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Raj history in Delhi

  • Delhi, India

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 07 April, 2024

The ‘Raj’ refers to Britain’s formal rule over India from 1859 until independence in 1947. Yet Britain’s involvement dates back to the East India Company’s (EIC) first toehold in the subcontinent in 1608, when its ships docked in Surat (in Gujarat state), followed by more trading posts in Chennai and Kolkata.

Gradually eclipsing their Portuguese and Dutch rivals, King Charles II granted the EIC powers to acquire territory, form armies and essentially become a colonial government.

By the 1770s the EIC had financial troubles, and its controversial bailout by the British government converged with a realisation that its power and influence was underpinned by corruption, cronyism, plunder and greed. Things came to a head with the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857, when its own Indian soldiers rebelled.

In the wake of this disastrous episode, the British government stepped in, bringing much of the EIC’s holdings under Crown control. In 1877 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India; the legacy of her rule endures India’s legal and administrative systems.

Rather more tangible for visitors is its public, often grand, architecture. New Delhi was a Raj creation, many cities still have ‘cantonments’ (or garrison neighbourhoods) and the Himalayan foothills are dotted with ‘hill stations’ where the Brits could escape the worst of the pre-monsoon heat.

Delhi's Raj Legacy

New Delhi itself, and its many Lutyens-designed buildings – from Rashtrapati Bhavan (formerly Viceroy’s House) to the ministerial homes in the so-called ‘Lutyens Bungalow Zone – collectively aimed to create an impressive imperial capital, clearly bearing the Raj’s stamp.

Connaught Place, Anglican churches dotted here and there and even Gandhi Smriti, a museum dedicated to Mahatama Gandhi and where he was assassinated in 1948, all form part of the vast ‘Raj jigsaw’.

Who to go with: tour operators

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Connaught Place

  • Delhi, India

Connaught Place

Experience

The distinctive concentric circles and radial roads of Connaught Place (officially renamed Rajiv Chowk in 2013 to honour assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi), mark the commercial heart of Delhi. Its curving two-storey buildings with classical facades were loosely modelled on Bath’s Royal Crescent.

Good for age: 18+

India Gate

  • Delhi, India

India Gate

Experience

Lutyens’s ‘triumphal arch’ is actually a war memorial to the many thousands of soldiers in the British Indian Army who died between 1914 and 1921. Inaugurated in 1931, it is illuminated each evening.

Good for age: 18+

Parliament House, Delhi

  • Delhi, India

Parliament House, Delhi

Experience

Parliament House, or Sansad Bhavan, is home to India’s two houses of parliament. Designed by Lutyens and fellow architect Herbert Baker, its striking circular design features a central domed chamber and several subsidiary halls.

Good for age: 18+

Rashtrapati Bhavan

  • Delhi, India

Exterior view of Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, is the official residence of the President of India

Experience

Today the Presidential Palace but originally the Viceroy’s House, this enormous 340-room building includes a 320-acre garden. Designed by Edward Lutyens, it adopts classical lines with additional Indian elements.

Good for age: 18+

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Delhi’s Raj-era sights can easily be visited independently – best to hire a taxi for the day. Plenty of local tour agencies arrange sightseeing tours although the focus tends to be the capital’s principal monuments in the round, rather than specifically homing in on the Raj.

William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Bloomsbury, 2019) is an exhaustive – and sobering – account of the EIC.

When to do it

October to March is the optimum time to visit with generally sunny and warm to hot days. April to June see mounting heat until the monsoon from early July to mid-September.