Looking for the most amazing sights in New Delhi? You came to the right spot. Delhi is an ancient city with a rich history, and remnants of it can still be found all over the place. This article will take you to four of the most important religious monuments the Indian capital has on offer.
The first thing that will strike you as a tourist in New Delhi, is that everyone seems to immediately want to get you out of there again. “There’s nothing to see here! It’s dirty and smelly and full of assholes!” This is the mantra of just about every idiot trying to pull you into one of the many shady travel agencies around. This is of course because day trips through the capital earn them far less than an expensive Agra-Jaipur-Udaipur round trip. Don’t be disheartened by this though. Despite the overwhelming busyness, Delhi is filled to the brim with fantastic sights and cultural heritage. You only have to get there. Just hop into a tuktuk and hope the driver doesn’t make you stop at five different souvenir shops where he gets a percentage of the sales first.
What to do in New Delhi: discover the four most impressive sights
It will not surprise you to learn that the whole city of New Delhi is currently in lockdown as well, and they take it pretty seriously. Instead of semi-friendly cops writing you a ticket, here you will be enthusiastically bamboo-whipped all the way back to your living room. Yes, the streets are almost empty, and that was completely unimaginable when I was here seven long years ago. Social distancing only existed between the castes, and as a foreigner I was constantly accosted by touts. Indians are quite open and hospitable in general, but on the street it’s all about how much money you can shake from the tourists. They have some pretty slick tricks for it too. From suspicious guys “raising money for a good cause” they can’t even name, to shoe shiners throwing shit on your sandals just to then ask you kindly if could use a polish. Every walk is an adventure.
“The first thing that will strike you as a tourist in New Delhi, is that everyone seems to immediately want to get you out of there again.”
Fortunately, there’s a lot to see, do and experience here as well. Today, I will not be taking you to the unknown spots for once, but instead to four of the greatest sights in New Delhi. Coincidentally, they are all also linked to the main religions in this part of India – so you might actually learn something as well. Up for a walk?
1. Gurudwara Bangla Sahib: eat with the Sikhs (at your own risk)
The Sikhs – these are the guys with the turbans and the smurf hats – are an important religious minority in New Delhi. Sikhism is a progressive belief that theoretically does not tolerate oppression or prejudice. This means that in practice, Sikhs are quite jovial lads indeed. In New Delhi, their primary temple is the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib: an impressive white building with golden domes on the roof and a large public bath filled with healing water. Walking through here feels like visiting a bunch of friends. People will explain the basics of their religion to you without being pushy, they’ll want to be on a picture with you, or will just be up for a friendly chat.
“Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is the main Sikh temple in New Delhi, and every visit is a cosy affair.”
The temple operates on the langar principle, which means that everyone can get a free meal here, regardless of religion, race, caste or gender. And since I never look a gift horse in the mouth, I decided to join the food line myself. This turned out to be a somewhat bad decision in hindsight, since I basically lived on my toilet for the next three days. Lost four kg though, so anyone looking for an effective crash diet knows where to go. But if you want to still have a working sphincter a week later, stay off the food when you visit the temple. Not for weak western digestive systems.
2. Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga: join a Muslim pilgrimage
*These are not pictures of the mausoleum. I didn’t want to be that one tourist with the camera during prayers. Left is a nearby night market, right is the Qutb Minar.
Of the roughly 30 million inhabitants of New Delhi, only 13% are Muslim. But because the Mughal dynasty ruled here for a few hundred years, there’s a surprising amount of Islamic architecture to admire. The beautiful Jama Masjid for example, is India’s largest mosque, and the tower of the Qutb Minar was a wonderfully decorated, seventy meter high middle finger raised towards the then newly conquered Hindu kingdoms. The most unique place for Muslims in New Delhi however, is much smaller in scale. The Mausoleum of Nizamuddin – a Sufi saint from the Middle Ages – is a popular place of pilgrimage where the qawwali is sung every Thursday after the evening prayer.
“Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga is a popular place of pilgrimage for Muslims, where the qawwali is sung every Thursday after the evening prayer.”
