San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The City of Delhi,
Old and New

The city of Delhi has been historically one of the most important cities of India. Currently it is the third largest im terms of population, exceeded only by Mumbai (Bombay) and Calcutta. The national capital of New Delhi is part of metropolitan complex of Delhi.

Delhi is in the Ganges River Basin on the banks of the tributary Jumna River. Historically Delhi was located on the west bank of the Jumna because there was a tradition in the region that cities should be on the right bank of the direction of the flow and that the left bank should be left wild. The growth of the city spread urban development along both banks, although the major areas of the city are still on the west bank.

Delhi is near the rise of the Himalayas at an altitude of just under 1000 feet. The altitude and latitude is enough to give Delhi some chilly episodes in the winter. What is officially spring by the calendar, March 21st to June 21st is the effecively the summer of Delhi, the season of highest temperatures. The average maximum temperature in this season is about 100° F but during June the average daily temperature rises to 110° F. There are frequent thunderstorms in April and May.

The monsoon reaches Delhi at the end of June and continues to the end of September, the calendar summer. Generally humidity in Delhi is low except during July and August of the monsoon season. The average annual rainfall in Delhi is 26 inches.

The two months after the monsoon ends in September, the months of October and November, are quite pleasant. The winter is consider to be the period from the end of November to mid-February. In the coldest month, January, the average daily low temperature is 45° F. This leaves mid-February to mid-March as a very brief springtime transition.

From very ancient times there has been a major city in the locale of Delhi. The British moved the capital of the Raj from Calcutta to Delhi where the new city of New Delhi was builtjust south of the old city. The relative positions of the two cities are shown below.

The municipality of the City of Delhi occupies about 360 square miles, including the historical old city, while the City of New Delhi occupies 169 square miles. Since the new city is much less densely populated than the old city the predominance of the old city in terms of population is very great.

In the new city much of the land is devoted to parks and broad streets. The streets are straight and unobstructed. In the old city the streets are narrow, twisting and irregular. This has a defensive value. The armies of invaders of the old city would be constricted to a narrow front where a relatively smaller number of defenders could stop their progress and allow other defenders to attack the invading force from the rooftops. And the invaders might not necessarily be foreign invaders. They could be one ethnic group intent upon wreaking havoc upon the neighborhood of another ethnic group.

At the time of Partition in August of 1947 Delhi experienced what must have been one of the most traumatic episode any city could go through. Before Partition metropolitan Delhi had a population of about seven hundred thousand. In the course of one month its population exploded to one and half million as result of the refugees that poured in from what became Pakistan.

(To be continued.)

The Physical Character of the Delhi Region

The Delhi's of the past and present lie in the Doab, the two-river region of the Ganges and the Yamuna Rivers. Delhi is located on the west bank of the Yamuna but its proximity to the Ganges is important. Delhi is affectively at a juncture of the Ganges River Valley and the Indus River Valley where the Deccan Plateau and Thar Desert come their closest to the Himalaya Mountains and thus create the corridor where Delhi is located. In this respect it is like Chicago which is located at the connection point between the Missouri-Mississippi River System and the Great Lakes System.

There is a ridge, the Delhi Ridge, that runs to the west of New Delhi and there was a hill, Raisina Hill that rose 15 meters where New Delhi now stands. The top 40 percent of Raisina Hill was leveled off to provide a low plateau for government building of the new capital of India.

New Delhi can be considered the tenth capital city located in the region. The previous capitals, most of which were called Delhi, were:

The legend is that:
Whoever builds a new Delhi loses it.

The city of Delhi has inspired great love and fine writing. The novelist Ahmed Ali in his Twight in Delhi describes the city (Old Delhi) as follows:

Night envelops the city covering it like a blanket. In the dim starlight roofs and houses and by-lanes lie asleep, wrapped in restless slumber, breathing heavily as the heat becomes oppressive or shoots through the body like pain. In the courtyards, on the roofs, in the by-lanes, on the roads, men sleep on bare beds, half naked, tired after the sore day's labour. A few still walk on the otherwise deserted roads, hand in hand, talking; and some have jasmine garlands in their hands. The smell from the flowers escapes, scents a few yards of air around them and dies smothered by the heat. Dogs go about sniffing the gutters in search of offal; and cats slink out of narrow by-lanes, from under the planks jutting out of shops, and lick the earthen cups out of which men had drunk milk and thrown away.

Heat exudes from the walks and the earth; and the gutters give out a damp stink which comes in greater gusts where they meet a sewer to eject their dirty water into an underground canal. [...]

But the city of Delhi, built hundreds of years ago, fought for, died for, coveted and desired, built, destroyed and rebuilt, for five and six and seven times, mourned and sung, raped and conquered, yet whole and alive, lies indifferent in the arms of sleep.

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