In the run up to my trip to india I cannot tell you how many articles, documentaries and books I poured over to try and be as prepared as possible. I taught myself about all the latest scams going on to catch tourists out, what food to avoid and what to pack. However, nothing could have prepared me for Delhi. Delhi is one of India’s most populated cities with over twenty million people residing there. It also is one of the poorest major cities in the world with over one third of its inhabitants living under the poverty line. I knew all of these facts and figures and people had warned me about the things we would see but it’s a completely different thing actually experiencing it.
Walking off an eight hour night flight from Heathrow to Delhi is pretty much like an assault to the senses. Your big bag and confused expression is also a jackpot sign to all the fake taxi cabs who will surround you and try and get your business. Avoid these guys at all costs. The best thing to do is to organise a taxi transfer with your hostel at a sightly higher cost than a normal ride but trust me its worth it to avoid the feeding frenzy. You will be jet lagged and over whelmed with heat. The last thing you want to do is haggle with a guy who probably wont even take you to the right place. If not there are legit taxi stands in the airport just after immigration who will organise a taxi and agree on a price before the ride which is a must do on all taxis, tuc tucs and ricksaws.
I would recommend ‘Meru Cabs’, they have two counters at exits five and six of IGI airport and are really friendly.
The surrounding area of the airport and the outskirts of Delhi are very poor and people will knock on your window and ask for money or try and sell you things like balloons, toy aeroplanes, anything sellable really. It is very hard but no good will come from giving them any money. Most of the kids begging are part of groups that are run by evil men who take the money they earn. Ever seen Slumdog Millionaire? Its exactly like that. They will target you because you look western, even if you’re not white you will clearly look like a tourist. The best thing to do is just firmly say no (which is pronounced ‘naa hein’ in Hindi) and look away. I know this sounds harsh but its just what you have to do, you do get used to it.
The hostel we stayed in was called Zostel which the guy at the front desk proudly told us was ‘pronounced like hostel but with a Z.’ I can’t recommend it enough! Its located right by New Delhi railway station on Arakashan road in the Prahaganj area which is great for travellers. They also upgraded us to a deluxe room and organised our railway ticket to Goa for us. I will get into why they had to organise our train tickets for us in another blog (buying Indian railway tickets from England is an ordeal!) It has great vibes with travellers from all over the world staying there. They also have chai time everyday from 4-5 where everyone can chill in the lobby and enjoy some free home made masala chai. Trust me, it is exactly what you will want after a full day in Delhi.
We decided we were going to take things slow on our first day. Doing anything in Delhi is tiring as a tourist. You can’t go anywhere without getting harassed by people trying to sell you something or send you to a tourist office. We had four different men come up to us and what started as a seemingly nice conversation turned into them trying to make us go to fake tourist offices. Its such a strange thing and very isolating because everyone seems to be in on this huge scam against tourists. The best thing to do is be firm but friendly. My boyfriend Yusef came up with firm, ‘no, but thank you my friend’ and then a quick walk away. There was no point for me to say anything because as a woman travelling with a man they won’t ever address me.
Walking around the streets of Delhi as a woman is a very challenging experience. Be prepared for everyone to stare at you. Huge groups of men will literally follow you with there eyes until you are out of sight. Of course this happens in the West as well but not to this scale. To say that it isn’t pleasant is an under statement. There were times when I felt very panicked but it is important to note that these men (for the most part) will never harm you. You just have to get used to the staring. Although Delhi is a modern city and many of the women wear western style clothes it is important for you, as a foreigner to cover up. It is just easier for you if what you wear is so loose it makes you look like a bag. This situation isn’t just unpleasant for the woman, I was very lucky that I was with a man because it took the heat off me but it put extra pressure on Yusef. He felt like he had to protect me which I would obviously oppose as someone who identifies as very independent but when it boils down to it, that’s kind of the case.
