India's capital has more sights than any other city in India, but they are concentrated in three distinct areas -- Old Delhi, New Delhi, and South Delhi (known as the Qutb Minar Complex) -- which should be tackled as separate tours (or at a push, two could be grouped together). Most organized tours spend a half-day covering the top attractions in New Delhi, and another half-day exploring the 17th-century capital, Shahjahanabad. Commonly referred to as "Old Delhi," Shahjahanabad lies a mere 5km (3 miles) north of centrally located Connaught Place, the commercial heart of New Delhi, but it feels a few hundred years away (400 to be exact). If you do only one sightseeing excursion, make it here, for this is most authentically India, where imposing Lal Qila (Red Fort) and Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, pay testament to the vision and power of Shah Jahan, and the chaos and pungent smells from the overcrowded and ancient streets are a heady reminder that you are far from home. Surrounding and immediately south of Connaught Place is New Delhi, built by British imperialist architects Baker and Lutyens. Its primary attractions are the architectural gems centered around Rajpath and Rashtrapati Bhavan, official residence of the president of India. Of Delhi's remaining cities, all of which are today deserted and in ruins, only the 12th-century Qutb Minar, a World Heritage Site monument built in Delhi's first city and surprisingly intact, is definitely worth inclusion in your itinerary.
Museum Monday -- Most of the important museums in Delhi close on Mondays; if you're at loose ends, there are a handful of hangouts for the culturally inclined, or simply curious. First up is the totally unique and utterly original Sulabh International Museum of Toilets (Sulabh Gram, Mahavir Enclave, Palam-Dabri Marg; beyond the airport tel. 011/2503-1518; Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, www.sulabhinternational.org), which takes visitors on a journey through everything "loo"-related, from Thomas Crapper's first flushable commode to present-day innovations in Indian sanitation technology. If you have an interest in Tibetan art (particularly Buddhist thangka paintings and religious objects), and staying at or shopping in south Delhi area, visit the Tibetan House Museum (Tibet House, 1 Institutional Area, Lodhi Rd.; tel. 011/2461-1515; Mon-Fri 9:30am-5:30pm).
Delhi's Spiritual Disneyland
Already a landmark, Delhi's youngest attraction is the modern-era pilgrimage center Akshardham (Noida, tel. 011/2201-6688; www.akshardham.com). This temple and cultural complex rises from the banks of the Yamuna River in east Delhi, surrounded by landscaped lawns and an air of civility. Supposedly, visitors come here to worship -- largely in the main temple, splendid in white marble and pink sandstone, and borne on the shoulders of 149 life-size stone elephants. At a cost of $50 million, the modern architectural landmark took 5 years to complete, involving the efforts of some 11,000 artisans and craftsmen who toiled for an estimated 300 million worker hours to create the ornate pillars and domes, thousands of sculpted idols, and a 3.3m (11-ft.) gold-plated version of Swaminarayan. The whole effect is one of spiritual decadence with, in a tribute to Disney-style theme parks, visitors able to take a boat ride through key moments of Indian cultural and religious history. One can only speculate at the significance of the attached shopping complex and IMAX theater. Akshardam is open Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 6pm; temple entry is free, but there's a fee (Rs 125) for exhibitions and to see the ecclesiastical feature film on the life of Lord Satyanarayan.
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