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Delhi | The land of sights and smells
Delhi is a city that bridges two different worlds. Old Delhi, once the capital of Islamic India, is a labyrinth of narrow lanes lined with crumbling havelis and formidable mosques.
Rachel Zammit Cutajar
20 June 2012, 12:00am
The city's importance lies not just in its past glory as the seat of empires and magnificent monuments, but also in the rich and diverse cultures.
What to do?
The Red sandstone walls of the massive Red Fort (Lal Qila) rise 33-m above the clamour of Old Delhi as a reminder of the magnificent power and pomp of the Mughal emperors. The walls, built in 1638, were designed to keep invaders from a treasure trove of buildings, including the Drum House, the Hall of Public Audiences, the white marble Hall of Private Audiences, the Pearl Mosque, Royal Baths and Palace of Colour. The main gate, Lahore Gate, is one of the emotional and symbolic focal points of the modern Indian nation. The vaulted arcade of Chatta Chowk, a bazaar selling tourist trinkets, leads into the huge fort compound.
An evening sound and light show re-creates events in India's history connected with the fort.
Just across from the Red Fort is India's largest mosque, Jama Masjid, one of the last architectural works of the Mugal emperor Shah Jahan, completed in 1658. Constructed in red sandstone and marble the mosque contains a central courtyard to accommodate thousands of worshippers with separate entrances used by the emperors. Some of the prophet Mohammad's relics are stored here including the Koran written on deerskin, a red beard-hair of the prophet, his sandals and his footprints, implanted in a marble block.
The tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun, commissioned by his wife, was the first garden-tomb on the Indian sub-continent, with geometrically shaped gardens and criss-crossing water channels, probably symbolic of a paradise setting. Humayun's Persian wife's influence is evident in the double domes, similar structures were later used for the Red Fort and the Taj Majal.
If you can spare the time take a trip 200km out of Delhi to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World - the Taj Mahal. English poet Edwin Arnold called it "Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor's love wrought in living stones." The building is a tribute of Shah Jahan, emperor of India to his wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their 14th child. He was so saddened by her death that he ordered the court into two years of mourning and built the world's fines mausoleum which took 22 years to construct employing the services of 22,000 men.
Khari Baoli, the street that runs from the Fatehpuri Mosque to the western edge of the old city, is Delhi's bustling wholesale spice market. It's well worth a wander simply to take in the sights and smells because things have changed little here for centuries. Huge sacks of herbs and spices are still brought to the wholesalers on long, narrow barrows pushed by labourers, and there are eye-catching displays of everything from lentils and rice to giant jars of chutneys, pickles, nuts and tea.
Where to stay?
For five-star luxury, visit The Uppal Hotel, www.uppalhotels.com, in New Delhi, where 48 rooms occupy an enviable location, close to the industrial suburbs of Gurgaon and Delhi.
The hotel is situated on 10.5 acres of scenic grandeur and lush greenery, with around 200,000 plants being nurtured for the hotel itself. The chic rooms all have private balconies overlooking the fantastic gardens or the inviting pool.
The Taj Palace Hotel, www.tajhotels.com, is the perfect embodiment of world-class service and hospitality.
Located in the very heart of the Indian capital, the location is quintessentially Taj. The hotel is only a few minutes drive from both the airport and the city centre and is near to most of the embassies in New Delhi.
The Bajaj Home Stay, www.indianhomestay.com is a unique experience offering different rooms, which offer a completely different experience. Every room is named after an Indian mythological or historical character and has a special story to tell. The guest rooms are aesthetically decorated and retain traditional themes. Equally popular among Indians as well as tourists, accommodation is on a bed and breakfast basis.
Where to eat?
Head to this foodstall-lined (some with seating) lane off Chandni Chowk for delectable parathas (traditional flat bread) fresh off the tawa (hotplate). Stuffed varieties include aloo (potato), mooli (white radish), smashed pappadams and crushed badam (almond), all served with tangy pickles.
Massively popular, Tamil Saravana has a fast-food feel, but food is by no means junk: dosas, idlis and other southern specialities, accompanied by lovely fresh chutneys. Inventive sweets include cucumber-seed ladoos (sweet balls). Finish with a South Indian coffee. Arrive early or be prepared to queue.
Down a lane across from the Jama Masjid's south gate (No 1), legendary Karim's has been delighting Delhiites with divine Mughlai cuisine since 1913. The chefs prepare brutally good (predominantly nonveg) fare: try the burrah (marinated mutton) kebab.
How to get there?
Emirates offers daily flights between Malta and Delhi. Flights departing from Malta on 14 June and returning on 28 June were priced at €853.11 including taxes, at the time of going to print. Total flying time is approximately 10.5 hours.
Rachel Zammit Cutajar graduated in economics from the University of Malta...