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India’s capital is in places a city of medieval mayhem – crowded, polluted and intense. But it’s also the maiden aunt of late-British colonial rule and showcase of a modern republic.

Like a subcontinental Rome, it brims with ruins and monuments.

See

The vast Red Fort is a sandstone carcass of its former self but is still the best place to imagine the Mughal city's splendour. It dates from the 17th century, a time of eunuchs, ceremonial elephants and an interior clad in precious stones (Lahore Gate; 9am-6pm Tue-Sun; £3.50).

India's largest mosque, Jama Masjid, was built in the 17th century by emperor Shah Jahan and can hold 25,000 worshippers. Climb the southern minaret (women must be accompanied by a man) for superb city views (non-Muslims 8.30am-12.30pm and 2pm-4.30pm; minaret £1).

A stunning marriage of Persian landscaping and 16th-century Mughal architecture, Humayun's Tomb was the first building to combine white marble and red sandstone. The gardens are a magical place to wander at sunset (off Mathura Road; dawn-dusk; £3.50).

From Raisina Hill, the ceremonial Rajpath (Kings Way) leads through architect Edwin Lutyens' plaza to the sandstone arch of India Gate. Lined with water features and lawns it takes in the President's House (larger than Versailles), the North and South Secretariat and the Mughal Gardens.

Connaught Place is home to the outdoor Janpath Market and the covered Palika Bazaar. Find good-value silverware, pottery, fabrics and handicrafts from all over India from the Aladdin's cave of Central Cottage Industries Emporium (Janpath; 10am-7pm).

Eat and drink

In Chandni Chowk market you'll find foodstall-lined Paratha Wali Gali, Delhi's most famous food street. Potato, almond or white radish-stuffed parathas (flat breads) come fresh off the hotplate and are served with tangy pickles (Chandni Chowk; Mon-Sat; parathas 40p-50p).

A hole-in-the-wall joint in Khan Market, Khan Chacha's kebabs and rolls are so popular that you'll probably have to queue. Try roti-wrapped mutton seekh or paneer tikka, which are well worth the wait (Flat 50, Middle Lane, Khan Market; 12-11pm Mon-Sun; snacks 50p-£1).

Over the last six decades, Moti Mahal has become an institution renowned for Mughlai cuisine. Faded interiors need updating but the food is still top quality. Try the buttered chicken with a dhal makhani - slowcooked, spiced lentils (00 91 11 2327 3661; 3704 Netaji Subhash Marg, Daryaganj; lunch and dinner; mains £2-£4.50).

Swagath serves brilliant Mangalorian and Chettinad cuisine, notably seafood dishes. Favourites at the smart, six-floor restaurant are its dal-e-Swagat (lentil curry) and coconut chicken curry (00 91 11 2433 7538; swagath.in; 14 Defence Colony; lunch and dinner; £2.50-£12).

Bukhara is considered Delhi's best restaurant, serving tandoori cuisine of the northwest. Its kebabs, tandoor and dhal are particularly feted. Booking is essential (00 91 11 2611 2233; ITC Maurya, Sadar Patel Marg; lunch and dinner; £7-£10).

Sleep

A find in a leafy suburb, Delhi Bed and Breakfast is run by the helpful Pervez and Lubna. Its three rooms have individual touches, traditional furnishings, plus there's a roof terrace. Book ahead (00 91 98 1105 7103; delhibedandbreakfast.com; A-6 Friends Colony East; £50).

Thikana is the home of Atul and Sheetal, who are passionate about sharing their knowledge of Delhi and its arts and music. The eight rooms have Indian artefacts, rugs and paintings, all by local artists and craftsmen, creating a luxurious homestay that's worth every rupee (00 91 11 4604 1569; thikanadelhi.com; A-7 Gulmohar Park; from £84).

Secluded and in Nizamuddin East, with views over Humayun's Tomb from the roof, B nineteen shows an architect's touch. Rooms are spacious and cool, decorated in contemporary ethnic style and with mosaic-tiled bathrooms. There's also a shared kitchen on each floor (00 91 11 4182 5500; bnineteen.com; B-19 Nizamuddin East; from £106).

For a more intimate alternative to Delhi's five-star hotels, try The Manor set amid manicured lawns. The bungalow offers luxury with elegance. Rooms have modern bathrooms, king-sized beds and silk coverlets (00 91 11 2692 5151; themanor delhi.com; 77 Friends Colony West; from £105).

The Raj-era Imperial marries Victorian classicism with gilded art deco. It houses a fine collection of 17th- and 18thcentury paintings, and has hosted princesses and pop stars. Rooms have large beds with French linens and opulent marble bathrooms (00 91 11 2334 1234; theimperial india.com; Janpath; from £240).

Find your way

Tickets for Delhi's Metro are sold at stations (one/three-day pass £1/£3; delhimetrorail.com). Try cycle-rickshaws, the best way to get around Old Delhi, or order an autorickshaw from pre-paid booths at New Delhi train station and Palika Bazaar Gate No2.

How to go

Air India, BA, Virgin Atlantic and Jet Airways fly direct from Heathrow to Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport 13 miles southwest of the city (from £400; 8½ hours; airindia.com), while Kingfisher Airlines and more fly indirect. Book a pre-paid taxi with Easycabs in the arrivals hall (£5.50; easycabs.com).

 

The article ‘Mini Guide to Delhi, India’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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