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Hidden Delhi

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Delhi is the capital of India, its third-largest city and north India's industrial hub. Old Delhi was the capital of Muslim India between the 17th and 19th centuries and there are mosques, monuments and forts remaining. New Delhi was built as the imperial capital by the British. It is a spacious, open city with embassies, government buildings and wealthy suburbs in its south. An ever-growing belt of poorer suburbs and slums stretches in all directions.

Delhi is possibly the only capital in the world to be blessed with natural forest cover, called the "the Ridge". That and the River Yamuna have made it a favourite place of various rulers — the Ridge for its natural protection and fuel wood and the river for its perennial source of water. They remain crucial to Delhi's survival.

The Ridge is a natural boundary between the desert and the green areas, a barrier keeping out the sands and hot winds of Rajasthan. Its forests are considered to be the lungs of the city. It is home to deer, rhesus monkeys and peacocks and in winter migratory birds nest in wild patches.

A city of 14 million people and growing, Delhi is polluted, bustling, noisy and persistent touts are unsettling for inexperienced travellers, but its historical, architectural, floral and culinary delights somehow create a balance. It is a tangle of alleys, markets, temples, rickshaws, animals and people, but its history and energy make it a fascinating destination — you just need to scratch below the surface.

Avnish and Urvashi Puri and their three children own and run the Master Guest House and are keen to share their experience and knowledge of holistic healing. They also know Delhi very well and run four-hour Hidden Delhi Tours.

Avnish's tours were inspired by a London visit, where he enjoyed his time away from the usual crowded tourist venues, standing back watching people going about their business. From that experience, along with his guests asking about things to see in Delhi, the tours began.

Tours start at 6am each Wednesday and Saturday, with a minimum of three people. After a cup of tea you head off, seeing many people exercising in the morning coolness and parks crammed with cricket-mad boys. Several modes of transport take you to places visitors just don't find.

In the small streets near the guesthouse you feed local animals, including wandering monkeys, and then head to the wholesale flower market, ablaze with colour. Scooters laden with colourful blooms whizz in and out of traffic.

India Gate is a 42-metre structure designed by Lutyens, a renowned English architect of the early 20th century. Primarily a memorial to the unknown soldier, the imposing memorial has an eternal flame and bears the names of 90,000 army officers. It is particularly beautiful at sunset when it is illuminated.

One of the city's major attractions is its collection of havelis, the abode of the rich and famous for centuries. Each is ornate in its own way, with intricate carvings on the main gates. One of the better known, complete with old Cadillac, is that of Jakeem Ahsanullah Khan, the royal apothecary of Bahadurshah Zafar.

The Red Fort is two kilometres of sandstone walls constructed in 1638 and has two main entrances — the Delhi and Lahori Gatea. Its gardens and pavilions offer respite from the noise and confusion in preparation for the Chandni Chowk, just opposite. Every evening there is a sound and light show in Hindi and English which retells the history of Delhi.

The crowded and colourful Chandni Chowk bazaar was once lined with mansions and gardens. It is now a marketplace of spicy foods, handicrafts, carpets, antiques and jewellery and jostling crowds.

Jama Masjid is the largest and one of India's most magnificent mosques, a grand example of Mughal architecture dating to 1644. To its east it faces the Red Fort, has three gateways, four towers and two minarets. One gateway was reserved exclusively for the emperor. It was built of alternating vertical strips of red sandstone and white marble and is an impressive landmark. It has great religious significance as it houses the sacred hair believed to be from the beard of the Prophet and a chapter of the Holy Quran.

In total contrast (and Delhi is that kind of city), you'll see the amazing area where Delhi's laundry wallahs work, washing the clothes of the city's millions. Hundreds of workers wash and iron, day and night, all in a flurry of colour and chatter.

Staying with the Puris is a marvellous way to discover the real Delhi and its people. They have an air of sophistication, charm and knowledge blended with genuine warmth.

Their home is basic, comfortable and immaculately clean. There are five guest rooms on two floors, each decorated with carefully chosen objets d'art, while the entire house is decorated with handicraft and artwork. Rooms open to balcony or terrace, there is air-conditioning for summer and good old-fashioned water bottles and heaters when Delhi becomes cool. They also have a water purification system and an emergency generator to deal with Delhi's sometimes erratic electricity supply.

Bedrooms are themed. The Moghul celebrates the rich tradition of one of the great dynasties which ruled over India for more than 200 years. Ganesh is dedicated to the god of wisdom and remover of obstacles. Krishna is the embodiment of love and the eighth Avtar of Vishnu. Lucky was so named as many guests have told the Puris that their luck changed for the better after staying there! There are two pristine share bathrooms.

Home-cooked meals are prepared from local market ingredients and served in a small dining room. Diners tinkle a bell when they are ready to order!

Common areas give the chance for guests to interact in a home rich with India's rich cultural heritage. The rooftop terrace has a scented garden nook where guests enjoy an early morning yoga session.


The north of India.


Master Guest House rooms start at $31 a night and four-hour Hidden Delhi Tours cost around $20 per person.

Flight Centre has return economy airfares to Delhi flying Singapore Airlines

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

Master Guest House
R-500 New Rajinder Nagar
New Delhi 110060, India
Ph: 2874 1089 2874 1914 5547 9947

Singapore Airlines
Ph: (02) 9350 0192
Fax: (02) 9350 0187

Indian Tourism

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