India, multifaceted and rich with historical lore, is a wondrous tourist delight. Start your visit to India with the capital, New Delhi, or as Delhi-ites would say, “Dilli”! The heart of Delhi is Connaught Place. All Delhi commerce and tourism is harbored in Connaught Place. Built to commemorate the Duke of Connaught’s visit in 1920, this paint-splintered ring of ever-widening colonial arcades is lined with dusty-shop fronts, airline offices, restaurants and squatting merchants selling everything from piles of books to (inexplicably) whips and knuckle-dusters. Other Raj-era oddities can still be found, such as solar topees, military uniforms and old regimental silver. Or you can pick through Janpath’s Tibetan market and find cheap shawls, miniature fine art pieces to frame, bindis for your forehead, and silver knickknacks. There’s plenty to occupy an entire morning.
The main Government of India Tourist Office is located at 88 Janpath. It’s open from 9 AM to 6 PM everyday except Sundays. It would be the place to get a good map of Delhi and plan your sightseeing over the next two or three days. If you have just landed in Delhi, consider taking it slow, allowing yourself time to get accustomed to the sights and sounds of India. The first day, theTourist Office’s four-hour tour of Delhi is just the right pace to familiarize you with Delhi’s famous sights and far-flung places of interest without taxing you or your wallet. The next day is soon enough to tackle the historical Red Fort, India Gate, and Qutab Minar.
The Red Fort
The rust-colored Red Fort, in Old Delhi, looms gigantic -- its tallest watchtowers 60 feet high . It is, laid out along the River Jamuna in an irregular octagon covering nearly an area of one and a half miles. The fortress was Emperor Shah Jehan’s new palace when he moved his seat of power from Agra to Delhi. His move heralded a new boom in construction between 1938-1948.
The Fort has two main entrances: The Dilli Gate and the Lahori Gate. Entry is through the massive Lahore Gate which faces Lahore in what is now Pakistan. This leads you into the vaulted shopping arcade known as Chahtta Chowk, where, in former times, the royal memsahibs would have inspected the latest creations of court goldsmiths, jewelers, and weavers. Today, it’s a market with antiques and tourist trinkets. At the end of the arcade stands the two-storied Naubat Khana where court musicians would have serenaded passing nobles on their way across the gardens to the colonnaded Diwan-i-Am or public audience hall. The Diwan-e-Khas was reserved for the king to grant audience to more important people. Beside this is the Rang Mahal, the water-cooled elaborately painted boudoir. To the far right is Mumtaz Mahal, now a museum open from 9 AM to 5 PM.
As you move left, you pass through the Emperor’s former trio of apartments, known collectively as the Khas Mahal. Through the various mahals ran the network of lotus-shaped marble fountains. Beyond lies the formal gardens, and close by the hamams or baths where royals took hot saunas and perfumed baths and cooled off along the fort wall overlooking the Yamuna River. Aurangzeb’s Moti Masjid or Pearl Mosque was built in 1622 for his own private worship. Today the excellent Son et Lumiere show, performed in the central courtyard from 8:30 – 9:30 PM, dramatizes and celebrates the Red Fort’s history.