A Guide to Delhi
Staying at a budget hotel called Smyle Inn meant that we were right in the middle of Delhi’s main bazaar, albeit on a street off the main road. With only a short 3 day stay in the capital of India, location was important to squeeze in many things to do in Delhi.
The convenient location meant that we battled our way up and down the main bazaar a few times a day. It proved to be a good training ground for what should be a simple task: walking down a busy street in India.
Getting Around Delhi
The Delhi Metro is wonderfully clean and air conditioned, a godsend in the hot months. The main lines run north to south and east to west so many landmarks and sights around Delhi can be reached via the fast and frequent metro trains.
A 3 day unlimited tourist smart card for the metro costs 300R (get your 50R deposit back for the card after you have used it up). Otherwise single fares are calculated by distance, the cheapest fares being 20-40R. The metro generally runs from 06:00 – 23:00.
Tuk tuks / Autos / Rickshaws
These busy little bees that buzz around the city are gathered at train and metro stations, and will stop and hola at tourists walking down the road.
At the height of summer around midday, walking over 2km anywhere isn’t much fun when it’s over 40C. The Delhi metro can only get you so far and often a Tuk Tuk is the best option to get you to the doorstep of your destination. They are cheap, fast, and can get you down any narrow alley.
As a tourist you won’t get far for anything less than 50R on an auto rickshaw unless you hop onto a larger shared auto / electro rickshaw. For longer journeys tourist rates are around 25R / 2 km + 50R.
Cyclo rickshaws are also available and are cheaper than auto rickshaws (tuk tuks), but obviously can’t go as far. Using these did make us slightly uneasy. After settling into the cyclo rickshaw, right in front of you is the driver pedalling and pulling you and your partner plus the weight of the vehicle in a 42C heat through 1.5km of city traffic.
A lot of people work hard for their rupees to support their families.
Things to do in Delhi and Orientation
The yellow north-south metro line seems to be the main modern artery of Delhi covering a majority of the ground for what to see and do in Delhi.
Old Delhi is the northern point of central Delhi for many tourists and travellers. It is home to the Red Fort (the evening sound and light show is quite disappointing) as well as perhaps Delhi’s best shopping and street food.
Lying below Old Delhi and primarily a transport hub for trains, metro, airport express, busses, and of course tuk tuks.
The central and modern retail and restaurant area that most cities have. Get off at Rajiv Chowk and find global high street brands, bars and international restaurants dominate the inner circles of Connaught place.
Lakshmi Narayan Mandir
The Sikh temple of Lakshmi Narayan Mandir is a short rickshaw ride or walk south west of Rajiv Chowk. Stunning architecture and carvings house an environment of contentment. Prayers and ceremonies go on which the public (and non-Sikhs) are able to join. A kitchen feeds anyone and everyone for free regardless of race, colour, creed or religion (donations can be made).
If you’ve never visited a Sikh temple before this is a good one to start at. There is an office for tourists where people can explain the temple grounds and appropriate etiquette before you wonder around freely.
Near Jorbagh station which is five stops south of Rajiv Chowk lies Safdarjung’s Tomb, this impressive (and shady) mausoleum holds the tomb of a Mughal noble and is surrounded by a pleasant garden.
Shri Swaminarayan Akshardham
Heading east on the blue line from the centrally located Rajiv Chowk gets us to Akshardham.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Akshardham is a grand Hindu temple within a large complex. Bags, cameras and mobile phones are not allowed and need to be checked-in before entry into the temple grounds as with most Hindu temples.
The marble carvings on, around, below and inside the Mandir are amazingly detailed. For a fee additional activities are available inside the complex such as: a museum, a boat tour, and an evening light show.
Heading south east from Central Secretariat on the violet line to Kalkaji Mandir is the futuristic looking Lotus Temple, a Bahai temple. After walking through the museum we are invited into a short service to experience the serenity and wonderful acoustics. So good that little birds come inside the temple and sing along to the prayers.
India Gate is within 2-3 km of various metro stations including: Racecourse, Pragmatic Maidan, Barakhamba, and Central Secretariat. Almost all major cities have a grand arch and Delhi’s India Gate which is lit up at night attracts the local and international tourists seeking selfies.
Other areas to visit:
Eating in Delhi
Nizam’s near Connaught Place is a chain famous for its Kati Rolls. The mutton biryani is great too. 400R – 600R for two people.
Haldarim’s is another no nonsense chain in Connaught Place that locals flock too. The canteen serves food from north and south India as well as many sweets. Choley bature and the veg thali are recommended. 500R – 700R for two people.
Wow Cafe near our hotel in the main bazaar served us well for a late night meal when all else was closed. Indian dishes are served alongside Chinese and Korean dishes. 400R – 600R for two people.
If your stomach is up for it go to Chadni Chowk for the street food. Delhi was our first stop in India so we needed to train our stomachs up before venturing into the streets.
Getting In and Out of Delhi
From Delhi IGI airport the Airport Express is the most convenient way to take you into New Delhi in 20 minutes for 60R.
