Things to Know Before Your First Trip to Delhi
India is a country that I’ve been longing to visit for many years. Seeing the Taj Mahal and taking a safari in search of Bengal tigers were the two top items on the Indian bucket list. So we knew we had to go there someday.
But after hearing so many different opinions about India, I almost felt scared to go there. India is one of those countries that people either hate or love. Partly because of this uncertainty, we avoided travelling to India for many years. But we eventually decided that it was time to see it for ourselves and form our own opinions.
Being one of the main entry points into India, Delhi was the first stop on our Indian trip. We had planned for only two nights in Delhi, arriving mid-morning on our first day. After a tiring overnight flight, we were glad to find our driver patiently waiting for us at the airport. We let him deal with the chaotic roads and traffic while we sat in the car and enjoyed the craziness!
Tips to know before you set foot in Delhi
Our driver told us that Delhi’s population is around 21 million people. That’s a whole lot of people! In fact, it’s pretty much the population of Australia all crammed into a much smaller area. So while you’re in Delhi, don’t expect any quiet outside of your hotel room. Everywhere you go it will be crowded. Mornings will be a little less busy but don’t expect to be the only one around. If, like me, you can’t stand crowds or having other people in your photos, well you’re just going to have to deal with it for a bit!
The traffic is insane
With that many people around you can expect a lot of cars. There are also rickshaws, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cows (yes cows; why not it’s India!) and pedestrians all trying to get somewhere. On our first afternoon we wanted to visit a few monuments; but little did I know that it takes hours to get from one to another. That meant that we barely had a chance to see half of what I’d planned. Expect to sit around in traffic a lot. Also, expect to find random roadblocks setup due to VIP events. That happened both days we were there.
Be prepared for some serious culture shock
If you come from a Western country, the culture shock in Delhi may hit you fast. There are beggars everywhere, touts that just can’t leave you alone, rubbish scattered across the streets and people relieving themselves on the side of the road! You’ll also find the sacred holy cows roaming the streets of the Indian capital, often grazing atop piles of garbage. It’s a completely different world than what we’re used to back home, but I find it totally fascinating!
Although Hindi is the most common language in New Delhi, most people speak some English. This makes it a much easier country to travel in than some Asian countries.
We’d heard many stories about Delhi’s terrible pollution. This part worried us a lot, particularly because Simon is asthmatic and struggled a lot with the pollution during our visit to Mexico City. This was another reason why we’d only planned a short stay in Delhi. We even came prepared with face masks!
As we landed over New Delhi, we could see a layer of smog covering the city. But after all that worrying, the pollution didn’t really bother us and in fact, we didn’t even end up wearing our face masks. But it’s best to come prepared anyway. We were probably lucky that we arrived on a weekend when there is less traffic and therefore less pollution. The pollution is also worse during big festivals such as Diwali when the locals set off huge amounts of fireworks.
As a woman, if you want to avoid stares or being targeted for theft, you should really dress appropriately. One rule of traveling is to be respectful to other countries’ cultures and religions. In India that means women have to cover their legs and shoulders. Yes, where we come from we can wear whatever we want, but personally, I’d rather not attract unwanted attention. I know it can be hot in Delhi and wearing pants can be a pain, but that’s the way it is.
Look out for the touts
Having traveled a fair bit in South-East Asia before, we are used to touts, but we found the ones in India a lot worse than anywhere else. Don’t trust anyone. You’ll think that someone is trying to help you but they’ll always ask for money eventually. We had people pretending to be ticket officers and then suddenly morphing into tour guides. We had an annoying security guard follow us around Qutub Minar, He wouldn’t leave us alone and wanted to show us how to take photos!
It’s all about making a commission
Many guides will want to take you to shops or restaurants where they get a commission. This quickly gets really annoying. Be prepared to be firm and to say that you are not interested in buying things (unless of course, you are). As newly full-time travellers, our backpacks are already so jam-packed that we truthfully don’t have any room for purchases! Constantly walking out of shops empty handed left our guides rather disappointed.
What to see in Delhi?
Delhi is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is packed with history and beautiful monuments to explore. Here are some things that you should definitely do in Delhi:
Explore Old Delhi
By far our favourite part of Delhi was the old town. Get lost in its narrows streets, explore the many colourful markets, admire the old architecture and laugh at the crazy things you’ll see. It’s chaotic, dirty and loud but it’s a must do experience in Delhi. If you have time for one thing in Delhi this just has to be it.
