Arts and Culture

Old Delhi – India’s living, breathing foundations of a capital

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To visit India's capital city is to sign up for frenetic, exhilarating experience that cannot be had anywhere else on Earth. The sights, sounds and smells of this sprawling cultural metropolis are sure to enthral all that enter the city gates, but the madcap nature of the place can mean that it's hard to know where to start.

There are two wildly contrasting sides to Delhi – the traditional, Mughal-era Old Delhi and the planned, relatively recent New Delhi. Though part of the same city, the two halves lie next to each other, merging in parts, but still carrying their own distinct characteristics – but Old Delhi has the edge if you're looking for a bona-fide piece of Indian culture.

The Red Fort Complex

Perhaps Delhi's best-known building, the imposing sandstone walls of the Red Fort Complex soar 33 metres above the madness of Old Delhi and sprawl around the monument itself for over two kilometres. Imperious in its intricate design, the Red Fort was constructed in 1638 to repel potential invasions, as well as acting as a plush home for the Mughal rulers of the time. Though the walls of the Red Fort have actually been breached in battle – most notably by the Sikhs and the British – today the building operates mainly as an attraction. Each evening, a light and sound show, detailing the monument's rich history, is depicted at the Fort.

Jama Masjid

The Jama Masjid lays claim to being the largest mosque in India, and it's easy to see why – the courtyard alone can hold up to 25,000 worshippers. Built over a period of 13 years, the Jama Masjid was constructed under the command of Shah Jahan – the Mughal emperor who ordered the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. Climbing to the top of the mosque's towers rewards guests with unrivalled views of both sections of the city, but visitors must dress appropriately – heads, legs and shoulders must be covered, or entry will be refused. Garments can be hired on site, so you won't feel out of place as you explore the Jama Masjid's sacred halls.

Chandni Chowk

Chandni Chowk characterises much of what Old Delhi is all about. It takes the form of a hectic, congested street, lined with market stalls manned by local sellers. As it's a busy market place packed with both customers and proprietors, you may expect it to be pedestrianised – think again. Cars, rickshaws, animals (including elephants) and hand-pulled carts all vie for right-of-way on this madcap strip, which sounds like the stuff of nightmares, but it is in fact a heady experience to really capture the imagination. You'll find everything you can imagine on Chandi Chowk's ancient, snaking paths – jewellery, electronics, flowers and authentic Delhi street food. Just be sure to watch where you're going!

Old Delhi is a chaotic, but captivating travel destination – a true slice of traditional Indian heritage.

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