What to see and do in New Delhi, India.
My last business trip to India I found myself in the city of New Delhi. The last time I was here, it was just to enter the country via the Delhi airport, and then we hightailed it out of there straight to Agra by car.
Admittedly, if I were here alone, I’d have just done my work bit and flew back home. Fortunately enough, my friend was back home in India and I had him show me the sights and sounds of New Delhi. And smells. Oh the smells.
New Delhi was an assault to the senses. Do I mean that in the best way possible? Till today, I’m not sure. It’s a chaotic city that’s still on the verge of modernization. By that I mean most public toilets are now your regular toilet bowl variety, having done away with the traditional squat toilet. Are most of the locals ready for this change? From what I’ve seen – nope. I wished contactless squat toilets were more readily available. Also along the newly constructed fancy roads, you’ll definitely still chance upon a man or two peeing by the roadside.
Toilet talk aside – Delhi was an… experience. And if you find yourself with a couple of days within this city, here’s what I’d recommend:
1. Shop at Dilli Hat
Dilli Hat is an open air craft bazaar with vendors from every part of India. Here you can find a whole host of handicrafts including art works, rugs, furniture, beaded slippers, clothes, silver jewellery, to name a few. There are also food stalls – I had some delicious momos and a kulfi ice cream here.
Dilli Hat was the first place I visited and I wasn’t expecting much. I’d heard that it’s a local handicrafts market that leans a little touristy. I ended up enjoying my trip here. Partly because I went home with a couple of gorgeously handmade rustic rugs. They’re currently sitting pretty in my living room. I loved my rugs, and they were within the SGD$30 to $50 per piece budget that I set for myself. The couple of people I showed the rugs proudly to said they could find it in IKEA for half that price. I never shared my purchases ever with them fools.
Bargaining is a must, and can be fun. If you see something you like, you want to make sure you uhh-ed and umm-ed in judgmental deliberation until the storeowner brings you a cup of chai. Be firm with your budget, let them know, and they will pull out things within that budget.
All in all, a great place to visit regardless you plan on shopping or not. There’s an entrance fee, as with most attractions in India, a ‘local’ fee and a higher tourist fee. I sort of get why tourist attractions for sites in India would be higher, but for a market where I have to spend my money at? I do not understand. Welp.
I complain but my friend actually managed to scam me a local entry fee – which I believe was 20 Rupees. I’m not sure what the tourist fee is, but according to the official website, it’s a “nominal entry fee”. Cool, thanks.
2. Chandni Chowk
For a more authentic local market experience, get to Chandni Chowk. Located in Old Delhi, visiting Chandni Chowk is a must for every India first-time visitor. If Dilli Hat is organised, curated wares, Chandni Chowk is a smorgasbord of the anythings and everythings. Here you can find silverware, colourful wedding items, books alongside bicycle parts. I almost got hit by a trishaw while walking along minding my own damn business. I also chased a bunch of goats. It was some fun times.
You can find amazing food here for cheap, although I was careful with the choice of shop. I had kebabs and meat platters at Karim’s, near the Jama Masjid. Karim’s is so superbly famous that it has its own Wikipedia page.
3. Jama Masjid
Couple your visit to Chandni Chowk with the Jama Masjid. This mosque is one of the largest mosques in India.
I highly recommend climbing up the tower for a panoramic view of the surrounding Chandni Chowk. It’s a cramped winding stairwell up to a tiny viewing space. When I visited there were only two other people there – a grandpa and his grandson, aww – but I’d imagined it wouldn’t be comfortable if crowded. It’s an extra fee to go up, but I thought it was worth it. Exploring the Jama Masjid compound itself is free. Also, if you have a camera, you’d have to pay extra to take photos with it. Taking photos with your mobile phones – openly, might I add – is apparently completely free.
4. Red Fort
If you need a break from the madness that is Chandni Chowk, get to The Red Fort. It’s located near Chandni Chowk, and has entrance fees. I’m sad to report that I didn’t look local enough to warrant a local entrance fee. A UNESCO heritage site, the Red Fort is a majestic fort full of history. It used to house Mughal emperors and became the political epicentre when Emperor Shah Jahan shifted the capital from Agra to Delhi.
