Daz­zling Delhi

New Delhi in In­dia of­fers a mix of his­tory, cul­ture crump­tious food.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By R. S. N. MU­RALI star2­travel@thes­tar.com.my

BLUE skies? Tick. Ea­gles soar­ing peace­fully over­head? Tick. An in­duced state of mind where my mind is filled with im­ages of clas­si­cal Hindi movies with Sul­tans and Ma­hara­jas in re­galia wav­ing at com­mon folk from or­nate palaces? Tick.

It is my maiden visit to New Delhi, the cap­i­tal of In­dia, and I’m stand­ing in front of the ru­ins of the Qu­tub Mi­nar whose over­whelm­ing beauty fills me with awe. I used to think that the only mag­nif­i­cent struc­ture worth vis­it­ing, close to Delhi, was the Taj Ma­hal.

This 13th cen­tury Indo- Mus­lim site, some 20km south of Delhi is, ac­cord­ing to In­dian his­to­rian P. K. Sood ( who ac­com­pa­nied me and the me­dia group), a mas­ter­piece es­pe­cially the red sand­stone tower, which at 72.5m is the se­cond tallest minaret in In­dia.

“You know, it is an In­dian ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site listed as a Unesco World Her­itage site. One of its two mosques, the Quwwat- ulIs­lam, is touted to be the old­est in north­ern In­dia,” ex­plained Sood.

The nearby Iron Pil­lar is also a stand­out for many rea­sons – its pre­cise com­ple­tion date is still fuzzy ( it is es­ti­mated at 402CE, mak­ing it over 1,600 years old), and it was moved to its present lo­ca­tion in 1233. Sood claimed that the 7m tall pil­lar con­tin­ues to baf­fle sci­en­tists, who have yet to con­clu­sively de­ter­mine what ma­te­ri­als were used to con­struct the pil­lar that has kept the iron from rust­ing. It is thought to be made up of seven tonnes of 98% iron of pure qual­ity, and has an­cient Brahmi in­scrip­tions glo­ri­fy­ing the Hindu God Vishnu but there are also in­scrip­tions and graf­fiti from dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods.

A short drive away is an­other sig­nif­i­cant land­mark of In­dian his­tory – Mahatma Gandhi’s mau­soleum at Kisan Ghat, adorned with marigold and where a flame burns daily. In­di­ans from Kash­mir, Jammu, As­sam and Ma­nipur were there to pay re­spects, many shed­ding tears, all with their hands clasped in prayer.

Yong Ngiah Lian, a na­tive of Ma­nipur, said, “Mahatma is our na­tion’s in­de­pen­dence icon.”

Delhi is rich in Is­lamic her­itage, hav­ing been un­der Mughal rule. The Jama Masjid, com­pleted in 1656, was once the world’s big­gest mosque. It has three great gates, four tow­ers and two 40m- high minarets con­structed of red sand­stone and white mar­ble.

There’s also the Red Fort, an­other World Her­itage site built in 1648. It is a such vast and won­drous com­plex. Built dur­ing the reign of the Mughal king Shah Ja­han, it is mar­vel­lous how the struc­ture still stands strong un­til to­day.

The name Shah Ja­han should ring a bell and that brings us to the piece de re­sis­tance of any visit to Delhi ( three hours away in Agra), or to In­dia, for that mat­ter – the Taj Ma­hal. Also built by Shah Ja­han, there are not enough su­perla­tives for it but so much has al­ready been writ­ten about it. The best I can say is, go see it for your­self.

What’s of­ten not writ­ten about is the sis­ter mon­u­ment to the Taj, the Agra Fort. While the orig­i­nal was a brick fort built by a Ra­jput King around 1473, the present struc­ture ( also on the her­itage list) again owes much to Shah Ja­han. I over­heard a tour guide from a Euro­pean group say­ing, “From this mag­nif- icent fort, Shah Ja­han sat and mon­i­tored the con­struc­tion of Taj Ma­hal with his third wife Mum­taz Ma­hal.”

