We’re back in India’s capital. On our first visit, we just spent the day, after flying in from Bangalore, en route further north. During that stay we visited the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Humayun’s Tomb. This time, we arrived on the overnight train from Amritsar after a few glorious days in the north. As seems to be the norm, we’re probably about to experience a downturn in our love for India. We’re going to have a whistle stop tour and do Delhi in Three Days. I know it’s probably not enough to see all she has to offer, but as usual we have a list and we’re just going to go ahead and work through it.
Delhi in Three Days – Our Itinerary
In no particular order, we want to visit the Red Fort, actually, that’s probably the most important to us. As is a visit to Gandhi Smitri. We’ve also booked on a walking tour with the Salaam Baalak Trust. There’s India Gate to visit, the National Museum and Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. We promised friends in Bangalore that we’d eat at Karim’s too before we head out to Qutub Minar and the National Railway Museum. It’s going to be a packed trip.
While we missed this during our trip, I’m reading about it now and it’s worth going back to Delhi for – Haunted places to visit in Delhi, now this would be very cool!
We were quite ruthless with our list of places to see in Delhi. We know we don’t have enough time here to visit them all, so we’ve picked what we think will be the highlights.
We’re staying in between the Paharganj area and the Bazaar, at the Raj Mahal Hotel. It’s a bigger than usual room, for us, but we figure we’re going to struggle with Delhi, so we’ve gone for one that gets better than average reviews across multiple sites and that isn’t too far from the main places we want to visit. Or a bus to get to them anyways.
Arriving in Delhi
Delhi is a shock to the system. Even after the 6 weeks that we’ve been in India so far. It’s huge. It’s busy. I mean, massively, hugely busy and crowded. Unlike the south of India not so many folks are paying me undue attention. Western Tourism is much more mainstream here, than say Kanyakumari in the very south. Most people seem to ignore me, which I’m actually quite happen about.
Our train arrived into Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station not long after 4am. Yes. 4am. Luckily the train is running late and its light by the time we arrive, so we take the 966 bus to the New Delhi Railway Station. From there it’s a short walk to the Raj Mahal Inn, where we were able to check in early. It’s bliss to be able to shower away the feeling of having spent the night on the train. We’ve also negotiated a late check out for when we leave. After these three days in Delhi we’re heading to Lucknow.
Before we head out sightseeing there’s laundry to be done and our Scrubba washing machine is invaluable. Although, here in India, the buckets you get in budget bathrooms are also pretty darned useful too. We also take a short trip to the Foreign Tourist Railway Ticketing Office to acquire some train tickets for the future.
The Red Fort – Lal Quila
Lal Quila is the number one place for us to visit in Delhi. We’ll be visiting several more Indian Forts over the course of the next few months, but this is our first. As ever, half of the adventure is getting there, as we walk via Chandni Chowk to the Fort. It didn’t look far on google, but the streets are so packed.
We’re relieved when we arrive that the huge line that we see for tickets is actually for domestic, Indian visitors. There’s a separate ticket window for foreigners. As usual with India there’s a separate price for foreigners as well. We get to pay 250 INR for our tickets.
We take the Audio Guide – and use our budget busting travel hack to save money by sharing a single guide between us and then set off to enjoy the fort.
The architecture is magnificent. The stonework and detail is incredible. Signage is singularly lacking and the audio guide doesn’t give me much more than my Lonely Planet guide book does.
There’s beauty here. In a faded elegant sort of a way. I’ts a good introduction to Delhi, despite the heat and the crowds.
Chandni Chowk on our return to the hotel is mad. This is one of Delhi’s oldest and busiest markets. It’s crowded beyond belief. Hustle and bustle reign. Rickshaws jostle with deliveries. I haven’t seen a western face all day. No one really pays us much heed, they’re all too busy getting in each others way.
