Indians feel a profound ambivalence about their capital city. Its broad avenues, late-colonial architecture, and general air of well-ordered self-importance goes well with popular notions of what the nation’s seat of government should be like. But there’s also another stereotype—that Delhi typifies an India that has lost its soul, with its “black money,” five-star hotels, and shopping malls, a place where tradition, culture, and history have given way to the flyover [overpass] and the fast-food counter.
But so what if Delhi is, as the intelligentsia claim, a parvenu city? It was recreated by those who had lost everything in the bitter and bloody Partition of 1947—men and women of the Punjab, uprooted Sikhs and Hindus, rejects of history who had to carve out their own futures. They worked and struggled and sweated to make it. They were unencumbered by the baggage of the past, for the past had betrayed them. They succeeded; and as a result of their efforts, they created the first truly post-colonial Indian city.
So families that had trudged across the frontier as refugees today drive shining Daewoos; people whose parents had lost their houses now sip imported wine in fancy restaurants. But instead of applauding them, educated Indians sneer at their crass materialism, lamenting the transformation of a Delhi that was once a byword for elegant poetry, Mughal manners, and courtly civilization.
Old Delhi may indeed have had its attractions, but it was also a moribund place steeped in decay and disease, ossified in communal and caste divisions, exploitative and unjust. Today’s New Delhi—not the musty bureaucratic edifices of government, but the throbbing thriving agglomeration of factories and TV studios, industrial fairgrounds and software consultancies, night clubs and restaurants—is a city that reflects the vigor and vitality of those who have made it. It is far and away India’s richest city; it provides and reflects a stimulus, unfamiliar to the Indian intelligentsia, of enterprise and risk-taking; its people are open and outward-looking. They may have forgotten their history but they remember their politics. They may not know why but they know how.
New Delhi has enshrined performance and effectiveness as more important measures of human worth than family name or pedigree. If, in the process, it has also placed a premium on vulgar ostentation rather than discreet opulence, so be it. The new rich could not have run the old clubs, so they built the new hotels and restaurants. The “five-star culture,” for all its vulgarity, is more authentically Indian than the club culture it has supplanted, a musty relic of proto-colonial dress codes and insipid English menus.
In its urban openness and economic energy Delhi reminds me, in fact, of the bustling coastal ports of a bygone era. With the advent of jet travel, you don’t need port cities as your principal contacts with the outside world: the “coast” can move inland. New Delhi is India’s contemporary equivalent—bustling, heterodox, anti-ritual, prosperous. For all its inadequacies, it is a symbol of a country on the move, the urban flagship of a better tomorrow. It is leading India into the 21st century, even at the price of forgetting all that happened in the other 20.
Delhi – with its tenacious touts and crush of mechanical and human traffic – can be downright confronting and confounding for the first-time visitor. But don’t let petulant first impressions muddy the plus points of this truly multidimensional metropolis. Scratch beyond the gritty surface and you’ll swiftly discover that India’s capital is sprinkled with glittering gems: captivating ancient monuments, magnificent museums, a vivacious performing-arts scene and some of the subcontinent’s yummiest places to eat.
A vibrant melting pot, you’ll hear a jumble of vernaculars spoken in Delhi, the most common being Hindi, English, Punjabi and Urdu. In terms of its layout, Delhi encapsulates two very different worlds, the ‘old’ and the ‘new’, each presenting deliciously different experiences. Spacious New Delhi was built as the imperial capital of India by the British; rambunctious Old Delhi served as the capital of Islamic India. Visitors can easily dip into both, spending half the day immersing themselves in history at the dramatic Red Fort, Jama Masjid and medieval-flavoured bazaars of Old Delhi, and the other half reviving themselves over frothy cappuccinos or frosty cocktails at one of New Delhi’s swanky cafés and bars. Furthermore, Delhi’s recent global cuisine revolution means that hungry travellers can now feast on everything from meaty Mughlai curries and plump South Indian idlis (rice cakes), to crispy wood-fired pizzas and squishy sashimi.
For those here to catch a flight home there are some glorious last-minute shopping opportunities, with handicrafts from all around India – a real blessing if you regret not buying that twinkling mirrorwork bedspread in Rajasthan or striking Madhubani painting in Bihar.
Best Season to visit
From October to March is the best time to visit, with cool but sunny weather. Nights can be quite chilly in December and January.
Climate / Temperature
Summer – Max.45°C, Min.27°C
Winter – Max.25.5°C, Min.4°C
Monsoon – Max 35°C, Min 25°C
Rainfall (Average) – 170 mm
Summer in Delhi is harsh – from April to june, the temperature climbs to more than 45°C and the heat continues in monsoon until October.