Most international tourists who visit Delhi for the first time spend only a day in the capital city, after which they quickly move on to Agra in the south to see the renowned Taj Mahal, and to Jaipur in the west, a city in the Rajasthan desert. This tour is called the Golden Triangle Tour and is typically conducted over a period of six days, sometimes four days. As a result, regular tourists don’t get the opportunity to experience Delhi. Instead, what they usually see is a quick drive past Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President’s home; a thirty-minute photo op at the war memorial India Gate and a stopover at Raj Ghat, a memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi; a drive past Old Delhi and an hour visit at the Red Fort.
Those sights are covered as much as possible in the morning, following which there would be a lunch break, perhaps a tour of the Lotus Temple post-lunch or onward travels to Agra.
Some tourists may spend more time exploring Old Delhi – a chaotic maze of tiny lanes and crumbling havelis with Jama Masjid looms large in the background – but still, Delhi is so much more than the old quarter.
To have some idea of what Delhi is like, one needs to explore the capital city in small bites over a period of at least two or three days at a leisurely pace. In this way, you would not feel overwhelmed by the throngs of people, noise and congestion.
So, what are the fascinating sights that tourists can explore in Delhi? Here are my recommendations:
#1 India Gate
At the centre of New Delhi stands a 42-metre high archway called India Gate, a war memorial that commemorates and honours more than 13,000 British and Indian soldiers who died during World War I and on the Northwest Frontier in the Afghan War of 1919.
#2 Old Delhi
Old Delhi is extremely crowded with people jostling, merchants hawking goods such as spices, bread, religious articles, jewellery, fabric, brasswares, pretty much everything.
Have lunch in Karim’s Restaurant which still serves excellent Mughlai food and order their signature dish mutton korma, seekh kebab (minced mutton with coriander cooked on flat skewers) and the crepe-like rumali roti. Karim’s restaurant is easy to find among the labyrinth of narrow lanes in Old Delhi – a stone’s throw away from Gate No. 1 of Jama Masjid.
#3 Jama Masjid
Towering over Old Delhi is one of the largest mosques in India – Jama Masjid. Made of red sandstone and white marble, Jama Masjid serves as a reminder of grand Mughal architecture during the rule of Emperor Shah Jahan in the mid-1600s.
#4 Red Fort
The majestic Red Fort is a 17th century fort built by Emperor Shah Jahan and is the largest monument in Old Delhi. The main attractions inside the Red Fort are Diwani-i-Aam, a large hall for the emperor to meet the public and Diwani-i-Khas, a pavilion made of marble with floral carvings and inlay work of semi-precious stones.
#5 Humayun’s Tomb
Another red sandstone structure, Humayun’s Tomb was commissioned by Emperor Humayun’s wife, Hamida Banu Begum in the 16th century to honour his death. The tomb was where the emperor was finally laid to rest and is set in a 30-acre garden complex inspired by Persian architecture, comprising four gardens divided by walkways and water channels.
#6 Safdarjung Tomb
Following the architectural tradition of Humayun’s Tomb but less grand is Safdarjung Tomb. The mausoleum was built in the mid-1700s as a mausoleum for Safdarjung who was the Prime Minister of the Mughal empire under the rule of Ahmad Shah Bahadur.
#7 Qutub Minar
Qutub Minar is the tallest stone tower in India with a height of 238ft and 379 steps. Initially commissioned by Qutbud-Din Aibak in the late 1100s and early 1200s, the construction of this red sandstone minaret was finally completed 400 years later. Interestingly, the height of the tower is just 5 feet less than that of the Taj Mahal!
#8 Lotus Temple
Popularly known as the Lotus Temple for its flower-like shape, this Bahai house of worship is set amongst nine pools and gardens which gives the impression of a floating half-open lotus flower surrounded by outspread leaves. The temple is open to all faiths and an ideal place for meditation as its atmosphere is simply peaceful and tranquil.
Shopping & Chill Out
After some time, you would invariably experience heritage fatigue, then it’s time to take a break for some shopping, and Delhi has no dearth of places for you to spend your cash. Or you can simply chill out to have some food and drinks.
#1 Dilli Haat
Dilli Haat is a craft bazaar selling crafts from all over India. Products sold here are sandalwood carvings, drapery, fabric, gems and beads, bangles, brasswares, paintings, just to name a few. Prices of the items sold in Dilli Haat are fixed – government-controlled – so you can be sure of not being ripped off.
#2 Lajpat Nagar
Numerous stalls and shops selling sarees, embroidered fabrics and herbal cosmetics in Lajpat Nagar’s Central Market. And if you’re tired from the shopping, you can always recharge with varieties of food and snacks in the area.
#3 Khan Market
A popular shopping destination in Delhi especially among the expats community, Khan Market is upmarket, classy and posh with boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bakeries.
Apart from Old Delhi, majority of the historical sites are located in New Delhi particularly South Delhi, thus it is recommended to stay in South Delhi area. Accommodation is aplenty in South Delhi ranging from luxurious 5-star hotels, boutique and business hotels to Airbnb homes.
Look for an accommodation that is close to a metro station – within walking distance or a short rickshaw ride – so that it is convenient for you to travel to the historical sites or shopping places. Metro connectivity in Delhi is rather extensive, hence it is easy to get around in the capital city.
#1 Luxury Hotel
Located right in the Diplomatic Enclave is the prestigious Taj Palace Delhi, a 5-star hotel that represents world class luxury and top-notch hospitality. Taj Palace Delhi exudes a regal ambience, rooms are of royal comfort and classy interiors.
#2 Boutique/Business Hotel
If you are a business or solo traveller looking for cosy and compact accommodation, Bloomrooms@Link Road is a 4-star hotel located in South Delhi and within walking distance to Jungpura metro station.
But if you want to rent a room and stay with a local family or rent a self-contained apartment, Airbnb is another option. You can a wonderful experience getting to know a local family or have access to unique homes.
The trick to not feeling overpowered by the crowds and noise in Delhi or anywhere in India at least is to go with the flow. The chaos here is often called “organized chaos”, hence if you avoid having to continuously control time or avoid wanting constant efficiency, you will be able to enjoy Delhi with all its heritage, congestion…and honking.
This post was written in collaboration with Cleartrip, and my stay at Bloomrooms@Link Rd was complimentary for one night only. Opinions expressed in this post are my own