A great way to experience the old town is to take a rickshaw ride through its narrow streets. Be sure to visit Chandni Chowk, the Chowri Bazar and Khari Baoli, Asia’s largest spice bazaar. The smell of hot chilli will tickle your nostrils and make you sneeze!
The tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun was built in 1565 A.D and was the first garden tomb in India. It inspired many other mausoleums and eventually led to the construction of the epic Taj Mahal. Humayun’s Tomb was commissioned after his death, by his first wife, Empress Bega Begum (cool name!). It is an architectural marvel built with red sandstone in a central Asian and traditional Persian style.
Entrance fee: 550 rupiahs for foreigners.
Tip: Be sure to join the foreigner’s queue or you may have a very long wait. The local’s queue was ridiculously long when we visited but we went straight in via the foreigner’s queue.
The main feature of the Qutub Minar complex is an incredible 72.5-metre minaret that happens to be the tallest minaret in India and one of the tallest in the world. Building started in 1192 and it is considered to be the first building to mark the arrival of Muslim rulers in the country. Like many other monuments in Delhi, it was constructed from red sandstone. The minaret has detailed carvings and inscriptions on its exterior and it is surrounded by other ruins. Qutub Minar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the main icons of Delhi.
Entrance fee: 550 rupiahs for foreigners.
The Red Fort
The famous Red Fort is right across from Chandni Chowk, the main street of Old Delhi. It was built by the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan when he decided to change the capital from Agra to Delhi in 1638. Also built in red sandstone, this Mughal fortress contains an entire ancient city with its walls. Inside the fort, you can check out the main structures, halls, and mosques. Note that it is closed on a Monday and for some reason, it was also closed when we visited on a Sunday as well which was very disappointing.
Entrance fee: 550 rupiahs for foreigners.
India Gate looks a bit like the famous Arc de Triumph in Paris. This impressive stone arch gate was built as a memorial to the soldiers killed in World War I. As with the Arc de Triumph, there’s an eternal flame burning beneath it and the walls are inscribed with the names of more than ninety thousand soldiers who died in battle. Being a popular stop with the locals, you’ll find lots of merchants nearby selling street food, chai tea and snacks. There are also plenty of touts trying to get you to pose for the perfect photo of the arch!
Jama Masjid is a religious shrine that is extremely popular due to its impressive architecture. It is the largest Islamic mosque in the city and one of the largest mosques in India. Jama Masjid was built in the 17th century and includes multiple entrances. All entrances lead to the main worship deck.
Entrance fee: Free to enter but there is a 300 rupiah fee for photography and 25 rupiahs for shoe storage.
Be warned: Even though I was the only one taking photos, they wouldn’t let Simon in unless he paid another 300 rupiahs. Simon decided not to enter but we should really have been tougher. We heard that this has happened to quite a few people. They were also extremely rude about it which really tainted our impression of the place.
The Akshardham Temple is not that popular with tourists but it’s extremely popular with locals. Built in 2005, this modern Hindu temple complex is totally worth the detour, even though no photography is allowed inside the complex. You can store all your belongings in the free and secure storage place at the front, or if you have a driver you trust, leave it with him.
As you approach the temple you’ll be amazed by its grandiose architecture. Before entering the temple you’ll need to remove your shoes. The interior is simply amazing. It’s jaw-dropping to even contemplate the amount of labour and craftsmanship that went into the building. The carvings are just spectacular. Because they don’t allow any photos of the complex I can’t post any, but be sure to visit to see it for yourself.
Entrance fee: Free
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is the most prominent pilgrimage Sikh temple in Delhi and a very popular place with the locals. Inside the complex, you’ll find the main prayer hall and a big “pool” filled with water that is considered holy. There’s also a library and dining and medical facilities. You’ll see many people bathing in the holy waters.
Entrance fee: Free
Unlike Jama Masjid where they try to scam you and charge for everything, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib was a delight to visit. No charge for anything and everyone seemed friendly. We had to wear a headscarf to enter the main prayer hall and a kind gentleman told us about it, showed us where they were and even put them on for us!
Delhi might be chaotic and just another big city but it’s definitely worth spending a few days there. Because of the traffic, we didn’t get to visit half of what we wanted so we’d recommend at least 3 full days especially if you are really interested in seeing the main sights.
Accommodation in Dehli
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