The Indian capital is a city of extremes, full of wealth and poverty, gleaming modern buildings and medieval ruins, with cutting edge ideas and centuries-old tradition running side by side. It’s a city of bureaucracy and commerce, a place to shop and get things done, a place to rest while you’re waiting for things to get done, or when you’re on the way to somewhere else. It’s a place for tourists to see some world famous sites, a place to eat some incredible food. Increasingly it’s a hub for art and culture. For the residents of Delhi it’s both a place to be endured and to thrive in, a land of tension but also of opportunity, and a great melting pot of history.
Delhi and the surrounding area of roughly 17 million people is one of the largest urban areas on the planet. Flanked by UP, Haryana and the Punjab, whose villagers increasingly pour into the city looking for a better life, the main part is typically divided into Old Delhi, New Delhi and South Delhi, with North, West and East acting as newer, scrappier residential suburbs, and gateways to the satellite cities.
Old Delhi is the ancient capital: the walled city of the Mughals, home of the Red Fort and Jama Masjid and the narrow lanes of Kinari Bazaar, the place to go for all manner of spices, saris and jewellery among other things; a thriving centre of commerce as well as an important historical and architectural area.
New Delhi is Lutyens’ Delhi, the Delhi of the former British Empire and now the current government, with its wide boulevards, grand mansions, parks and five star hotels giving a sense of space, order and authority.
South Delhi is the real new Delhi, the post-partition home of Punjabi wealth, the modern heart of the city with its glitz, grandeur, chaos, shopping malls and markets, home to the best modern restaurants and boutiques.
Many visitors have a love-hate relationship with Delhi, finding it fascinating and beautiful but just as equally aggressive, overwhelming and chaotic, a city to be suffered rather than enjoyed. Many use it as a necessary transit point, others simply for business. But for all Delhi’s madness it does have a certain charm that works its way under your skin, and this heaving mass of contradictions, where museums are superfluous and luxury malls stand next to the ruins, lingers with you long after you leave. More so than with other cities, the trick here is to come thoroughly prepared.