We decided to stay in New Delhi for the remainder of our trip but that wasn’t the plan initially.
New Delhi was our departure point so, naturally, that’s where our journey would end but I needed to wrap my head around the idea of spending the entirety of 8 days in one city. I was still itching to explore more. I wanted to visit the pink city of Jaipur which we skipped on our loop around Rajasthan deciding we could go once based in New Delhi.
But my enthusiasm was soon deflated when I remembered that traveling in India can be daunting and exhausting. To add to the sometimes complicated logistics of traveling throughout India was the presence of fog – a fog so dense we could hardly see a few feet in front of us – delaying trains and buses for hours on end or even days. After nearly two months of sleeping uncomfortably on barely-functional rundown buses and being on constant alert to avoid ever-present mischievous touts, we were ready to put down our backpacks and settle in for a while and New Delhi seemed the ideal place to do just that.
So I digressed and, instead, decided to let New Delhi surprise me – maybe even charm me.
We arrived by train from Darjeeling via Patna. The New Delhi Railway Station was conveniently located at the edge of the most popular district for travelers: Paharganj or commonly referred to as the backpacker
ghetto district. It’s certainly not the most attractive part of New Delhi but it is the most practical with dozens of choices for accommodation, cheap coffee shops and scruffy restaurants. It’s also probably the most eclectic with a mix of locals going about their daily grind, disabled beggars crawling the streets, the ever-present (and annoying) touts and travelers of every kind. And so this is where we decided to stay but we chose a hotel in a back alley away from the congested craziness and the cacophony of noises.
Paharganj is home to the Main Bazaar which is the main street filled to the brim with shop upon shop selling a mind-blowing variety of fashion accessories including jewelry, all sorts of bags, an eclectic mix of clothing, leather goods and lots more. The prices are irresistibly low (and they offer wholesale) which promises to turn just about anyone into a bonafide shopaholic.
If you prefer a more tame shopping experience away from the chaos and crowds of Paharganj then perhaps you should head over to Connaught Place – located in the heart of New Delhi. Just a short walk from Paharganj (or hop on a cycle rickshaw or tuk-tuk but it might take longer with the chaotic Delhi traffic), Connaught Place is an outdoor shopping arcade with white column-adorned shops offering higher end products. During the day it’s a shopping hub for the middle-to-upper-class and at night the sidewalks fill up with street vendors selling just about anything (this is India after all).
Shopping Tip: If you’re looking for some funky, locally-made stuff then head to People Tree located at 8, Regal Building. For some quality home decor and clothing (for men, women and children) handmade with traditional fabrics and prints, take two steps to The Shop (at 10, Regal Building) where you’ll find a beautiful selection without the hassle of haggling with touts (and the owner is the sweetest woman!).
Connaught Place is also a happening hang-out for the hip crowd of New Delhi who let loose in the many lively pubs scattered around the arcade. Coffee shops and restaurants with innovative and unique designs offering international cuisines abound. From Italian to Japanese to Lebanese – whatever your taste buds crave they’ll be sure to get instant gratification at one of the many restaurants at Connaught Place. If you want to stick to more local fares – fear not – there’s also an abundance of Indian restaurants. I recommend Pind Balluchi – a quirky restaurant with delicious Northern Indian (Punjabi) food on the menu. Just look for the host dressed in a red traditional Punjabi outfit (complete with plumed hat) at the door (or better yet head to 13, Regal Building).
LAL QILA (RED FORT)
New Delhi certainly doesn’t have a shortage of historical sites but the most visited might just be Lal Qila or Red Fort. Dating back to 1648, the red sandstone structure is testament to a marvelous architectural feat of Mughal design with traces of Persian, Islamic and Hindu influences. With well-preserved and well-appointed bastions and turrets, its design is so outstanding that it earned a place on the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In fact, Red Fort is a whole complex covering nearly 255 acres. It’s made up of several structures including pavilions decorated with intricate red sandstone colonnades. White marble columns adorned with delicately etched floral designs make up other structures of the complex. The pavilions are connected by pretty water channels and sit on finely manicured gardens. The immaculate grounds succeed in creating a certain sense of romanticism taking you back to the time of the Mughal empire – almost making you feel like an emperor (or empress) yourself.
