That one word is the most typical response I hear whenever I explain to a fellow traveler that I enjoy spending time in Delhi, India. And usually, such travelers throw in an “I just don’t get it” or “I don’t see the appeal” or “Are you crazy?” as well, finding it extremely difficult to comprehend how I could possibly like this city of thirteen million people.
I don’t know. I like Delhi. I’ve spent a great deal of time in this city over the years and it quickly became one of my favorite destinations in this country.
The Things I Do In Delhi
This is a city where I can wander through the chaotic lanes and alleys shooting off of Chandni Chowk, the never-ending market area in the heart of Old Delhi. It’s all about walking slow as I peer into shops selling everything that has ever been created on this planet, from wedding supplies to musical instruments to food, talking with street vendors, dodging the bicycle rickshaws and just soaking in the colorful and energetic atmosphere. Maps are not needed in these parts as one just needs to start walking and allow the adventure to unfold.
This city is also where I can duck into the Sisganj Gurdwara, a small Sikh Temple in Chandni Chowk. Enter the main gate, hand your shoes to the shoekeepers behind the counter, walk around to the entrance, take a seat at the back of the room and enjoy the soothing music, hypnotic praying and people-watching opportunities before you.
From here, I like to take a taxi or auto-rickshaw over to Raj Ghat, a most pleasant park area near the banks of the Yamuna River. This is the site of a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi and a simple walk around the premises, with a few moments of reflection in front of the eternal flame, offers a surprisingly calm experience in a city that is far more known for noise and chaos.
Luckily, this is not the only location in Delhi that offers such a peaceful experience. Jump on the metro in Rajiv Chowk, jump off the metro at Nehru Place, exit the front door of the station, turn left and walk for approximately fifteen minutes until you reach the main gate of the Lotus Temple, also known as the Baha’i House of Worship. Entrance is free and after a short meandering stroll through the gardens and a quick introduction to the Baha’i faith, given by one of the temple staff, you’ll be allowed to enter the main room/meditation/prayer hall where you can sit in complete silence for as long as you wish. In fact, you must be silent inside as no talking is allowed at all and as a result, this one room has to be the absolute quietest location in all of Delhi. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place to spend some time.
At around 4pm on any given day, hop on the metro once again and ride out to Akshardham, which is not only the name of the metro stop, but also the name of the 8-year old temple/cultural center that has quickly become one of the most impressive sights in Delhi and beyond. Expect long lines and a thorough security check (you cannot bring any bags, backpacks or any electronics inside whatsoever but they do have a secure cloakroom where you can leave your stuff for free) but once you’re inside the temple grounds, you’ll need at least a couple of hours to explore this magnificent sight. Why visit in the late afternoon? It allows you to experience the complex in both daylight and after sunset when the structure is fully lit up, something that will almost certainly leave you in complete awe.
Other places I tend to visit include…
Lodhi Gardens – A beautiful, expansive park and gardens with walking trails, peaceful atmosphere and some stunning 15th century Muslim tombs that you can visit too.
Connaught Place – It has everything you could possibly need, from shops to markets to restaurants to bars to a park in the middle and it’s not as chaotic as the market areas in Old Delhi. I typically head here to go for a wander, do some people watching, eat some good food, enjoy a good coffee and get re-adjusted to India every time I arrive in the country.
Majnu-ka-tilla – This neighborhood is home to a sizable population of second generation Tibetan refugees and offers and makes for an interesting place to spend a day. The Tibetan culture is on full display here, from dress to shops to food, and I simply enjoy wandering the area, interacting with people and soaking up a different side of Delhi.
Where Do I Eat In Delhi?
I’ll make this simple. Here’s a list of my favorite eating locations in Delhi.
- Food Stall in Connaught Place (M Block, Connaught Circle) – I don’t know the name but I do know that it’s located next to a fresh fruit juice stand on the outer road, among a cluster of food stalls near the old fire station. It’s painted blue and there is a man at a tiny table sitting in front. Just ask him for some food and he will ensure you get a huge plate of spiced beans and rice, with raita and vegetables, for only 40 Rupees (70 US cents). It’s delicious food and the stall is very popular with local businessmen working in the area.
