History buffs love Delhi. Delhi has been inhabited for at least the last 2500 years and has been sieged and won many times over. Recently 2500 old remains were discovered in the Old fort in Delhi. Each conqueror built anew and often left alone the forts of the vanquished. This included the British, which as recently as 1940’s built New Delhi and left the Red Fort in Shahjahanabad, the Mughal capital alone.
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Most travelers to Delhi don’t know that Shahjahanabad or Old Delhi is not the oldest part of Delhi. It was settled in the late 1600’s by the Shahjahan, whose name means king of the world. The oldest part of Delhi is in Mehrauli which is located in south Delhi. Shahjahan was a prolific builder. He built the Taj Mahal and other sights in Delhi and Agra.
Unlike most of the modern world, historical sites in Delhi are not cordoned off. You can step onto them, touch them and with a little imagination experience how life might have been in then.
All historical monuments in Delhi are open from sunrise to sunset and the entry fees are 500 rupees for foreigners and 30 rupees for Indians. Camera fees are typically extra and vary from sight to sight. The latest fees are listed on the Delhi Tourism’s website.
With so much history to see, let us start with the not to be missed world heritage sights first. Delhi has three UNESCO World Heritage sights. They are
1- The Red Fort
Seat of power for 200 years of Mughal rule, the Red fort also witnessed the sepoy mutiny against the British in 1857. The mutiny was squashed due to superior artillery and India could gain independence only 90 years later in 1947.
The red fort was created in 1639 by Shahjahan who also went on to create the Taj Mahal in Agra. It was the centre of the walled city of Shahjahanabad, which is known as Old Delhi or Chandni Chowk today.
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2. Humayun’s tomb
The first Mughal king Babur was a direct descendent of Genghis Khan. Humayun was his son. He died tragically falling from the stairs in his library in the Old fort of Delhi. This is his tomb. This is the first tomb with elaborate gardens in Delhi. It was build in the 1500s, almost 500 years ago by Humayun’s mom.
3. Qutub Minar
This 73m high minaret is one of the tallest brick minarets in the world. It was built in 1192, almost 830 years ago. The first mosque in India was built at the base of this tower and can be seen even today. Intricate carvings and stories of how the Mughal rulers destroyed hindu temples to build this mosque make this a really interesting sight to visit in Delhi. Now, lets look at the other important monuments in Delhi moving from South Delhi to the northern parts of Delhi
4. Mehrauli Archeological Park
Mehrauli is the oldest neighborhood in Delhi. The archeological park here can take 3 hours to see since it is large. The park has many historical sights. It is in a remote part of Delhi so I don’t recommend going there alone or in the evening. Go in a group or take a tour. If you see only one thing, see the Rajon ki Baoli.
5. Rajon ki Baoli
A Baoli is a step well.
This beautiful 500 year old step well is a bit hard to get to in Mehrauli archeological park but well worth the visit. It’s well preserved and if you’ve never seen a step well, this is a great one to see. Three stories of this structure are completely below ground level and it takes more than 60 steps to get close to the water. While the water is dirty, the well is pretty well preserved and great to look at.
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Hauz Khas Village or HKV is a not to be missed part of Delhi on account of the historical structures from the 1300s as well as the trendy bars, restaurants and designer boutiques in this old village in Delhi.
The HKV complex has three sights:
6. The Hauz Khas lake
This man made lake was built in the 1291 by Alauddin Khijli to supply water to the 2nd city of Delhi called Siri. Khilji was a shrewd ruler and the second from the Slave dynasty to rule Delhi. He was one of the first to protect Delhi from the Mongol invaders that pillaged Delhi routinely. History suggests that he was bisexual and in love with Malik Kafur, a Eunuch slave general in his army that thwarted the invasion of the Mongols.
7. The Hauz Khas Mosque
This three domed mosque also served as a prestigious university in the 1300s. The residential quarters of the students of this madarsa can still be seen and accessed on foot. You will often find couples seeking solitude in this part of HKV
8. The tombs in Hauz Khas
Adjacent to the mosque are the tombs of Firoz Shah Tughlaq, his son and his grand son. The tombs are very typical of that era with a starry sky painted on the roof and calligraphy both inside and at the entrance of the tomb.
9. Safadarjung’s tomb
The tomb of Safardarjung is a recent. It was built in 1754. Safdarjung was the prime minister of the Mughal Empire before he died. He worked for king Mohammad shah but took over from the puppet king and ran the declining empire himself. His tomb is massive and bigger than kings that came before him. Its built similar to the Humayun’s tomb and located in a quiet part of Delhi next to Lodi Gardens. The Lodi garden complex had four important historical sights. The Lodis ruled over northern India and present-day Pakistan from Delhi.
10. The Lodi Gardens
This beautiful garden has free yoga every day at 7AM and the rich and powerful politicians rub shoulders with the normal folk during their morning walks. It is a sanctuary in the middle of the chaos of Delhi and best done early in the morning in the summer or between 4-6PM in the winters. Apart from the walking track and yoga in this 90 acre garden. There are three other easy to access and free sights to see. They are free as is the entry to the gardens.
11. Mohammad Shah’s tomb in Lodi Gardens
12. Sikandar Lodi’s tomb in Lodi garden
Sikandar Lodi was the last Lodi king of Delhi. He lost to Babur. Babur was a direct descendent of Genghis Khan and he started the Mughal rule in India. We have already discussed the life of his son Humayun when we went to Humayun’s tomb.
13. Lodi Gardens – Bada Gumbad
Bada Gumbad literally means A Large Dome. Constructed in 1490, this was a guest house for the king Sikandar Lodi. History is unclear whether this building was supposed to house a tomb or not. No tombstones have been found in Bada Gumbad. It is an impressive structure and lends a historical backdrop to the yoga meetups in the morning.
14. Lodi Gardens – Sheesh Gumbad
15. Lotus Temple
Visit this beautifully designer sanctuary of peace in south Delhi. This Bahai temple was built in 1986 at a cost of USD 10 Million. It is one of the most visited buildings in Delhi and has won many awards.
16. Jama Masjid
The largest Mosque in India is located opposite the red fort. It has great views of Old Delhi if you have the stamina to climb the 100 foot minaret close to gate number 1.
Dress very conservatively if you visit. The mosque is off limits 5 times during the day for prayers but they only last 30 minutes. They charge a lot for cameras. Even your phone is counted as a camera. It’s generally safe to leave your footwear outside as you enter the mosque.
There are great places to eat nearby if you like non vegetarian food. Karim’s is a neighborhood favorite, popular and good.
That’s it for now. There a lot more to see in central and north Delhi. See the related articles below for more information on Delhi. What is your favorite historical sight in Delhi?