New Delhi, the capital of India and the city of Hyderabad were last two places I visited in India. After traveling through south and east as well as Lakshadweep Islands, those cities seemed a bit more organized and less polluted (according to Indian standards) to me than the rest of the country. The climate is different than in the south, drier and a bit cooler in winter, there's no lush green patches of coconut forests covering the hills but bare dessert like plateaus (especially in Hyderabad). I spent two days in New Delhi, then I took a domestic flight to Hyderabad where I stayed one day and from there I flew back home.
New Delhi is a huge city, the metropolitan region of Delhi (National Capital Territory of Delhi which includes New Delhi) has a population of more than 22 million people! Delhi is full of monuments, temples and historic sites.
It was influenced by many cultures, and during the time of British rules, a new city was planned, designed and constructed in the beginning of the 20th century. It was New Delhi. It became the capital of India (which was moved here from Calcutta). The city is designed around the two main promenades: Rajpath and Janpath. Together with India Gate, they were to be the symbol showing off the British power.
New Delhi is one of the busiest cities in the world and, unfortunately, its air quality is of very poor quality. While walking down the streets, it's easy to notice the ever-present mist around the city, consisting of dust and vehicle exhaust particles.
The Indian capital is very well connected with the rest of the world thanks to one of world's largest airports: Indira Gandhi International Airport. For most of the visitors, New Delhi is the gateway to the rest of India (especially to Agra where the famous Taj Mahal stands), the first contact with the country. For me, it was the other way around.
Hinduism is the main faith in Delhi and therefore the city is the center for the largest and most glorious Hindu temples in the world. The architectural details of decorations, carved in marble of different colors are incomparable with anything I had ever seen.
What to see in Delhi
Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple
This complex in New Delhi consist of the main temple, gardens and fountains. The area is large and it takes some time to walk around. Before getting in, you have to get through a security check, similar to the one at an airport, and leave all electronic devices. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take photos, even from outside! It's a shame as the temple is a real gem of Hindu architecture. Completed in 2005, it is 43 meters (141 ft.) high, decorated with hundreds of statues and other patterns which are carved in pink local sandstone as well as Italian carrara marble. What's surprising is that it was built with no use of steel or concrete. You have to see it to believe it.
The temple is dedicated to Swaminarayan and his 3.4 meters (11 feet) high statue, embellished with gold and gems stands right in the center. Near the complex, there are smaller temples which are not as enormous as the Akshardham Temple but also worth visiting. There's no such crowds there and the details carved in stone are also magnificent.
Lotus temple is a beautiful building in the shape of a lotus flower. It's one of the most popular tourist attractions of New Delhi, over fifty million people have visited it since it was opened to the public in 1986. The temple is the Baha'i's House of Worship and it's open to of all religions.
Baha'i's Faith followers believe in one God, spiritual unity and equality of all mankind as well as the unity of God, which means that all cults worship the same God in different ways. That's why holy scriptures of all religions can be read here, although no music (with the exception of choirs) is allowed. However, sermons and ritual practices are forbidden. As in other temples in India, you must take off your footwear before entering.
The construction of India Gate was inspired by Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It's a national monument that commemorate nearly one million soldiers of the Indian Army that lost their lives during the First World War and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. Situated at the end of Rajpath, it's 42 meters (140 feet) high. At night, it is beautifully illuminated and together with the fountains it creates an amazing show for visitors. The whole area around is green, and filled with beautiful lawns. It's a perfect place for picnics where the citizens can escape the hustle and noise of the busy Indian capital.
Red Fort (Lal Quila)
The defensive walls surrounding Delhi, the famous Red Fort (Lal Quila) was erected in the seventeenth century, however it is connected with even older parts of fortification that date back to the sixteenth century. It was built with red sandstone that gave the fort its distinctive, deep, dark-red color. The main entrance, Lahore Gate is decorated with beautiful domes and sophisticated details. The entry fee, like everywhere in India is different for an Indian citizen (10 INR - 0.13 EUR/0.16 USD) and for a foreign visitor (150 INR - 1.80 EUR/2.50 USD). Inside, you can admire many arches, columns and other architecturally astonishing constructions.
Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir
Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir is the oldest Jain Temple in India, it's difficult not to notice its beautiful towers right opposite the Red Fort. It's also deep dark red in color, thanks to the red sandstone. It was built, like the Red Fort, in the seventeenth century, however some additional elements had been being added until as late as the nineteenth century.
Beside the temple, there is a market where you can buy some craft items and delicious fruit which are cut in various shapes, a real fruity piece of art. Some may say one should not eat food bought in such places, but I tried the fruit and never had any stomach problems.
I had only one day in Hyderabad so I wasn't able to visit all the city's attractions, however strolling down the crowded narrow streets full of stands offering various items ranging from food to jewelry was unforgettable in itself. I also had a chance to go to the ZOO.
Hyderabad has more Muslim influences than New Delhi. Also, many of the architectural monuments originated during the Muslim rule.
History of Hyderabad dates back to the fifteenth century when Golconda Fort was built around the settlement. The ruins of the fort are still in Hyderabad for to this day.
Charminar and old market
Charminar (which means four minarets) lies in the center of Hyderabad, surrounded by old style markets. Its towers are around 50 meters tall (160 ft.). The construction is beautifully symmetrical although a bit neglected. Around, you will find many local traders selling a lot of stuff at the stands placed along the streets. There is also one street dedicated only for dental treatment, those clinics look a bit dodgy but I can't say anything about the service as I didn't try any of them.
The way the buildings are constructed is very chaotic. Among the remains of old town, there are stalls, houses, offices and other buildings literally stacked one on another and constructed with any available materials. It all gives a unique, uncontrolled and disorganized mix.
There's also constant noise coming from the cars and rickshaws as the traffic is not less chaotic than the way of construction. You must experience it and see for yourself as any description or photos will not be able to show what it's really like. If you are coming from a small European town, it's going to be a different world for you.
The number of beggars and disabled people is enormous. They are everywhere, if you see them you should give them food or other items instead of cash, I felt so sorry for them that I gave away all my change and after that they wouldn't stop following me for the following hour or so. It's cruel but those are the moments when you realize how unfair life is and how much depends just on the place where you are born. It makes you realize that nothing should be taken for granted in life.
Sanghi Temple is located outside Hyderabad, 35 kilometers (21 miles) away from the center. It's a beautiful temple build on top of Paramanad Giri Hill. Its white towers are embellished with many detailed decorations, as in all south Indian style monuments. The temple is open from 8 am until 8 pm with a break from 1 pm till 4 pm. The hill offers gorgeous views over the valley and nearby towns. There are quite a few little monkeys around, they are nice to photograph but be careful as they might steal sun glasses or other small objects.
This was the last place I visited in India. India is a country that will open your eyes, and should be visited by everyone, especially from the west. It's like a journey to a different planet, so rich in culture and so different and shocking to the strict and rigid western world rules. If you want to get the best adventure of your life, come here but be prepared for everything.
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