Take a trip through Delhi’s history via the buildings that make it what it is
WORDS SHEENA DABHOLKAR
ILLUSTRATIONS SARITA B
It’s on a cool afternoon in Delhi that I write this.
I kid, it’s peak summer, and the day is a scorcher.
Who takes up a week-long assignment to get acquainted with the city’s structures in the blazing hot sun? This girl. She might be crazy.
Or she could be what you might call an architecture-enthusiast, though, if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t always love monuments. I’ll be the first to admit that, in some destinations, they are given far too much significance. Delhi, thankfully, is not one of them.
To get acquainted with the architecture in the capital, one of India’s oldest constantly inhabited cities, is to understand the timeline and history of Delhi. It is said that this was the site for a total of seven different cities over time, so its architectural relics span many centuries. There’s a rock edict inscribed by the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire from all the way back in 3rd century BC in a park in Kailash Colony; remnants of Lal Kot, the first city from the 8th century in Mehrauli; and the more famous Indo-Islamic style of architecture of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals that has left an indelible mark all over on the city.
I’m fascinated by how its architectural wonders function as public spaces, often explored, read, relaxed, prayed and socialised in by both locals and visitors. Though abandoned structures have their own thrill, I’m most drawn to living spaces, a sentiment echoed by Mayank Austen Soofi, the ‘Delhi Walla’, an author, blogger and prolific Delhi chronicler who I meet in the city one evening. And the city’s buildings, even its really old ones, are teeming with life.
Equally hard to miss, though not as appreciated, are the British-era buildings that are scattered across the capital. And, for those who really pay attention, the post-Independence architecture that is so unique to the city; formidable in size and very, very quirky.