HANUMAN MANDIR TEMPLE
During our time in India, we visited a number of palaces and temples but nothing like the one in New Delhi. Hanuman Mandir Temple is filled with strange, teeth-bearing creatures and demonic looking deities painted in crazy, vibrant colors. The walls are covered in a psychedelic mosaic of mirrors reflecting your image in a burst-like effect. The entrance of the temple is the fanged mouth
of a monkey of a man of a monkey-man enticing daring you to go in – and so your visit begins.
Hanuman is a half-man half-monkey deity highly revered in Hindu mythology; he’s said to be the reincarnation of Lord Shiva representing strength and perseverance. His glistening and very imposing orange figure stands at 108 feet regally overlooking the capital city. He makes sure he’s seen from far and wide – you really can’t miss him. (Although we walked in the wrong direction and actually did miss him until we backtracked and there he was).
Hanuman Mandir Temple is in no way ancient (it was built in 1994) or doesn’t hold any sort of historical reference but it’s still worth a visit to simply revel in its strangeness (I’m aware this is a holy place but that doesn’t make it any less strange). There’s no entrance fee but you must remove your shoes which can be left at the entrance; beware the temple is really dirty (I suggest wearing socks). Once in, you’re free to roam as you please; make sure to go to the roof where more strange figures can be found. Note that photos are permitted unless devotees are deep in prayer.
To easily get to Hanuman Mandir Temple, take the metro (subway) to Jhandewalan station. Once you get off just look for the giant, orange monkey wearing a crown and a grin.
If you only have a short stay in New Delhi, I highly suggest spending some time in the area of Old Delhi. The pot-holed streets are jammed with pedestrians, rickshaws trying to zig-zag their way through the crowd and an endless mix of noise and pollution filling the air. It’s a crazy and wonderful place to explore!
Chandni Chowk is the oldest and busiest market in Old Delhi. From sarees to sweets to books to spices – if you’re looking for something then you’re sure to find it here (each category has its own section). Chandni Chowk is where Delhites do business buying, selling and bargaining their way around the market. This is where everyday life is displayed in the most raw and engaging way. Men struggling to pull carts overflowing with goods, women enthusiastically shopping in clusters for sarees and bangles and shop owners trying to convince their customers it’s their best and last price – this is India at its finest and most riveting!
LITTLE TIBET (MAJNU-KA-TILLA)
Given its close proximity to Tibet (and its ongoing struggle), a small percentage of the population in India consists of native Tibetans and descendants. Little Tibet or Majnu-ka-tilla was first established as a refugee camp but was later converted into a colony occupying a small area in North Delhi.
Wandering around the narrow alleyways, you can browse in shops selling authentic Tibetan products. If you get hungry you can have a bite to eat at Dolma Restaurant – a family-owned restaurant serving delicious, typical Tibetan food (momos anyone?).
To get to Little Tibet, take the metro (subway) to Vidhan Sabha station. It’s about a 1.5 km walk (there aren’t many tuk-tuks available in the area) to the colony where you’ll be greeted by prayer flags lazily swaying in the wind on the overpass (where you’ll also be greeted by a few disabled/disfigured beggars including children). Also note, there aren’t any ATM’s in Little Tibet save for mobile trucks equipped with ATM machines which aren’t always available or don’t accept all foreign debit/credit cards. We had to cross the overpass back to the other side where we found an ATM that accepted our debit cards.
SHOPPING AT DILLI HAAT OR NATURE BAZAAR DESIGN FAIR
Most people visiting New Delhi will head to Dilli Haat to shop for handicrafts to bring back home as souvenirs or gifts. Dilli Haat is a well-organized open-air bazaar run by the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation. As well as vendors selling their wares, this plaza of sorts also has a variety of food stalls and offers a few cultural activities. Personally, I didn’t like shopping at Dilli Haat mainly because I didn’t find their products to be any different than what I saw elsewhere. I was also disappointed that many of the vendors were not artisans/artists themselves but rather just salespeople which was disheartening as I was looking for original handmade items that I could purchase directly from artisans/artists.
