Travel to Northern India: New Delhi
In 1911, bothered by political troubles in Bengal, the British decided to relocate their capital to Delhi. George V made the announcement himself while in India that year. What to call the new city? "Imperial Delhi" sounded right at first: the viceroy, Lord Hardinge, wrote that the new capital showed "the unfaltering determination to maintain British rule in India." The times were changing, however, and by 1926 the city was officially renamed the very self-effacing "New Delhi." Five years later a mere 15 Indian princes bothered to attend the grand inauguration.
We begin with this near-desolation, the Plain of Barwari, on the northern fringe of the city. (If you want to find it--few tourists do!--it's just inside the city's ring road at about 1 o'clock.) And what's here? The Coronation Grounds, used in 1877, when Victoria was named Empress of India, again in 1903 to commemorate the accession of Edward VII, and again in 1911, when George V announced the move of the capital from Calcutta to New Delhi. The column marks the spot where George and Mary sat.
The previous picture was taken in 1980; this one in 2006. Not a lot of change.
The plaque on the obelisk.
This is where statues from the British Raj go to die. Among them: King George, originally positioned in front of the India Gate.
He needs the elevated base to keep the ermine clean.
Oh, the bills! And the trouble packing!
He stands surrounded by acolytes, or in some cases merely their plinths.
Curzon surveys the scene of the 1903 durbar, which he delighted in organizing in minute detail.
Lord Willingdon, a governor of Madras and later a viceroy. He actually was just about this tall and thin.
Of all people, why it's Guy Fleetwood-Wilson, at one time the Member for Finance on the viceroy's council. He also wrote Letters to Nobody and Letters to Somebody, back in the days when officials actually wrote their own memoirs.
While New Delhi was under construction, the government operated from temporary quarters. This was the Secretariat, in the Civil Lines north of Delhi. Temporary isn't always what it seems, however, and the building is still used by government offices, including the registrar of voters.
The building had its pretensions.
So did the nearby Maidens Hotel, still in business though now fairly marooned from the rest of the city.
Now that we're sufficiently elevated, we may proceed to the Viceroy's Palace, now Rashtrapati Bhavan (Government House). Sorry: this is as close as we'll get.
In 1922 the Prince of Wales saw a model of the palace--at 630 feet, its facade is exactly as long at Buckingham Palace's--and exclaimed, "Good God!" A commander in chief of the the Indian army, appalled by the expense of the palace, said that he was "tempted to curse and swear" whenever he passed it. Gandhi merely dismissed the pile as a White Elephant.
The building, designed by Edwin Lutyens, is laid out on an H-plan. The copper-covered dome rises above the rotunda of the Durbar Hall, the audience room that once housed the viceroy's throne. Behind the dome lies a Moghul Garden; behind the garden, eight tennis courts; behind the courts, another garden. (The staff of 2,000 included 418 gardeners.) Behind the camera is Rajpath, the former Kingsway, so the viceroy might look from his throne down a processional avenue and, symbolically, at the Indian Empire. The echoes of Versailles and the United States capitol are strong: the grand vista even terminates in a memorial arch, akin to the Arc de Triomphe and Washington Monument.
Lutyens despised both Hindu and Muslim architecture, but he carried over tiny echoes of it, for example in the small, parasol-like chhatris--"stupid useless things," he called them. Today the building is the lonely residence of the President of India.
The view from the entrance to the palace back down Kingsway, now Rajpath. Again, the buildings are topped up with the umbrella-like chhatris that so annoyed Lutyens.
Entrance to the North Block, one of two massive buildings flanking Rajpath.
Over the door is a poorly proportioned alfiz. (For a more elegant one, see Spain, the Mesquita.) It carries an inscription that from the British perspective was sternly encouraging but from the Indian perspective is intolerably smug: "Liberty will not descend to a people. A people must raise themselves to Liberty. It is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed." Amartya Sen says someplace--doesn't he?--that the British had it wrong: people don't become fit for democracy; instead, democracy makes them fit.
