7 cool facts you wish you knew about Delhi
Delhi’s been built and rebuilt several times by many kingdoms since 6th century BC. It has been the capital city at least eight times, and perhaps more. Its architectural diversity matches the diversity of immigrants that make Delhi their home every day. There are many secrets buried away in the city’s past. Here are 7 that’ll pique your interest.
1. The greenest corridor of India, yet not green enough
20 percent of Delhi is covered in woods making the capital one of the greenest sprawls in India. Local Kikar and Babool trees make up the Ridge forest; while Peepul, Neem, Jamun, and Imli spread their branches in Lutyens’ Delhi, a part of the capital architecturally designed by the British.
The city’s buses and auto rickshaws run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere. But, despite the trees and green fuel, air samples taken by the US embassy in 2016 placed the Air Quality Index of Delhi at 999. Hazardous levels of air pollution cap off at 500, which makes Delhi a world leader of toxic emissions into the earth’s atmosphere.
2. The rise and fall of a capital city, at least eight times
Delhi has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt by several empires since 6th century BC. Archaeological remains outline footprints of at least eight different cities between AD 1100 and 1947. Delhi was the mythical capital of the Pandava Empire known as Indraprastha. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan founded Delhi as the capital once again in 1649 and named it Shahjahanabad. And during the reign of the British Empire, Delhi was re-established the capital of India in 1931.
Today Delhi’s population in the National Capital Region, which includes neighboring cities such as Noida, Greater Noida, Baghpat, Alwar, Sonepat, Gurgaon, and Faridabad is 24 million strong, making it one of most populated cities in the world.
3. Home to the tallest brick minaret
Delhi is home to the world’s tallest brick minaret, Qutub Minar, which dates back to the 13th century and became the prototype of all other minarets built by the Mughals in India. ‘Qutub minar,’ means ‘pole’ or ‘axis’ in Arabic, and is built on the site of the first Muslim empire in India.
Carved out of marble, red and buff sandstone, the minaret stands 239.5 feet tall. 379 steps lead to five stories of the tower, with each marked off by an ornate balcony that protrudes out. After a fatal stampede of school children in 1981, the stairway inside the minaret was shut off to the public.
Lightening has struck the minaret twice, in 1326 and 1368. An earthquake in 1803 toppled off a cupola that crowned the fifth story. However, an iron pillar in the gardens surrounding the minaret remains as it was built and has not rusted even after 2000 years.
4. Exotic, mysterious, and spicy
Asia’s largest wholesale spice market Khari Baoli, has its home in Old Delhi. ‘Khari Baoli’ means a stepwell that stores hard or salty water. The well was probably used for bathing or for use by animals. Traces of the well died out in 17th century when a spice market with its name was opened in its place. The market sells local and exotic spices by the millions, with some sourced from as far as Afghanistan. Many of the traders could easily be tenth generation spice merchants and own shops with names as old as their family business.
The spice shop sells Ayurvedic herbs and medicines as well. The markets are a great resource for homemade remedies like shikakai, used as a chemical-free shampoo for centuries by Indian women. Khari Baoli also sells a variety of sweet alongside spice. For example, shops that sell different grades of Khoya or dried whole milk are available in plenty. Khoya is the essential raw material for a variety of Indian sweets such as Barfi and Rasgulla, consumed as a dessert, for gift exchange during festivals, and as offerings at temples.
5. Home to the weirdest museum, ever
The Time magazine has listed the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets as one of the weirdest museums amongst 10 equally bizarre displays around the world. The museum showcases the history of sanitation and toilets from 50 countries, categorizes articles that date back to 3000 BC, and has on display three sections of sanitary artefacts, ranging from ancient, to medieval, and modern. Social activist Bindeshwar Pathak established the museum in 1992 with the sole aim of improving sanitation in India.
The toilets on display include Victorian toilet seats, a commode that looks like a treasure chest of British medieval times, gold and silver toilet pots used by Roman emperors, the sewerage system of the Harappan civilization, fashionable water closets from AD 1145, poems and comic books on toilets and their use, and the flush pot designed by John Harington during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.
6. The Delhi metro connects the metro
Even though many Delhiites own up to two to three cars per family today, in 1908 many traveled by trams. In 1921, 24 open cars laid out along 15 km connected suburbs of Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, Chawri Bazaar, Ajmeri Gate, and Tis Hazari. Today, Delhi boasts of an ever growing metro network, which was ranked as the second most popular by NOVA and CoMET in 2014.
The UN certified the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) to earn carbon credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Even though greenhouse friendly CNG buses connect the city, the metro helps reduce pollution levels in Delhi by 630,000 tons each year. The metro stations are not only modern but also inclusive. They are wheelchair friendly, demarcate colored paths along the platforms to guide the blind, have elevators that can be easily operated using brail, and subway cars are reserved just for women to curb instances of molestation in one of the world’s least safe cities for the female sex.
The Delhi metro fares have remained the same since 2009; however still yield healthy profits, unlike metro systems in other parts of the world. The Delhi metro also remains one of the cleanest train systems despite an absence of dustbins from train platforms. Unlike most Indians, the metro is mostly punctual and manages to transport up to 700 million passengers each year.
7. The architectural splendor of a walled city
The architectural splendor of Delhi makes it a feisty tourist destination. It’s home to Feroz Shah Kotla, the second oldest cricket stadium; Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India; Lotus temple, a temple shaped like the lotus flower, the only shrine of Bahai faith in Asia; and Jantar Mantar, an observatory of astronomical instruments used to measure the path of the moon and sun, study and calculate exact time of eclipses, and work through astronomical tables that date back to the 18<sup>th</sup> century.
Old Delhi was also called the walled city during the reign of Shah Jahan because a wall that only permitted access though 14 gates protected it. Some of these gates are still in great condition and provide a glimpse into the architectural landscape of the Mughal dynasty. They include the Ajmeri gate that faces Ajmer in Rajasthan; the Lahori gate that faces Lahore in Pakistan; Kashmiri gate that points toward Kashmir; Delhi gate that leads to the older cities of Delhi, and Turkman gate named after a saint Hazrat Shah Turkam.