Delhi’s other train station Sarai Rohilla is 6km north west of New Delhi, 30 mins by tuk tuk at 250R. Or Shastri Nagari metro station is about 2km away.
Sarai Rohilla to Delhi IGI Airport is most conveniently done by tuk tuk. The 16km ride can take around 45 minutes and costs around 250R.
If you pre-booked train tickets via the IRCTC website and are still on the waitlist, go to the International Tourist Bureau at New Delhi station to see if they have any foreign tourist quota tickets for your train, and cancel your waitlist ticket if so.
Other tips for Delhi
HoHo Bus is a more expensive but easier option to get around to see Delhi’s major sights and get orientated. As good as the metro is, many sights are often 1km – 2km away from the station which can mean a few tuk tuks in the summer months. 1000R for 1 day, 1200R for 2 days and no need to haggle.
Take a walking tour option on the first day such as Free Day Tours may help to ease yourself into the daily etiquette and culture of Delhi. As mentioned tourist maps aren’t great and street signs are not aplenty in Delhi.
Staying in Delhi
We stayed at the Smyle Inn just off the Main Bazaar due to its central location and proximity to two metro stations. We knew Delhi probably wouldn’t provide the best accommodation compared to other destinations in India, at 900R a night for a double room with en-suite it was certainly going to be basic.
Check-in was more irritating than needed with the reception insisting the room would be ready soon. 30 minutes in India can mean 2 hours. The room itself was an adequate size but pretty loud and dusty, we were given a ground floor room even though we requested a room on a high floor.
Cleanliness was a major issue, there was crap on the toilet paper provided to us. It just felt generally dirty even by Indian standards, but on the other hand it set us up well for the rest of our journey around India. After the second night the bed bugs had attacked us even though we put down our travel towels over the bed.
What we weren’t prepared for
- Delhi is an energetic city and it can drain energy too. The simple task of getting from one place to another in the city contains much fun and adventure but can also be stressful. Firstly, navigate through the dirt road (there is no pavement) avoiding other pedestrians, bikes, tuk tuks, cars, dogs, and cows. Secondly, the negotiation dance with the tuk tuks. Thirdly, trying to find a place when few roads are marked with signs and names.
- Getting money out of ATMs is not as easy as you might think. There is the usual search for ATMs that don’t charge high foreign transaction fees, but many ATMs will be out of order or have no cash. The maximum you can withdraw is 10000R. So as soon as you find a working ATM that does not charge, pull some cash out.
- Always keep small bills / notes. Tuk tuk drivers may not have much change, many transactions at stalls are small so you don’t want to be that guy giving a 2000R for a 15R bottle of water. In fact keep the small bills separate from the big bills so you have quick easy access for small purchases and tips.
- Cold bottled water! Even though they are only 15 – 20R for a 1 litre bottle you will smash through them especially in summer. You might want to get some to brush your teeth with too if you are particularly sensitive.
- If you’ve ever wanted to be a celebrity, India might be a good place to come to see if you will like it. It may or may not be because we are a mixed race couple (although we have heard similar reports from single traveler friends) but we got stared at a lot. Not even subtle staring, but jaw dropping, head turning staring.
- Not only was there the staring but we were constantly asked by teenagers and twenty-something locals for selfies with them. At first we thought all these people wanted to take photos of them, but unfortunately we had to be in front of the camera.
Delhi is littered with impressive temples and exciting foods to try. Whilst not exactly the deep end of India it can take a day or two to get used to the way of things.
It’s a crowded city with stuff going on everywhere. The lack of pavements on most streets means you’re right in it. It’s hard to find a quiet spot when you are outside. Anytime you stop to check a map or just to relax you will be approached which inevitably leads up to a sales pitch.
Tuk tuk drivers and shopkeepers will constantly call for your attention and triple the prices. There are two sides to the argument of local vs tourist prices, just decide how much you think is fair. There will be opportunistic sellers so get a rough idea of costs from Numbeo.
India is full of small businesses from men selling lime soda on their carts to hole in the wall hardware shops. Food and drink stalls and shops dominate the streets, which is understandable given the amazing food available and the snacking culture in the hot summer months.
It’s great to see the artisanal and independent nature of businesses with almost everything being handcrafted. After a while though all the streets start looking the same with the same 15-20 varieties of shops and stalls as all the other streets.
The amount of stray dogs on the streets is like nothing we’ve seen, not even Romania has anything on this level. They all seem friendly enough, most of them just trying to find a cool place to lie down.
Just as friendly are the locals who love chatting if you are sat next to them on the train or in a restaurant. They love to exchange information and ideas about where you are from and how you feel about India and your home country.
Perhaps not the most tourist friendly city in the world, but Delhi has the makings of one. The sights, food and history is all there, but improved infrastructure such as the ongoing metro works, better signage and the use of meters in tuk tuks and taxis would make the place a less stressful city to travel around as would visiting during a milder time.