In the national capital, Shruthi Venkatasubramanian traverses several centuries in a single day, hopping from Humayun's tomb to Rashtrapati Bhavan
The closer the flight gets to Delhi, the landscape changes from tiny beige and brown tiles of tilled farm land to planned townships, high rises and clover shaped flyovers. I almost squeal like a child when I spot the Qutub Minar from my window. I have been to the capital plenty of times, but I had never taken the time to see why every tourist to India begins their journey here. It's not just a stopover to Agra for most, but a place that sets the tone for what is to come.
Perhaps it's a sign that our hotel was to be right opposite Jantar Mantar, or unfortunately for my husband just a stone's throw away from Connaught Place and Palika Bazaar. Whether you are traipsing through the inner circle or the outer circle of CP, it's hard to miss the bustle of construction and expansion work of the metro rail system, which seems to be the pride and joy of New Delhi. But one that still doesn't solve the problem it was meant to – traffic!
So I chose to step out during non-peak hours, hailing my first black and yellow ambassador in years and prepared to unleash my high school Hindi on the hapless driver. I tell him what I want to see and he quickly plans it out for me. First stop, Humayun's Tomb — the tomb that set the precedent for the Taj Mahal and all other Mughal architecture that was to follow. Brilliantly dazzling in mid-afternoon sunshine is a red sandstone complex that is undergoing some tender restoration work. There is a sense of wonder as one enters the main mausoleum complex. This is after all a tomb commissioned by the grieving widow Hamida Begum for Emperor Akbar's father. Various paths outside in the beautifully landscaped Mughal gardens, taper off into other tombs on the property such as the Arab Sarai or the tomb of Isa Khan. At this time of day, the place is milling with tourists from abroad, who are listening in awe to guides reel out the story of the Mughal Empire and of Humayun. My years of pouring into Amar Chitra Katha comics on Akbar and Birbal were running in the back of my head as my eyes were feasting on a masterpiece by one of the greatest dynasties to rule India. The sense of history and the pride that fills your body, of belonging to a land like that can be dizzying.
Whilst still in a state of semi-reverie, I was whisked away to destination two, the Qutub Minar. As I reach the ticketing counter and begin to slide the money for the entrance charge, I am rudely informed that ticketing is now closed for the day, although the monument is open for another hour. So I stand outside the gates and lovingly gaze at the monument like a child watching its parent walk away after being dropped off at school for the first time. There is some separation anxiety, of being so close and yet so far. There is a feeling of staring at a living legend; if those walls could talk they could spill secrets that are 800 odd years old. Tales of rulers such as Qutb-ud-din Aibak, Sikander Lodi and Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Tales of how a city that is now 15 centuries old grew around it to be the metropolis and the capital of a thriving nation of billions. There is an iron pillar in the courtyard, which my taxi driver tells me has a popular belief attached to it. If you do get your arms around it, then you will be blessed with some good luck. Alas, if only I had known earlier!
Unwilling to give up on the evening, my last stop was to be the Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate. Rajpath is surely a befitting location for these mammoth buildings that rise out of Raisina Hill and lead to India Gate. Brightly lit on a Sunday evening, it is a sight that makes you marvel. At India Gate an Air Force band is playing to a packed crowd of fellow officers and general public. It is lit up with the tricolours to mark the occasion. There is an air of a parade ground and everything from peanuts to momos are being hawked on make shift bicycles and tricycles. Far from that crowd as the hill rises, are the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Secretariat. Seats of power sit grandly above, viewing the crowd from a distance, just as they were meant to when Lutyens & Baker designed them. Silent on this evening, sprinkled with tourists and machine gun toting guards, the sunset colours play the perfect foil for these two symmetrical, 1,000-room behemoths made of cream and red sandstone.
Delhi is the perfect introduction to the experience called India; it sets the stage for what is to follow. A primer to a country that is far older than most and rooted deeply within these annals of history.