Visit Delhi and you might just find yourself believing that not only is time travel possible but thriving. A stop off in Old Delhi will give you a glimpse of the past, with its labyrinth of narrow lanes and colourful bazaars selling spices by the sack load. A short hop on the modern and efficient metro will transport you to the contemporary architecture of South Delhi where skyscrapers meet the sort of urban villas that wouldn’t look out of place in a futuristic Miami! The fascinating Old Delhi, is sure to offer the most to history lovers and those on the lookout for ‘authentic India’ while New Delhi has malls and entertainment centres for those wishing to stay firmly in the now. Here are just a few of our top recommendations for things to see and do.
Mehrauli Archaeological Park
Slightly off the beaten track, Mehrauli Archaeological Park is certainly worth a visit. Spread over 200 acres, this area is dotted with over 100 historically significant monuments (from Medieval to 19th Century) as well as areas of exquisite forestland and natural beauty. Visit the time-ravaged tombs of Balban and Quli Khan, the Jamali Kamali mosque and the 16th-century Rajon ki Baoli – considered Delhi’s finest flight of steps! In fact, there’s so much to see and do here that it’s a good idea to take a guided walking tour to be sure to catch the highlights. Wear your walking boots and take plenty of water, you won’t want to miss a thing.
Garden of Five Senses
Just a stone’s throw from Mehrauli Heritage Area is the Garden of Five Senses. Launched in 2003 and covering a whopping 20 acres, the park was designed to stimulate all five senses with the help of fragrant flowers, gushing waterfalls, sumptuous greenery, detailed sculptures and delicate wind chimes. If you’ve spent a few days in old Delhi and are crying out for some space and calm, then this place is sure to provide it. There are also cultural performances held in the park’s amphitheatre on most evenings.
The Red Fort
Founded between 1638 and 1648 by Emperor Shah Jahan, this fort was originally built overlooking the Yamuna River which has since migrated to a short distance away. One thing that won’t change however is the fact that it was built with the decapitated bodies of prisoners into its foundations, supposedly for luck! For a remarkable experience, visit the fort during the evening and take in the sound and light show (complete with voiceover by a Bollywood superstar) and learn all about its history.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, Humayun’s tomb was constructed in the 1560s for the Mughal emperor by his Persian-born wife. Thought to have inspired the architecture of the Taj Mahal (built just 60 years later), the tomb itself is beautifully proportioned, almost appearing to float above the gloriously well-kept, symmetrical gardens. The tomb marries Persian and Mughal architecture and is inlaid with bands of white marble and red sandstone.
The tomb has had six years of restoration, and a new visitor centre is due to open at the site offering an oasis of calm in the middle of your frenetic day.
Fancy something different?
There’s a whole range of unexpected surprises in Delhi, here are some must-do picks from the city.
If you want to see Delhi from the eyes of a local then you would do well to try out one of the walking tours organized by Salaam Baalak Trust, a charity caring for the poor and homeless. You will be shown around the old walled city of Delhi by former street children and get to see the city from a completely different perspective – get ready for rickshaw rides, hidden alleyways and views from on high.
Delhi Dance Academy
If you’re looking to do something a little out of the ordinary then why not try a dance class? Delhi Dance Academy offers two-hour dance workshops for beginners and tourists. You can try your hand at Bhangra, Bollywood, Belly Dance and Dandiya (a type of traditional folk dance). Just dress in comfortable clothing and be prepared to have fun!
Known as the ‘tinsel slum’, Kathputli is home to acrobats, magicians, puppeteers and more. It was also the subject of a 2014 documentary, ‘Tomorrow we Disappear’. An official tour such as The Art of Hope Tour which specialises in Kathputli colony tours, is advisable. The Indian government have been trying to regenerate the area for some time so experience this vibrant, mystical area before it disappears forever.
Best places to eat
The endless size and excitement of Delhi means you’ll certainly be hungry come dinner time, so here are a collection of the city’s best eats.
Cafe Lota – New Delhi
In the heart of New Delhi, you will find a simple outdoor restaurant offering delicious dishes with a twist. Try the fish and sweet potato chips, or palak patta chaat (crispy spinach, potatoes and chickpeas with spiced yoghurt and chutneys). The bijou restaurant is very much child-friendly and offers great breakfasts and desserts if you’re in the mood for something sweet!
Sita Ram Diwan Chand – New Delhi
A family-run, hole-in-the-wall serving inexpensive portions of just one dish – chole bhature (spicy chickpeas), accompanied by delicious, freshly made, puffy, fried bread. It’s traditionally a breakfast dish but is open and tastes just as good at any time of day.
Kallan Sweets – Old Delhi
One of the most famous sweet shops in the Jama Masjid area, Kallan Sweets is famed for its lassis. Try the paneer jalebi which they prepare during the month of Ramadan – it’s sure to sweeten up your day.
This tremendous metropolis offers surprises on every corner. Wander a little off the beaten track and you will find leafy parks, early morning yoga sessions, dusty bookshops and breath-taking Hindu temples. Keep your mind – and your eyes – open and be prepared to be wowed by one of India’s most bustling cities.