5. Lotus Temple
The beautifully serene Lotus Temple is a place of worship for the Baha’I faith. Prior to this visit, I knew little, if at all, about this religion. Though lots of tourists visited the Lotus Temple, it never got disorderly. There were temple ushers to help guide and inform visitors. Built in a shape of a well, lotus, this temple is considered an architectural wonder. Interestingly, in spite being one of the most visited attractions in Delhi, the Lotus Temple is completely free to enter. Nice.
6. Lodhi Gardens
The last afternoon I was in Delhi, I tagged along my friend’s family to Lodhi Gardens. It’s a public garden in central Delhi and an absolute oasis. Something blissful about the garden that sheltered me from the Delhi pollution.
It’s not just some fancy garden; this one houses tombs and buildings dating back from the Mughal era. I was told some of the structures are still being excavated and studied by history university students. It’s a huge garden and you can easily wander about and explore the ruins. Free to enter too.
7. Take the Metro
Above ground, Delhi’s traffic is a bit of a nightmare. Once you go underground, I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and organised the metro system was. There are supposedly female-only carriages. To be honest, all the times that I took the metro, I felt safe. There were a lot of local Indian ladies traveling alone too. But of course, always err on the side of caution.
8. Try an Autorickshaw
Your trip to India is never complete without a hop onto one of these autorickshaws. Always set a price before boarding – even if the driver says “pay whatever you like”. No such thing, and you don’t want surprises.
Sometimes your autorickshaw stopped along the way to pick up more passengers. That was a surprise, as the Indian granny squeezed herself on the seat where my travel companion and I were otherwise comfortably seated. India. Roll with it.
9. Visit Little Tibet – The Tibetan Refugee Colony
I was introduced to Little Tibet by my local friend. Located on the northern end of Delhi, there is a Tibetan refugee colony here. It is a little out of ways – we took the metro and then an autorickshaw to here – but I glad I made it out here. It brought me back immediately to my days in Nepal. The shops here have more of your Tibetan variety of course such as singing bowls and colourful prayer flags. Interestingly, they also have more modern looking stores than what you’d find outside of the colony. We had some damn good momos here and also this non-alcoholic fizzy ‘Apple Beer’ drink which is seemingly elusive to find outside of the colony.
10. Indulge in Masala Chais
I consider the simple pleasure of stopping at a random chai booth in Delhi one of my favourite experiences. You order your tea, and you slowly sip it by the roadside whiling the day away. Bliss. Superbly cheap. I like my chais less sweet, but I can only customize my order if there are no other customers. Otherwise, you take what the tea man made in the big pot for everyone else, or you go.
11. Have street food – safely
I remember the time when I used to be so adventurous with street food. “Heck it, I have charcoal pills!” said my naïve, naïve little young self. Until I kept getting food poisoning after food poisoning… and each was worse than the last.
My last trip in India before this, I had a bad one.
Anyway, I was determined to not get Delhi Belly, so I skipped out on A LOT of food. My food-obsessed self was extremely pained.
Until I was recommended Evergreen Sweet House. This famed food establishment started out selling Indian sweets and desserts – hence its name – and has grown to also provide food and savoury snacks. The place is popular amongst locals and when we visited it was bustling. The turnover rate here is so high that the food is always guaranteed fresh and safe.
I had Golgappas here – and my tastebuds and mind were appropriately blown. It’s a deliciously complex mix of taste and texture that I’ve never had in any dish ever. Prices here are slightly higher than street prices, but of course, but hey, no Delhi Belly. I had a bunch of other snacks such as Chole Bhatura, while I was there and they were all also equally good.
12. Get stuck in Traffic Jams.
Just kidding. The traffic jams in Delhi is on another level. A lot of the sites that we visited were solely based on traffic conditions for the time and day. There’s definitely a lot more to see and do that what’s on this list. Some other famous locations to consider on your visit to Delhi include:
Perhaps next time, Delhi?