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Delhi History

History of Delhi
Delhi today is essentially 4 cities, spreading over the remains of nearly a dozen earlier centres which once occupied this vital strategic site. The oldest surviving city is what is now known as "Old Delhi", or Shah Jahanabad, built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the first half of the 17th century. Focusing on the great imperial buildings of the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, this old city is a dense network of narrow alleys and tightly packed houses. Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus living side by side, but separated in their own defined community quarters, with packed bazaars, specialist markets and narrow lanes. The new cities immediately to the south of the old city is the British-built capital of New Delhi. A self conscious attempt to match the imperial grandeur of the Mughal capital, New Delhi retains the monumental buildings and street layout of its imperial builders. However, it has already been

Delhi History

engulfed by the dramatic sprawl of the contemporary city. Spreading in all directions from the twin centres of Old and New Delhi, the post-independence city has accelerated its suburban expansion with government built and privately-owned flats and houses. Together they have produced a third city that already dwarfs the earlier two centres. But there is also a fourth city, often scarcely seen. For unlike Bombay and Calcutta, notorious for the desperate housing problems of the poor, Delhi has confined much of its worst housing to the areas distant from the main commercial and administration centres. 

Shah Jahanabad (Old Delhi)
Today, Shah Jahan (1628-1658) is chiefly remembered for the astonishing achievement of the Taj Mahal. However, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid in Delhi, both part of Shah Jahan’s city, are also remarkable examples of the mature Mughal style that developed under his patronage. It was not until 1638 that Shah Jahan decided to move back from Agra to Delhi. Within ten years the huge city of Shah Jahanabad, now known as Old Delhi, was built. Much of the building material was taken from the ruins of Firozabad and Shergarh. The city was laid out in blocks with wide roads, residential quarters, bazaars and mosques. Its principal street was Chandni Chowk (Silver Street) which had a tree-lined canal flowing down its centre and which quickly became renowned throughout Asia. Today, Chandi Chowk retains some of its former magic, though now it is a bustling jumble of shops, of labyrinthine alleys running off a main thoroughfare with craftsmen’s workshops, hotels, mosques and temples. Here goldsmiths, silversmiths, ivory workers, silk traders and embroiders can be found. The city of Shah Jahanabad was protected by rubble-built walls, some of which still survive. These walls were pierced by 14 main gates. The most important of these still in existence are Ajmeri Gate, Turkman Gate, Kashmiri Gate and Delhi Gate. Between this new city and the River Yamuna, Shah Jahan built a fort. Most of it was built out of red sandstone, hence the name Lal Qila (Red Fort), the same as that at Agra on which the Delhi fort is modeled. Begun in 1639 and completed in 1648, it is said to have cost Rs. 10 million, much of which was spent on the opulent marble palaces within.


The site
Delhi owes its historic importance to the influence of geography. Sited at the narrowest point between the Aravalli hills and the Himalayas, it has commanded the route from the vital North West frontier into the rich agricultural hinterland of the Ganga plains. From Tughluqabad in S Delhi you can appreciate the strategic significance of the Delhi ridge, controlling the western approaches to the Gangetic plain across the River yamuna. So great was the impact of the arrival of Islam in North West India that from viewing the monuments along, you might think that Delhi was the centre of a Muslim state.

Origin of New Delhi
New Delhi has become the centre of modern India’s political life and is a dynamic hub of economic and social change. Its present position as capital was only confirmed on 12 December 1911, when the King Emperor George V announced at the Delhi Durbar that the capital of India was to move from Calcutta to Delhi. In keeping with the grand designs that other rulers had imposed on India. New Delhi was to be an emphatic statement of the magnificence and permanence of British rule in India. The planning of New Delhi began as soon as the 1911 Durbar was over, and a team of planners and architects under the leadership of Edwin Lutyens was set up. The new city was inaugurated on 9 February 1931.

Lutyens and Baker
For an architect, the project was a dream. The new city was to cover 26 sq km and include the boldest expression anywhere in the world of British imperial ambitions. Lutyens decided that he would design the palatial Viceroy’s House and its surrounding and his old friend, Herbert Baker would design the nearby Government Secretariat and imperial Legislative Assembly. Between them they would style the symbolically important approach to these magnificent structures. The other architects would work on other buildings in the new city which was destined to be the last of the great Imperial cities of the world.

