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Delhi History

Delhi is filled with echoes of a fascinating past. You can hear tales of conspiracy as you wander through a crumbling fort; imagine royalty living luxuriously within a marble palace; walk along winding alleys and look up at old houses, which have remained untouched through the years; savor food from ancient royal kitchens, prepared by descendants of the imperial chefs; remember those who lost their lives during wars through memorials built in their honor and feel the patriotic fervor as the Indian flag was raised at the time of India’s Independence. Waves of invaders into India through the ages ruled from Delhi and made it their home. The city is steeped in history and every corner has a story to tell.

The main reason for the city’s importance throughout India’s history is its strategic geographical position. Situated on the west bank of the River Yamuna, between the Aravalli Hills to the south and the Himalayas to the north its strategic geographical location has made it a favorite capital for generations of rulers. Its location has also ensured that it has commanded the vital trade routes from the Northwest frontier (comprising modern-day Afghanistan and parts of present-day Pakistan) to the rich plains of the river Ganges for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.

Delhi as we know it is actually a series of eight different cities, formed between the 11th and 17th centuries around modern Delhi. In the region of the iconic Qutub Minar is the area where the first four cities were built, starting with Lalkot or Qila Rai Pithora in the 11th century by the Chauhan Rajputs. The trendy area of Hauz Khas is approximately where Alauddin Khilji left his stamp in the 12th century in the form of Siri, the second city. The crumbling grandeur of Tughlaqabad Fort is part of the third city, Tughlaqabad, about 10km southeast of the Qutub Minar. Also built by the Tughlaqs was the fourth city, Jahanpanah, dating from the 14th century.

Opposite Raj Ghat (the resting place of India’s most famous son, Mahatma Gandhi) are some of the ruins of Feroz Shah Kotla’s contribution, the fifth city, Ferozabad. Beautiful Purana Qila, or Old Fort in New Delhi, was where Dinpanah, the sixth city, was built by Sher Shah. With the seventh, Shahjahanabad, created by Emperor Shah Jahan, the Mughal capital shifted from Agra to Delhi. This area is the walled Old Delhi, which is very much in existence today, its flavor largely preserved. The eighth and final city is New Delhi, constructed by the British and the capital of India in 1947.

Peppered through New and Old Delhi are ruins and remnants of these eight cities, each fascinating and with their own stories to tell. Old Delhi has retained its past, reflected in the Mughal architecture, atmospheric crowded markets and narrow alleys, the walled Old City closely guarding old traditions and customs. The wide tree lined avenues and majestic monuments in New Delhi are Edward Lutyen’s legacy to the city.

In 1912, when the capital shifted from Calcutta to New Delhi, present day Central Delhi or the areas of Willingdon Crescent, Connaught Place and Lodhi Gardens were covered by villages. The architects wanted to build grand structures befitting a capital city. Rashtrapati Bhavan, Connaught Place, India Gate and Parliament House are a few of the manifestations of their vision.

Through its grand mosques and crumbling forts or silent tombs and vibrant bazaars, Delhi’s past is alive and tangible.