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10 Great off the Beaten Path Things to do in Delhi

Updated on January 31, 2014
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Incredible India - Delhi Tourism

Off the Beaten Path: Top 10 Things to Do in Delhi

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." ~ Bill Bryson

New Delhi is an ancient city which used to be the seat of power to rule India since time immemorial. Delhi government recognized 7 historical cities in Delhi but there are more than 10 cities of Delhi which gives travelers a multitude of option to discover and explore the heritage of Delhi. From the legendary Indraprastha to the modern Lutyen’s Delhi, the treasure troves that this city I love has to offer could confound even fussiest of travelers.

Listed below are 10 off the beaten path things to do in Delhi for those who are looking to explore the culture, history and rich heritage of New Delhi and cities that were founded, flourished and faded away in the sand of times.

Flagstaff Tower

Flagstaff Tower, North Delhi Ridge Heritage Walk
Flagstaff Tower, North Delhi Ridge Heritage Walk

North Delhi Ridge Heritage Walk

Some of the best preserved but little known monuments in Delhi are sprinkled across the 3 kilometers stretch in North Delhi Ridge. A heritage walk along this green corridor of North Delhi is a walk down the history lane to the days of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, also referred to as the first fight for Indian independence depending upon whose version you are reading.

Along the Northern Ridge close to Delhi University’s VC office, one could find are a number of sites of heavy fighting originally held by the rebels (Indian Sepoys who mutinied against the British) and then taken over by the British. A walk along this trail covers some medieval monuments dating back to the times of Tughlaqs.

There’s a 14th century Hunting Lodge (or observatory?) named after a mysterious pir who vanished from here, a mosque (Chauburja) which faced heavy shelling, the British Vice regal lodge (current VC office) and memorials built by the British.

The British Memorials include Flagstaff tower. This is where the British (men, women and children) took refuge when the mutiny broke out in 1857.

Chauburja named after the 4 turret that were built over the mosque is an impressive structure. Originally a mosque built during the reign of Firuz Shah Tughluq, Chauburja has many late-Mughal additions. This mosque was badly damaged in 1857. Now only 3 of original 4 turrets remain.

Another impressive structure is Pir Ghaib which was built by Firuz Shah Tughlaq as a hunting lodge and named Kushak-i-Shikar. The present name of this hunting lodge is attributed to the fact that the saint who meditated here vanished in thin air one fine day.

A few hundred meters ahead after crossing Bara Hindu Rao Hospital, there stands an Ashokan pillar at the roundabout. It was brought to Delhi from Meerut on the orders of Firuz Shah Tughlaq. A little further on, is the Mutiny Memorial. Built in a gothic style, this is a memorial to the bravery of the British and Indian soldiers who fought on behalf of British in the Sepoy Mutiny 1857.

Inside Qutub Minar Complex

Alai Minar was laid by Alaudin Khilji who wanted it to be twice in size of Qutub Minar. The construction soon stopped after Khilji's Death
Alai Minar was laid by Alaudin Khilji who wanted it to be twice in size of Qutub Minar. The construction soon stopped after Khilji's Death

Off the Beaten Parh - Lal Kot and Mehrauli

This one is the oldest city which was founded by Tomar Rajput then taken over and expanded as Quila Rai Pithora by Prithvi Raj Chauhan. Only the ruins of this once important settlement now remains sprinkled across South Delhi near Mehrauli area. This place was finally conquered by Mohamed Ghori which led to the establishment of Sultanate in India. Ghori left Qutub Din Aibak in charge of Delhi who declared himself Sultan after the death of Ghori and founded Slave Dynasty in India. Today Qutub Minar Complex stand as the centre of Aibak’s Delhi. There were several monuments built during his reign which includes Quwwat Ul Islam Mosque and Qutub Minar. Qutub Minar Complex has been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site for its immense cultural value.

Images from ASI Park

Tomb of Jamali Kamali
Tomb of Jamali Kamali

Off the Beaten Path - Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Surprisingly unknown, ASI Park in the close vicinity of Qutub Minar Complex houses over 72 monuments and ruins of medieval settlements built from the period of Sultanate to Mughals. This is one of the most hidden tourists attractions in Delhi. One of the most important structure inside Mehrauli Archaeological Park is Balban’s tomb which marked the introductiuon of true dome and led to fusion which were later employes and came to be known as Indo-Islamic architecture. Other structures of note inside this park include Mosque and Tomb of Jamali Kamali, Rojon ki Baoli, Metcalfe’s Folly, Quli Khan ka Maqbara and Gandhak ki Baoli.

