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 on 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.
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)
- 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 Pahar Ganj, 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 typically stay…
- Vansh Palace – It’s cheap (400 Rupees per night), the rooms are large, if not somewhat rundown, you get a private bathroom and it’s generally quiet on this small lane. Ideal hotel for the budget-conscious as the room size is well above average for this city.
- Raj’s Cozy Inn – 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 – 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 City Heights – For those looking to splurge a little, for around $40 USD per night, you can get a proper hotel room in the heart of Pahar Ganj. The rooms are very large, with comfortable, proper mattresses, big bathrooms, hot water, sitting area and air-conditioning. It might not be the friendliest hotel in the city, but it’s certainly an excellent value, especially for first-time visitors.
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!
And for those who may be visiting India for the first time, it can be a good idea to use a local to help organize your airport pickup, accommodation and train tickets for the first week or so. It will certainly make your adjustment much easier. I have a personal contact – Ajay, the owner of Truly India Travel – who assisted me with the planning and reservations for my Welcome to India Tour. He’s as honest, kind and dedicated as they come and if you need anything in India, at the fairest prices imaginable, he’s your man. (Contact: [email protected] – tell him Earl sent you!)
Photo of Akshardham by Swaminarayan Sanstha
Have you been to Delhi? How was your experience? For those who haven’t been, does it sound appealing to you?