In this Delhi travel blog, we take you through some of the top things to do in Delhi and some of the top attractions in Delhi. Note: This blog is written by Vishnu Menon, currently near Delhi, pursuing his UG degree. Please follow his exploits on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charithra.sanchari/
The Delhi Experience
Delhi is big, it is chaotic, and it is loud.
You may feel these are obvious statements.
Yet there is a reason why travellers to the city have focused on these aspects since the Delhi Sultanate era.
Sure, you may think you know how chaotic it is.
But you experience the magnitude of chaos only when you’re in the middle of it – like when trying to get a shopkeeper’s attention for a plate of Kachodi, or seeing the flocks of people at the metro station during rush hour, or seeing a kilometre-long line to enter a famous temple.
Now, coming to the ‘big’ part.
By big, I don’t just mean the vast urban sprawl, home to nearly as many people as the Netherlands.
Delhi is monumental; it is a city of considerable dedications to gods, long-dead rulers, and the vanity of countless long-gone Ozymandias-like figures.
The city’s buildings make you feel small, and you can feel the weight of history on your back; it almost feels like you could at any moment see a Sultan passing by in a procession.
Nothing compares to strolling down the narrow, crowded lanes of the Old City while looking at the tightly packed shops and houses, cramped in a human sea, and then turning a corner and seeing the bulbous dome of Jama Masjid in the near distance, pointing to the divine. As it befits a national capital, Delhi impresses upon you what the country has been, not just what it is.
But that takes me far off-topic.
I came to Delhi a few weeks ago for college, and since then, would go around the city sightseeing every week.
Being an enthusiast of good food and drink (much like my father) and history (much unlike him), Delhi has been an excellent place for me.
Best time to visit Delhi: The Weather and Environment
When we think of Delhi weather, the first thing our mind jumps to is pollution.
However, I found the pollution tolerable (so far); there were no black clouds of smog enveloping the city or people coughing and retching up black phlegm.
The main roads, of course, had a lot of smoke and unhealthy air, but once I left them behind, the air was breathable.
Remember that I have only travelled here in the summer season, and one of my Gurgaon-born professors has warned that the air is nearly unbreathable between November and January.
Another thing we associate with our capital’s weather is heat.
This year, Delhi recorded its hottest March in 122 years, with heatwaves on and off, so I can’t reassure you on this count.
The weather is cooler before about 11 am and after about 5 pm, but for those six hours, you feel like guzzling water with the same enthusiasm as a dog who sees a puddle their owner is trying its best to drag them away from.
However, those are also the times when most tourist places are less crowded; when I went to Feroze Shah Kotla at around noon, I more or less had the whole place to myself.
Suppose you also plan to visit places at those times. In that case, I’d suggest carrying an umbrella or a cap, or better, going somewhere that also has air conditioning (Red Fort is an excellent place to go to in the afternoon due to its numerous museums within the premises, where you can recuperate).
November to February are the best time to visit, but consider that pollution and fog are high during these months. May can get hot, while the city receives downpours from June to September.
Now, about the general environment of the city.
Unfortunately, it is just as dirty as you may expect it to be. While travelling around a Gali (bylane) in the food search, you will come across filth, liberal coatings of paan spit, trash, and people who follow you around trying to sell you something, which is worse than the previous things combined.
Getting Around Delhi
While I have a driver’s license (issued by the RTO of the impressively titled ‘Indian Union State of Kerala’), I do not have a vehicle, making it difficult to drive around.
Even if you have a vehicle, I’d not recommend using it. It would take too much time between navigating the blocks and searching for parking, which is a futile endeavour on the packed streets.
Public transport gives you more free time and allows for more flexibility in plans.
The Delhi Metro covers most of Delhi and its satellite cities with over 255 stations and is relatively clean and reliable.
Further, just outside each metro station, there are inevitably many autorickshaws and bike rickshaws ready to carry you anywhere you please; the attention you get from them upon leaving a Metro station is comparable to the attention Shah Rukh Khan receives from the paparazzi.
If you’re going to visit a significant monument, I’d recommend bike rickshaws.
They shuttle between the metro stations and nearby sights and cost 10 rupees (20 at most). The downside is that you have to share it with a few other people since they take at least four and up to 8 people on one trip.
However, autos may also do the same, so taking the cheaper bike rickshaws is better. However, if you take an auto, make sure to negotiate the price before getting in. Auto wallahs don’t use the meter here and may charge large sums to go short distances.
Delhi Travel blog: Is Delhi safe for tourists?
