India Travel

What’s the Difference Between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Delhi?

When you come to the capital, the rich and splendid capital, you might often hear the words Old Delhi and New Delhi. This can get quite confusing if you’re not from India. This article will give you a clearer picture of the essential difference between these two.

History of Old Delhi

Delhi has been the capital of India for centuries, even though it was never officially declared so until just after Independence. Any other state could have been the capital, but Delhi had to be it. It has that majestic aura since the time of the Mahabharata. According to scriptures, Delhi was called Indraprastha at that point, and it was the capital of the Pandavas (sons of Pandu). This period dates back to about 3000 BC. After the Pandava reign, Delhi passed on to many rulers and dynasties.

The story of Old Delhi and New Delhi begins at the time of the rule of Mughal emperors. To be specific, it starts with Emperor Shahjahan. According to history, Shahjahan shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi in 1639. The state was already significant back then during the reign of his grandfather Emperor Akbar, and Shahjahan always wanted to be as powerful as him. Therefore, he re-shifted his capital and named it “Shahjahanabad”.

Shahjahan was also a lover of architecture. Therefore, during his reign, many mosaic and magnificent monuments were built. Many of these still stand today as a testament to his incredible reign. Some of these are Taj Mahal in Agra and Red Fort in Delhi.

History of New Delhi

Fast forwarding to the British era now. The British entered India through Calcutta. Because of the extensive sea link in Calcutta, they could easily enter in the disguise of foreigners just coming for trade purposes. It was only at the time that they slowly started taking over each state that the Indian kings realised what was happening. But it was too late by then.

Soon after the British oppression began, the British shifted their capital to Delhi as well. This move significantly increased the status of Delhi. But when they came here, they didn’t build their offices and structures in Shahjahanabad (although this is after the reign of Shahjahan, the city was still called by that name). Instead, they chose a major part of the state and a British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, himself redesigned it. They called their capital “New Delhi”.

New Delhi became synonymous with power and prestige. It was the hub of political power at that time. It still is.

Old Delhi and New Delhi Today

Old Delhi and New Delhi are only two faces of the same coin. There is no boundary differentiating the two. They’re more like two zones of the same state.

ChandnI Chowk
Chandi Chowk (Old Delhi). Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The most famous market in India, Chandni Chowk, is in Old Delhi. Chandni Chowk translates to the lane of moonlight. It got its name because, during the time of Shahjahan, this lane was a canal. It always glimmered at night from the moonlight and looked gorgeous, thus the name. It’s bustling with people even today. In fact, sometimes it’s so crowded that you can’t even see your legs among the crowd of people shopping there.

Other major sights in Old Delhi are Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Jain Mandir, Sheeshganj Gurudwara. Another nearby place is Raj Ghat (the burial memorial of Mahatma Gandhi).

President House in New Delhi
President House in New Delhi. Photo by yndesai

New Delhi speaks a different story altogether. When you get out from the Indira Gandhi International Airport, know that you’re in New Delhi. With high rising buildings, extensive metro facilities, and impressive structures oozing British architecture, New Delhi is truly a metropolitan city. Every important building that you see in New Delhi was made by the British and not many changes have been done.

Some major sights in New Delhi are India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan (House of the President), Parliament House, Akshardham Mandir, Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, Qutub Minar, Lotus Temple, Humayun’s Tomb and much more. The majority of these were built by the British.

Basic Difference Between The Two Cities

The differences lie in the lifestyle and area.

Galaxy Mall in Delhi
Galaxy Mall in Delhi. Photo by Chandan.

New Delhi is your typical metropolitan city with all the amenities and luxuries you ever dreamed of. 5-star hotels and multiplexes are common here. Living facilities are much much better. It’s India’s nuclear and political centre. The Prime Minister and the President of the country live here. The city is active and buzzing 24×7. Everyone is in a hurry, and I’m sorry, but not everyone is very hostile. Industrialisation and modernization have affected human bonds significantly. During the festival period, a little celebration is common, but pretty soon, everyone goes back to their daily lives and mundane routines or resort to clubs and pubs to celebrate.

A street in Old Delhi
A street in Old Delhi. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Old Delhi, on the other hand, is all about small and interconnected lanes. The buildings are very close to each other. Besides not being modern, it does feel as if Old Delhi is still Shahjahanabad. Joint families are quite common in this city, and people are amiable and helpful. The food you get here is fantastic. The residents may be a little conservative in their thinking and outlook, but many families are changing this norm with proper education. Whatever it may be, one thing is for sure: Old Delhi truly portrays the soul of Delhi. It gives you a glimpse of how Delhi used to be during the Mughal reign.

In short, both of these cities have a lot to offer to tourists, and they together make Delhi what it is today. If you’d like to read more about the major things to see in Delhi, check out Top 5 Most Popular Attractions in Delhi.

By Merlin Chacko

Currently studying English Literature at Delhi University. Obsessed with Harry Potter and NOT Shakespeare. I believe that nothing nourishes the soul like books and travelling. Constantly amazed by the Indian culture and its history. Personally feel that the old forts and ruined palaces in India are almost magical.

3 replies on “What’s the Difference Between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Delhi?”

Leave a Reply