighbourhood. There’s so much to experience here, it’s like a country in itself.
Founded by Emperor Shah Jahan and just a few decades older than the Palace of Versailles in France, this fort took 10 years to construct (1638–48). It had the decapitated bodies of prisoners built into the foundations for luck, and is surrounded by an 18m-high wall. It once overlooked the Yamuna River, which has now shrunk to some distance away. A tree-lined waterway, known as nahr-i-bihisht (river of paradise), ran out of the fort and along Chandni Chowk, fed by the Yamuna.
Humayun’s tomb is sublimely well proportioned, seeming to float above its symmetrical gardens. It’s thought to have inspired the Taj Mahal, which it predates by 60 years. Constructed for the Mughal emperor in the mid-16th century by Haji Begum, Humayun’s Persian-born wife, the tomb marries Persian and Mughal elements, with restrained decoration enhancing the architecture. The arched facade is inlaid with bands of white marble and red sandstone, and the building follows strict rules of Islamic geometry, with an emphasis on the number eight.
A beautiful pocket of calm at the heart of Old Delhi’s mayhem, India’s largest mosque is built on a 10m elevation, towering above the surrounding hubbub. It can hold a mind-blowing 25,000 people. The marble and red-sandstone ‘Friday Mosque’ was Shah Jahan’s final architectural triumph, built between 1644 and 1658. The four watchtowers were used for security. There are two minarets standing 40m high, one of which can be climbed for amazing views. All of the three gates allow access to the mosque.
Qutb Minar Complex
If you only have time to visit just one of Delhi’s ancient ruins, make it this. The first monuments here were erected by the sultans of Mehrauli, and subsequent rulers expanded on their work, hiring the finest craftsmen and artisans to set in stone the triumph of Muslim rule. The Qutb Festival of Indian classical music and dance takes place here every October/November. To reach the complex, take the metro to Qutab Minar station, then take an autorickshaw for the 1km to the ruins.