George V had said that he wanted the planners to proceed "with the greatest deliberation and care so that the new creation may be in every way worthy of this ancient and beautiful city." It must have seemed a bit late in the day to anyone following the career of Gandhi--or even reading E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. The planners went ahead anyway and laid out not only administrative buildings but a commercial center called Connaught Place, named for the duke who was the King-Emperor's uncle. W.H. Nicholls, the architect of the Imperial Delhi Committee from 1913 to 1917, wanted a great plaza, anchored by a new railway station. The railway authorities declined to build the station, however, and the whole undertaking began to drag and shrink. Nicholls had desired a ring of buildings of at least three stories, to balance the great diameter--1,100 feet--of the central plaza. (Apparently he was thinking of John Wood's Circus in Bath, or perhaps of John Nash's Park Crescent in London.) As completed in 1931 by Robert Tor Russell, Chief Architect to the Government of India, the ring rose only two stories. For a time the shops were stylish, but by 1981, Connaught Place had acquired this patina of decrepitude. Andreas Volwahsen, author of Imperial Delhi (2002)writes of the rings that "it is only a question of time before the last vestiges of Neo-Palladian architecture and imperial building are lost beneath cheap restaurants and new office blocks." (For more on the history of New Delhi, see R.G. Irving, Indian Summer: Lutyens, Baker, and Imperial Delhi, 1981.)
Twenty years later, in 2002, Connaught Place hadn't changed much, but the central park is now largely occupied by a subterranean shopping center. Volwahsen pulls out all the stops at this point and says "an indescribably hideous underground shopping center takes up a part of the earlier green area...."
The old mix of Indian goods predominates.
Global brands have invaded only a bit.
Adidas and Coke.
An old-timer, here since 1939.
And here's a block that's been finely redone. But note who's the occupant: why, it's EMAAR, the Dubai real-estate developer! Shoulda known.
The outer rings have seen less tasteful updating.
Drawing back a bit.
Panning to the left: post-colonial New Delhi.
To make Connaught Place cohere, Nicholls had planned a ring of 7 blocks, with facades 177 feet long linked by archways and a continuous cornice. It never happened. Meanwhile, as this picture suggests, highrises began to invade the city.
Somewhere down below, the old bungalows of the British civil servants are doomed. They too were designed by Russell--some 4,000 residences for civil servants of every rank--but the influence of Lutyens was very strong, because he had designed the first bungalows, intended for the most senior civil servants.
A view of those bungalows from above.
On the way out: a surviving bungalow with poor prospects for survival.
Hard to pretend that nothing's changing.
Early morning in a New Delhi pedestrian underpass, with waste baskets arrayed as lane dividers.
Another kind of subway at Connaught Place. With Japanese funding, the first few miles of the Delhi Metro opened in December, 2002. Another 30-odd miles were under construction--mostly above ground though buried here, at Connaught Place.
By 2006, three lines were open. Take a look?
The station at Rajiv Chowk, under Connaught Place.
All in all, a very good system.
Worth a thousand words: three riders, three cellphones.
And what do you suppose this might be? Surely it's some important government building.
It's the Shipra Mall, which proves that nothing is quite as satisfying as learning to look like the foreigners who used to lord it over you.
The interior, with a bigger-than-life image of India's own Big Brother, the actor-turned-pitchman Amitabh Bachchan.
* Australia's Northern Territory * Austria * Bangladesh * Belgium * Brazil (Manaus) * Burma / Myanmar * Cambodia (Angkor) * Canada (B.C.) * China * Czech Republic * Egypt * France * Germany * Greece * Hungary * India: Themes * Northern India * Peninsular India * Indonesia * Israel * Italy * Japan * Jerusalem * Jordan * Kenya * Laos * Kosovo * Malaysia * Mexico * Morocco * Mozambique * Namibia * Netherlands * Norway * Oman * Pakistan * Philippines * Poland * Portugal * Singapore * South Africa * Spain * Sri Lanka * Sudan * Syria * Tanzania * Thailand * Trinidad * Turkey * United Arab Emirates * United Kingdom * U.S.: East * U.S.: West * U.S.: Oklahoma * Uzbekistan * Vietnam * West Bank * Yemen * Zimbabwe *