Delhi: Politics, History and Food

Located on the banks of the River Yamuna, Delhi has been continuously inhabited since at least the 6th century BCE.

Summers are long and extremely hot, from early April to mid-October, with the monsoon season in between. Early March sees a reversal in the direction of wind, from the north-western direction, to the south-western. These bring the hot waves from Rajasthan, carrying sand and are a characteristic of the Delhi summer. These are called loo. Monsoon arrives at the end of June, bringing some respite from the heat, but increasing humidity at the same time. So basically whenever it’s not raining – it’s crippling.

Hinduism is the religion of 81% of Delhi’s population. There are also large communities of Muslims (10.7%), Sikhs (4.0%), Baha’i (3.0%), Jains (1.1%) and Christians (0.9%) in the city

Delhi’s culture has been influenced by its lengthy history and historic association as the capital of India. This is exemplified by the many monuments of significance found in the city; the Archaeological Survey of India recognises 1200 heritage buildings and 175 monuments in Delhi as national heritage sites. Three World Heritage Sites—the Red Fort, Qutab Minar and Humayun’s Tomb—are located in Delhi.

Ruins of the Purana Qila Fort

After the rise of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526) Delhi emerged as a major political, cultural and commercial city along the trade routes between northwest India and the Gangetic plain. It is the site of many ancient and medieval monuments, archaeological sites and remains. After the British East India Company had gained control of much of India during the 18th and 19th centuries, Calcutta became the capital until George V announced in 1911 that it was to move back to Delhi. A new capital city, New Delhi, was built to the south of the old city during the 1920s. When India gained independence from British rule in 1947, New Delhi was declared its capital and seat of government. As such, New Delhi houses important offices of the federal government, including the Parliament of India, as well as numerous national museums, monuments, and art galleries.

New Delhi buildings constructed for the British Raj

On our first morning we went to explore this area – we drove as walking in the heat was in no way an option

Looks down towards the India Gate.I loved the foggy, humid view looking from the parliament down towards the India Gate. It’s one of those casual photos that manages to sum up the feeling of the moment

The India Gate is the national monument of India and is one of the largest war memorials in the country. Situated in the heart of New Delhi, India Gate was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who lost their lives while fighting for the British Indian Empire, or more correctly the British Empire in India British Raj in World War I and the Afghan Wars. It is composed of red sand stone and granite.

Next stop was hiding from the heat in the shelter of Delhi’s National Museum. The National Museum has in its possession over 2,00,000 works of exquisite art, covering more than 5,000 years of cultural heritage. Its rich holdings of various creative traditions and disciplines represent a unity amidst diversity and give Indians and Travelers alike a great general understanding of the countries plentiful past.

It has a rich collection of a large number of artifacts from the sites of Harappan Civilisation, 2600–1900 BCE (they were the peak of the Indus Valley Civilization 3300–1900 BCE). The collection includes pottery, seals, tablets, weights and measures, jewellery, terracotta figurines, toys, etc.

The most prized posession of the Museum is the famous sculpture of Dancing Girl from Mohenjodaro belonging to 2,500 BC!!!

I’ll give you a moment to comprehend that.

Four thousand,

Five hundred

and ten years old

I’M ONLY 17!

At only 10.8 cm tall, it would have been very easy to walk by it in the room full of artifacts – luckily i’d done a bit of research before and got to see this legendary statue in real life.

They also have a prestigious collection of approximately 800 sculptures displayed in the Archaeological Galleries
The sculptures displayed are mostly in stone, bronze and terracotta, dating from the 3rd century B.C., through the 19th century A.D., representing all major regions, periods and schools of art.

I wasn’t expecting a statue like this to have been created centuries ago in India! It’s curly hair and Romanesque style shows the western influence of Alexander the great!

