Manish Swarup  /  AP file
Folk artists from Indian state of Punjab look on during the inauguration of the Surajkund Craft fair, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India.
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updated 2/5/2007 12:34:20 PM ET 2007-02-05T17:34:20

Delhi is a sensory hurricane. The smells of incense and dung, the colors of bright saris and exuberantly filigreed temples, the constant din of sound created by the 14 million people who live here, the fiery curries and the soupy, polluted air—one doesn’t just visit Delhi, one submits to its all-encompassing embrace. As the prime gateway to India, it is the first experience of life on the sub-continent for most visitors, and it can overwhelm. But give Delhi—and India—a chance, and you’ll find that, beyond the heartbreaking scenes of poverty (tens of thousands of Delhi’s residents are homeless); beyond the chaos of its largely unmarked, traffic- and cow-clogged streets; beyond the pushy touts and scam artists; there is true beauty here, and one of the most gracious, genuinely warm people on the planet to welcome you.

9 a.m. - noon: Hail a motorcycle rickshaw, or hop a bus, and make your way to the Qutab Complex , a UNESCO World Heritage site and arguably Delhi’s most important historical attraction. Its centerpiece is the Qutab Minar, a 234-foot sandstone tower, the tallest stone tower in the country. But you don’t visit to marvel at its height (though that is impressive) but rather to peer closely at the exquisite Islamic carvings that cover this 12th century structure. Next to the tower are ancient tombs and the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, the oldest mosque in Delhi, and an unusual one at that, as its carvings include a number of Hindu motifs. (The mosque was built by Hindu masons who were conscripted into service by the Sultan, probably against their will—was this their payback?). An iron pillar, erected in 400 AD, stands mysteriously unrusted in the central courtyard. It’s been studied by numerous metallurgists, who have been unable to determine how a piece of its composition could have withstood the corrosive effects of wind and rain for so many centuries.

Morning Alternative
Head to the National Museum , an impressive if sometimes maddening jumble of over 150,000 pieces of art and artifact, covering 5,000 years of Indian history. If you can, take a guided tour, as the museum is a maze, and there’s little wall text to explain what you’re looking at. That being said, many of the pieces here are truly awe-inspiring, from the collection of Indus Valley relics (ca. 2700 BC) to the jewel-like miniature paintings.

12:30 - 2 p.m.: Steal into a thieves bazaar ... well, actually, you’re going to Chor Bizarre , whose name and décor are a play on that concept. Like the street fairs of stolen goods that pop up on corners across India, the furnishings at this celebrated restaurant are an artful mishmash of odds and ends—the buffet is set on the hood of an old car, kitschy paintings are flanked by grandfather clocks, and chairs and tables come from dozens of different sets. Recipes used are also filched from different parts of India, with an emphasis on the distinctive cuisine of Kashmir. It’s a hipsters’ hangout, to be sure, but the food is topnotch and the emphasis on Kashmir offers diners the uncommon opportunity to try the tastes of that troubled region.

2 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Get lost in Old Delhi. There’s no greater adventure than simply wandering the winding lanes of Shahjahanabad (literally, the area Shah Jahan, of Taj Mahal fame, built), the old city, set within its own walls. You’ll pass crumbling 17th century havelis (mansions), the largest spice market in all of Asia, the Jama Masjid (largest mosque in India), bazaars selling copper icons, bangles, gold, you name it. It’s a shoppers’ and strollers’ paradise.

Afternoon Alternative
If you’ve already done “old town”, visit the (relatively) newer side of Delhi, the one that still shows the stamp of the British. Pay your respects to the war dead at the India Gate , built to commemorate those who died in World War I, with an eternal flame added as a memorial to those who served in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. Stroll next down the Rajpath (once known as the “Kings Way”) to the Secretariat Buildings. Head over to the Ghandi Smitri , the home where Ghandi lived while in Delhi and where he was assassinated (it’s a moving visit). And if you have time left, be sure to visit Hamuyan’s Tomb , the building that is said to have inspired the Taj Mahal. Built for the second Mughal Emperor by one of his wives, it’s another of India’s eloquent monuments to undying love.

7 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Splurge on a meal at the restaurant many consider to be the best in India, Buhkara How good is it? The menu hasn’t changed in 25 years, yet it still remains one of the hardest reservations to get in Delhi. Classic Northern Indian food is the focus, and heads of state (there’s even a dish named after Bill Clinton) make it their unofficial canteen when in Delhi.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

The Qutab Complex is located 15 km south of Connaught Place on Aurobindo Marg. It’s open from daybreak to sunset each day; admission is approximately $6, with an additional charge of 50 cents if you intend to take photographs.

National Museum, corner of Janpath and Rajpath, phone 011/230 1-9272. Free tours are available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is approximately $3.50.

Chor Bizarre, 4/15 Asaf Ali Road in Central New Delhi, phone 011/2327-3821;

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Jama Masjid,off Netaji Subhash Marg. Open daily 8:30 a.m. - 12:35 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. to half an hour before sunset. There is an entry fee only if you wish to bring in a camera (approximately 50 cents) or if you want to go to the top of the minaret for a view (again 50 cents). Shoes must be left outside.

The India Gate is located on the Rajpath.

Ghandi Smitri, Tees January Marg, phone 011/2301-2843. Open daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Hamayun’s Tomb, Lodi and Mathura Rd, phone 011/2435-5275. Open daily from sunrise to sunset; admission is about $5.75, plus 50 cents to bring in a camera.

Buhkara, ITC Maurya Sheraton Hotel, phone 011/2611-2233 between the hours of 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. only to score a hard to get reservation.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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