The Indian Capital
Firmly on the tourist trail of Rajasthan, and a third component of the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, visitors usually stay in Delhi for a brief few days (guilty) before travelling on to their next destination. There is just so much to the Indian capital that you can’t summarise it in a few simple phrases – you could probably write a novel just describing the transfer to your accommodation! I’ll try my best to sum it up…
How can I describe New Delhi…
Delhi is absolutely huge, but surprisingly easy to navigate with a good map and a firm head on your shoulders. The metro is a brilliant use of transport, and there will always be an auto-rickshaw around to pick you up if need be.
Delhi is hot, polluted, and noisy. It’s colourful, even if on first glance you think it’s dirty (it is dirty too though). It smells really, really bad – there’s no denying that. Pavements have fallen through, electric cables hang from buildings, and the traffic is just crazy.
Delhi is busy – completely over-crowded: faces stare at you every way you look, people shout at you, offer you their goods, persist even though you said you’re not interested.
Delhi is a divide of poverty and wealth. Seeing children sleep on the streets will bring tears to your eyes and make you realise how lucky you are. Seeing wealthy businessmen yapping away on their mobile phones, switching between Hindi and English, will make you question the inequality in the city.
Delhi is full of haggling and tourist traps and scams, but you can easily avoid all of them with a little research, common sense and an assertive nature.
Delhi is full of huge, beautiful buildings, religious shrines and historic monuments visited by tourists from across the globe – places that hold a special place in Indians’ hearts.
Often described as ‘an attack on the senses,’ Delhi is incredible.
I won’t sugarcoat this post. I’m not going to tell you that you MUST go to Delhi or that it’s spiritual and you’ll ‘find yourself’ and so on. I’m just going to be matter of fact. When we arrived in Delhi, jet lagged but excited, I found myself completely overwhelmed. I felt wholly unprepared for the culture-shock I experienced, so much so that we actually left the capital the day after we arrived. When we returned to Delhi after a few weeks travelling around India, I felt much more comfortable.
Below is a selection of four sites we visited in Delhi. These are all pretty touristy attractions, but, bizarrely, they don’t feel that touristy because there are popular with so many Indian tourists too. I only wish I had more experiences from Delhi to share with you – when we left, I found myself wishing that we could stay longer; there is just so much to see!
1) Swaminarayan Akshardham (The Akshardham Temple)
The Akshardham temple attracts approximately 70% of all tourists who visit Delhi, and it’s easy to see why. The architecture of the sandstone and marble complex is simply stunning. Elaborately detailed statues of Hindu gods, animals and holy people cover the outside walls of the Mandir, with legends illustrating tales of religious importance. It’s definitely worth walking around the entire exterior of the temple, which is surrounded by the holy waters of 151 rivers, lakes and stepwells.
Inside, the interior is no less spectacular, with colourful paintings, detailed carvings and golden statues. You can easily lose track of time while gazing at the intricacies that cover the walls and dome ceilings. A homage to traditional Indian architecture, construction of the temple was completed in 2005, commending the work of over 8,000 volunteers from countries across the globe.
The wonderful thing about this temple is that you are not allowed to take cameras inside – so instead of focusing on taking heaps of photos, you find yourself marvelling at the beauty of the complex and appreciating its significance.
- You must leave your belongings in the cloakroom outside the complex, where you’ll be handed a token. This is perfectly safe, but if you’d rather not risk it, leave your things at your accommodation.
- In order to enter the temple, you must leave your shoes in a separate cloakroom inside the complex, where you’re given a metal token.
- You will be frisked heavily before entering the complex so don’t try to sneak any prohibited items in.
- Entry fee: free, cloakroom fee: free
- Opening hours: 9:30am – 8:00pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays.
- Closest metro station: Akshardham
- Website: http://akshardham.com
2) Humayan’s Tomb
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Humayan’s tomb is the resting place of the second Mughal Emporer, Humayan, who ruled the territory of parts of modern day Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern India in the 1500s.
A beautiful structure made from red sandstone, the tomb took eight years to construct and was paid for entirely by Humayan’s first wife, Bega Begum. The tomb is surrounded by the Char Bagh Garden, a 30-acre symmetrical site featuring fountains, water channels and lush plants.
Dotted around the tomb are numerous other buildings, including the resting-places of Humayan’s dependents, as well as beautiful mosques and gates, all of which are worth seeing. I recommend allowing at least half a day here to see everything, though the gardens are a lovely place to relax and lose track of time.
- Entry fees: Rs.250 for foreigners, Rs.10 for Indians.
- Opening times: Sunrise to sunset, every day.
- Closest metro station: JNL Stadium
- Website: http://www.humayunstomb.com
3) The Red Fort
Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Red Fort was built in 1648 by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal Emporer of India – the very same who built the Taj Mahal. Named as such because of its red sandstone walls, the fort is a huge complex comprised of numerous buildings and museums.
The Lahore Gate, which is the main entrance to the complex and points towards Lahore, is an important symbol to Indian nationals and attracts huge numbers of visitors every Independence Day (15th August), where the Prime Minister of India gives a speech and the flag is hoisted. Again, we recommend allowing half a day here.
- Opening times: 9:30am to 4:30pm Tuesday to Sunday, closed on Mondays.
- Entry fees: Rs.250 for foreigners, Rs.10 for Indians.
- Closest metro station: Chandni Chowk
- Website: http://www.redfortdelhi.co.in
4) Jama Masjid
Completed in 1656, this beautiful mosque is one of the largest across India, and was also built by Shah Janan. Similarly to the other sites mentioned in this post, the building is constructed from red sandstone and is a place of worship for Muslims; as such, tourists are not allowed to enter during prayer hours.
The views of Old Delhi from the top of the mosque are simply marvelling, and you’ll have a friendly ‘guide’ escort you to the top of the tower, who you’ll need to tip.
- Top tip: You can borrow robes at the northern gate (main entrance).
- Entry fee: free to the mosque, Rs.100 to the tower. Cameras: Rs.30 per device.
- Closest metro station: Chawri Bazaar
Top tips for visiting Delhi:
- Dress modestly – both women and men should keep their arms and legs covered. Comfortable footwear is advised since you’ll be doing a lot of walking!
- Avoid fake ‘bottled’ water – the infamous Delhi-belly is best kept at bay by drinking filtered bottled water. Some bottles you’ll see will have been tampered with, perhaps with a strange seal on the lid or a knock-off label. Outside the grounds of the Red Fort, we noticed that the bottle of water we had bought seemed counterfeit, with a knock-off name of the Indian brand Brislie – it might have been perfectly safe to drink, but we didn’t want to risk it.
- Beware of pickpockets – like in any busy city, pickpockets can be a risk. Keep your belongings safe and bags in front of you.
- Know when to haggle – remember that 100 rupees is equal to £1, which isn’t a lot to you but means the world to a poor local.
- Delhi Tourism – for useful information about the sites, tours, where to stay etc.
- Delhi Metro – maps, timings, and information on the tourist card (unlimited travel for either 1 day (Rs. 100) or 3 days (Rs. 250) – plus a refundable Rs. 50 deposit) Note: often there will be a women-only carriage on the metro – if you’re male (cough: James), don’t accidentally get in this carriage!
Well, there you have it – these are the four main sites we visited while in the Indian capital. There is SO much more to see and do in Delhi, and I wish I had stayed longer to explore the city further!
Have you been to Delhi before? What do you recommend seeing? Let me know so I can add it to my list for next time!
Thanks for reading,