New Delhi is a city of dramatic contrasts. You’ll pass women selling washboards on the side of the road, while on the other side luxurious apartments buildings flash past you. One of the dustiest cities on Earth, New Delhi is not for the faint hearted. Its raw, rough, dirty, smelly and hot – but my goodness does it have personality! Despite its disadvantages, you’ll fall in love with the curious (read: nosy) people, the incredible food, and the vibrant energy that pumps from this city. While most tourists use this city as a launching point to see the Taj Mahal, don’t forget this charming and eclectic city. This city divides hearts and opinions. The dust, dirt, chaos and captivating colour make this city truly unforgettable. Here is everything you need to know to explore New Delhi, India.
History & Geography
Located in Asia, India has the second largest population on the planet, with 1.3 billion people. New Delhi is the nation’s capital, and the 20 million people that co-exist in this city won’t hesitate to boast about their wonderful home. Originally colonized by the British, India has maintained its relationship with the British even hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Since the 12th century, Delhi has been the epicentre of a succession of kingdoms and their leaders, and habitation in the city can be traced back to 3000 BC.
India has a range of climates and environments. There are mountain ranges in the north, where the Himalaya connects from Nepal, and tropical humidity in the south, closer to the equator. The temperatures range in extremes from freezing cold to boiling hot.
What To See and Do
Explore Old Delhi
Walk the narrow laneways of Old Delhi, weaving through spice sellers, food vendors, locals with scooters, and stores selling vibrant fabrics. The Spice Markets are a highlight. Spices sit in massive tubs, in every colour imaginable. The smells will smack you in the face, assaulting your nostrils in the most magical way possible. You can even buy some spices yourself.
Sample Some Street Food
You cannot come to New Delhi without sampling some epic street food. Known internationally as some of the best in the world, it certainly won’t disappoint. Be smart about your choices, eat at vendors that have a lot of locals, so you know the hygiene levels are up to standard. You will inherently need to take some risks – but it will be worth it. Try some Samosas, you’ll be blown away by the quality in comparison to Western Indian food. You also need to try Pav Bhaji – a mashed curry/vegetable stew, served with bread, and Aloo Tiki – a fried potato patty that is very popular in Northern India. It’s cheap, insanely delicious and you’ll truly feel like a local.
The Red Fort
This orangish-red grand fort sits proudly in Old Delhi. It’s a beautiful testament to the Mughal empire and is stereotypically Indian. It was the place of residence of the Mughal empire for 200 years, until 1857. Take some photos outside in the courtyard, before venturing inside to explore the rooms of this great fort, including multiple museums. The views from the top of the fort are unparalleled anywhere in New Delhi, making it one of the most beautiful UNESCO sites in India (Taj still takes the cake!) The tickets can be bought at the entrance for 150 Rupees, which is about $3USD.
Known as the mini-Taj Mahal, this tomb is elegant and awe-inspiring. The manicured gardens and brilliantly gleaming building will draw you in from your very first viewing. Humayun’s Tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun. The tomb was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife and chief consort, Empress Bega Begum, in 1569 (well before the Taj Mahal). This is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural significance as the first tomb of its kind in India. Most motorized tuk tuks aren’t allowed close to the tomb, due to the air pollution discoloring the building. However, they will drop you at the main entrance, about 300m away. Simply walk through, grab a ticket and head inside the complex. Tickets are about 500 Rupees, which is about $8USD.
India Gate is a must see. It’s a gigantic 42 m high gate, straddling a long road, and construction was completed in 1931. The gate was erected as a war memorial for the 82,000 fallen soldiers in World War I. Get up nice and close to the gate, and battle with the tourists, to get a token shot under the massive structure. The road leading up to the gate is filled with vendors, selling fruit, street food, toys for children and cold drinks.
Spread over 90 acres, Lodhi Gardens is a paradise in the middle of the chaotic and dusty city. The work is of the Lodhis, who ruled the northern parts of India and Pakistan 500 years ago, and contains many tombs and shrines dedicated to the emperors. You can take guided tours of the gardens or simply stroll around yourself. Bring a picnic and make a day of the beautifully kept gardens and buildings.
Hauz Kaus Village
Hauz Kaus is a vibrant, hip and modern suburb in south Delhi. It contains many boutique stores, funky restaurants and a distinctively ‘student’ vibe. Take a walk along the narrow streets and take your pick of food options. You’ll also find the ruins of Munda Gumbad. Stroll through the 500 year old buildings, past the young Indian couples seeking privacy and gaze out over the lake. The buildings were once supposed to be in the middle of the lake. There will be plenty of university students lazing on the grass that surrounds these ruins, you may even get caught up in a school project or two. Be prepared to answer questions!
Safety In India
Staying safe in India is relatively easy, if you’re smart about your choices and are cautious. With well over a billion people, it will be chaotic on the streets, so keep your possessions close and always stay close to your travel companions. The staring from the curious locals can be confronting at first. Ensure that you don’t stare back, this can be misconstrued as flirting or as encouraging. Make sure you pack some medication to deal with the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ – it can be highly debilitating and take a significant amount of time out of your holiday. Scams are a part of travel, unfortunately, and many taxis can take you for a ride – metaphorically and literally. Keep your wits about you, pay close attention to the change you receive, and try to follow the journey on a map if you have one. India is an incredibly rewarding travel experience, so don’t let these sometimes negative experiences it you off. Take it as a part of the whole India experience and move on with your travels.
Everyone seems to know each other in this 20 million strong city. Conversations spill from taxi drivers and people walking down the street. The nosiest people on earth, your taxi driver will stop in the middle of your journey, to simply inspect a fight that is occurring on the opposite side of the road! So will about 50 other Indians, stopping their scooters to investigate the situation. You’ll fall in love with the culture, people, architecture and vibrancy of this city. India is located in south-west Asia, however is often regarded as its own continent. It truly is its own culture, food and people. Flights to India can be expensive and lengthy from the US. The flight will take about 20 hours, with generally two stop-overs.
India is a special experience. The people you will meet on your journey will stay with you for a long time.