The complex is located in the centre of a maze of narrow streets, so finding it takes some adventuring. I was the only westerner in the area, and was soon confronted by an agitated tout demanding I take off my shoes as a mark of respect and then shoved some stuff in my hands to leave at the saint’s grave. Barefoot and bewildered, I delved deeper into the dirty alleyways, until I noticed all the other people only took off their sandals at the sanctuary itself. I’d been had and looked like a right fool. When I came shuffling back on dust-covered feet an hour later, the same charlatan started shouting at me because he wanted extra money for safekeeping my shoes and for the stuff he had given me without asking. The vile curses thundering over the bazar roofs are not fit for publication, but made me get my footwear back in a jiffy. In the end, the guy looked as pale as me. Fantastic place to visit, but beware of the circling vultures.
3. Humayuns Tombe: New Delhi’s very own Taj Mahal
Right next to Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga, Humayun’s tomb is another impressive remnant of the Mughal Empire, and as far as I am concerned it’s the most beautiful building in New Delhi. Humayun was the second Mughal Emperor (the third one was called Akbar by the way – “it’s a trap!”) And when an emperor kicks the bucket, a tomb of appropriate pompousness must immediately be built. The result of this tradition is a monumental mausoleum the size of a palace, located in a beautifully maintained 12-hectare park.
“Humayuns Tombe is a monumental mausoleum the size of a palace, located in a beautifully maintained 12-hectare park.”
The funerary monument turned out to be so impressive that half a century later it was used as a blueprint for the much more famous Taj Mahal. If you want to visit that one however, you’ll have to drive all the way to the otherwise quite depressing Agra – which in my mind felt like one long wet street filled with miserable people – and then get up at five in the morning to stay somewhat ahead of the massive crowds. Better stay in Delhi I say. Humayun’s Tomb – much more than the Red Fort, which was completely hollowed out by the British army – is an everlasting symbol of the power and wealth of the now-extinct Mughal dynasty. An absolute must for any visit to New Delhi.
4. De Lotus Temple: contemporary architecture of the highest level in New Delhi
More than eighty per cent of New Delhi residents are Hindus. I was therefore somewhat surprised to discover their largest and most popular temple in the capital was less than 20 years old. Swaminarayan Akshardham is not only completely unpronounceable, it is also an absolutely gigantic, overwhelming and historic looking building complex. Still, it only officially opened in 2005. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get there myself, so I’ll keep this one for a future visit.
“New Delhi’s Lotus Temple is a contemporary architectural wonder, and one of the world’s most visited buildings.”
Another relatively new building I did personally visit, is the Lotus Temple: a contemporary architectural wonder in the shape of the flower whose name it bears, reminiscent of the Sydney opera house. It opened in 1986, and fifteen years later it was already considered one of the world’s most visited buildings. This is not a Hindu temple however, but a house of the Bahai faith. The Bahai belief emphasizes the unity of all major world religions. Anyone can freely and openly practise his or her faith here, regardless of which membership card they hold. And if that isn’t a nice little fact to conclude with, I don’t know what is. World peace y’all! Love and cuddles and fraternal slaps on the bum! (I really need to get out of the house.)
Here ends my account on the main sights in New Delhi. This was part two of my adventures in the Indian capital. You can read the first story here. Have you been to Delhi yourself? What did you think of it? Did you get fooled by the army of street hawkers as well? What were your favourite sights in New Delhi? Are you a pastafarian and want to organise a mass in the Lotus Temple honouring the great spaghetti monster? Pour it all out in the comments below.
Want to discover some other Asian cities? Click here to read my stories on Taipei, Singapore and Hanoi. Looking for a destination in Belgium? There are plenty of weird things to do in Antwerp, Bruges, Spa, Koksijde, Liège and Charleroi as well.
When I was in New Delhi, I stayed in the basic but very pleasant Smyle Inn Hostel in the middle of Paharganj. Click here to book a room. Tadka 4986 is a very cheap but clean vegetarian restaurant nearby. I ate there almost every day.