Off the Beaten Path: Siri

The second city of Delhi was built by Alaudin Khilji who is considered to be the most efficient and powerful sultan of Delhi. Today only a few structures and ruins of Siri Fort fortification remain of this one magnificent and impregnable city which was built to repulse the attacks of Mongol Raiders. One of the remarkable yet little known structure is Muhammadwali Mosque just outside the entrance of Siri Fort Sport Complex. A short distance away one can spot ruins of the ramparts and Tohfewala Gumbad which dates back to Alaudin Khili’s reign. There are more structures here and there built inside Siri like Satpula, Khirki Mosque and Tomb of Shaikh Yusuf Qattal near Khirki Village. There are several other structures of note to explore in Chirag Dilli area.

Siri: Second City of Delhi

remains of Siri Fortifications near Siri Fort Complex
remains of Siri Fortifications near Siri Fort Complex
Muhammadwali Mosque, Siri Fort Sport Complex
Muhammadwali Mosque, Siri Fort Sport Complex

Tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq

Tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq
Tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq

Off the Beaten Path - Tughlaqabad and Jahanpanah

The city Tughlaqabad was founded by one of the most ruthless and able military commander of Alaudin Khilji, Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (Ghazi Malik). It is said that once while on a walk with Alaudin Khilji, he suggested that the Sultan build a fortress on the small hill and Alaudin replied in jest that Ghazi Malik should build the fort himself when he becomes the Sultan. Now only the ruins of the fort complex remain but the tomb of Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq is in very good shape. Jahanpanah (Refuge of the World) was founded as 4<sup>th</sup> city of Delhi by Muhammad Bin Tughluq, son of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq. The fortified city of was constructed by pillaging the Adilabad fort and the materials pillaged from buildings lying between Qila Rai Pithora and Siri Fort. Of the city there is nothing that remains today except for the congretational mosque of Begumpur which is also the second largest mosque in Delhi and ruins of Bijay Mandal which is supposed to be the location where Hazar Sutan palace was built. Khirki Mosque and Satpula near Khirki Village are also considered to be built during this time.

Kotla Firoz Shah, Delhi

A View from top of Hawa Mahal, Firoz Shah Kotla
A View from top of Hawa Mahal, Firoz Shah Kotla

Off the Beaten Path: Firozabad

Firozabad was founded as the fifth city of Delhi vy Firozshah Tughluq after the tumultuous and erratic reign of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. He was the last of the powerful rulers of Delhi Sultanate. Firoz Shah ka Kotla is located near ITO and eponymous cricket stadium in Delhi. The fort now lies mostly in ruins as its material were subsumed by Sher Shah Suri to build his city Shergarh (Old Fort). The fort complex is now a protected monument in Delhi is is well tended by Archaeological Survey of India. This place is also known for its affable resident djinns and people gather here on Thursdays to light incense sticks and leave letters filled with their wishes which benevolent djinns may fulfill.

Standing structure inside Firuz Shah ka Kotla include Jami Masjid where Timul Lane offered Friday Prayer when he ransacked Delhi, Hawa Mahal on top of which an Ashokan Pillar is mounted and a Baoli among other crumbling remains of the palace. Other buildings dating back to Tughlaq reign include Madarsa and Tomb at Hauz Khas Village in Green Park and Khirki Masjid.

Photos of Safdarjung Tomb

Safdarjung's Tomb
Safdarjung's Tomb
Tomb of Safdarjung
Tomb of Safdarjung

Off the Beaten Path: Lodi Garden and Safdarjung

After Delhi was ransacked by Timur Lane, the last of Sultans Lodi and Sayyids ascended the throne of Delhi. Unable to build their own cities as precedent due to empty treasury, they had to content themselves with building only toms and mosques. Most of them are now located inside Lodi Garden, one of the finest and picturesque gardens in Delhi. Lodi Garden is nowadays a favorite place where Delhiites gather for picnic, morning walks yoga and tourists gather for sightseeing, serenity and photography. The sprawling garden is very well managed and is a delightful place to spend some quiet moments.

Located nearby Lodi Garden is the last of the magnificent piece of Mughal Architecture, Safdarjung’s Tomb. Located in the centre of the typical Mughal Char Bagh influenced by the Persian Gardens, Tomb of Safdarjung is a marble mausoleum constructed in 1754 by influential Mughal Viceroy of Awadh during the reign of Muhammad Shah. There are several pavilion also built inside the tomb complex and a Madarsa.

Off the Beaten Path: . Purana Qila or the Old Fort

Purana Qila is the site of 3 cities of Delhi: Indraprastha built by Pandavas of Mahabharata, Dinpanah founded by first Mughal emperor Babur and Sher Garh who ascended the throne of Delhi by defeating Babur. This important historical site is a traveler’s delight offering a dash of history and serenity and a protected and ticketed monument in Delhi. There are few important historical and architectural structures inside the Purana Quila Complex which include Talaqui darwaza, Qila-i-Kuhna Mosque, Sher Mandal and a Baoli among others. Delhi Zoo is located just outside the Old Fort Complex and there’s a lake too where one can enjoy boat ride.

