On an Indian holiday, you can’t miss out the capital city, Delhi, a potpourri of cultures, traditions, architecture, and human diversity. Located on the banks of river Yamuna, the city has been the capital of many empires, has been destroyed and rose again to prominence each time. Old Delhi got some of its landmark monuments such as Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb and Jama Masjid, from the Mughal rulers. Amble down the meandering lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi and shop for spices, traditional apparel, colorful glass bangles, silver trinkets and intricate gold jewelry. Emerge into the leafy boulevards of central Delhi, dotted with works of Mughal and Victorian architecture, sprawling old mansions and the famous India Gate.
The national capital of India, Delhi is considered one of the world’s oldest cities. Its first settlement is believed to date back 5000 years. Steeped in history, Delhi has witnessed the rise and fall of many empires, valiant battles for its control, as well as vicious invasions that left most of the populace dead. But each successive chapter in the city’s history has added to its glory. The many rulers of Delhi have made significant contributions to the city’s character and culture.
Historians and local folklore says Delhi was destroyed and re-built seven times. The first of these seven cities find mention in the epic Mahabharata as Indraprastha, the legendary capital of the Pandavas. The earliest evidence of permanent settlements dates back to the Mauryan Empire in 300 BCE. The Tomaras founded the next major city, Lal Kot in 736 CE. The city was conquered by the Chauhan Rajputs of Ajmer and renamed Qila Rai Pithoda in 1180 CE. But the rule of the Rajputs was short, as their greatest ruler Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated by the Afghan warrior Muhammad Ghori in 1192.
Upon Ghori’s death, his closest advisor and slave, Qutb-ud-din Aybak founded the first Muslim kingdom of Delhi in 1206 CE, thus starting the Salve Dynasty or the Delhi Sultanate. Qutb-ud-din’s rule saw the construction of many impressive monuments, most notably Qutub Minar and Quwwat-al-Islam, the earliest extant mosque in India. During the Sultanate’s rule, Delhi was recognized as a major center for Sufism. The fall of the Delhi Sultanate was followed by a succession of After the fall of the Delhi Sultanate, a succession of Turkic and Central Asian dynasties. Between them, the Khilji, Tughluq, Sayyid, and the Lodhi dynasties held power in Delhi till the late medieval period.
This relatively stable period of continued rule saw the construction of many forts and outposts in the city, as well as the establishment of planned townships that now form a part of Delhi’s seven historic cities. The period was also marked by relative prosperity, not just for the kingdom of Delhi but the surrounding areas as well. However, the strong rulers of Delhi were able to keep prospective invaders at bay.
The dynastic rule came to an end with the brutal invasion of Timur Lenk in 1398. His army’s invasion of Delhi was marked by widespread ransacking and pillaging of the city, something that was as yet unseen by the city.
In 1526, the last Lodhi king was defeated by Zahiruddin Babur, who went on to found the mighty Mughal Empire. With its main seat in Delhi, the Mughal empire at its might extended from Lahore to Delhi and even further east. The Mughals ruled India for over 300 years, except for the five-year rule of Sher Shah Suri. While their first capital was in Agra, Emperor Akbar moved his seat to Delhi. His son, Shah Jahan built the seventh city of Delhi. Named Shahjahanabad, this city is now referred as the Old City or Old Delhi. Shah Jahan also built the Red Fort in 1639, perhaps the most poignant emblem of the control of Delhi and consequently all of India.
But invaders continued to pound Delhi even during the Mughal rule. In 1739, Nader Shah defeated the Mughal armies at the Battle of Karnal. After his victory, Delhi was sacked again, with Nader Shah carrying away many priceless treasures, including the Peacock Throne. Then again in 1761, Ahmed Shah Abdali raided and defeated the Mughals at the Third Battle of Panipat. But during all these, the Mughals continued to rule from Delhi. Though by 1857 the empire had disintegrated and the Mughal rule was limited only to Delhi and its neighboring areas.
In 1803, the British troops got the functional control of Delhi after defeating the Marathas in the Battle of Delhi. After the peasant and military revolt of 1857, the British crown decided to move the capital to Calcutta, away from the traditional center of India’s power. However, in 1911 the administrative and political establishment was moved back to Delhi. Led by Edwin Lutyens, a team of British architects designed new buildings, malls, executive blocks, and government bunglows in what is now New Delhi, though it is often called Lutyens’s Delhi.
New Delhi was declared the national capital of independent India in 1947. The first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru historically unveiled the flag of the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort.
Over the last 60 years, Delhi has developed at a great pace. Several modern building and suburbs have come up. But the city still retains the heart of old capital, where power and culture are treasured. The people of Delhi are friendly and welcome visitors. However, the city’s character is inherently conservative.
Shopping in Delhi is a pleasure. From trendiest designer labels, chic boutiques, world-brand products to local handicraft, accessories, garments and jewelry - Delhi houses it all. If you are looking for an ethic outfit by a popular Indian designer, head to Santushti Complex, home to a bevy of designer outlets. For a mix of branded wear and contemporary-ethnic ensemble, there are ample super malls, besides the South Extension market, Greater Kailash I and II, and Connaught Place (CP) among others. If you have a penchant for gems or traditional artifacts including furniture, pottery, antique silver jewelry, handwoven dresses or linen, try out Dilli Haat, where artisans from different parts of the country display their creation in an open-air setting. The state emporiums in CP and Hauz Khas village also specialize in ethnic items such as gems, apparel, jewelry, pottery, and artwork.