- Nizam’s – The specialty is kathi kebab rolls, made of a think pan-fried bread rolled up and stuffed with any number of fillings, including egg, vegetables, chicken or mutton. I’ve been eating here ever since my first visit to Delhi back in 2001 and I go back every single time. It’s a welcoming place, always crowded and always satisfying. (Kathi kebabs range from 120 – 220 Rps each)
- Vegetarian Restaurant across from the New Delhi Train Station – there are dozens of restaurants in this area but if you enter the main lane, you’ll easily identify the restaurant in the photo below. It may look grubby but it’s been there forever, they cook every meal to order and it is consistently very tasty. They have dozens of North Indian dishes to choose from and after you finish your meal, don’t forget to have a sweet lassi from the lassi stand directly across the lane. (60 Rupees per dish)
- Tadka – It’s only been around for five years or so but this place, located in the Main Bazaar of Pahar Ganj, is about as ideal a restaurant as there is for first-time visitors to India. It’s clean, it’s friendly, the food is great and everything is prepared fresh. Try out their vegetarian thali (it comes with two veg curries, dhal, curd, bread and rice) or their Navratan Korma (one of the best I’ve had in all of India) and you’ll see why this place is often filled with travelers looking for an excellent and safe first meal or two.
- Pandit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan Paranthewala – Located on Paranthe Wali Gali (‘the lane of parantha makers’) in the Chandi Chowk area of Old Delhi, this popular local eatery has apparently been around since 1872. You can expect a wait and once it’s your turn, you’ll have to squeeze together with other diners at one of the handful of tables. Order a parantha (pan-fried wheat bread) or two or three and you can choose to have them stuffed with cheese, peas or potatoes. You’ll also receive a couple of vegetarian curries, some chili sauce and a sweet banana sauce to dip those yummy paranthas straight into. Good stuff. (60 Rps per person)
- The GT Road – For $15 per person, you are treated to a culinary experience like no other. The cuisine consists of dishes from the various cultures located along the Grand Trunk Road, an ancient road stretching from Afghanistan to Pakistan to India to Bangladesh. The food here is served in a beautiful setting, with incredible service. Staff bring a variety of dishes straight to your table and there’s also an extensive buffet of even more dishes. They also ask if you’re vegetarian or not and then bring you food according to your preferences.
- Nirula’s – Desert time! Now I’m not even sure if this place really serves good ice cream but when you want an evening escape from the Delhi heat and are in the mood for something sweet, head down to Nirula’s, located in the K Block of Connaught Place, right next to Sagar Ratna, a very good South Indian restaurant. Once inside, you’ll have a choice of all the typical ice cream setups (cones, sundaes, banana splits, as well as ice cream sodas, milkshakes and cakes). I often end my long days in Delhi with a Lime Fizz Ice Cream Soda and it never disappoints, nor does the laid-back atmosphere of this small hangout.
Where Do I Stay In Delhi?
There are many areas of Delhi to sleep in, but I always choose to book accommodation in Paharganj, a somewhat chaotic market area directly across from the New Delhi Train Station. I personally enjoy the constant hustle and bustle (maybe not the constant noise so much), the availability of good budget hotels and the convenient location between Old and New Delhi.
Here’s where I’ve typically stayed…
- Raj’s Cozy Inn (ultra-budget) – The room’s are smallish but this 11 room ‘inn’ is clean, offers hot water, decent beds and a friendly atmosphere, all for a reasonable price of 495 Rps (very small room) or 650 Rps (larger room).
- Smyle Inn (ultra-budget) – With two ‘wings’, rooms range from around 700 – 1050 Rupees per night. The rooms are quite decent and spacious (especially the more expensive rooms) and they come with hot water, with breakfast on the rooftop included as well. It’s a bit on the pricey side for what you get overall but it’s a reliable option nonetheless.
- Hotel Singh Palace (budget) – For around $20 USD per night, you can get a proper hotel room in the heart of Paharganj. The rooms are very large, with comfortable, proper mattresses, big bathrooms, hot water, sitting area and air-conditioning. It’s located just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of this market area, allowing you to escape the madness as well. It’s certainly an excellent value, especially for first-time visitors.
