Exploring India’s capital is guaranteed to be a heady experience. From historic architecture to treasured temples; vibrant flower markets to sari-clad women, all the nuances of India are on show in Delhi.
The city dates back to 1000 BC and boasts a rich history with two very distinct personalities: the Mughal Empire in crumbling Old Delhi, and the British-built colonial boulevards of New Delhi. Most of our tours begin and end here though it’s much more than just a transit hub and definitely worth dedicating a day or two of your itinerary to.
Singh has been working with us at Indian Excursions for the past two years, as one of our hand-picked and well-treasured guides. Here he walks us through a typical day of sightseeing in Delhi and provides us with his recommendations:
“Most guests of Indian Excursions spend two nights in Delhi, with a full day dedicated to sightseeing. Our day typically begins in Old Delhi with a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk. It’s not a soft landing and is a fascinating assault on the senses. As you’re whisked through narrow lanes you’ll take in new sights, sounds, smells… all the while, your rickshaw-wallah (driver) will be skilfully dodging cows and motorbikes! Old Delhi is crowded and hectic but this is all part of the charm and its best to just immerse yourself in the experience. We disembark our rickshaw at Khari Baoli, Asia’s largest spice market, before then exploring the Jama Masjid. Built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (he also built the Taj Mahal), the Jama Masjid is India’s largest mosque and a colossal sandstone structure. The courtyard can hold up to 25,000 devotees! From the top, there’s a splendid view of Old Delhi.”
“Also located in Old Delhi is the Red Fort, though I don’t recommend scheduling a stop there unless you have two days or more to hand. The reason for this, is that you’ll see a much finer example of the same design in Agra. There’s so much to see and do in Delhi that I’d recommend focusing your time elsewhere.
For those who’d really like to get to know Old Delhi and/or contribute to charity during their stay, I would recommend including the Salaam Baalak Trust’s walking tour. This organisation provide food, shelter and education to children living on the streets. Several of their children have been trained in guiding and now lead walks around the backstreets of Old Delhi, showing this world through their eyes. The walks are a great opportunity for the children to improve their English skills. Several of our past guests have done this and found it very inspiring. The walk lasts about an hour and a half and I would accompany you too.”
“We do offer a walking tour through Old Delhi at night, but I would not recommend this for the faint hearted. It’s crowded and chaotic, and can be utterly exhausting after a day of exploring elsewhere in Delhi. I feel that the Old Delhi night tour has been romanticized by guide books. It’s not a very pleasant experience. The market is at its busiest in the evening and you would need to be prepared for lots of people and pushing about. If you do decide you’d like to do Old Delhi at night though, I would recommend stopping for a meal at Karim’s.
After exploring Old Delhi in the morning, we usually move on into New Delhi in the early afternoon, beginning with the Sikh temple. The Bangla Sahib Gurudwara is a massive Sikh temple and always full of activity. I often find the temple is a highlight of our guest’s day in Delhi as the temple is alive, not a still monument, so it adds something different to the day. To experience the temple at its best I like to recommend we visit around noon to witness the free kitchen, where all visitors are fed a free simple meal of dal-roti (lentil curry and flatbread). Run by volunteers, this kitchen dishes out an astonishing 10,000 meals a day.”
“After lunch (I’d recommend Rendezvous or Pindi, both are conveniently located and regularly enjoyed by guests of Indian Excursions), we then head to Humayun’s Tomb, taking a scenic route through India Gate (a massive red sandstone arch, built to commemorate the Indian and British soldiers who died in World War I, and those who fell in battle in the North-West Frontier Province and the Third Afghan War) and Rashtrapati Bhavan (designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens as the British Viceroy’s Palace, Rashtrapati Bhavan is now the official residence of the President of India).”
“Humayun’s tomb is a must when in Delhi and is a great introduction to the Mughal architecture you’ll be exploring in Agra. This 16th century tomb launched a new architectural era of Persian influence in India, culminating in the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri.
We end the day at Qutab Minar – one of Delhi’s most iconic landmarks. Constructed as far back as 1193, this striking tower is 72 metres high with 376 steps, and is the tallest stone tower in India.”
“If time permits and you’re feeling active, I would recommend taking a walk through the Lodhi Gardens on our way back to the hotel. It is one of the city’s most picturesque parks and a favourite haunt of joggers, yoga-enthusiasts and families who come to picnic.
Do remember however that sightseeing with Indian Excursions is flexible. The itinerary you create in advance with Madeleine can be followed to the letter, or it can act as more of a guideline, which you tweak with me to better suit your interests and feelings on the day.”
And Singh’s top tips for our guests in Delhi?
“At places of worship like the Jama Masjid, we need to remove our shoes before entering. If wearing sandals, I would recommend carrying a pair of socks with you in your bag, as the floor can be hot and dusty. Even better, bring along the complimentary slippers from your hotel room! My second tip would be not to depend on the guide books so much, which are often outdated. Instead, please take advantage of my knowledge – I really want to help you make the most out of your time in Delhi and have a wealth of experience at your disposal.”
“Altogether a full day of sightseeing in Delhi at the places I’ve mentioned would take about eight to nine hours. We usually recommend picking you up from your hotel at 9am, though this is flexible depending on the time of your arrival the previous evening (our guests who arrive on late night flights appreciate a later start). Usually we would drop you back at the hotel at about 5pm, though the tour can always be cut short, for example by skipping Qutab Minar, if you’re feeling tired. Or, for a more leisurely pace if your schedule allows I’d suggest exploring Delhi over two days. With two days in hand I’d recommend doing Old Delhi and the Akshardam temple on Day 1; on Day 2, I’d suggest the Sikh temple, India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutab Minar and the National Museum (which boasts 200,000 pieces dating back to 2500 BC).”
Where would Singh recommend for shopping?
“I would suggest Khan Market, though as this would require a few hours it would be better placed on a two day itinerary, or, when you arrive back in Delhi at the end of your tour. Fab India and Anokhi are great places to pick up textiles and souvenirs.”
And his recommended places to stay?
And for a special dinner?
“Bukhara [at the ITC Maurya hotel] is excellent – their Dal Bukhara and tandoori fish are amazing. Indian Accent serves some fascinating modern takes on traditional Indian dishes and is a must for foodies, but note that the restaurant usually books up a couple of weeks in advance so do make a reservation with Madeleine before you arrive”.
We’d love to assist with the planning of your holiday to Delhi and Rajasthan. At Indian Excursions, all our tours are private and tailor-made to suit your individual tastes, budget and requirement. To get started, please do get in touch. Or, for inspiration, you might like to browse our sample itineraries by clicking here.