The King Emperor favored something in form and flavour similar to the Mughal masterpieces but fretted over the horrendous expense that this would incur. A petition signed by eminent public figures such as Bernard Shaw and Thomas Hardy advocated an Indian style and an Indian master builder. Herbert Baker had made known his own views even before his appointment when he wrote “first and foremost it is the spirit of British sovereignty which must be imprisoned in its stone and bronze”. Lord Harding, the Viceroy suggested ‘Western architecture with an Oriental motif’. As Tillotson has shown, Lutyens himself was appalled by the political pressure to adopt any Indian styles. For one thing, he despised Indian architecture. “Even before he had seen any examples or it,” writes Tilllotson, “he pronounced Mughal architecture to be ‘piffle’, and seeing it did not disturb that conviction. “Yet in the end the compromise was what Lutyens was forced to settle for.

The Choice of site
The city would accommodate 70,000 people and have boundless possibilities for future expansion. A foundation stone was hastily cut and laid in New Delhi by King George V and Queen Mary at the Durbar, but when Lutyens and his team arrived and toured the site on elephant back they decided that this was unsuitable. The Viceroy decided on an another site in S Delhi. So in 1913 the foundation stone was uplifted and moved on a bullock cart to Raisina Hill. Land was leveled, roads were built, water and electricity connected to the site, and the same red sandstone employed that Akbar and Shah Jahan had used in their magnificent forts andtombs. It was transported from Dholpur to the site and impressive range of marble lavished on the interiors. In the busiest year 29,000 people were working on the site. Slowly the work advanced and the buildings took shape. The Viceroy’s house, the centre-piece, was of imperial proportions ; it was one km round the foundations, bigger than Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles, had a colossal dome surmounting a long colonnade and 340 rooms in all. It took nearly two decades to carry out the plans, a similar period of time to that of the building of the Taj Mahal. Indian touches to a classical style The project was surrounded by controversy from beginning to end. Opting for a fundamentally classical structure, both Baker and Lutyens sought to incorporate Indian motifs. Many were entirely superficial. While some claim that Luytens in particular achieved a unique synthesis of the two traditions, Tillotson queries whether “the sprinkling of a few simplified and classicized Indian details (especially chattris) over a classical palace” could be called made strong allusions to the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi while marrying it to an essentially classical form. A striking irony in the overall design came as result of the late necessity of building a council chamber for the representative assembly which was created by political reforms in 1919. this now houses the Lok Sabha, but its centrality to the current Indian constitution is belied by Baker’s design which tucks it away almost invisibly to the north of the northern Secretariat.

The Raisina crossing

The grand design was for an approach to all the Government buildings along the King’s Way (Raj Path). This was to be 2.4 km long, would lead onto the Great Palace where ceremonial parades could be held, then on up Raisina Hill between the Secretariat Buildings to the entrance to the Viceroy’s. The palace was intended to be in view at all times, gradually increasing in stature as one got nearer. There was much debate over the gradient of Raisina Hill and eventually in 22 was agreed upon. In the event the effect was not what was intended. Only en the Viceroy’s House was nearing completion was it realized that as you progress from the bottom of the Kings Way up Raisin Hill, the Viceroy’s house sinks down over the horizon like the setting sun so that only the top part of the palace is visible. Lutyens recognized the mistake too late to make any change, and called this effect his ‘Bakerloo’. Baker and Lutyens blamed each other and did not speak to one another for the next 5 years.

Delhi Post – Independence
Since 1947 the population of Delhi has increased dramatically and now stands at over 8 million. New satellite towns such as Ghaziabad on the East bank of the River Yamuna have sprung up to accommodate the capital’s rapidly growing population as have numerous housing colonies, such as Greater Kailash I and II, Ashok Vihar, and R.K. Puran. Government Ministries and Departments have spread across S Delhi and there is a wide range of first class hotels. But, for all this building over the centuries, Delhi is also one of the world’s greenest cities, with many trees and attractive parks. However, beyond the range of New Delhi’s broad avenues is another city.


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