Delhi the capital of India is truly a multidimensional metropolis. The magnificent ancient monuments stand testimony to its intriguing past while the glittering malls, metro, and swanky buildings, flaunt India’s status as one of the world’s greatest emerging economic superpowers. Explore Delhi’s architectural, historical, artistic, and culinary delights to soak up its color, vibrancy and multi-faceted spirit.
Delhi encapsulates two very different worlds: Old Delhi and New Delhi. The labyrinthine streets of Old Delhi, with their impressive mosques, monuments and forts, narrate the city’s Mughal past. Luytens’ New Delhi, with its greenery and wide boulevards, in contrast, was built as the capital of imperial India.
Delhi is also an important performance and creative art center of India. The city plays host to more than twenty five art galleries. For performing arts, you can head for the Trivani Kala Sangam, Indian Habitat Center, Siri Fort auditorium and Mandi House. The recently opened Central Park in the heart of Connaught Place also witnesses special performances in the evenings.
Delhi’s restaurants tempt the palate with sumptuous foods. Whether it’s Chinese, French, Italian, Indian or continental cuisine, the choices are endless. Equally bewildering are the goods for sale in the traditional bazaars or the modern markets.
Delhi is also a central base for visiting other tourist attractions in northern India. From here, you can visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, drive down to Rajasthan or go to Rishikesh to hit the waters.
Things To See
Delhi is liberally sprinkled with magnificent ancient monuments, impressive museums, captivating bazaars and swanky malls. The city has an enthralling art scene and some of the continent’s yummiest places to eat. Visit the Jantar Mantar, a famous observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur in 1742, located in the heart of the city. Spend the evening at India Gate, Delhi’s favourite picnic spot, which commemorates the Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during the World War I. Other places worth visiting are the Safdarjang Tomb, Purana Qila, Botanical Gardens and Zoo, Parliament House and the Garden of Five Senses.
Delhi’s historical monuments stand testimony to its rich historical past. Three of its monuments are listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Qutub Minar: This imposing 73 m-high tower of victory was built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak. The tower has five distinct storeys each with a projecting balcony. The first three storeys are made of red sandstone while the fourth and fifth storeys are of sandstone and marble. Another attraction here is the 7 m-high iron pillar that dates back to the 4th century AD. The pillar which is made up of 98% wrought iron has with stood the test of time without any rust or decomposition. Other monuments in this complex include the spectacular Alai-Darwaza Gate, an interesting example of the Indo-Muslim art, and two mosques, including the Quwwatu’l-Islam, one of the oldest in northern India.
Humayun’s Tomb: This magnificent garden tomb, located near the crossing of Mathura road and Lodhi road was the final resting place of Mughal emperor Humayun. The monument, one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture, encloses beautiful garden squares, with pathways and water channels. The mausoleum is topped by a double dome. It was here in the Humayun’s tomb that Lieutenant Hudson had captured the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II. The Humayun’s tomb was the source of inspiration for other Mughal architectural monuments that followed including the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Red Fort: The massive red sandstone structure is a recent entrant to the list of World Heritage Sites. Rising 33- meters above the bustle of Old Delhi, the Red Fort reflects the might, power, pomp and splendor of the Mughal Empire in India. It is from here on the night of 15th August 1947, the country’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, unfurled the national flag of Independent India. Even today, the Red Fort is the main venue for the country’s Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations.
The vaulted arcade of the entrance houses a bazaar that sells trinkets, antiques and souvenirs to the tourists. Inside the Red Fort, there is a treasure trove of buildings including the Pearl Mosque, Royal Baths, Drum House, the Hall of Public Audiences, and the white marble Hall of Private Audiences.
In the evenings, a light and sound show is held, which brings to life India’s history connected with the Red Fort.
Akshardham Temple: The sprawling Swaminarayan Akshardham complex is spread over 30 acres on the banks of the Yamuna in East Delhi. The temple architecture has been inspired by the architecture of ancient historic temples of India. The entry to the temple is free but if you wish to visit the exhibitions, you’ll need to buy a ticket for Rs.125. The entire complex takes around four hours to explore. You can also enjoy a boat ride inside the premises.
Bahai Temple: This modern architectural marvel in the shape of a lotus is the last of the seven major Bahai’s temples built around the world. Set amidst lush green landscaped gardens, the main temple structure is made up of pure white marble symbolizing purity, peace and tranquillity. It is said that the architect, Furiburz Sabha chose the lotus as a tribute to India’s multi-religious fabric; the lotus is a common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam. Around each of the nine blooming petals is a pool of water, which lights up in the evening. The flood lit temple after dusk is a sight to behold.
Birla Mandir: The temple, also known as Laxmi Narayan Temple, is located in the west of Connaught Place. Birla Mandir, one of the major landmarks of Delhi, was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi on the condition that it would be open to people of all religions and castes.
