Few interesting things to begin with
When most people visit India, their first stop is either Delhi or Mumbai. Therefore, the first impressions about the country come from these two cities. And we all know there’s no second chance for first impressions. Delhi, which is well worthy of its famous nickname “Mini India” is the perfect place to get your first impression of the country. In Delhi, you will find people from every corner of the country with different religions, traditions, and customs. All this is making Delhi the real cultural melting pot of India.
When you hear the phrase “The Eternal City”, the first thing that comes to your mind is Rome. But, in my eyes, after spending almost a year in New Delhi, I can say that Delhi is just as “eternal” as Rome. The city has been built, destroyed and rebuilt many times. It has been a home of 7 different civilizations and has witnessed the fall of 7 great dynasties. Delhi has been around since the ancient city of Indraprastha. It was the capital of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. Finally, the city went through the British colonial time to become the capital that it is today.
The culture shock
Get ready for the culture shock that Delhi will give you. Delhi is known for assaulting each one of the average traveler’s five senses. You’ll see things that you didn’t think are possible, but for Indians, that’s just everyday life. I’m sure you won’t appreciate the noise and the intense traffic, but your taste sense will discover new dimensions in Delhi. I was a bit skeptical about the food before going to India, but now, the spicy and greasy delights of Delhi became my absolute favorites. In fact, Delhi has so much to offer food-wise, that it would take a whole new article to properly cover that topic.
Finally, your smell senses will have maybe the biggest challenge of them all. Delhi is after all one of the most polluted cities in the world. Imagine the smell of the animals on the street, the street food joints, the smell of tropical flowers and immense heat throughout the year. After that, add all these ingredients to the cultural melting pot that Delhi is and you will get the unique smell of Delhi. A smell that you won’t be able to find anywhere in India and the world for that matter. I’m sure you won’t like it in the beginning but don’t worry, you’ll adjust to it with time, just like with everything else. That leads me to my favorite quote about Delhi, written by me and inspired by our one year of love-hate relationship:
“To start loving this city, you have to hate its guts first. That’s a precondition”.
The Delhi traveler’s starter pack
Now let’s continue with few important tips you should be aware of before visiting.
You can never be too careful in Delhi
There’ll be a lot of scammers, pickpockets, and people trying to sell you things along the way. So the first word in Hindi that you should learn to use is Nahi(read Nai), which means no. I’m not saying this because people don’t understand English. But when you say this word in Hindi, it means that you’re not the regular, naïve tourist.
You need to bargain for everything
For some reason, all foreigners (especially white people) are perceived as rich. Therefore there will be people trying to charge you extra for almost everything. I’ve had situations where I was asked to pay more even for simple things like cigarettes or a cup of chai (tea). I like to call this, the “Unwritten foreigner tax of Delhi”. So be very careful when going shopping and if possible have a local friend accompanying you.
Stay hydrated and use mosquito repellent
This one is an obvious one, but it needs to be mentioned. In the tropical heat during the summers, mosquito bites can lead to some nasty diseases, such as the dengue fever, chikungunya etc.
Use public transport and expect the worse during rush hour
Having 26 million people, Delhi has a terrible traffic throughout the day. So oftentimes, using public transport is actually faster than traveling by car. Delhi has a very well-connected metro, but during the rush hour, it looks like…
I actually don’t have words to describe it, so I’ll let this photo speak for itself.
Anyway now, after covering the basic traveler tutorial, it’s time to take a look at the places to visit in Delhi. If you want to at least start experiencing the city I would suggest you stay at least three-four days. Delhi is a huge city of many contrasts and it has a lot to offer.
I refer to this part of the city as the part of Delhi that is stuck in time and refuses to go on. This is, according to me, the most crowded part of the city. But, like most tourists, I’m sure you’ll love the authentic street shops and the street food joints there.
When you’re in Old Delhi, you must visit the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid. The latter one has a minaret that gives the most amazing view of Old Delhi.
Another must is Chandni Chowk. This is the oldest and busiest market in Delhi. Chandni Chowk is a great choice for buying souvenirs and traditional clothes. Just don’t forget to bargain.
The part of the city referred to as New Delhi is geographically located in the city center. New Delhi is the exact opposite of Old Delhi. The roads are wide, there are a lot of modern buildings, and this is the greenest and safest part of the city. Most of the local politicians live in this part of the city, and a lot of embassies and consulates are located here.
The first thing you don’t want to miss here is Connaught Place, locally known as CP. This is one of the largest commercial and business centers in India. This massive building built during the period of the British Raj possesses a unique architecture that you won’t see anywhere else in India.
Another place you will need to see in this part of the city is the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. Bangla Sahib is the second most important Sikh temple in India (and in the world). You will surely be amazed by the architecture of Agrasen Ki Baoli, one of the most haunted places in Delhi.
And of course, you can’t miss the India Gate, even if you want to, because this massive gate is visible from most of the roads that lead through Central Delhi.
And, in the end, there’s South Delhi, which is famous for Hauz Khas village, which is known as the party hub of the city. Unfortunately, most of the clubs in Delhi close at 1 of o’clock and there are only a few places where you can go after that. Most of them are located inside fancy hotels, and these places can be quite pricey. Nightlife in India is actually pretty expensive as compared to the Indian standards.
But if you meet the right people you can even find your way to free drinks, just like I did. In most places in Delhi, it’s considered prestige to have foreign guests (especially white/Caucasian). I never really managed to grasp this Indian fascination by white people. But yeah, there are plenty of clubs that offer free drinks for foreigners to lure them in their clubs.
Anyway, South Delhi has a lot of other interesting things to offer. For example, the Hauz Khas fort, located in the same Hauz Khas village. Then you shouldn’t miss Lajpat Nagar market, the most crowded market in South Delhi.
And some other notable attractions that you shouldn’t even think about missing are Lotus Temple, Qutab Minar, and Humayun’s Tomb.
You should also cover a couple of other places which are a bit far from the locations covered in this post. Akshardham Temple is one of the most famous temples in India and I strongly recommend visiting it. But, unfortunately, no phones or cameras are allowed inside, so you can’t take photos unless you pay for one from the professional photographer in the temple.
Nizamuddin Dargah is one of the most spiritual places in India. If you’re in Delhi, it’s almost mandatory to spend an afternoon here and listen to the Sufi singers. You will literally feel like you’re in another dimension.
So finally, India, and especially Delhi isn’t what you’d call the perfect vacation spot. If you’d like that you should go to some tropical Island. Delhi is a challenge, and one should approach Delhi with an open mind. Do this and you’ll be rewarded with a life-changing experience. But if you don’t do that you will end up hating the city and your trip will be ruined. Take everything that’s happening around you as a learning curve and go with the flow. Just remember: To start loving this city, you must hate its guts first. That’s a precondition.