After leaving Calcutta, the British moved their capital here, building the area now called Lutyens’ Delhi as their government seat. Constructed between 1912 and 1931 in a classical Western style (and named for Edwin Lutyens, who designed it with Herbert Baker), the imperial complex incorporates Hindu, Islamic, and Buddhist motifs and centers on the intersection of Rajpath and Janpath, or “Kings” and “Queens” ways. This tour takes in the central structures—the viceroy’s palace, bureaucratic offices, and commemorative monuments—but it could include Sansad Bhavan (Parliament), the maharajas’ houses, and the bungalows meant as official residences beyond. February and March are ideal for a visit, as that’s when the famous Moghul rose gardens at the viceroy’s palace are in bloom and open to the public.
1. Secretariat North Block
The inscription over the arched entrance to the bureaucratic offices on the north side of Rajpath quotes British writer Charles Caleb Colton: “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.” Given that India would overthrow the Raj a mere 17 years after the building’s completion, the epigraph was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. India Gate
This pink-sandstone monument—Delhi’s equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe—memorializes soldiers lost in World War I and other conflicts, including the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War. Families and courting couples gather in the surrounding park throughout the day, especially in early evening.
3. The Cupola
Although dwarfed in size by India Gate just to the west, this is the monument that actually sits in the very center of the hexagonal traffic circle at the eastern end of Rajpath. The cupola once sheltered a statue of King George V, but that was moved north to the city’s Coronation Park after independence, and the structure has remained empty ever since—even Gandhi was rejected as a replacement, according to a guide from Absolute Travel.
South Block This sandstone edifice contains the offices of the prime minister and the defense ministry. Together with its mirror image across Rajpath, both designed by Herbert Baker, the buildings house the country’s notoriously vast bureaucracy in 1,000 rooms. White Ambassadors, the vehicle of choice for government types since the fifties, gather outside daily.
5. Rashtrapati Bhavan
Intended for the British viceroy, this red-and-beige-sandstone palace is now the official residence of India’s president. The majestic obelisk in front, known as the Jaipur Column, was a gift from that city’s maharaja, and stone elephants top the building’s gateposts. Tours of its less grand interior are notoriously hard to arrange, but some travel specialists, including Greaves and Butterfield & Robinson, may be able to get access.