Delhi offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets. From five star hotels to budget hotels, with four star, three star and two star hotels in between, the choices are extensive. For the budget travellers and backpackers, the favourite destination is Pahar Ganj. Mid-range travellers can consider the hotels in Karol Bagh. Besides, there are options for home stays, bed & breakfasts, apartments, guest houses and villas. If you are staying in a five star hotel, keep in mind that most of them quote their prices in US dollars. (Only resident Indians can pay in rupees.) Also note that the rates do not include local taxes; these can be approximately 20% on top of the quoted room rates.
Delhi is the restaurant capital of India. The city literally crawls with restaurants of all variety, nationality and vintages. Hungry travellers can feast on everything from meaty Mughlai curries and spicy Punjabi food to light South Indian idlis (rice cakes) and authentic Chinese cuisine.
Old Delhi dining options: A must visit destination for food is Old Delhi. Most restaurants and eateries in Chandni Chowk have been handed down generations and some like the Ghantewala Halwai are more than a century old. The diverse cuisines include punjabi, mughlai, and international cuisine, ranging from Thai, Chinese, Moroccan, Lebanese, Israeli, Indonesian, to French and Swiss. Of course, no meal here can be completed without a kulfi, Indian version of ice-cream or paan, a mouth freshener. The must visit restaurants in Old Delhi include Ghantewala, any of the dhabas, the Brijbasi, and the Kwality restaurant. Natraj’s Dahi Bhale and Chaatwalah offer some of the best chaat in Delhi.
Street food: Ask the Delhi people what they like most about the city and the answer would be unanimous, its the street food. You do not have to look far to savour the delicacies. Just about every street has something to offer. The best street food however is available in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. Try the exotic paranthas in the paranthe wali gali, or savour the tingling iconic chaat, the pani puri or golguppas, kebabs, or bhelpuri. Untamed, spicy, full of starch – yet Delhi’s street food has held it own— no upmarket eating joint has been able to replace its charm, taste or experience. So for once, throw all caution to the winds and indulge your taste buds as never before.
International cuisine in Delhi: Those looking for some great international cuisine should head for places like the Orient Express at the Taj Palace. In fact go to any of the five star hotels in the city, and you can have any option be it Thai, Spanish, Greek or continental food. For Italian and Tex-Mex food, the must visit joints are Flavors and Rodeo.
Snacks specialties of Delhi: The must try snacks here are namkeens easily available in places like Bikaner wala and Haldiram. If you have a sweet tooth, check out a wide range of mithais such as imratis (a syrup-filled delicacy) at Kanwarji’s or rasmalai (a sweet made from milk and cream) at Bikaner’s. For Bengali sweets, again head for Haldiram or to Bengali Sweets Corner near Connaught Place. Other good mithai outlets are Kaleva in Gole Market and Nathu’s Sweets in Bengali Market.
Keeping your cool in Delhi: The summer months in Delhi can be really hot, so people here have devised their own ways to keep cool. Enjoy your sightseeing day with a tremendously refreshing drink Thandai, or rabri ka falooda available at Gianiji ka Falooda and Roshan Di Kulfi.
Mughlai cuisine: This is arguably Delhi’s most favoured cuisine. If you are looking for high end options, you can try out the restaurants in five star hotels, especially Bukhara in Maurya Sheraton, which has on its guests list, among others, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. For Punjabi-Mughlai food, head for the restaurants in Pandara Road, Karol Bagh and Connaught Place. Kake da Hotel in Connaught Place and Pindi and Gulati on Pandara Road are good options.
Vegetarian specialties: The main vegetarian restaurants are Haldiram and Bikaner. For south Indian food, the biggest names include Sagar Ratna and Sarvana Bhawan. If you want to try out Rajasthani food, there is Rajdhani restaurant in Connaught Place.
Confectioneries: If you want to stick to cakes and pies, head for Wenger in Connaught Place, which is Delhi’s most famous confectionery. Sugar & Spice and Nirula’s, located in different localities in Delhi are also hot favorites.
The dhabas – traditional open-air restaurants in Delhi: For great tasting, cheap and fresh Punjabi food, head for the dhabas. the open air restaurants. The must try in any of the dhabas are dal makhani, shahi paneer, chole and rajma. You can find dhabas in almost any locality in Delhi. However, the most famous is Express dhaba near the Indian Express building on Bhadurshah Zafar Marg. The dhaba is a popular hangout joint with media persons and theatre actors. If you are in Delhi, you have to try out the omnipresent tandoori chicken and tandoori roti, which make a delicious meal.
Delhi is a shopper’s paradise. From the streets of Janpath and Sarojini Nagar to the high end malls that have crept up in and around Delhi, the shopping options in the city are endless. No matter what your taste and budget is, you’ll find something to take back to remind you of your visit to Delhi.
Connaught Place: Located in the heart of Delhi, Connaught Place is a must visit in all tourist itineraries. If you are looking for something chic, ethnic and very Indian, head for the state emporia on Baba Kharak Singh Marg where you can shop for famous handicrafts and artefacts of different states of India with government-controlled prices. The most popular tourist haunts are Rajasthan and Gujarat emporia.
