The Indian capital, Delhi, beautifully encapsulates this with two distinctly different sections, the "New" and the "Old." New Delhi was built in the 20th century, when the British governed India, and is characterized by broad tree-lined boulevards and contemporary architecture.
Action-packed Old Delhi, formerly called Shahjahanabad, was the Islamic capital when the Mughals reigned supreme between the 16th and 18th centuries. Old Delhi still contains astonishing legacies of its rich Mughal past that can be found among the old city's tangle of snaking lanes and teeming bazaars.
Old Delhi's rambunctious, medieval-flavored bazaars are a stark contrast to the swanky boutiques and smaller, less-chaotic markets of New Delhi. Getting lost in Old Delhi's bazaars is one of the highlights of this city. Crowds are dense - visit around 11:30 a.m., when most shops have opened and the jostling is bearable. Rambling through the jumble of colorful bazaars can spin your head, with a kaleidoscope of things to see and a nose-numbing pastiche of aromas - frying food, flowers, cow dung, fumes, dust and incense, all identifiable in a single whiff.
The old city bazaars also have a more eclectic product range, from oil-swamped mango, lime and eggplant pickles, to candy-colored herbal potions promising cures for everything from Delhi Belly to baldness. If you're a silver jewelry aficionado, make a beeline for Dariba Kalan, where you'll find bangles, rings, necklaces, anklets, toe-rings and earrings. Nearby, Kinari Bazaar focuses on traditional Indian bridal attire, while the Cloth Market deals in swathes of uncut material and linen. Chowri Bazaar sells wholesale paper and greeting cards - there's a particularly impressive selection of wedding invitations, many embossed with images of potbellied Ganesh, the jolly elephant-headed Hindu god of good fortune.
Whatever you do, don't miss the spirited Spice Market, located at Khari Baoli, where you can feast your eyes upon pile after pile of powdery spices: cherry-red chili powder, burnt-orange turmeric and caramel-brown masala blends.
The hullabaloo of the bazaars can be incredibly energy-zapping. A brilliant way to recharge is by digging into piping hot jalebis (orange whorls of deep-fried batter dunked in a sugary syrup) at the legendary Jalebiwala. This modest roadside eatery has been delighting Delhiites with its crunchy jalebis for more than a century - you'll understand why once you've taken a bite.
After a restorative sugar fix, head for the old city's supremely majestic Jama Masjid, India's biggest mosque, built between 1644 and 1658. Its central courtyard can hold 25,000 worshippers when filled to capacity, with an ambience so spiritually charged it will leave you tingling.
Fueled on spiritual sustenance, spend the rest of the day exploring the old city's spectacular Red Fort (Lal Qila), a sandstone masterpiece built between 1638 and 1648 by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame). Within this sprawling complex is a wealth of historic buildings: the Naubat Khana (Drum House), where musicians once performed for the emperor; the Khas Mahal, the emperor's personal palace; the Rang Mahal (Palace of Color), the prime residence of the emperor's favorite wife; and the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences), which was used for the emperor's private conferences.
There's also the marble Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque), which was constructed in 1659 by Emperor Shah Jahan's mischievous son, Aurangzeb, who had snatched control of the Mughal Empire from his unsuspecting father a year earlier. But as fate would have it, little did Aurangzeb know that despite his ambitions, he would ultimately end up commanding a withering empire as, ironically, the last of India's great Mughals.
Where to stay:
* If you wish to stay close to Old Delhi, you can't beat the Maidens Hotel (91-11-2397-5464; http://www.maidenshotel.com; 7 Sham Nath Marg; doubles U.S. $175-$250), which was built in 1903 and still oozes with old-world style. Set in a lovely eight-acre garden, the rooms are quaintly furnished and refreshingly airy.
Where to eat:
* Cooking Mughlai fare since 1913, Karim's (near the Jama Masjid) rewards diners with sublime, meaty fare; the tandoori burra (spiced clay-oven roasted mutton) is a treat.
* For a light bite, dash into one of the many stalls lining Paratha Wali Gali (off Chandni Chowk), which all specialize in stuffed parathas (traditional flat bread) flipped fresh off the tawa (iron griddle). There's a medley of fillings, including murli (white radish), pappadam (crisp savory wafers) and paneer (unfermented soft cheese).
* For something sweet, check out Jalebiwala (Dariba corner, Chandni Chowk), Delhi's premier jalebi joint.
* Contact Delhi Tourism: delhitourism.nic.in/index.aspx