Posted by: Ciaran | January 31, 2010

Changing places – Delhi

There’s not really any easy way to put into words the experience of Delhi.  It is the most demanding place I have ever been to; physically and emotionally it is incredibly draining.  From the very moment you arrive, you are hassled and harangued by vendors, taxi drivers, beggars and interested bystanders.

I flew into Delhi and took a taxi from the airport (take a pre-paid one which you organise inside the terminal; I’d recommend going for the ‘luxury’ option after I made the mistake of being economical and then spending 45 minutes sweating in the back of a rusting tin can) to the Hotel Astoria in the Karol Bagh district of the city.

You soon learn in India that everything is exaggerated.  Reading the site above promising the Hotel Astoria has ‘air conditioning, satellite TV, refrigerator, telephones with direct dial facility, 24 hour room service, and [its] own travel counter’ is completely laughable.  The ‘air conditioning’ was provided by an erratic fan and slats in the windows.  I won’t even begin to mention the ‘room service’…

What I would recommend, if you’re using Delhi as the starting point for a trip around India, is to wait until you arrive there to book a tour.  It seems crazy but you can find a much better deal there and you have the option to set your own itinerary and have your own driver which, despite the bad experiences some people report, is a fantastic way to do it.  I can highly recommend Abyss Tours; their customer service was brilliant and their staff were friendly, helpful and trustworthy.

The Red Fort in Old Delhi

Then it’s time to get out into the city.  I’d allow at least half a day for the Old City and a full day for the New City.  In the older part, the Red Fort is worth seeing but don’t go in with great expectations as it is actually very mundane and quite tired looking.  If you’re heading on to Jaipur or Jodhpur then you could make do with just seeing the Red Fort from the outside and see the far more impressive forts in these other places.

The Jama Masjid

A short walk away is the stunning Jama Masjid, India’s biggest mosque.  Like most places in the city, the people there exploit tourists as much as possible and you will frequently find yourself being expected to hand over more money, so be wary (especially if you’re a first time visitor).  It is worth pointing out at this point that genuine and extreme poverty is rife across the city, and is something you should be as well prepared for as you can.

The mosque is worth at least an hour of your time.  Make sure you climb right to the top of the minaret; it’s not for the faint-hearted and the health and safety is pretty sparse but the views are excellent.

View across Delhi from Jama Masjid

Round off Old Delhi with a visit to the Rajghat, the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi.  It is a simple and touching memorial and the serenity is out of keeping with the rest of the city, making it a very relaxing way to spend the early evening when you’re starting to get tired.

The Rajghat

Sticking with the theme of peace and quiet – a very rare commodity in Delhi – it can also be found in the gorgeous Lodi Garden, which is in New Delhi.  The Garden is like a huge park and it’s easy to lose track of time as you stroll around enjoying the scenery and watching the animals scampering about.

The 'mini Taj' - Humayun's Tomb

Another place of relative calm is Humayun’s Tomb, which is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.  The complex of buildings are all well-preserved and the vibe is much more relaxing than the cattle market feel of the Taj itself.

The Qutab Minar, another UNESCO World Heritage Site

Standing at 72.5m high, the Qutab Minar is the highest stone tower in all of India.  The red sandstone gives it a chalky, earthy look and the history of the tower – built in the 13th century – is fascinating.  Twice hit by lightning, it has undergone reconstruction throughout its past and is the only intact structure within the entire complex.

The Lotus Temple, New Delhi

By far the most visually impressive attraction in New Delhi, though, is the gorgeous Lotus Temple.  It is a Baha’i house of worship which means it is open to people of all religious denominations for quiet contemplation or prayer, and it is a calming, beautiful place.

In a city like Delhi, where there is so much to contemplate, those qualities are hard to find.

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Responses

  1. very nice and gr8 infomation about the Taj Mahal……..!!!


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