India is a massive country, so to say I’ve seen India would not be exactly accurate, but I will say I’ve seen Delhi. Most travelers to India start out in Delhi; with flights arriving here, you might stay for a night or two depending on your travel itinerary. Arriving in Delhi for the first time was overwhelming. The sounds, the colours, the crazy traffic bombarded my senses. I wasn’t sure where to look because everything seemed to grab my attention all at once. It was crazy but strangely captivating. It’s a city that confirms that life is in motion. From people walking through traffic, the constant honking from cars and the homeless dogs on every road side, Delhi can either make you want to get back on the plane or want to see more. My advice is, see more. There’s so much more to Delhi than the initial introduction. Here are some great insights to Delhi.
Markets and Shopping
If you love haggling, then Delhi is perfect for you. The numerous markets in Delhi are full of great finds from hand crafted pieces to gorgeous silk fabrics. INA Market (for spices) and the Dilli Haat (for silk fabrics, unique artwork, and jewelery) are right across from each other so makes for a 2 for 1 experience. Chandi Chowk is one of the oldest markets in Delhi. This is for the brave. Extremely busy and packed with people, it can be slightly intimidating. Known for its street food, it’s a great place to get a feel of Old Delhi. Auto-rickshaws outside the Red Fort (see under ‘Sights’) will take you there and back for a set price. Ask to be taken to the spice market as well if your nose can handle it. The trendy area of Hauz Khaz Village has some great boutiques especially if you’re looking for Indian designers.
The most efficient and practical way to see Delhi is by using the “Hop on Hop off” tourist bus service conveniently called HOHO. The bus stops at several sights every 45 minutes. Buy a day ticket and make the most of it. My highlights and definite must-sees in Delhi:
Safdarjung Tomb : A precursor to Humayun tomb and Taj Mahal, it makes a great start to seeing some of the UNESCO heritage sites dotted around Delhi. The grounds are beautiful and you can really imagine the grandeur of that time. Although a burial site of massive proportions, you can just imagine emperors in colourful flowing robes riding on elephants as they arrive through the gates. As a great backdrop for a far eastern romance, don’t be surprised to see young Indian couples on the lawns of the garden locked in each other’s arms.
Indira Ghandi Museum: One of the most fascinating and unusual museum experiences I’ve been to. I must have picked an Indian public holiday to visit because I arrived to busloads of Indians, young and old queuing at the entrance. It looked like a pilgrimage had descended. The shoving and pushing to get in continued throughout as we walked through Indira Ghandi’s home, now the museum, and saw some of her personal effects including the blood splattered sari she wore the morning of her assassination. It’s definitely worth a visit as Indira Ghandi is an iconic figure in the political history of India as the country’s first female prime minister and highly revered by many Indians.
Red Fort (Lal Quila): A magnificent fort bang in the middle of Delhi and an iconic symbol of India. It’s packed with Indian tourists picnicking in the gardens of the fort which is a great cultural insight to Delhi life but what really stands out is the detailed workmanship that can be seen all around the various structures. You can’t leave Delhi without seeing this.
Humayun’s Tomb: Another extravagant burial site that showcases Mughal architecture at its finest. It feels like stepping into a different time. If you plan on going to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, it’s worth seeing this first to get a better sense of the magnitude of power the Mughal emperors had over India and their taste for grandeur.
Akshardham Temple: A bit of a trek but so worth it. A Hindu temple like no other, full of gold plated religious icons, detailed workmanship and a major tourist attraction for Indians themselves. Be prepared to spend at least half a day and leave your bag, phone and camera at home as you’ll have to check them in before going in. Security is very tight. Everything about this temple lets you know that Hindus take their spirituality and religion seriously. It’s absolutely breath-taking and your stay in Delhi isn’t complete without it.
The metro in Delhi is a quick and easy way to travel around Delhi though you may need to take an auto-rickshaw to your final destination from the station. The autos are good for short distances; I wouldn’t use one for an entire journey due to the fumes from cars on the road. You don’t want to leave Delhi with damaged lungs. Taxis are also useful as the drivers can sometimes act as your own personal tour guides but agree on a price before you start out.
Extra travel Advice:
Indians and foreign tourists pay different entry prices to most of the sites in Delhi. Places like the Indira Ghandi Museum are free for both.
As a black female traveler be prepared to get stared at a lot and I mean A LOT. You probably won’t get used to it so best to keep calm and carry on.
Solo female travelers need to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings as you would in any foreign country and Delhi calls for extra precaution but it is possible to travel safe on your own.
Delhi can be overwhelming and you might get a dose of culture shock, but I experienced some of the best hospitality ever so it’s worth keeping an open mind.
You can find more details about my highlights above on the official Delhi tourism site.