The National Museum
The National Museum is huge. Vast. And while in 2016 they now provide audio guides for foreign visitors, they didn’t have them when we visited. There was also a charge for taking photos, so we didn’t – pay or take photos. That’s now all included in the 650 INR (WOW! how expensive!!) fee.
Would I go back? Nope. It was horrendously badly organized and while the guidebook that I got “for free” with my ticket pointed out the highlights, it didn’t actually include any information about them. I hope it’s changed for the better now!
This is a very special place. Here in the nicer suburbs of New Delhi, where the streets are wide, clean and empty is where Gandhi spent his last years. It’s where he prayed, advised and died. We took the bus from the New Delhi Railway Station and then walked the last 20 minutes or so. It’s peaceful, reflective and there is a huge amount of information here.
If there is one place to visit here in Delhi, I’d say it’s here.
This is where Mahatma Gandhi’s life ended on 30 January 1948. He’d lived here from September of the previous year. the house, which was previously called the Old Birla House, was acquired by the Government of India in 1971 and converted into a National Memorial. It opened to the public on August 15, 1973.
We visit the room where Gandhi lived and the outside area where he held mass prayers every evening. This is where he died. Of all the photographs, paintings and relics, what is most poignant here are the small amount of personal affects that he owned. We leave this place humbled.
A Walking Tour with the Salaam Baalak Trust
The Salaam Baalak Trust is an NGO – a charity that works with and helps street kids in Delhi and Mumbai. Their two hour walking tour is one of the reasons that we actually wanted to come to Delhi (and believe me there were a lot of reasons why we DIDNT want to come).
The tours are guided by kids who used to live on the streets. They’ve left home, been thrown out, or were simply lost before joining the trust. It is a great way to see the under belly of the city in a safe environment. We walk through the streets of Paharganj, around the New Delhi railway station and through alleys we wouldn’t go down by ourselves. Our guide lived out here before she was taken in by the trust.
It is another humbling experience of India. We visit one of the Children’s homes that the trust supports, speak with some of the children who have been taken in. Our donations go towards their direct support and education.
If you visit Delhi, and take just one tour, make it this one. You’ll remember it for the rest of your life. Book your place on the tour here.
India Gate is also known as the All India War Memorial and was designed by Edwin Lutyens. It was opened in 1931 and now, while also providing a memorial to Indian war dead and housing the tomb of the Unknown Solider, it is a central gathering point for Indians on holidays. Lutyens also designed the Cenotaph in London as well as sixty five other war memorials in Europe.
There are crowds of folks here. All domestic tourists. Thronging around. Talking photos. Buying street food. Just generally hanging around. It’s not possible to get close to the inscriptions of the 13,218 war dead who are memorialized here, as its all fenced off and policed.
Having learned of the life and times of Gandhi at Gandhi Smitri we’ve come here – we walked from our hotel near the New Delhi Railway Station, to pay respects at this memorial at Raj Ghat. This place was originally an old Ghat on the banks of the Yamuna River.
Ghats are a set of steps that lead down to water, usually a holy river. Ghats are used for cleaning (ie washing bodies and clothes in the river) and also for religious purposes. This can be ritual bathing, but there are also specific cremation ghats, where bodies are cremated on the riverside and the ashes are then washed away by the river. The two most famous cremation ghats are here, Raj Ghat and the cremation ghats in Varanasi on the Ganges.
The black marble platform here marks the location of Gandhi’s cremation on 31 January 1948, the day after his assassination. We, and all other visitors, must remove their footwear before entering. Despite the people, despite all the selfies taking place, this is another special place that we’ve found here in Delhi.
There are memorials to other important Indians in this area – it’s a park with trees that have been planted by visiting heads of state. We find the memorials to Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Nehru, Narayanan and Devi Lal.