- Colonel’s Retreat (mid-range) – This guesthouse in the quiet Defence Colony neighborhood of the city is superb. Comfy rooms, great service and a positive vibe makes this place a genuine oasis. Not bad for around $30 USD per night.
- Metropolitan Hotel and Spa (high-end) – This is a 5* hotel located just outside of Connaught Place, where rooms are often priced at around $75 per night. The hotel is super convenient as it’s walking distance to shops, restaurants, nightlife, the metro and a ton of sites as well. They also offer a good breakfast and decent spa. If you’re looking for more comfort than a budget hotel but don’t want to splurge on some of the $100 – $200 per night hotels, this is a great option.
Are you ready to give Delhi a try? If you stick to the above I’m certain you’ll have as rewarding an experience as I have each and every time I’m here. Even my group seemed to thoroughly enjoy this city, which is quite remarkable considering that, for almost all of them, it was their first two days being in this crazy country that is India.
So, don’t count this city out before you have a chance to really experience what it has to offer, to do Delhi the Wandering Earl way!
Have you been to Delhi? How was your experience? For those who haven’t been, does it sound appealing to you?
I could 2nd the recommendation on Humayun’s Tomb, which I believe was part of the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. I heard it was relatively neglected or ignored by Indians until Pres. Obama visited it on a swing through New Delhi, and then attendance figures skyrocketed, allowing for increased attendance fees and restoration work to proceed.
How is the Red Fort — a 1X visit, or worth returning? It reminds me a bit (based on photos) of Fort Agra, where some of my favorite views of Taj (the ones you rarely see of it in photos) are from the various palace complexes in the Fort.
I’d say the Red Fort is a 1 time visit, at least for me. That might also be due to the other forts around the country that I find more fascinating and are far less touristy. The one in Agra is great as well! But for Delhi, I generally recommend the Red Fort only if people have extra time on their hands.
[…] Derek Baron, the Wandering Earl […]
[…] days ago, I spent two hours in the heart of Old Delhi with a friend of mine who happened to be in the city as well. We wandered through the lanes of […]
This is such a proud moment for any true Delhitte. I am glad there are bloggers like you who really can see & feel the heart of the city & actually love it.
Thank you! 🙂
Great article. Now I’m going to have to go back to Delhi 🙂 Last I was there I missed a lot of the sites you mentioned. I’m definitely going to go to Akshardham, that place looks awesome. Thanks for posting those hotels too. I didn’t have a clue where to stay when I was there because I wasn’t using any guides to the city preferring to open myself for a new experience. Luckily, I met a really nice guy who put me up with this family and took me to his cousins wedding. It was my first Hindu wedding and something special that will always remind me how great the city is!! Thanks for the info.
Hey Ian – Well, that seems to have worked out well…I’d take a local wedding over a budget hotel any day in India!
[…] go on this Welcome to India Tour?DelhiWe began in Delhi, a chaotic city for sure, but one that is full of interesting experiences, including Akshardham Temple, the Lotus Temple, the streets and markets of Old Delhi, India’s […]
What!?!?!? A proper hotel in the heart of Pahar Ganj? That neighborhood has certainly changed since we were there! This is a great hit-the-ground-running resource for anyone planning a visit to Delhi.
As a Westerner, were you ever afraid of eating from food stalls? I am going around the world this spring and I would love to experience food stall food but how do I know which are safe? How did you find out in India?
Hey Wendy – I’m not really afraid at all. I just use the simple rule that if many local people are eating at a particular place, then it’s safe to eat. I wouldn’t eat at a food stall that is empty and looking overly grubby. But if people are there and the food is being prepared fresh, then I’ll go for it.
[…] on in the afternoon I’ll be rejoining Wandering Earl and the rest of his Welcome To India Tour, which I’ve been helping out on and enjoying myself. It’s my fourth time in India, […]
Just seeing these pictures and hearing how its going makes me regret not being there. The tour seems to be going off without a hitch, and it looks like you have the natural ability to take care of everything. Good Luck Earl!
