Delhi Stories and Tips

Relics of the Empire - Rajpath and around

India Gate Photo, Delhi, India

By the Empire - I don't mean the Moghul or Maratha empires that both occupied this city in its endless history - I mean the "new kids on the block" - the British. Here, south of Connaught Place, stand the most ostentatious and imposing custom-built buildings in Delhi. For over fifty years, the heart of the Indian government and the bureaucratic heart of the subcontinent. This is where Delhi has the grandeur and vistas of Washington or Paris. The city truly becomes epic and monumental and like all great capitals emenates power.

The attractions of this area are legion. And to reach it is relatively easy. Take an auto-rickshaw (preferably from a rank and not of the street) from Old Delhi or Paharganj. From Connaught Place there are buses travelling down wide Janpath on their way to the Qutb Minar or the airport. You can walk from Connaught Place but the distances are enormous and can be hard work in the dry dusty heat of the capital.

The great epic road of South Delhi is Rajpath. This travels west to east with the Rashrapati Bhavan at its western end and the giant India Gate to the east. The whole area was laid out anew by the British Raj who built a new city south of the old. It is a city of wide vistas, roundabouts, green bungalows and parks and gardens. Wide lawns and fountains flank Janpath itself which are illuminated at night. On either side of Rajpath are the grand red buildings of the Parliament and Secretariat which on National holidays are illuminated with thousands of lights to create quite a spectacle.

The area is not a bad one to walk in, with less hassle then Connaught Place or Paharganj. But the distances are enormous and the lawns, despite being watered are often dusty and dry. India is everywhere from nut-brown children playing in the reflecting pools to the lawns being cut by mowers pulled by oxen.

Most people's first stop is the huge India Gate.This is a great Indian Arc de Triomphe built to commemorate the dead and stands 42ft high. To stand beneath it with all the other Indian tourists is very impressive and there is even a monument to soldiers killed in the 1971 war with Pakistan. But touts and hawkers are very persistant here and I was pursued away from the gate by a small boy thrusting a cobra under my nose.

At the other end of Rajpath is the epic cream Rashtrapati Bhavan - the home of the Indian President. Hidden behind filigree gates this cream domed building looked very imperial despite the moghul style of domes, classical columns and arches. This during the Raj was built as the residence of the crowns representative in India - the Viceroy. The architect Edward Lutyens built most of Rajpath with its great buildings, wide vistas and wrought-iron lamposts. It was built at a time when the empire seemed like it would go on forever, but twenty six years later the buildings were handed over to the Indian republic (as it should have been)and that was the end of the Raj.

I would recommend a visit to Rajpath and its great buildings. And if you are interested in modern Indian history and its connection with the British then come here - where Delhi truly becomes monumental. A Brazilian friend back in London once told me "the British, they are now embarassed by their empire.." and as I looked around Rajpath I found this was true. But the attachment between Britain and India is still strong and I have noticed that little relics of the Raj still live on. Examples include cricket, bungalows, an obsession with woolens and without doubt the best cups of tea I have had in my life....

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