Scottish author William Dalrymple rightly called it the ‘City of Djinns’. Delhi, India’s capital for over 100 years and one of it’s oldest cities, is an unfathomable land where every nook and corner reeks of the glorious past. Destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, Delhi is resilient, mystical and chaotic. On the advent of the 68th Republic Day let’s take a walk down memory lane flipping through the pages of our history where it all started, and where things are still happening.
The jewel of the reign of Shah Jahan, it was here centuries later after it’s construction that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech at the emergence of the Indian independence in 1947. As tradition continues, every year our Prime Minister hoists the tricolor at the magnificent Lahori Gate of the fortress and addresses the celebration with a customary speech. Shah Jahan’s Lal Qila was the center point of his rule in Delhi. Even today walking on the premise, through the Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Aam the nostalgia of the courtesy of the Persian durbars creeps in. Try hard enough and you might just hear the giggles of the wives and mistresses of the former emperors in Rang Mahal.
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Who doesn’t enjoy history with a bit of style and luxury? Sitting tall on Janpath, one of the most famous roads of the city, is a fine beauty called The Imperial. Many stories from the olden days are hidden in the corridors, powder rooms, bars and even in the folding of the serviette at this grand five-star. Records state that Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah and Mountbatten met at the hotel bar Patiala Peg to talk over the possibility of partition. The walls of this museum like hotel adorn numerous pieces and artwork from the colonial period which will transport you to the regalement and princely ambience of the British Raj.
Once upon a time also known as Shahjahanabad with its bustling tiny lanes full of people, was where the real magic unveiled. The Mughals brought to India not just the minarets and lattice work but also a whole lot of deliciousness. Our historic tour cannot be complete without food from the past which wholly dominates our present. Think of a bright carnival while imagining Shah Jahan’s Delhi, bursting with colours, fragrances and flavours on every turning. Even now it’s the same kind of smoky spice party behind Jama Masjid where the Nihari served for breakfast at Haji Shabrati Nihari Wale and the legendary Mutton Ishtew from Karim’s keeps the hungry fed and the tradition alive.
Another explosive facet that is synonymous with Dilli is the 4pm ritual of chaats and samosas at Chandni Chowk. This silversmith market designed by Princess Jahanara, Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter, is an experience like no other. From the Paranthe Wali Gali regularly visited by the Nehru family to the Indian sweets such as Daulat ki Chaat, an airy cloud like dessert that really makes you feel on top of the world, people come here to gain some perspective and an abundance of truly worthy calories.
From the gritty and grueling Old Delhi our tour takes us to the lavish and tree-lined Lutyens’ Delhi. Of colonial bungalows and heritage, bougainvilleas and drawing room conversations, Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone is the most expensive real estate in the country. Street names that exude historic elegance such as Prithviraj Road, Amrita Shergill Marg, Aurangzeb Road (now changed to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road) house industrialists, bureaucrats and politicians. Amidst the lushness of British architect Edwin Lutyens’ architectural wonder also resides the Prime Minister of India. From VP Singh to Rajiv Gandhi and to the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this side of New Delhi has unquestionably been graced by historic figures.
Before Old or New, Dilli or Delhi, Shah Jahan’s or Lutyens’, the British or the Gandhis, came the mythological Indraprastha from our very own epic Mahabharata. Archeological survey proves that today what stands as Purana Qila, one of Delhi’s oldest forts, once used to be the ancient city of the Pandavas. Home to Emperor Humayun and also the place of his death, in more recent times, interestingly the Purana Qila was the holding area for refugee camps during the partition of 1947. Now a Bollywood favourite and famous as a lover’s point, there’s lots to see and do at this monument. After visiting the museum, mosque and other design marvels stay back for the light and sound show that traces the capital’s history.
Last but not the least, Rajpath or Kingsway from the British Raj, is the shining light during Republic Day celebration which is carried on for 3 days ending on the 29th January every year. Another genius of Lutyens, the wide and neatly lawned streets of Rajpath with India Gate, Sansad Bhawan (Parliament House) and Rashtrapati Bhawan (Presidential Residence) are a spectacle during the annual parade honoured by the President and the Prime Minister, and this year also by all the leaders of the ASEAN countries. The India Gate, lit up with the colors of the national flag brings out the patriotic feel in all of us, so go ahead and have your Rang De Basanti moment paying your respect and saluting to the war heroes of our country.