You will either love or hate Delhi, there’s really no in between. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s close to the truth, and you definitely won’t be ambivalent. You will have strong opinions one way or the other when you leave this enormous city.
We arrived late in the afternoon and by the time we got to our hotel room and settled in there was only time to take a walk around the suburb of Karol Bagh where we were staying at the Hotel Vedas Heritage, grab a bite to eat and make our way back to our room.
We picked the wrong suburb to stay in
When researching where to stay in Delhi it came down to a shootout between Karol Bagh and Connaught Place. KB got the nod because it was meant to be a trendy area, full of shopping and a vibrant street scene, whereas CP was the upmarket business district. In the end we shouldn’t have stayed in either place, Karol Bagh isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the hotel was a disaster! If I had my time again we’d stay at Hauz Khas Village, which I’ll chat a little more about later.
Scammed on our first day
Early on our first morning in Delhi we decided to walk to the Red Fort, the number one tourist attraction in town. On the way a series of events led us to hire a car with a driver for our two day stay in Delhi. You can read all about it HERE, but while it was probably the right thing to do in the end, we were railroaded into it by what we think was a very elaborate scam.
We gave our driver Jacob a list of places we wanted to go and we were on our way. He was a nice guy, friendly, but he also decided on one occasion to ignore our instructions and take us where he thought we would like to go. Once we realised we weren’t heading in the direction of our intended site, we quickly turned him around and got him back on track. He was right, the temple he was taking us to would have been spectacular, but it was right in the middle of Jack’s sleep time and it wasn’t the right time to go.
When it was lunch time Jacob took us to a place about 15-20 minutes away from where we wanted to go next. When we arrived our suspicions were confirmed by the number of foreigners already seated, this place paid drivers to bring customers for meals. It was slightly more expensive than we were hoping for, but we were starving and decided to stay. The issue for us was we had to backtrack 15-20 minutes to get back on course, and coupled with his decision to take us somewhere we didn’t want to go earlier in the day, precious time was wasted. We weren’t overly happy given we’re paying for a driver to take us where we want to go, when we want to go.
Jacob also wanted us to pop into a tourist souvenir shop or two so he can get his petrol tickets or lunch vouchers, and while we did it, I thought it was a big ask considering we were paying quite a bit of money for a personal driver. Another 20 minutes of our time spent doing something for him when we could have been sightseeing or at home.
Here’s a list of places we saw on day one:
The Laxminarayan Temple
Located just to the west of Connaught Place, this is a Hindu temple dedicated to Laxminarayan, usually referred to as Vishnu, and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. Although predominantly a Hindu place of worship, one of the side temples is dedicated to Buddha and when it was inaugurated Gandhi declared all faiths must be afforded entry.
It’s free to get in but you need to leave your shoes at the foreign visitor office. You’re also not allowed to take cameras or phones into the temple which is really disappointing. It’s beautiful in its own unique way, but I wouldn’t call it a spectacular building. When we collected our shoes and cameras, the security guy followed us outside and quietly asked us for money for looking after our belongings. Given we had no choice but to leave them there, and we were the ones who put our belongings in the safe, we politely declined his offer!
Reminiscent in its own way to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, India Gate is an impressive archway located at the eastern end of Rajpath, the impressive boulevard leading to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official home of India’s President. India Gate has the names of approximately 70,000 Indian soldiers who died during World War I, and another 12,516 who died during the The Afghan War. Underneath the arch burns four eternal flames called the Flame of the Immortal Soldier.
It’s a great place to go to get away from the helter skelter of the busy streets of Delhi as it’s surrounded by parkland. There’s still plenty of people floating about, but well worth a visit and one of my favourite landmarks given it’s location. You’ll need to fend off any number of people trying to sell you a range of cheap, plastic garbage.
A really impressive place to visit, the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife Bega Begum in 1569-70. Another great place to get away from Delhi’s noise and crowds. Remarkably the Taj Mahal’s design was based on Humayan’s Tomb and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It costs 250 rupees ($AU5) to get in and is worth every penny. It’s also a great place to let the kids off the chain for a run around in the beautiful gardens.
This is the Bahá’i House of Worship and is open to all regardless of religion. It’s renowned for its flowerlike shape and is composed of 27 free-standing marble clad petals. It’s one of the most visited buildings in the world, with more visitors than the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. It has been known to draw as many as 150,000 visitors in a single day during Hindu holy days.
There were a lot of people there the day we visited, and while the lineup to get in was long, it didn’t take long to get inside. However we declined to go inside and spent our time wandering around outside. It’s free entry and you need to leave your shoes in a bunker-like storage room before making your way up to the building.
