Truth to be said: India can be overwhelming for many travellers. Many use New Delhi as their starting and finishing point. So did I and used it more or less as a home base for my 11 day trip through Northern India. New Delhi is a huge city and getting from one end to the other can be a journey itself. Of course, there are many historic places and museums and palaces and temples and so on, but let's focus on stuff that's not in the guide books and have some Indian experience in their capital city without breaking the bank. All the suggestions mentioned below can be done in one day on a budget.
Colourful Main Bazaar Road
Stroll down the Main Bazaar Road, look at the beautiful colours of the fabrics and the cheap clothes and souvenirs you can get here. Bargaining won't work for many things as it seems like many clothes stores have agreed on fixed prices – nevertheless, you can still give it a try. Don't be overwhelmed with all the merchants trying to get your attention and luring you into their store. Some of the shops seem pretty small – once you get in you'll figure that there are more levels stuffed with great things to see!
I bought a pair of comfy pants for flying, a print shirt and a dress for less than 700 rupees (approx. 9.30 Euros). Amazing right!
My tip: stay on the main road as the smaller alleys can be very confusing and you can get lost easily!
Take a walk
Start your route at India Gate and make your way up to the Mughal Gardens. Bring some water and food and enjoy a picnic near the water in the surrounding parks. Many locals enjoy the shades and take a nap here when it gets unbearably hot. India Gate and Mughal Gardens are perfectly aligned and you'll also pass the president's residence and other beautiful buildings in colonial style. This street is called Raj Path and is well worth a stroll.
Get on the metro
It doesn't matter how often you get on the metro, but please try it at least one time during peak hours. It will get crowded. So crowded that you won't even have to hold on any of the rails. People will push and push until everyone gets in. Don't be afraid of contact, because this won't be easy. Sure this is not the most comfortable method of getting around (it can be, but not on-peak hours). BUT you'll experience how Indians get to work and get around the city. Many don't have cars because the city is already so congested with the vehicles that a car won't really save you any time driving in New Delhi.
Experience a Ricksha ride
Bargain and bargain! Hire a Ricksha or a Tuktuk to find your way – I prefer the Tuktuk because it is faster and I love the feeling of sitting in the back and curiously watching everything around me without everyone seeing me. And asking me for money.
Get a henna
Again bargaining is key. And also agreeing on a price before the artist or wanna-be-artist starts his work. You don't have to look for them, because they are everywhere. I got one at the Main Bazaar Road and I loved the henna. But I got ripped off with the price. I learned my lesson hard that day. So agree on the size, details, pattern and the price!!
Note: When you get one of those stunningly beautiful palm hennas you won't be able to touch anything until it dries! Just keep that in mind because you don't want to ruin it right away!
Try a Sari
Also to be found on the Main Bazaar Road are Sari stores. Even if you don't intend on buying one: Get yourself in there and let them help you get into the beauty of this traditional Indian dress. It's nothing more than a short blouse and meters of colourful fabric. When I got wrapped into my first Sari I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to get dressed in that thing myself – but hey there is the internet and after two tries I was able to get dressed all on my own – yes you can hear the pride in that!
Try mouth-watering local food
Beware! Even if they tell you the food is not spicy, it most certainly is. (But they can't taste it anymore.) Being very sensitive to spicy food India was a bit of a challenge for me.
Please go and look out for their simply great cuisine. My favourite by far is a dish called Masala Dosa! Masala Dosa is a savoury dough with mashed potatoes and spices inside. It looks a bit like pancakes and simply tasted delicious. Oh, I wish I could have one right now!
Drink delicious Lassi
A milky drink based on yoghurt that can vary a lot in terms of taste. There are plain salty and sweet. And then others add fresh fruits or syrup to give it a distinct taste. The Lassis most commonly get served in terracotta mugs (that get thrown away afterwards…) and are simply delightful and heavenly!
Enjoy Masala Chai
India. Tea. Chai. This is what it all comes down to. Masala Chai is served and enjoyed in almost every corner of the city. The locals here don't drink big mugs of the spice tea but much rather shot-like sizes. Hot, extremely sweet and one of my favourites!
Where to stay – Smyle Inn
This hotel and hostel is located in a byroad of Main Bazaar Road. The location is great for day trips, also the airport is not very far and New Delhi Railway Station is just a few minutes walk down Main Bazaar Road. I choose this hotel because of the great reviews they got and because of their cheap single rooms. They also have dorms which – and that must be said – look stunning! I've never seen such great female dorms with showers and everything! When I saw that dorm I almost regretted staying in a private room!
The breakfast is held at their rooftop terrace, which is a very cool location where you can overlook the neighbourhood. The breakfast itself it not special and I must admit nothing for me. It was too spicy for my taste and I would have preferred some cereals and yoghurt (which I got somewhere else then).
Did I mention free WiFi? It works decently, but could be better. And it could also be much worse for what I've experienced in India.
They also have a travel desk where they help you book budget tours, train and plane tickets and tour guides for the day or longer. They offer to pick you up at the airport and drop you there. Make sure to really use that service. It is cheap and reliable. I booked a 4 day trip through the Golden Triangle for cheap money with them, a train and a plane ticket. Sure they have to charge a few rupees (I believe it were like 50 rupees or 0.67 Euros), but they look up all the options and are very patient. Even if you have to change a booking they will help you.
The owner Harish is the very heart of this place and if you are in doubt of anything he will take care of you. He is the nicest guy I met in India and I can only say repeatedly “made my stay in India far too easy and simple”. Thanks for the tips and the yummy Lassi!
Note: This trip was part of my Traum.Welt.Reise – “Around the World in 72 Days” project with Marco Polo and Marco Polo TV this summer.