While there’s plenty to do and see inside the city of New Delhi, we’ve also been following some key UNESCO World Heritage sites in our trip around India. And so, we took the metro from New Delhi Railway Station to Qutub Minar station, where it’s possible to get a taxi or an auto rickshaw to take you to the Qutub Minar complex. So, of course, we walked. Because here there are pavements! And there was no hassle or traffic to contend with, so it was relatively easy. We returned via bus to the city, which again was pretty easy to navigate.
Qutub Minar is in the Mehrauli area of Delhi, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is magnificent. The Qutab Minar tower is 73 metres high and is a tower of victory. It was built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom.
The tower tapers from 15 metres at the base to 2.5 metres at the top. It’s a mix of red sandstone and marble and it’s beautiful. The mosque at the bottom, was the first to be built in India, from material that came from 27 demolished Hindu temples.
The Qutub Minar Complex
In the courtyard of the mosque is an iron pillar, which, it’s said, if you can circle it with your hands, while standing with your back to it, it will fulfill your wish. We’re pretty happy with our lot, and trust to hard work rather than other strategies so, leave the pillar well alone.
The whole complex is beautiful and the audio guide (100 INR) that we use from the ticket booth is really well done and well worth shelling out for.
It’s not just Qutub Minar that we visit here in the complex, after we’ve looked at the Iron Pillar, we take a walk around the ruins of the mosques, the tombs of Iltutmish, Alai Minar and Imam Zamin.
It’s a spectacular site and well worth the visit from Delhi.
The National Railway Museum
It’s obvious that we have our inner geek on here in Delhi isn’t it? Astronomy AND trains! However, as we’re using the Indian Railways to get around most of India it feels slightly wrong to visit Delhi and NOT see the National Railway Museum. Sadly, it’s mostly a disappointment.
We read the museum website and find that it’s closed on Mondays and is located in 40,000 square metres, so are prepared for a LONG visit. There’s also a toy train and an indoor gallery. Most of its closed when we visit. The signage is poor to non-existent and while there are some trains on display, its hard to figure out what’s what!
The best thing about this museum is the anticipation in coming here!
The last but one place that we visit in Delhi is Jantar Mantar and I have to say I’m becoming rather fascinated with them. A Jantar Mantar is a collection of astronomy instruments. Five Jantar Mantars were built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur from 1723 onwards. The purpose of the various instruments is to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets.
This Jantar Mantar is merely a tourist attraction for which our foreign tourist tickets cost 100 INR (youch). And the toilets inside aren’t free after that either. The Jantar Mantar in Ujjain is much better. It’s still a working model. Although Ujjain isn’t my favourite place, at all.
They’re fascinating to look around, but it you want to make sense of the various instruments, then the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur has MUCH, MUCH better descriptions, an audio tour AND guided tours available. This one here in Delhi was the poorest of the structures that we visited. And now, there you go, I’ve admitted I’m a Jantar Mantar geek. So, moving swiftly on then..
Eating in Delhi – Karims
When we left Bangalore we were given a list of places to go and things that we must eat. Karim’s in Delhi was on that list. Of course it’s also on Time Magazine’s Best in Asia list as well, so it was pretty busy. We found all those western tourists here that we hadn’t spotted anywhere else!
This is authentic Mughal food. And it’s very, very good We eat mutton mughlai, dhal and mutton burra. We mop them up with roti that we watch being made in the outside kitchen. If you don’t eat meat, then try the dhal, but do come here, the experience is interesting. You will be mixing with lots of foreign tourists, but when my foodie friends from India tell me to come here, I’d be a fool not to.
We have one more place to visit here in Delhi, that’s Jama Masjid and then we’re leaving. We’re taking the train to Lucknow, where we hope to see the remnants of the Raj here in India. First though, read on about our last experiences of Delhi, here. Delhi truly sums up India for me. I love her. I hate her. The longer I’m away, the more I miss her.
- Where we stayed in Delhi – The Raj Mahal Inn near the New Delhi Railway Station
- Book an Indian Train using Cleartrip’s App
- Our guide book in India was the Lonely Planet India
- More Forts in India