A vast array of historical sites, the Qutb Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the Tomb of Ala-ud-din Khilji, Tomb of Sultan Iltutmish, and Tomb of Imam Zamin. It also holds the world famous ‘Qutub Minar’, at 72.5 metres is the tallest ancient brick minaret in the world.
The ruins are reminiscent of those found in Athens, only red sandstone not white, while the Qutb Minar has been likened to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It costs 250 rupees ($AU5) to enter and is a brilliant place to explore if you’re interested in ruins and history.
Tomb of Safdarjung
Safdarjung’s Tomb is a sandstone and marble mausoleum built in 1754. It’s much like Humayun’s Tomb, although not quite as grand and with far fewer tourists. It’s also a little run down and doesn’t cost as much with foreigners paying just 100 rupees ($AU2) to enter. Like many of the other sites on this list, it’s a great place to get away from Delhi’s traffic and noise, while also giving your kids (if you have any) the chance to have a good run around in the gardens.
Jacob picked us up at 9.30am the following morning from our hotel to continue our exploration of Delhi. Much to our surprise and annoyance, he then made his way to Connaught Place to fill up with petrol. By the time we actually got underway exploring we were an hour into our day, yet another example of time wasted unnecessarily.
He also didn’t want to take us to Hauz Khas Village, which we’ll talk about below, saying there was nothing to see there. We found this strange because our tuk tuk driver from the day before said he didn’t think we should go because it was full of rich people and they were try and rip us off, which was ironic coming from him. But again, given we were paying for the car and driver, we told him we wanted to go, and we couldn’t have been happier with our decision.
Here’s what we got up to on day two:
Probably the most visited site in Old Delhi, this huge fort is imposing and magnificent. It’s grand entrance opens into an undercover market with stalls lining the corridor leading to the main grounds. While it’s beautiful and you can imagine what it would have been like in its prime, it needs some work to have it at peak condition. The water features are dry, walkways are crumbling and there’s a bit of restoration work taking place on some of the buildings.
It costs 250 rupees ($AU5) to get in and while there’s lots of tourists there’s still plenty of room inside to not feel claustrophobic. Either go before you visit Chandni Chowk to prepare yourself for the insanity to come, or come after to unwind and relax.
Chandni Chowk and Old Delhi
Madness, chaos, insanity, mayhem – these words don’t even come close to describing what Chandni Chowk is like. Chandni Chowk is the busiest street in Delhi with cars, tuk tuks, rickshaws, trucks, water buffalo drawn carriages and any other vehicle you can think of banked up and wedged into every gap possible on the road. And despite the fact the vehicles can’t move, everyone behind is beeping their horns, expecting miracles to happen and the traffic to start flowing freely. The footpaths aren’t any better, and it’s the reason why many people walk on the roads, which doesn’t exactly help traffic flow. The street is lined with all manner of shops and you can buy almost anything you want. Not everyone will like it, but it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
The narrow laneways off Chandni Chowk are still crowded, but not anywhere near the levels of the main road. The small streets of Old Delhi are lined with every shop you can possibly think of, and the roads are shared between the crowds of people, motorbikes and rickshaws carting tourists to the various markets dotted around the area. It’s still a bit crazy, all of your senses are assaulted from all angles, and it’s very easy to get lost as you weave through this maze.
You’ll probably only ever do it once, or more specifically only want to do it once, but it’s well worth a few hours exploring this area of Delhi.
South of the Red Fort in a beautiful park stands an eternal flame marking the spot where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated following his assassination in 1948. It’s a simple monument and there weren’t many people there, but those who were clearly worshipped the man they came to honour.
Hauz Khas Village
It’s a little out of the way, but this place is well worth a visit. While the rest of Delhi is a crumbling, dirty mess (apart from well preserved tourist attractions), Hauz Khas Village is a trendy, vibrant, funky place to eat, shop and party. It’s full of young Indians who are clearly more liberal with the way they live than perhaps their parents are. It feels secluded from the rest of Delhi, almost insulated from the craziness going on all around it, and comes complete with a deer park, water reservoir and crumbling monuments as well. After our Delhi experience to this point, this was a great way to finish our visit.
I personally was not a fan of Delhi. The sites we visited were generally great, but it was the in-between that defined this city for me. It’s the people and the feel of a place that are what’s important. Delhi is noisy, dirty, impoverished and bloody hard work. But it’s the people that really destroyed any hope of leaving with positive things to say. We got scammed on our first morning of experiencing Delhi, and we almost had our journey to Agra destroyed by scammers at New Delhi Railway Station. In between everyone who spoke to you did so with the ulterior motive of getting money out of you one way or another. Whether it be offering you directions, moving bags for you, trying to sell you all manner of trinkets and souvenirs, despite the fact you never asked for any of their help. And when you don’t give them anything it’s as though you’ve wronged them somehow.
Click below to see a photogallery of our stay…