A city of extreme contrasts, Delhi has for long been an exciting tourist destination. As the capital of the largest democracy in the world, its political importance on a world stage has no bounds. And when we consider the traditional and cultural influences of the city, reflected through its residents, the attraction to visit this melting pot of characters is genuinely immense.
Arriving unprepared in Delhi can prove to be a little daunting. It’s a mismatch of the old and the new that has managed to survive and shine over the years. The ancient heritage that looms over the city juxtaposes seamlessly with the modern buildings found on its streets. Delhi is the heart that keeps India beating, and leaving it without encountering its various shades is nothing short of a missed opportunity.
Get Lost in the Lanes of Old Delhi
Founded in 1639 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, Old Delhi is undoubtedly the fascinating experience to have in the city. For the locals, a day here is life as usual, but visitors can marvel at the significance of the Red Fort and explore the many streets that act as veins to a region dotted with reminders of the past. Age-old houses, most in a depleted state, evoke a sense of nostalgia and wonder about life here during the Mughals, whereas the cacophony brings us back into the harsh realities of the present world.
Narrow streets and constant traffic make driving around Old Delhi near impossible. The best way to discover the city is to hire a rickshaw for the day and dive deep into the many lanes filled with oddities and fascinating sights.
Old Delhi is an amalgamation of residential and commercial buildings, which are hard to tell from each other. The markets here, segregated according to different products, sell everything from daily household items to expensive jewellery. For a first-time visitor, the spice and cloth market are essential stops.
If you happen to visit Old Delhi around India’s Independence Day, August 14th, you’ll find the sky above packed with colourful kites. Make the most of the occasion and ask a local for some kite flying lessons.
Old Delhi isn’t without its distinct food culture. One of the most popular food haunts in Old Delhi is Paranthe Wale Gali in Chandni Chowk where you’ll find tasty paranthas – Indian stuffed bread – that will not only satisfy your tummy but also your soul.
For a more unusual destination within Old Delhi, check out Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market), a makeshift market where you can find anything from age-old car parts to mobile phone accessories. Legend has it that if ever your house gets burgled, Chor Bazaar is most likely the place where your belongings will end up.
Marvel at Delhi’s Ancient Wonders
Delhi’s significance during the Mughal and British rule over India has left it with a wealth of monuments in different architectural styles. These monuments have been preserved to showcase the rich legacy that is now a part of the city’s aura.
Among the buildings that dot Delhi is Qutub Minar, a 73-meter minaret started by Qutb ud Din Aibak in 1192 and completed in 1220 by his son-in-law. It forms a part of a UNESCO World Heritage site situated in the south of Delhi.
As popular as Qutub Minar are Humayun and Safdarjung’s Tomb, two mausoleums that shine a spotlight on Mughal architecture at its intricate best.
Whether it is the enormous President’s House or the circular Parliament Building, all of these monuments and architectural styles have fused with the changing city seamlessly often providing permanent abodes, educational references, and serene escapes from Delhi’s chaotic lifestyle.
Devour the Local Street-Food
A city whose culinary heritage dates back centuries, the people of Delhi have an insatiable appetite for good food. No wonder you’ll find some of the world’s finest eateries in Delhi, including Indian Accent listed amongst Asia’s top 20 restaurants.
However, for a more traditional approach to the city’s gastronomic delights, it’s essential to try Delhi’s street food. Gol Gappas are crunchy and tangy water balls, Chaat promises an explosion of flavours with every bite, Chola Bhatura and Pav Bhaji, are but some of the fast foods that you’ll find on the streets of the city.
However, if the infamous “Delhi Belly” is of concern, head on out to Haldiram’s and Bikanervala, two mega-chain restaurants where you can find all the classic street food dishes in a clean and less chaotic atmosphere.
With an abundance of street-food choices available throughout the city, it’s best to ask the locals for their recommendation. Each region of Delhi, be is Sarojini Nagar Mini Market, Connaught Place, or Lajpat Nagar have their own favourite vendor, and that’s the place you are guaranteed the best food available.
Watch a Live Cricket Match
India is mad about cricket. A game watched by millions, the entire nation comes to a halt whenever the country plays a match. And with different formats of cricket becoming popular, there’s always something or the other happening.
There are many ways to enjoy watching a game of Cricket. From visiting a cricket crazy family’s home to enjoying the ups and downs of the game to watching it with friends at a local pub, cricket fever is thrilling and infectious.
For a truly spectacular experience, head down to Feroz Shah Kotla Ground in Delhi where both International and local Indian Premier League matches are regularly scheduled. The euphoria of being surrounded by cricket fans in a stadium and the noise in anticipation of a victory, all combine towards a once in a lifetime adventure.
Dive Deep into Delhi’s History
Visiting the monuments of Delhi is an excellent way to learn about its history, but if you want to immerse yourself in its past from up close, a stroll through Mehrauli Archaeological Park is a must. A reminder of the first city in Delhi, the park includes Jamali Kamali, Tomb of Balban, and even a stepwell called Rajon ki Baoli.
Stepwells were a unique concept in ancient times and served as water reservoirs and a place to stay cool during harsh summer days. Delhi’s most famous stepwell is the 10th-century Ugrasen ki Baoli which is frequented regularly by locals and tourists alike.
For a more laidback exploration of Delhi’s past, weather permitting, have a picnic at Lodi Gardens, a massive green escape in the centre of Delhi where ancient monuments stand surrounded by well-manicured gardens. The area, which also has a small lake, is popular with young love birds looking for a little time together, families, walkers and runners.
Enjoy the Local Festivals
To be in Delhi during festival time is a special affair. The city celebrates its religious festivals with élan. People from different religions and all walks of life come together and partake in celebrations brimming with laughter, delicious food, music, dance, lights, and love.
Whether it is the Festival of Lights, Diwali, or the beautiful Durga Puja, there’s a sense of community that envelopes these joyous occasions which go over and beyond personal beliefs. From the playfulness of Holi, the festival of colours, to the tranquillity of Eid, Delhi takes on a whole new personality during religious celebrations, one that is just a little brighter, a tad happier, and a lot more colourful.
Indulge in Delhi’s Urban Art
It seems when it comes to the worldwide trend of street-art, Delhi isn’t far behind. Some may argue that it is quietly leading the movement with bright graphics and murals depicting everyday life and social causes adorning the city.
Lodi Art District is the primary location in Delhi to witness awe-inspiring murals painted by artists from around the world. A project that started in 2016 recently received a fresh paint of inspiration. 2019 saw new paintings come up on the remaining blank walls of this residential government colony.
For a more challenging spot to find street art in Delhi, walk the narrow streets of Shahpur Jat, an urban village in South Delhi. The art here tends to disappear, but with quaint shops and cafes in every nook and corner of the village, a visit is still worth your while.
To experience Delhi is to feel the pulse of India. A treasure trove of adventures awaits the curious traveller who is brave enough to face the harsh facade of the city beneath which lies a heart of pure gold.
Note: This article has been written by a local who has lived in New Delhi, India for more than 20+ years.
Photo Source – Unsplash/Pixaby (Royalty Free) & Raghav Modi
Old Delhi – Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash
Ancient Wonders – Qutub Minar – Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash
Street Food – Photo by Jeet Khatri on Unsplash
Cricket – Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash
Mehrauli – Raghav Modi
Diwali – https://pixabay.com/photos/lamps-oil-many-bright-light-1107447/
Street Art – Raghav Modi