New Delhi was a refreshing change of pace. Metro System! People legitimately interested in more than what’s in your wallet! The trains here were a pain, four hours late coming and going, but I still was able to see a fair amount before heading north.
My first stop was the Qutub complex, built by the Muslim “Slave Dynasty” so named because its rulers included several former slaves and servants as well as the first female Shah. They also built the first “skyscraper” in the 1200s, the Qutub Minar, a towering 72.5 meters high. While that’s nothing these days of course, it’s still quite a sight.
The rest of the complex includes ruins of tombs, mosques, and schools, all beautifully ornate in the parts that survive. I also found the Ala-i Minar quite interesting- India’s own Tower of Babel, originally meant to be twice as high as Qutub, but whose patron died suddenly after only 25 meters were completed. It’s unadorned base still stands.
After that I headed to Raj Ghat, site of of Mahatma Ghandi’s cremation in 1948, and now a spare, beautiful monument to his memory, with a grassy knolls aplenty and an eternal flame in its center.
Akshardham, or the Lotus Temple, is a relatively modern addition to New Delhi, built by a rich Hindu benefactor (an easy in to the equivalent of sainthood, judging by the many “sponsored” temples and shrines I saw, all with prominent pictures set up like icons to be worshiped). Anyway, the place almost feels like a Hindu amusement park, with its throngs of schoolchildren, light & fountain shows,and IMAX theater. The real attraction, though, is the utterly gorgeous central temple, with the most crisp, impressive stonework I’ve ever seen. It’s like a Hindu St. Peter’s, with multiple domes and side chambers, all carved to the hilt, and it’s easy to get lost in the concentric rings of carvings above your head that almost seem to move as you stare at them.
Lastly, I headed to Delhi’s Red Fort, which was unfortunately already closed, but apparently not as well preserved as Agra’s, so I didn’t sweat it too much, as well as the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India and an utterly gorgeous place to be in the failing light of magic hour, although the rather steep entry price was a bit wasted as the minaret with its view over the city was already closed as well.
A long rickshaw ride through Old Delhi wrapped things up, through incredibly congested streets full of every terrestrial vehicle imaginable short of elephants, past the spice market, textile shops, eyeglass alley, electrical implements lane, etc, etc, etc. It was a traffic jam and whirling chaos unlike any I’d ever seen, but certainly felt like an Indian experience I shouldn’t have missed.