A trip to Delhi, one of the world’s greatest cities, can be an amazing experience; but it can also be a daunting one. What tips should travellers follow to ensure an exciting and enchanting trip?
First-time visitors to India – including its huge capital Delhi, whose population now stands at 22 million – can be forgiven for experiencing a little culture shock. The sights, sounds and smells of New Delhi (technically the capital but really just the central part of the wider urban area) can be overwhelming. A little foresight can make all the difference to your trip.
Start by choosing the right place to stay. If you don’t want to rough it with the backpackers in the hostels of Paharganj, luxury hotels in New Delhi are a much more comfortable but affordable alternative. Hotels near Indira Gandhi International Airport are also a good option after a long flight, leaving you well rested and ready to take on the city.
There are four main railway stations, as well as the suburban rail network and a rapidly growing Metro system. The last of these will usually be your best bet for getting around, as it’s clean, modern, inexpensive and mercifully air-conditioned.
For the more adventurous traveller, hop on one of the city’s ubiquitous auto-rickshaws or tuk-tuks for an unforgettable ride. Be prepared to haggle. Remember too that although English is commonly spoken, Hindi is most people’s first language. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try street food and local markets.
With about 5000 years of history, there’s a lot of Delhi to see. Start with the UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Delhi boasts three of these.
The Red Fort, built in the 17th century by Emperor Shah Jahan, served as capital of the Mughal Empire until 1858; and it’s suitably spectacular. So too are Humayan’s Tomb (which served as a model for the Taj Mahal) and the towering Qutb Minar, a 12th century victory tower.
Described as ‘a teardrop on the cheek of time’, the Taj – also built by Shah Jahan to mourn his favourite wife, Mumtaz – truly is one of the wonders of the world. Thankfully, it’s only about two hours on the Shatabdi Express train from New Delhi Railway Station.
Be prepared to queue, know which ticket class you want to buy (there are at least eight) and leave at least an hour to find the right platform. Alternatively, hotel staff can help you arrange a day trip.
The British ruled Delhi from 1858 to 1947 and Edwin Lutyens’ bungalows, terraces and government buildings from the 1920s and ’30s offer a unique architectural record of the period. Connaught Place is the jewel in the crown and still serves as the heart of Delhi’s central business district. Lutyens’ presidential palace is open for visits at certain times on certain days.
Like any modern global megacity, Delhi has its dark side. Be aware of pickpockets, scam artists, beggars and touts at railway stations and other transit points: keep your passports, cash and cards safely secured in a money belt. If anyone asks, say it’s your third or fourth trip to the city.
Women should take the usual precautions – stay in groups, and keep to well-lit, well-populated areas.
Be prepared for heat, dust and smog; never get too far away from bottled water. ‘Delhi belly’ needn’t be a big risk though: eat fresh vegetarian food, or thoroughly cooked meat.
Finally, for a little relief after all that heavy sightseeing, drop in on the Museum of Toilets. It does what it says on the… loo.
What dreams will you take back from Delhi?