Thanks Ryan, and yes, the tour is going quite smoothly so far!
As per usual in India, the land of contradictions, I had some of my absolute best and worst experiences in Delhi. Great tips about the hotels, as it can be hard to find a good one in amongst the mayhem!
You have to be mentally prepared for the chaos, but if you are, Delhi is a great destination. I went for the first time about 5 weeks ago and loved it starting on Day 2, after I recovered from jet lag and could appreciate it. Great post – thanks for sharing.
Hey Jeff – It is a good idea to take it very easy the first day or two when in Delhi or any other city that you arrive into in India. Then you can slowly make your way into the chaos and it will be much easier to adjust to.
I love big cities, and places where you can try to blend in and disappear. Delhi sounds wonderful, especially for someone who wants to enjoy a decent stay on a smaller budget!
Call it coincidence, but we posted a Delhi post on exactly the same day. The funny thing is that we are both trying to convince people to do visit Delhi and not leave it quickly after arrival in India.
We have been visiting India with our kids last summer. Only for 10 days in order to give our kids a first glimp of the most impressive country in the world. We will return!
Here’s the link to my post: https://www.actoftraveling.com/2012/11/delhi-surprises/
Hey Emiel – That is funny and I’m glad to hear that we’re all on the same page when it comes to this massive city 🙂
Definitely will look up to this post again when I book my flight to Delhi one day. Great advice, great info on Akshardham and Lotus Temple, great info on the accommodation too! Thanks Derek!
Hey Bama – My pleasure and I hope it really does prove useful when you do make it to Delhi!
Thanks Earl for the great post. Will definitely use this as handbook when we are in Delhi, especially the food joints:-).
Hey Kanja – Let me know how it goes if you do go to some of the food places I recommended!
Oh I loved India, but that was 16 years ago, looking forward to going back. We are currently in Goa, and it’s so lovely. Still sad we missed out on your tour…..
Hey Jill – Glad you’re enjoying Goa!! I hope to make it down there after the tour at some point as I haven’t been in a long time!
Loved it 🙂
After stepping out from New Delhi station and seeing metal detectors at the entrance to Paharganj, I knew the only way to tackle Delhi was to dive head first into the madness. One place that has always stuck in mind is Palika Bazaar – never before had I seen such a high concentration of pirate CDs and DVDs.
Great stuff. I’m heading to Delhi again (for the 3rd time) in January for a friend’s wedding. I love it so thanks for a few new ideas on things to see and do!
Been to Delhi so many times, have so many memories from there…..yet when I read your article its like exploring it all over again…..Will again be in Delhi next week… !!!!
Hey Sukirti – Well, I hope you have a wonderful visit during your next stay in Delhi!
Delhi is a great city, with lots of parks, a thriving music & theatre scene, and lots of good food! Tughlaqabad fort is a nice place to go discover too, and some of the ‘trendier’ neighborhoods of New Delhi have great little indie shops & cafés. The traffic is pretty crazy, and some places are definitely hard to discover without knowing someone from Delhi, but it’s worth getting to know better!
As for women travelling in Delhi, I suppose it’s like in most big cities – you have to be careful when you’re out after dark, especially in certain neighborhoods. That being said, many cities in Europe and America are more dangerous than Delhi!
Earl I have to say I’m totally jealous. India is my dream trip and the way you describe it makes me wish I was there right now! I fell in love with Indian culture through Bollywood and friends here in the States, so all the things you’re referencing put an instant picture in my mind even though I’ve never been. Someday I’ll go, just make sure you keep doing this tour business please, cause I’d like to visit India the way you do 🙂
Hey Christine – I’m quite sure I’ll be running plenty of more trips to India in the future and I look forward to having your join one of them!
Earl, this is a great post as it has everything that a first visitor might have trouble with. I loved this city and will certainly return someday. There was no city metro system when I was there. I bet it makes getting around much easier.
I often wonder how some travelers make up their minds on how to like a place or not. I think misery loves company and that some people just like to complain to be liked by others. They want to be part of the “group”. One might be considered weird if they liked a place like New Delhi. However, there’s the other group that just wants to be part of the “weird group” too!
