Delhi is an incarnation of 7 cities all borne out of a bloody history. It’s a city teeming with extraordinary life flowing through the 22 million plus inhabitants who make India’s capital one of the most vibrant in the world.
It’s what attracts Globe Trekker Ian Wright to explore Delhi’s old quarters, bargain bazaars, Imperial Mughal monuments and the last remaining outposts of British occupation in this lively city guide, which also takes in spectacular visits tothe Taj Mahal in Agra and the holy town of Haridwar in Uttarakhand.
Ian begins his journey in the old city of what was once the Royal capital of the 16th century Mughal Empire – ShahJehanabad. Today, its’ lanes are choked with the hustle and bustle of food vendors, mystics, silk merchants and jewellery wholesalers all vying for business. Ian takes in the view of the old city from the minaret of its giant Jami Masjid mosque and visits Yaqoob, one of Delhi’s few, surviving master calligraphers who makes his living today, inscribing marriage deeds in ancient Urdu .
On day two, Ian takes a metro to the district of Jhandelwalan and pops into an akhara – a Hindu wrestling gym in thrall to the patron saint of warriors, the monkey God Hanuman. He undergoes a rigorous training before taking part in an eventful wrestling match.
Returning to old Delhi, Ian engages Driving school instructor Vitas Sood and learns a good deal about India’s highway code before taking a driving lesson himself, in the chaotic streets of Chandni Chowk (and somehow surviving to tell the tale.)
On day three, Ian rides a bus 130 miles south to Agra where he beholds the most famous monument in the world, the Taj Mahal. He also visits Agra’s magnificent Red Fort where he learns from his guide Neelima about the tragic dynastic struggle between Emperor Shah Jehan and his ambitious offspring for possession of the Mughal throne.
The next empire to rule India was the British crown. On day four, Ian explores her early administrative capital, New Delhi. He tours the President of India’s house, the Rashtraprati Bhavan – former seat of the British Viceroys who governed India in the first half of the 20th century. Crossing into Rajiv Chowk, the radial crescent of British New Delhi, Ian meets Sanjay Sharma, convivial music store owner whose father sold a sitar to George Harrison in the 1960s, which created a sound which dominates some of The Beatles’s most iconic tracks. Ian checks into the sumptuous 1930s Imperial hotel and interviews General Manager Vijay Wanchoo who shows him the verandah where India’s freedom fighters met to discuss Indian Independence in the 1940s. A cricket match and a dip in the hotel pool completes Ian’s frolic with Delhi’s British past.
On day five, Ian hops on a Royal Enfield motorbike and explore the holy town of Haridwar which is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas. Millions of Hindus flock here to bathe in the waters of the River Ganges – to cleanse themselves of their ancestral sins. Ian joins the throng and meets local guide Satish who tours him around the Brahmin houses where family records are stored in centuries’ old ledgers. Pilgrims use these family records to learn about their ancestors, so that they can be absolved, as Ian curiously discovers following a fire and water worshipping ceremony.
Ian ends his journey back in Delhi, in the slums of Shadipur, where a Kathputli colony of Rajasthani settlers entertain him with music, magic tricks and circus acts. It’s a very fitting end to a very jolly adventure.
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Delhi and Rajasthan
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