We slowly wandered through, admiring the intricate bronze scultpures that would have originally adorned temples. On the left is the dancing Shiva (Nataraja) created in the 12th century

Then my favorite section – the Indian Minature Paintings! The collection shows many major styles such as, Mughal, Deccani, Central Indian, Rajasthani, Pahari and many other sub-styles relating to the period from 1000 A.D. to 1900 A.D. It also includes paintings on palm leaf, cloth, wood, leather, painted manuscripts, covers on wood and hardboard and Thankus on canvas, etc. The major theme of these miniatures are Jain Kalpasutra, the epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagwatpurana, Durgasaptasati, Jaideva’s Geetgobind, Ragamala, Baramasa, Panchatantra and Vishnu Purana. A few Indo-lslamic manuscripts such as Shahnama and Baburnama are also noteworthy.

The portraits of medieval kings, rulers and saints are also part of this large heritage. The gallery displays selected 352 paintings and i could have spent hours and hours admiring them but my brain was already “beautied out” from all of the amazing displays

For a definite change of pace we went movie hunting in one of Delhi’s crazy and slightly seedy areas – the underground Palika Bazaar. It’s estimated to have some 15.000 people within its confines at any given time! We had asked our driver where to buy Bollywood films and he took us here as it’s known as a place with a very low level of prices and yes, for a wide availability of illegal products

Lefts just put it this way – there’s no chance in hell i would have gone without my 2 Indian friends – one of whom is a 6ft 4, male!

After asking many stall owners we were finally directed to the movie man (i’m 80% sure the movies aren’t pirated!) and got a nice big selection that i’ll enjoy here in India, but also when i am back home

Then it was well and truly time for lunch in the city famous for it’s Punjabi and Mughlai delicacies like kababs and biryanis. Most renowned amongst foodies however is the street food which includes chaat, golgappe and aloo tikki.

Pani Puri

For our first lunch we went to the renowned establishment of the Bengali Sweet House, most famous for what we first tried – Pani Puri or Puchka or Gol Guppa, one of the most popular chaat in India.

What happens is the man taps the Puri at the center(on the thin fragile side) lightly to make a small hole in it. The walla then stuffs it with fillings (like chickpeas and potatoes with salt and red chilli ) and then dunks it into a big dish of Pani. Pani is a green soupy concoction of mint, coriander, green chillies, ginger, tamarind, black salt, roasted cumin, chaat masala and water, many wallas also add tamarind chutney to make it sweeer. He chucks it in a dish and hands it to as he simultaneously starts the next one.

Then its your turn to take up the challenge – this is not a snack that can be delicately nibbled, oh no.

One must shove the whole thing into your mouth and then remain calm as a wave of spices and liquid and Puri explode in your mouth – a real hit! Crispy-spicy-sweet and a whole lot of fun!

We then went inside – the hot, sticky atmosphere making the experience even more authentic and fun – and had an overwhelming array of other dishes

Which all served challenging in their own way! Wether is was the tear forming spiciness, the sickly sweetness or having to enter mountainous spoonfulls into gaping mouths

to get the full mix of flavors – i was suitably worn out by the end!

But as always with Indian eating – i had to try the dessert! This speciality is pretty much deep fired sugar syrup!

But i have some reason to believe that it was actually a bit healthier than what looked like solidified ghee in solidified sugary syrup! No-one does sweetness like the Bengali’s!

Just outside making our way to the car we had a bit of a chuckle. Hindustani (Hindi) is the principal spoken language while English is the principal written language of the city. But you wouldn’t guess it when looking at some of their signs!

Sprawled across on of the beds where we were staying we watched the cricket – India vs Sri Lanka. We didn’t watch it all – only wanting to see India Bat and in the end they won by 81 runs.

That night we curled up on the bed and over a Chinese take-away watched a relatively recent and dare i say – DECENT – Bollywood film – Dehli 6. Like 98% of Bollywood movies its quite overly dramatic with it’s themes of love, hope and self-discovery. But set in the walled city of Delhi (zip code 6) and its chaotic but touching life, it was a great little insight into another part of Dehli and a fun way to spend the evening!


1 Comment

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One response to “Delhi: Politics, History and Food

  1. Martin White

    Hi Hollie
    I have been religously following your blog as you traverse the Globe from before you spent time with Lynn in Italy. I would just like to express my amazement as to the quality and content of your blog – which is both entertaining and insightful. It reminds me that we really must re-visit India in the not too distant future!
    Best regard
    Martin White – Brisbane Australia

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