Slightly bad news, though, as the same guide men­tioned that from next month on­wards, the en­try fee of RP250 ( RM16) will be re­vised to RP750 ( RM48) per en­try to any mon­u­ment in In­dia.

If you’ve had your fill of mon­u­ments and forts, don’t for­get In­dia is a shop­per’s par­adise, too. In Old Delhi, one of the old­est and busiest shop­ping ar­eas is the fa­mous Chandni Chowk which has been around since 1650. I went on a nerve- rack­ing tr­ishaw ride that criss- crossed a street filled with pedes­tri­ans and mo­torists, with ev­ery­one as­sum­ing right of way, of­ten mor­ph­ing into both sides shout­ing at each other to give way. But it’s worth the ag­gra­va­tion. Imag­ine in­tri­cately embroidered silk sa­rees go­ing for RS1,000 ( RM62) and var­i­ous other sou­venirs at bar­gain prices. Do beware, though, of touts try­ing to jack up prices on see­ing for­eign­ers. Also avoid out­lets with­out price tags or, bet­ter still, have a lo­cal help you with the bar­gain­ing.

In the heart of the city, there is also the Saro­jini Na­gar neigh­bour­hood. While it is crammed, it has larger path­ways and is more com­fort­able to get around.

There’s also the Dilli Haat, which is an open- air arts and crafts and food cen­tre in South Delhi that is worth a visit – it has a va­ri­ety of fare from all over In­dia!

One can­not visit Delhi and not sam­ple its food. Of course hot, spicy and sweet is par for the course. Vis­i­tors should try dishes such as mouth- wa­ter­ing ke­babs, pa­pri chaat curry, paratha bread and of course Dehli cahya ( her­bal tea).

You may try the food sold by street hawk­ers, of course, but it’s at your own risk be­cause one can never be sure of the level of clean­li­ness and hygiene. It would be un­for­tu­nate to end up with a case of “Delhi belly” which will spoil your va­ca­tion. Don’t fret, there are many good restau­rants with good ser­vice in Delhi’s cen­tral area.

Delhi be­wil­ders with its mod­ern sky­scrapers jux­ta­posed against old run- down build­ings, wealth amidst the squalor of the streets, well- dressed peo­ple against un­kempt beg­gars ( many of them chil­dren). All this amidst a hun­dred dif­fer­ent di­alects and lan­guages spo­ken by its var­ied pop­u­lace.

Yet it is mes­meris­ing! The trip was spon­sored by AirAsia X. AirAsia X op­er­ates four re­turn flights a week ( Mon­day, Wed­nes­day, Fri­day and Sun­day) from Kuala Lumpur to New Delhi.

At 72.5m high, the red sand­stone tower of Qu­tub Mi­nar is the se­cond tallest in In­dia. — ArIFF ShAh/ AirAsia X

the Jama Masjid once held the record as the big­gest mosque com­plex in the world, un­til the late 1970’ s. — Pho­tos: ArIFF ShAh/ AirAsia X

the rem­nants of an an­cient hindu tem­ple near the Qu­tub Mi­nar minaret.

the red Fort is a vast and won­drous com­plex built in 1648.

the taj Ma­hal is one of the won­ders of the world, the mon­u­ment Shah Ja­han fa­mously built for his wife Mum­taz Ma­hal. — ArIFF ShAh/ AirAsia X

the Iron Pil­lar ded­i­cated to Lord Vishnu has mys­ti­fied sci­en­tists as it has ex­isted for 1,600 years with­out rust­ing.

the Art Mar­ket in dilli haat of­fers an ar­ray of in­tri­cate art and tra­di­tional wares. you can get good deals if you hag­gle.

the chandni chowk shop­ping area is congested and quite chaotic but you can’t say you have vis­ited New delhi if you have not been here. Note the Jama Masjid in the back­ground.

Mahatma Gandhi’s mau­soleum is adorned with marigold and a flame is kept burn­ing.

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