We wondered to Connaught Place which is a circular colonnade of shops and eateries surrounding a lovely park with a huge Indian flag proudly billowing in the wind. It’s a lovely area, one of the more western style places but great for people watching. I would recommend Sagar Ratna. A lovely Jain lady suggested it to us as it would be our first meal in India. Traditional West Indian food in a restaurant setting, and although the street food is inviting your poor non-indian tummies just aren’t ready for it yet. It is better to be safe and cautious with food for your first few days. Our meal was delicious, huge and cost us 785 rupees which is only £7.85. Unbeatable.
The next day we decided we wanted to see the old Delhi bazaars and the red fort monument. Both of which are incredible sights and must dos in Delhi. We had a slight ordeal getting there which involved a tuk tuk driver taking us to a place he thought would be ‘much better’ for us and dropping us off somewhere completely different to where we had requested. This is not an uncommon occurrence and the best way to avoid this is to either get your hostel to flag one down for you or just be firm and refuse to pay until you see your destination. This is not always easy as chances are, you don’t know what it looks like. However, every cloud has a silver lining and we decided to give the metro a go. It is definitely the most efficient mode of transport in the city as it 99.7 percent punctuality rate and it won’t scam you and drop you off in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention it is air conditioned and so so cheap. To get from wherever we were to Chandni Chowk it cost us 26 rupees which is 2.6p for two tokens.
It was early so the weather was not to hot but it was still bustling with life. The smells and sounds of the market hit you first, before you can see the madness. The smell of Delhi is indescribable. It’s a mixture of intense perfumed smoke, rotting fruit, gas fumes, heat and urine. Not exactly freshly mown grass but it is enchanting. Everything about this place is foreign and once you relax into the noise of it and learn how to react to the cultural attitudes and practices, its amazing.
We proceeded to get very lost in search of the red fort we were so hungry and couldn’t find a sit down place to eat we decided to go against everything we were told and eat some street food. It was a pretty interesting experience. You just point to the picture of what you want, each vendor normally sells about two different dishes. Then stand and eat off a metal tray by the stand and when finished return the tray and receive a piece of newspaper to clean your hands. Money is exchanged after, we found this was the same when we brought fresh coconuts to drink. Its such a reassuring cultural custom, shows trust between the vendor and the customer. Safe to say it was probably one of the best curries I have ever eaten. After the money was exchanged we walked into the red fort. I don’t know what I was expecting to find but it definitely wasn’t what we saw. The red fort was the seat of the Mughal emperor of India for nearly 200 years. Inside the impressive red brick walls houses vast gardens that seem completely removed from the rest of Delhi. The serene interior houses a bazaar, museums and almost perfectly preserved buildings in which the Mughal lived. The red fort is a perfect place to escape from Delhi when things are getting a bit much but you don’t want to just hermit in your hostel, which sadly so many people do. Within the grounds of the red fort are many of the birds of Delhi. The city is the second most bird-rich capital in the world after Nairobi which means there are a lot of birds and they are beautiful. They fly above the gardens allowing the fort to appear as if it reaches into the sky.
Many people dislike Delhi, they say it is unfriendly and intimidating. The thing with Delhi is you need to take everyone with a pinch of salt, just relax into it (which I admit is easier said than done) and have a cup of masala chai. I have only been here for two full days and I already have so much to say about this indescribably beautiful country. I have only scratched the surface of all the things we have seen and done but I have already gone on for three pages and to be honest I would be shocked if anyone was still reading! I am writing this on a 26 hour train from Delhi to Goa and feeling so relaxed and full of the gorgeous curry that was given to us on the train (lunch, dinner and breakfast are included in the ticket!) In short, all of my worries have sort of dissipated. It is very important to have your wits about you as it is in any major city, hide your valuables, for god sake say no if someone asks to take a picture with you otherwise you will end up with a queue round the block and agree on a price for a journey before getting into any vehicle. Other than that enjoy Delhi for what it is.