How to get there: The easiest and most convenient way is to take the metro (subway) to INA station; once you step outside just follow the crowd to Dilli Haat.
Opening hours: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm Every Day
Entrance fee: 100 rupees for foreigners
After my disappointment with Dilli Haat, I decided to give another bazaar a chance. Enter Nature Bazaar Design Fair – a joint initiative of Delhi Tourism and Dastkar, a leading NGO specializing in traditionally made products from every region of India including remote rural villages. Every month for a period of 12 consecutive days, a new and different theme takes place featuring different artisans and craftspeople who offer a gamut of handmade, organic and recycled products each unique and exclusive. This means that if you find something you like, you have to buy it as the stall might not be there next time you return. But fret not, Nature Bazaar Design Fair also has permanent stalls (Gali-E-Khaas) throughout the month where centuries-old traditional crafts, textiles (block-print, embroideries) and home decor items can be bought.
What I found truly endearing about Nature Bazaar Design Fair was that as a shopper you get to interact directly with each individual artist or designer. Here, I sourced out beautifully handmade textiles, jewelry and hand bags I hadn’t seen anywhere else. My time in New Delhi (and in India) was coming to a close so I was like a kid in a candy store trying to buy (almost) everything that caught my eye! I won’t say that this is the cheapest place to shop but prices are quite reasonable especially given the impeccable quality and craftsmanship of each authentically-made product to be found here.
How to get there: Nature Bazaar Design Fair is in Andheria Modh. Get off at Chhatarpur metro (subway) station. It’s in walking distance but isn’t easily visible from the station; ask around for directions.
Opening hours: From March to September: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm / From October to February: 11:00 am – 7:00 pm (closed on Wednesdays)
Entrance fee: 20 rupees adults / 10 rupees children (5 -12 years old)
For more information and events calendar: http://dastkar.org/
TAKE THE METRO (SUBWAY)
It might not sound very interesting but the metro system in New Delhi is very efficient and surprisingly modern – comparable to some metros in big South East Asian cities such as Bangkok. It can also be much quicker than taking a taxi or even a rickshaw trying to navigate the congestion of Delhi’s streets.
The metro system works with tokens bought at each station. Guards will pat down everyone before passing through the mandatory metal detection stations – one for men and one for women. I made the mistake of standing in the men’s line (ensuing a few chuckles) and was politely told to go to the women’s line – oops!
HAUZ KHAS VILLAGE
I kept my favorite part of New Delhi for last. Set in lush Deer Park (yes there are deer), with its bohemian flare, pretty boutiques selling unique items, art galleries, hip restaurants, funky graffiti and a cozy configuration of narrow alleys leading you around the charming affluent hub, Hauz Khas Village was a wonderful revelation – I didn’t want to leave!
A place for creatives of all branches from artists to designers, Hauz Khas Village really is like no other place in New Delhi. Creativity seeps through every wall, the alternative urban vibe permeates throughout the air and the overall atmosphere is laid-back and unpretentious.
But, wait, there’s more.
Just a few steps from Hauz Khas Village, on the edge of a large reservoir lies Hauz Khas Complex, dating back to the 13th century, a historical site consisting of several structures including a madrasa (previously one of the leading institutions for Islamic learning), several pavilions with domes held by a series of columns, a mosque and the tomb of Firoz Shah, the third ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty.
Nowadays, the complex is mostly used by twinkly-eyed students sneaking a kiss (or guys needing to piss) within the ancient, crumbling ruins but, regardless, the setting didn’t fail to evoke a sense of nostalgia. And what can I say, I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to architectural ruins – perhaps it’s my creative mind that takes over.
So after 8 days in the crazy, chaotic capital city of New Delhi, was I seduced by its scruffy charm? Absolutely!
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Have you been to New Delhi? Any suggestions on what to see/do?