From pickpockets to riots to the infamous ‘Delhi Belly’, it may feel like everything in the city is out to get you.
However, Delhi is safe for tourists as long as you follow some common-sense rules.
The first rule that can be applied anywhere is to act like a local. Don’t stand out or make it evident that you’re new here.
Instead, swagger down the streets with the self-assurance of a person walking on his father’s property (maybe this is why ‘Jaanta hai mere baap Kaun hai’ (Do you know who my dad is!) is a common battle-cry among seasoned, self-assured Dilliwalas).
You’ll get the hang of it after the first few sojourns outside.
Another important thing, especially in densely packed galis and bazaars, is always being aware of your items.
The vast crowd and general chaos make it very easy for a pickpocket to take your wallet and disappear into the flow of people.
No matter what you’re doing, make sure you can still feel what’s in your pockets. Alternatively, you could dress so shabbily that pickpockets would feel like their time would be wasted on you.
Just like the city, Delhi residents are also very loud and belligerent.
If you’re a people-pleaser, a trip here would be a good lesson in learning to say ‘no’. Especially if you look well-off, you may be harassed by rickshaw drivers trying to take you someplace, beggars who want money, vendors, or scammers.
All you have to do is say no, or if you feel that’s not enough, pretend not to know Hindi or English and wait for them to get frustrated.
Street food in Delhi
There is nothing like a good meal, and Delhi can provide enough of them to fill a lifetime.
The street food in Delhi is diverse, and everything is delicious. The best food is not to be found in the fancy restaurants dotting the posh areas of Connaught Place but in hole-in-the-wall eateries that you can see in the Old Delhi lanes.
A good rule of thumb is that the more crowded the place is, the better whatever they’re serving.
As far as I know, Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid and the streets are home to a large concentration of great food.
Around the Jama Masjid, myriad vendors of biriyani, haleem, kababs, and other Mughlai delicacies can be found.
In the Chandni Chowk area are chaats, lassis, kulfi and other staple snacks. Of course, the rest of Delhi is also home to different foods. But on this count, pictures can speak better than words, so feast your eyes on some foods I feasted my stomach upon.
Here’s a short video that features Chandni Chowk and some of Delhi’s most amazing street food:
Overall, Delhi is home to some of the best food you can get at a low price.
A note on ‘Delhi Belly.’
If you have a sensitive stomach or feel a particular stall isn’t very hygienic, be sure to take caution before having any street food.
Unlike in a ‘proper’ restaurant, most street eateries in Delhi don’t have strict hygiene standards, and people prepare the food the same way it had been prepared for centuries before.
While the food is delicious, it isn’t worth throwing up for hours afterwards.
Delhi: Old and New
Mangalore and Kochi, the cities where I grew up, have been around for nearly 2000 years as significant port towns and the sites of important developments in South Indian history and culture.
Yet Delhi feels historical in a way these cities do not.
For example, Fort Kochi doesn’t feel like it was a place where large ships from as far as China and Portugal docked to take part in the lucrative spice trade and court intrigues.
And Sultan Battery in Mangalore doesn’t feel like a place where Mysorean soldiers tensely kept watch for British ships trying to raid Mangaluru.
Both these places feel timeless – with both the ancient and the modern in a seamless blend, such that we can’t tell where one begins and the other ends.
By contrast, Delhi only became an important city relatively recently in Indian history; about 800 years ago, after Iltutmish, who built his Sultanate into a formidable power with Delhi at its centre.
Yet when you walk around it, you can feel the city’s age.
You can readily picture the galis as they must have been 500 years ago, when bearded Afghan mercenaries, European travellers in elaborate dress, perfumed Brahmin clerks, and turbaned Rajput princes with fierce mustachios would have rubbed shoulders, all under the watchful gaze of the emperors.
In Delhi, the old and the new blend together, but they feel more distinct. The city seems conscious of its role as a historic seat of power and makes sure you are too.
It is no wonder that the legendary Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir wrote of Delhi:
Dilli ke naa thay kuche auraaq-e-musavvar thay
Jo shakl nazar aayi, tasveer nazar aayi
(These are not the Delhi streets but an artist’s canvas, all the sights that meet my eye are like masterpieces)
So that’s it for my Delhi travel blog, which is also a general guide to Delhi.
I hope it doesn’t read too much like an essay since I’ve been writing many of those lately, but feel free to grade it if it does.
Note: If you liked this blog post from my son Vishnu, please follow his exploits on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charithra.sanchari/