I myself, like to make up my own mind. I also like to wander and give all places the benefit of the doubt. I try not to have preconceived ideas of anywhere. I know that I have predigests, just like just about anybody, but I try to identify them as I’m experiencing them, to overcome them. If anxiety attacks, it’s time to slow down and enjoy.
Good luck with your tour group, they’re in good hands!
Hey Steve – The metro really does make traveling much easier in Delhi as the entire city is suddenly so accessible. And I think that many people hear so much negativity about a place like Delhi and before they even spend time here, they believe they won’t enjoy it. And of course, if you believe you won’t enjoy a place, chances are that you won’t enjoy it in the end.
Great advice there, thanks! I struggled to enjoy Delhi when I was there, but that is in part to arriving on a train from Rathambor (sp?) National Park (Tigers) with some other Brits, and we didn’t realise we should have reserved a ticket cos we went to get this overnight train and it was packed to the rafters. So when I arrived I was sleep deprived and faced the city alone, as my travelling buddies were leaving the next day. However….! I did stay in a very curious place, which was like YMCA, but for ladies, called WYMC or something like that. We also visited a place that was significant to Ghandi, a Ghandi museum i think, and had quite a surreal experience in a park some where in Dheli which looked kind of English in style but was totally tropical! Like most of India, it was a bit of a trip. i went round Connaught place too and to the back streets – that was pretty amazing! I passed back through there some months later with an Aussie traveller but we just couldn’t enjoy the city really as we’d been in the lower Himalayas and Ive never been a fan of crowds or cities or traffic that literally doesn’t move, BUT those recommendations are great and I’d really like you to be my travelling buddy if I was to ever go back there! One word of advice to folks, personally, if it was my first time in India, there’s No Way I would arrive in Delhi, it’s too mental – arrive into Mumbai instead, it’s more chilled out and different vibe. Take care! xoxo
Hey Helen – Well, let me know if you’re ever back in Delhi! Although, it’s funny to hear everyone’s opinions because to me, Mumbai is much crazier than Delhi. I find Delhi to be a much easier place to start off in and I always try to avoid arriving into Mumbai 🙂
Hi,Earl, I am so happy I ran across your blog–I just love it. I have never particularly wanted to visit India (I am more a Europe kind of gal) but you make it sound great. My only complaint: Not Enough Pictures! More pictures of all your trips please please please! Peace & Love, Patricia
Hey Patricia – There will be more photos from India for sure over the next few weeks and I’ll do my best to put as many up as I possibly can 🙂
Great entry! I can’t wait to visit India next year and will definitely use this as a guide to my first week or two in country, great information presented in an easy to follow way. Thanks so much! For someone traveling to India for the first time you do think it best to hire a local guide instead of just diving in?
Hey Frank – I would say it depends on your travel experiences in other countries so far. If you’ve spent time in other developing countries, then I don’t think you’ll need a guy. Also, it depends on how long you plan to stay in India. If you are staying for a a long time, then there is no need to rush and you can figure it all out on your own as your adventure unfolds. If you’re there for a short period of time, then having a guide might help you save time and make your adjustment a little easier. And if you do go for a guide, I highly recommend contacting Ajay through the email in the post above as he has two wonderful guides – Bhudi and Sonu – will who show you an incredible time!
Such great advice for such an awesome city! I wish I had had more than 3 days there!!!
Hey Andi – There’s always a next time!
Yes!! Another Delhi lover!
I like it too. Because of no reason in particular. Maybe because of the chaos and the anonymous charachter of a big city, combined with all that India has to offer. Allthough I don’t really know where to stay…and for a good price. The hotels I went too, that are kinda bugdet, are also kinda dirty all the time. And the bed is kinda shitty. And the water kinda hot. I found a hostel that has expensive dorms, but free wifi, free breakfast (which is one of the best I ever had in any hostel…) and provides nice contacts with travelers in a millioncity.
Delhi is like an explosion of India. It pulls me, but as it attacks my senses its smells, colors, dirt, beauty and a weird kind of freedom, it pushes me away aswell. I can handle it for some time, then my body needs fresh oxigen and nutricion, because the air and the food in Delhi are lacking both.
