New Delhi is a place you hear about a lot, or at least I had before going there. A far off, very unfamiliar place, filled with rickshaws, street food stalls, wild dogs, sacred cows, and mystical monuments. Crazy traffic, smog, millions of people jostling through everyday life. New Delhi is indeed a lot of these things, and so much more. A friend and I were lucky to visit some time ago, en route from Frankfurt to our final destination of Nepal for some Himalayan trekking.
Arrival in Delhi confirms that there are millions upon millions of people in this city. A quiet corner nor quiet hour is non-existent. Arriving sleepy, jet lagged, and on unfamiliar ground, you might feel a bit off. The ticket is to stay at Hotel Shanti Home, a hidden sanctuary amidst the chaos. Nothing like a shanti at all, this small hotel was thoughtfully decorated with gorgeous fabrics in vibrant patterns, Bollywood movie posters, dark wood furniture, stone Buddhas and prayer areas in various areas. The staff were the most polite and helpful people I’ve ever come across.
We were greeted with hot tea, cookies, and flower necklaces in our lovely room, with a big fluffy white bed and bathroom with walk in stone shower. After a cat nap, we went out for some exploring – a driving tour around the main sites of the city. Our driver took us through the absolutely insanity of the city, and we got our first taste of Delhi traffic. I can say that while this city is rich in culture, history, and fascinating things to see, it is positively CHAOS. There is the constant impending possibility of hitting a rickshaw, cow, or another car, all the while careening down narrow streets somehow converted into three lanes, past carts piled high with bags of rice, laughing and running children, lethargic cows, listless dogs, and generally noises and smells from all sides. I am still surprised we weren’t involved in a single accident.
We passed by the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Residence), India Gate, Parliament House, and Bahai Lotus Temple, ending at the Chandni Chowk, on of the city’s oldest and most famous markets. Here, all manner of things are available for purchase, and we had fun winding our way through the chaotic streets and seeing all the offerings. Back at the hotel that evening, we had an amazing dinner on the rooftop terrace, a curry sampler platter for two. A dizzying array of five different curries was brought out, with many many small silver bowls filled with rice, chutneys, raitas, vegetables, and dahls. The cherry on top was hot pillowy naan bread straight from the oven. This was Indian food like I’ve never had it before – so richly flavoured and spiced, familiar in one way to curries at home but at the same time SO MUCH BETTER. We were stuffed to the gills and went to bed early for an early start the next day.
The next morning, we were awakened at the crack of dawn to get into the car and drive several hours to see India’s pride and glory – the Taj Mahal. Our guided tour in was really worthwhile, learning all about the history and symbolism of the palace. Seeing the Taj Mahal itself was an eerie experience – after having seen SO many pictures it was hardly surprising . . . at first. However, up close, it is absolutely incredible – so intricate, so painstakingly thought out, and such a treat for the eyes. Entirely constructed of the most pristine white marble imaginable, decorated with precise stone flowers and designs, all with gorgeous inlaid gemstones and precious stones from local and far-away places. To look at the walls in detail and imagine the time and effort required – it completely blew me away. Due to the sheen of the marble, the palace shines different colours at different times of the day, possible representing the different “moods” of the woman it’s dedicated to, the last wife of Shah Jahan. Regardless, the Temple is really breathtaking and worthwhile visiting.
We departed on our long car trip back to the city, and caught the tail end of the Dussehra festival, commemorating the triumph of good over evil, or when Lord Rama killed the demon king Ravana. The city was packed with people in the streets, fireworks going off, and the symbolic burning of huge paper mache depictions of the evil king. After all the paper statues were burned to the ground, we climbed back into the car for a late supper at the hotel and bed.
On our last day, we started with breakfast on the rooftop terrace, a ridiculously elaborate affair. A spread of freshly baked breads, exotic fruits, yogurt, fruit juices, coffee and tea are offered in beautiful dishware and poured from silver pots. Then, all varieties of hot dishes are offered – crepes, fried eggs, indian stuffed sweet breads, pancakes. . the works. Extravagant and lovely. We headed out for a tour of three major sites; Qutub Minar, Humayan’s Tomb, and the Red Fort. The Red Fort was the result of Mughal ruler Shah Jahan transferring the capital from Agra to Delhi, and construction was ordered in 1639. Taking almost a decade to finish, it was made of red sandstone, giving its trademark name. The complex is massive – the perimeter stretching 2.5 km. Hidden inside the walls is the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque), a beautiful mosque constructed entirely of white marble.
Hotel: Hotel Shanti Home is an absolutely beautiful sanctuary with wonderful staff, great food, and a good pashmina shop in the reception area to boot. They offer package deals, which we took advantage of – four nights accommodation, including all the daily tours and breakfast and dinner each day.
Tips for Travelling:
- Well ahead of time, look up the Visa requirements for India. Unlike a lot of countries, the application cannot be done online, it must be done in person at an Indian consulate, and it requires more information, passport photos, and longer processing times than most visas.
- It’s better to take tours and cars arranged through a reputable source, such as your hotel.
- This is obvious, but don’t drink the tap water. And if you have a sensitive stomach, a lot of the curries here may not agree with you
Delhi is a different world – stunning and humbling in so many ways. It is full of history and culture and I thoroughly enjoyed my short time there.