Paharganj – Main Bazaar
If, like us, you want to be slap bang in the middle of the action and really get into life in India then we recommend staying in Paharganj, Old Delhi. We stayed in Zostel which was right in the heart and gave us a fantastic introduction to India. The main bazaar is everything you expect India to be; busy with motorbikes, cars, people, dogs and cows, the constant horns, shop sellers calling to you, street food sellers offering you their fare and the smells of cooking curries and chai and, as you come to get used to, the smell of urine! This place is mad and you can’t help but stumble through it, eyes wide and trying to take everything in. We spent a few days wandering around Paharganj, through its back streets and up onto a few of its rooftops to look down on the chaos below. We loved it! Hello India, we had arrived!
Old Delhi Spice Market
We got a bit lost on our way to see the spice market and ended up meandering our way through the back streets of Old Delhi but in doing so were privy to a real taste of everyday life in India. Every street here seems to sell or produce one thing; a street for mechanics, a street for butchers and a street for selling University books! Hopefully you won’t get lost but take a route through the back streets and this will certainly add to your Delhi experience. You will know once you’ve reached the Spice Market itself as the hot air mingles with a thousand aromas all calling on your senses and the hot chillies catch in your throat. Find your way in and wander around the square where you can peer in all the shops where the spices are being traded. Be sure to keep an eye out behind you as men run along and up and down carrying great big new bags of salt or turmeric.
Now for the best bit; up on the roof. In The corners of the market there are some small hidden stairways which look dirty, dark and dingy but don’t be afraid! Climb all the way up to the top and come out on a fantastic rooftop with beautiful coved corners, an unbeatable view out across Delhi and usually a few men flying kites and racing their pigeons – they even let us have a go! The best bit is just gazing down and peering over the wall to the buzz and hype of the market below!
The oldest and busiest market in India Chandni Chowk is absolutely teeming with shoppers and overflowing with shops. This is very much a local market which sells everything from saris and bangles to spices and street food! This was by far one of the busiest streets we walked along and you could barely stop to look in a window before getting bundled along! The colours and atmosphere in the market are so alive and every shop you pass if full of material spilling from the shelves and all over the floors with women deciding on their next purchase! It’s fantastic!
Situated near to the Red Fort you can take in the sights of this grand red mosque which is one of the largest in India. Ignore anyone at the entrance trying to charge you this is just a scam – it’s free to go in and explore! With its three big domes and two minarets Jama Masjid is a magnificent structure and as you stand on the steps up to the entrance you can admire the view out to Red Fort in the distance.
Our first visit to one of the many Mughal forts in Northern India and still one of the most impressive! It’s 500 rupees to enter for foreigners but you can easily spend an hour or so wandering around the vast grounds and exploring all parts of this UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There’s lots of useful information boards dotted around so you can read about each and every piece of impressive architecture with no need for a guide. Many of the structures are made from marble and feature high archways and coves with intricate detailing and design; highlighted against the usually bright blue sky!
Not generally a place for budget backpackers to hang out as this is probably the most expensive place in Delhi, given away by the Range Rovers and Porsches rolling around nearby, but it’s worth a stroll through and of course window shopping is most definitely allowed. The shops and restaurants are without a doubt very upmarket and it was surprising to see such a contrast in wealth from Old Delhi where we stayed to Khan Market. Delve into the shops at your bank balances risk – the gowns in these shops are literally the most luxurious you’ve ever seen!
This was one of our favourite places in Delhi and we only wish we’d had more time to sit and chill in this leafy escape from the city. We arrived at Lodhi Gardens as the late afternoon sunshine filtered through the trees and an orangey haze was setting on the flowers and ancient walls. It was a Sunday afternoon and the gardens were full of families having picnics, kids playing, and shy couples hiding in secret corners. Be sure to walk around to the crumbling tombs and three domed mosque here as, set against the sun and greenery of the park, they are absolutely stunning! If you have time take some snacks and a book and take a break from hectic Delhi in this peaceful and serene setting.
We hadn’t read about Humayun’s tomb anywhere but simply spotted it on the map near to Lodhi Gardens so thought we may as well stop to have a look. On arriving we were unsure whether to go in as it was another 500 rupees and our budget was already being stretched after the Red Fort. After walking all the way to find it though we thought we might as well and are so glad we did! Built in 1565 as a tribute by Humayun’s wife it was so grand and almost reminded us of a kind of red Taj Mahal! The detail in the architecture is so gorgeous with the huge white marble dome in the centre and archway after archway running all the way around the symmetrical base. Be sure to walk through and see the tombs and intricate lattice windows inside. It was also nice to see the sun set from the roofed platform.
…or selfie Central as we like to remember it. This huge archway looks like India’s very own Arch D’Triumph. In similarity, India Gate is also a war memorial to the 82,000 soldiers killed in the First World War, is inscribed with many of their names and serves as India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was so busy when we visited and obviously also a place for friends and families to get together and hang out over the weekend. We were accosted with selfie after selfie even being handed new born babies but it was a fun half hour and everyone was very friendly!
Agrasen Ki Baoli
Hidden along some quiet roads near the hub of Connaught Place is this 60 metre long and 15 foot wide step well. As you walk through a small courtyard and up some steps you really are unprepared for whats inside. Never, ever do you think such a huge stepwell will be hidden behind such a small wall! Its incredible! There are many stepwells across India but this is the oldest in Delhi and so impressive to still be so intact in the middle of such a huge developing city. The stepwell is free to go inside so you can sit a while on the steps and imagine what life must have gone on here centuries ago.
New Delhi Rail Station
It may not be pretty or architecturally beautiful like many of the other structures in Delhi but New Delhi Rail Station is always a bustling hub of activity. You will likely have to cross over its footbridge at some point or another whilst exploring Delhi or you may depart from this very station. If not you should have a wander through it anyway just to witness it’s immensity and sheer number of people that pass through here everyday! Elbow your way over its long footbridge as hundreds of people rush and push around you looking for their platform or carrying their suitcases on their heads through the crowds. Look down on the platforms to see the crowds of people waiting for their trains – often delayed – to see the chai wallahs and people jumping down on the tracks to get from platform to platform. It’s certainly a world away from home but really feels like a central hub of India where everyone has a different story and is simply crossing paths.
Since arriving in India so many people have told us how much they hated Delhi and recommend other to just “get in and get out” – safe to say we get some very funny looks when we tell people how much we loved it and that we stayed for nearly a week. We think the main thing with Delhi is that you need to give it a chance. Its generally the first city people experience when they arrive in India and it can be an assault on the senses. But, don’t let things overwhelm you, give yourself time to adjust and get into the rhythms of Delhi and we are sure you will come to love it and all its crazy too.
C & J x