I’m going to admit that I can be a little ‘inconsistent’ with the car indicator.
Well, it turns out I’m not the only one with such questionable tendencies. I arrive at Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport to be met by a driver for the short 14 kilometre trip to my hotel in the city centre. It’s a hair-raising, white-knuckling, hour-long introduction to Indian driving etiquette — where indicators are entirely optional and road rules open to interpretation!
As you explore the two incarnations of India’s frenetic capital — Old and New Delhi — you can’t help but consider the metaphoric highway of life on which the 1.3 billion citizens of this incredible country travel: unspeakably tough for some; lavishly easy for others. It’s a place of extreme contrasts, even here in the capital. It will grip your guts one moment as you gaze on abject poverty, and then treat you to unspeakable ecstasy at the sight of the next exquisite monument. It doesn’t let up — not even for a second.
Enjoy this Delhi travel guide.
For the chance to literally step back in time a century or two, pay a visit to the Chandni Chowk market in Old Delhi.
This is the heart of the medieval city and dates back to the time of the Mughal emperors. The Mughals ruled India for almost three centuries. You’ll come across them a lot during your visit. They left an indelible mark on the soul of India and a wealth of historic monuments to boot.
The narrow streets and laneways of the market are choked with hawkers, hustlers, street vendors and rickshaw drivers, along with tea sellers keeping the entire affair lubricated with steaming cups of sugary chai laced with ginger and cloves. Disabled beggars rub shoulders with wealthy merchants; harried tourists fend off lethal touts left, right and centre. It’s confronting and invigorating at the same time. A guided walking tour is a good way to get the most from your visit.
For cultural things to see and do in Delhi, you are absolutely spoilt for choice.
Head for the towering ochre-coloured ramparts of the Red Fort in the old city (closed on Mondays), or pay a visit to the ethereal Jama Masjid Mosque. Twenty-five thousand worshippers regularly attend here for prayers.
Make sure you include the delightful Lasksmi Narayam Temple on your itinerary. It’s a chocolate-brown and honeycomb-coloured Hindu place of worship, that looks good enough to eat. Visit the local teahouse next door for a delicious, rejuvenating chai. The door is just to the right of the main entrance to the temple. This is the best teahouse in Delhi according to our guide.
With its diverse population from across India, Delhi’s food scene understandably incorporates a wide range of regional culinary styles.
You can’t really go wrong if you follow the crowds, but make a point of trying Rajdhani — a traditional north-Indian restaurant in New Delhi (just off Connaught Place). It’s entirely vegetarian and absolutely delicious. The flavours are both rich and subtle. Try the salted milk curds!
For those wanting to sample Old Delhi’s rich street food scene, a guided food tour is the best and safest way to go. You’ll get to try a whole range of local specialties, including the very sweet but totally delicious jalebis. A lesson in local culture and history is also on the menu.
Connaught Place in New Delhi offers several shopping options for an after-lunch stroll, including an open air clothing market, and the Shankar Market for fabrics.
Beware of the ‘shoe-poo’ scam in the open air market — where you suddenly find yourself with a gloop of foul-smelling goo on your shoes. Hey presto, a handy shoe cleaner pops up out of nowhere to remedy the situation — for a price of course. This happened to one of our group and he swears the smell lingered for days.
Some of the other retail highlights around town include Dilli Haat for handicrafts from across India, Sundar Nagar for art and antiques, and Matka Market (as the name suggests) for pottery and ceramics.
Escape the hectic pace of the city by taking a stroll around some of its fascinating monuments.
Humayun’s Tomb — a Mughal mausoleum of divine proportions and exquisite Persian-inspired design — is said to have been the inspiration for the Taj Mahal itself. These monuments to deceased rulers grew grander and more opulent over the centuries, as each generation sought to outdo the one before.
Today the peaceful grounds are popular with tourists and locals alike for an evening stroll. Indian women in their colourful saris offer shy smiles as they pass by. Fountains dance and children play. It’s a welcome hiatus from the constant hubbub of life outside the high stone walls.
India has long been known for its ancient Ayurvedic healing system. Treat yourself to an Ayurvedic spa experience during your time in Delhi. It’s the ultimate indulgence.
Five tours we love
Visit all of Old and New Delhi’s key monuments and historic sites in air-conditioned comfort on this fabulous full-day private tour. Entrance fees, a buffet lunch and the services of an English-speaking guide are included.
Learn the secrets of Indian cuisine on a guided tour of the fabulous Spice Market in Old Delhi. You’ll travel on the Delhi Metro and by rickshaw to reach the market, before browsing the many different kinds of spices, herbs and pickles used in Indian dishes.
Experience the contrasting worlds of Old and New Delhi in contrasting ways! Cycle through the old city (which dates back to the 17th century), and cruise the new city in air-conditioned comfort.
Delhi is a shopaholic’s paradise. On this tour, you’ll visit the famous Dilli Haat handicraft market, which features products from many different parts of India. Take a dusk stroll around tranquil Humayun’s Tomb and enjoy a superb restaurant dinner.
Explore India’s extraordinary Golden Triangle — home to many of the country’s most intriguing monuments — on this fabulous three-day private tour, including five-star accommodation. Visit the highlights of Old and New Delhi, Agra’s Red Fort and the fabled Taj Mahal, and the Amber Fort outside the flamboyant pink city of Jaipur.
Do you have any tips to add to our Delhi travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a Melbourne-based travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. Adam also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.