In response to the blog and to Melyssa G., I can say that my wife really enjoyed Delhi. We were only there for our final 2 days in India and had scheduled less time there in advance as we thought it was going to be too busy for us, but in the end, it’s a city she would have liked to have spent more time at. The new metro system there is world class and makes it even easier to get to the outlying areas of the city and see some of the sites out there.
We blogged about our experiences, which you can read here: https://ipadnomads.com/2012/04/02/a-weekend-in-delhi/
Earl, have you experienced the milk shake guy at Connaught Place? They do some crazy business and don’t even have a sign outside their shop with a business name or anything. Charlotte still fondly remembers those milkshakes and you can see in it her face on the post I listed above. They offer them with ice cream but they are fantastic on their own!
As a true ‘Delhiite’ who has lived in (and loved) the city for more than 25 years now, I must congratulate you Earl, for a brilliant post. There is, as you say, a lot to see in Delhi: one just has to skip the malls and get lost in the lanes of Chandni Chowk. Can I add a few personal must-visit places? Lodhi Gardens for some lovely landscapes and architecture, Humayun’s Tomb which is my favourite monument in the city, and Dilli Haat for a great mix of culture and shopping (don’t miss the CHEAP momos, chilli sauce and fruit beer at the Manipuri stall)! Also, a great resource for anyone to experience Delhi is Mayank’s blog: https://www.thedelhiwalla.com
Melyssa: I know Delhi has a bad reputation for being unsafe for women and in some cases it can be. But like anywhere else in India (and in the world I’d say), it is always good to be mindful about the local culture (read dress appropriately). It is definitely safe to explore the city during the day and when you go out at night, just make sure you have a proper mode of transport to get back. There are many on-call, licensed cabs that are available easily.
Earl from ipad Nomads: Wow are you talking about Keventers in CP? That’s one popular place 🙂
The place was so busy we didn’t see a name but they were fantastic, we ordered one to start and had to get a second!
I’ll have to look around for it…was it a street stall or actually a restaurant? Or was it like a shop where you ordered at a counter from the street?
Hey Chandni – Thank you for your input and actually, Lodhi Gardens is another place that I love as well. Not sure why I didn’t mention it in the post! And I’ll have to check out your momo recommendation as I’m not familiar with Dilli Haat 🙂
Hey Earl – I’m not familiar with that milkshake guy in CP…do you remember where he was located exactly?
It’s called Keventers. It’s in CP, inner circle, Block A I think.
It sounds awesome. I am wondering what it is like to do all these as a woman. A few friends of mine tried to explore Delhi for a couple days and described it as a total nightmare. What they experienced seems related to their gender. Have any of your female friends done these same things and how was it for them? Any advice for women wandering around Delhi?
Yes. I was alone. And its perfectly fine, as long as you keep on dressing yourself up. Shoulders and knees covered and don´t try to get any attention with blond hair and lots of make up. I´m almost invisible to Indians… Tilll I get around some sort of touristic attraction, then I´ll become one myself.
I traveled around India for almost a month and as a western woman (with light skin, light hair and light eyes), I honestly felt overwhelmed at times. It was not uncommon for me to be touched by men that I didn’t know. Men would literally stop and stare at me and at least twice a day, groups of men would ask to take a picture with me. Now, I’m not overly pretty or anything and I was dressed conservatively, I just think that how freakishly white I am is so different that they’re curious. If you’re with a man, it shouldn’t be TOO bad but if you’re alone, I’d be very cautious and to be honest, you may not enjoy it as much due to all the unwanted attention. I got my first dose of celebrity there and I’m not itching for any more of it. If you can get over that, Delhi truly is an amazing city with tons of history. I absolutely loved it too — just found it to be more of a “difficult” destination.
Hey Melyssa – I have many female friends who have been all over India and for the most part, they have loved their experiences as much as I have. I think the key is to definitely dress conservatively, as other readers have mentioned, and to be prepared for all of the staring, questions and conversations initiated by men. But my friends have also told me that wearing a wedding ring helps quite a bit as does telling every male that asks that you are married!