Khadi Udyog Bhawan too caters to the needs of the tourists and is a must visit for handmade goods. Another popular destination for both tourists and locals is the Cottage Emporium in Janpath, a huge complex from where you can buy from anything to everything. Shop for colourful wall hangings, bracelets, traditional jewellery, antiques, hand-made paper goods, wood carvings, bright bed covers, table clothes, cushion covers, or other crafts and handicrafts— the list is endless. Another interesting option worth a mention is Fab India. Here you can shop for great cottons and other ethnic stuff all under one roof. Connaught Place is closed on Mondays.
Janpath and Sarojini Nagar: Both these places are highly popular with the hip college crowd for they offer great bargains. You can shop for trendy clothes, trinkets, sandals, bags and other accessories. Put your bargaining skills to test for you can really be taken for a ride, especially if you are a foreigner. The goods here, however, are worth the effort.
Dilli Haat: If it comes to shopping and eating, there is no place like Dilli Haat, near INA market. Visit the haat to get a taste of rural India for the place has a traditional rural ambience. There are 62 stalls here that are allotted to craftsmen from across the country on rotational basis. The rent per day is a minimal Rs 100 per day. This ensures visitors can purchase the best of Indian crafts and handicrafts at very reasonable rates. Of course, no description of Dilli haat can be complete without mentioning the food stalls where you can savour the different flavours of India under one roof.
Other important markets of note are South Extension, Chandni Chowk, Hauz Khas Village, Karol Bagh, Rajouri Garden and Kamla Nagar. There is no dearth of glittering malls in practically all localities of the city where you can shop for the bigger brands besides ethnic wears and other goods.
Things To Do
Golfing in Delhi: The golf aficionados can head for the 18 hole Delhi Golf Club. The other options are the 9-hole Air Force Golf Club near the Race Course, the 18-hole Army Golf Club in Dhaula Kuan, and the 18-hole Golf Course in Noida. The DLF Golf Course and Country Club in nearby Gurgaon has undulating fairways with deep valleys and hills.
Excursions from Delhi: Delhi is part of the Golden Triangle, which constitutes three important tourist destinations in this region: Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan. After a sightseeing tour in Delhi, you will be taken to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, needs no introduction. From there, you will proceed to Jaipur to soak up the experience of one of the most colourful, vibrant and historically rich cities of India. The monuments worth seeing here are the Hawa Mahel, Amber palace and other palaces and forts. Jaipur is also a very famous shopping destination.
Delhi tourism also organizes eco-tours to the Ganga bank, whitewater rafting tours to Rishikesh and camping tours at Mussoorie and Nanital. For more information and prices, you can contact Delhi Tourism, Adventure Tourism Division in Connaught Place.
Apart from the five star hotels, Delhi’s night scene is mostly concentrated in Connaught Place and South Delhi. Daily listings of nightlife and entertainment options can be found in Hindustan Times (website: www.hindustantimes.com) and The Times of India (website: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com). Most discos and clubs have a couples only policy and follow a strict dress code. Check out the trendy Shalom Med Lounge Bar, in N Block Market, Greater Kailash. The bar has an impressive drinks menu and serves delicious Lebanese food. Q’BA and DV8, both in Connaught Place have great music and beverages.
Winters in Delhi are from November to February. Though nights can get cold, days are comparatively pleasant and good for exploring the city. The best time to visit Delhi is from February to April and from November to March. The rest of the months can be unbearably hot. The monsoon season is from July to September when rains bring in the much-needed relief from the heat and humidity.
By Air: Indira Gandhi International Airport, located 23km (14 miles) southwest of central Delhi, is one of the main international gateways to India. (www.newdelhiairport.in)
Approximate flight times to Delhi:
- London: 8 hours 25 minutes
- New York: 16 hours
- Los Angeles: 24 hours
- Toronto: 18 hours
- Sydney: 17 hours
Facilities in the airport include a tourist information counter, snack bars, a bookshop and duty-free shops. You can also get your currency converted in the foreign exchange shops. Metered taxis are available from the airport. Delhi can be pretty unsafe at night, especially for women and so to be on the safer side, book your taxi from the pre-paid taxi booth located outside the international terminal entrance. Better still, if you have booked your accommodation through travel agents, have them pick you up from the airport. Work is underway for connecting the airport and central Delhi through a metro line.
By Rail: Delhi is the hub of Indian railways. The city is well connected with other states through trains. There are two railway stations here: The New Delhi and Old Delhi railway station.
By Road: There is an efficient bus network that connects Delhi with most states in northern India.
Delhi’s advance metro system is the best way to travel around the city. However the metro today runs on just three routes; more will be completed by 2010 and that will make travelling around the city a much easier experience.
Taxi and autos: The autos, open-sided, motorized tricycles, can weave their way through heavy traffic and can take you around the places quickly. Taxis too are easily available. There are also many car renting agencies that can provide you with air-conditioned cars. You can book a cab from your hotel.
Buses: Delhi is well connected with buses run by Delhi Transport Corporation but tackling the crowds can prove difficult.
Motor bikes: You can hire locally built Enfields from Hari Singh Nalwa Street in Karol Bagh. To drive in the city, you must possess an international driving license and be over 18 years of age.
Private cars: Driving in New Delhi is easy but it can be unnerving tackling the traffic, people and rickshaws that congest the roads of Old Delhi.