For many tourists, Delhi is an inevitable step within their journey of India, some embarking here on the very start of their trip, others ending it in Delhi. Some backpackers try to avoid the clutches of Delhi, whilst others hurl themselves with reckless abandon onto its bustling streets. For us, Delhi is a vital component in connecting us with areas in the north, as well as the traditional town of Mathura. Laden with traveller horror stories and 2 months of experience of scams and “friendships” meant that when we arrived in Delhi, we were on guard, prepared for all things that that would be thrown at us. We have heard of first hand experiences of taxi and tuk tuk drivers telling of hostels burnt down and riots in the way of hostels. Others motion you to book train tickets in commission ridden stores or insist the ticket you have is invalid. Relieve yourself of this situation by buying tickets from the Tourist Bureau Information Centre in New Delhi station in advance, meaning you having tickets you know that are valid and a planned escape from Delhi. Remember to be persistent with taxis and tuk tuks with where you want to go: carrying an address or even a a phone number of the location, will be incredibly helpful.
We were told of mixed reviews of Delhi, some of our friends craved escape as soon as they arrived, others enjoyed the experience. I think arriving from Europe or the USA, Delhi will be a shock to the system for you, especially if it is your first stop in Asia ever. However, many people’s first stop is their least enjoyable, (ours was Bangalore and we stayed there for about 4 hours). However, Delhi being the capital of one of the loudest, brightest and most colourful countries in the world, means that you shouldn’t avoid this place, but rather experience it fully and make your own personal judgement. I found Delhi to be yes, a city full of tourist attractions; but similar to other major cities around the world, more three dimensional than just sights. Similar to London or Paris, Melbourne or Madrid, I feel that there is more to see and do here, you are continuously able to explore new areas and new things, whether it be: festivals, conventions or talks, Delhi is alive with enthusiasm for India’s culture.
I like how Delhi is split up into areas, districts, neighbourhoods, so one can venture into one area filled with a certain ambiance of tradition and organized chaos, and then flit into another filled with courteous shop owners and western restaurants. Old Delhi is like stepping into a time warp. Crumbling buildings with power sockets that are so vast it could shock your neighbourhood into black outs, hang dangerously on street corners. Rickshaw drivers slap the cracked plastic streets behind them to grab your attention, grinning a toothless smile, shops sell different specific items and food stalls are on every corner, concocting vegetarian curries, potato cakes in sweet and spicy sauces and sugar filled balls that tickle on the tip of your tongue. Although you hear of Delhi belly- and almost everyone we spoke to had become ill in Delhi at one point- we threw caution to the wind and ate at street vendors. In doing this, make sure you pick one which is popular with other locals, or has been created fresh in front of you, or will be recooked in oil. The best places for street food and to have a wander through the hectic commotion of everyday life is Chawri Bazaar in Chandi Chowk. This same area is where the largest mosque in India is situated as well as the Delhi fort. Having come from Rajasthan, the land of forts and palaces, we found this fort a little disappointing. Although sitting in the gardens whilst allowing the grass to tickle our toes next to a historical and well valued moment, definitely was a special moment.
Similar to the style of this monument and another must see of Delhi is Qutab Minar. Although on the outskirts of central Delhi, this monument is Delhi’s Eiffel Tower, its Big Ben. It’s a prominent structure which stands proud, (even after fighting off a few lightening strikes) and is a marvel to look at- as well as get the necessary tourist picture. Listen to the guards who tell you of places for a good picture- they are being honest and are just trying to get a better picture for you. Another magnificent structure that has a similar architecture but in a completely different neighbourhood, which is of New Delhi, is Humayuns Tomb. This really is a “mini Taj Mahal” and quite a breathtaking sight. It is sad to see another beautiful piece of architecture to commemorate one’s death, I would have loved to seen such a building created for me in my living life. Although, some may argue that with the endless recycle of life, he may manage to see it. New Delhi is everything that Old Delhi is not; clear, concise and orderly. In this area you must check out the Gandhi museum and almost next door to this, his footsteps are carved out in stone within a park.
In the same area, you can also visit Lotus Temple, the Gallery of Modern Art and the National Museum. Another favourite sight of mine in this area is Lodhi Gardens. The amount of parks and green spaces in Delhi caught me by surprise. I thoroughly enjoyed having the option to walk through a sanctuary of nature. Here, take a stroll around the park where you can catch glimpses of herb gardens, ponds with Koi and majestic tombs being used for numerous photo opportunities. Here, tourists, the youth and the elderly within Delhi conjoin, the latter doing laps around the park chatting in unison, the former joking and laughing in relaxation.
An area which centers the two districts is Connaught Place, a circular district influenced by the British colonization, filled with numerous expensive shops such as Marks and Spencer or restaurants like Nando’s. When I first saw this area I was taken aback, and to be honest, a little disgusted. This area was so westernized and is nothing like the real India I have seen, the nitty and grittiness of life: streets being used as a public toilet, stray animals and litter everywhere. But then, you must keep in mind, that Delhi is a capital city in a modern world, which just like anywhere else, is enraptured with consumerism. We spent little time here but did dine in a similar area titled Haus Khaz Village. Here, fat pugs were walked by their smug owners, young locals don the newest and trendiest fashion and street art smothers doors and fans hanging outside of shops. The streets are lined with art galleries, bars and expensive restaurants that furnish their establishments with hipster items such as cheese graters for a candle cover for that ultra quirky look. We toasted to Delhi on the rooftop at the Imperfecto restaurant, with a friend from Manchester University (it seems like a million miles away), sipping Budweiser and eating burgers. Very Un-Indian.
Public transport in Delhi is extremely useful. Underneath Old Delhi, right below the hawkers and sellers, the cry of ancient mosques and streets laden with beggars and flea ridden dogs, the metro can whisk you from one side of Delhi to the other. It seems like another world below, with the pristine floors and escalators that transport commuters up and down, to and fro places. Unlike the metro in Mumbai, which is more like an overground train in London but with open doors riding past unheard of suburbs and slums; Delhi’s metro is a vital link for tourists to access all areas of Delhi in a cost effective way and reinforces the notion of Delhi being a capital city with districts that appeal to everyone’s interests, unlike Mumbai which only has one small area which attracts tourists.
The metro, like Mumbai, also has a Ladies only carriage which is beneficial for a woman’s safety whilst travelling. Delhi has a notorious and haphazard reputation for women in the capital city. Tales of gang rape and taxi drivers who turn into molesters were passed down to us, and we had heard previously on an international scale of similar stories. When I recognized my mothers increased anxiety and worry when I was in Delhi, (and she has seen me off on numerous travels and adventures in far flung places), I felt the increased need to be more cautious within my daily activities.
Luckily, we stayed in a fantastic hostel- and one I couldn’t recommend even more- Moustache Hostel, which is a backpacker haven, (WIFI, free internet, tour desk, chill out area, free breakfast, rooftop terrace, helpful staff and dorm beds). Although 500 rupees may seem a little steep for a dorm bed, you are mainly paying for the hostel’s safe and secure compound. It is based in Kailash colony, a wealthy area filled with western restaurants and shops that provide comfort for home sick travellers and satisfy all needs and wants.
I would recommend Delhi, and it being my favourite city in India, (out of Mumbai, Calcutta and Banglore) I urge all those that are in two minds about visiting, to go anyway- just be as cautious as you would in any other main city, and come with an attitude that is embracing to all aspects of Delhi: dirty and clean, old and new.