Offbeat Attractions in Delhi

Qila-i-Kuna Mosque, Purana Quila, Delhi
Qila-i-Kuna Mosque, Purana Quila, Delhi
Sher Mandal inside Old Fort, Delhi
Sher Mandal inside Old Fort, Delhi

Off the Beaten Path: In and Around Humayun's Tomb

One of the architectural marvels built bu Mughal, Humayun Tomb is considered to be the blueprint of Taj Mahal. Tomb of Humayun is the first garden tomb in India a style which was later replicated in all the tombs made later by Mughals.

This magnificent specimen of Mughal Architecture is built in Char Bagh style influenced by Persian Architecture and is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. There are several smaller monuments inside the tomb complex which has led to it being called the royal burial ground of Mughal royal family. Tomb of Isa Khan Niyazi set adjacent to the tomb complex even predates Humayun’s Tomb which was built by an Afghan noble during the reign of Sher Shah Suri who fought against the Mughals when Suri defeated and forced Babur to flee from India.

Located nearby is Shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya and the Tomb is considered to be constructed here on the riverbanks of Yamuna because of its nearness to Dargah of Nizamuddin, the tomb of revered Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya.

Images of Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb in Delhi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Humayun's Tomb in Delhi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Attractions in Old Delhi

Intricately Carved Marble Structures inside Rad Fort, Delhi
Intricately Carved Marble Structures inside Rad Fort, Delhi
Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort, Delhi
Diwan-i-Khas, Red Fort, Delhi

Off the Beaten Path: Old Delhi

Old Delhi popularly referred to as the Walled City of Delhi was the Seventh City of Delhi founded by one of the greatest Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as Shahjahanabad. This remained the center if Mughal Empire till the British took over the rule of India. This city is described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world by several medieval travelers, scholars and writers. It was describes as a city filled with beautiful gardens, cozy caravanserai, elegant mosques and captivating mansions.

The red fort complex which was the city center was mostly demolished by British soldiers when after the 1857 uprising in India. There are several structures still standing inside the Red Fort Complex which are a treat to behold and are a fine specimen of Indo-Islamic and Mughal Architecture. The motable structures include Diwan I Aam (Hall of Public Audience), Diwan I Khas (Hall of Private Audience), Nahr-i-Behisht (Stream of Paradise), Mumtaj Mahal (Now converted into a Museum), Rang Mahal (private chamber and harem of emperor), Moti Masjid (private prayer mosque of royal family), Hayat Bakhsh Bagh with its tanks and 2 pavilions named Sawan and Bhado (named after seasons) influenced from Persian Char Bagh, hammams (Royal Bath), Naqqar Khana (for announcing arrivals to the court)and Shahi Burj from where water was drawn for fountains and streams inside the fort complex. Located nearvy is Jama Masjid, the largest congregational Mosque in Asia which was built for public prayer. Several other structure of note also lies witin close proximity of Red Fort which include Tomb of Razia Sultan, Mirza Ghalib Ki Haveli, Fatehpuri Masjid, St. James Church, Raj Ghat and Khari Baoli (location of Asia’s largest spice market).

Attractions in Lutyen's Delhi

India Gate, New Delhi
India Gate, New Delhi

Off the Beaten Path: Lutyen's Delhi

Developed by British and known as Lutyen’s Delhi (After the name of Chief Architect Edwin Lutyen, the heart of New Delhi was Viceroy’s House which is now Rashtrapathi Bhawan located atop Raisina Hill. Places of interest here include the India Gate which was built to commemorate Indian Soldiers in British Army who laid down their life fighting in World War I and Anglo African War. Named after Duke of Connaught, Connaught Place is the busiest shopping and commercial complex in Delhi. Connaught Place is the most vibrant business center in New Delhi and the5th most expensive office destination in the world. There is a lush Central Park located in the center of Connaught Place and Jantar Mantar, the Astronomical Complex built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur is located nearby.

Connaught Place is a popular place for eating out and shopping. Janpath and Palika Bazaar (Underground Market) are very popular among tourist and locals and good for bargain shopping. One of the hidden attractions lying in close vicity of Connaught Place is the Agrasen Ki Baoli which is located at Hailey Road. This historical step well is a sight to behold amidst the hustle and bustle of Connaught Place. It’s a welcome refuge and the pervading calm makes it an ideal place to spend some quite moment away from the crowd in the heart of Delhi city.

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