Spending the last three days in New Delhi completely changed my view of this city. 🇮🇳
And not in the bad way either. In a way that made me realize that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Even before coming to New Delhi, I had been told that it was a dirty and ugly city. All my friends and family were concerned about me traveling there as well.
To be honest, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, Delhi has dirt, poverty and pollution, but it is SO much more than that. It’s a city with emerging technology, eclectic cuisine, friendly locals, and jaw-dropping spiritual sites. 😍
It’s also the perfect city on a budget! Here’s how my story all began. 🙂
Getting There: I arrived in Delhi after an overnight flight from Helsinki. There I validated the e-visa I had been granted, and took out local money from the ATM, which had an exchange rate of 62 rupees per 1 USD. Then I traveled from the airport to my hostel using the metro. I had to transfer metro lines three different times, and it took about one hour, but it only cost 1.20 USD, plus the metro system was quite clean and efficient.Accommodation: My hostel was called Joey’s. They had air conditioned dorm beds and complimentary breakfast. I thought the staff was very nice, but the WiFi was not very fast. 🛏
Cost: 6 USD/ night
Once I arrived at my hostel, I decided to inquire about booking my train tickets from Delhi to Agra, and from Agra to Varanasi. They told me that I would have to go to the train station to book these tickets, and I should probably go as soon as possible, since they book out far in advance. I felt slightly panicked and rushed, so I headed back on the metro in the same direction of the airport until I got to the Delhi Railway Station. From there I began a crazy rat race, which took over four hours to finish. Essentially I approached three different ticket counters, and was told to go to a different spot by each one of them. The spots were located all over the railway station and even down the block, which left me feeling frustrated and sweating, running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Here’s a short clip of me walking around the station. Such chaos! Hah!
Finally the 3rd counter told me to go to the international tourist ticket office. When I got there I had to grab a number and fill out a form of where I would be traveling. I waited for an hour for my number to be called only to get to the counter and be told that I had to go to a different counter first, so I could find out the exact train number before coming to this counter to book the ticket. WTH?! Anyway, I finally managed to sort it out after four hours of confusion.Side note: I tried to book these tickets in advance using the local website, but it seemed very out-of-date and insecure. The web pages would constantly crash, which is why I decided to book when I arrived.Anyway, after that frustration, I knew I would need to do something to make me smile again. I decided to head to one of the most beautiful temples in New Delhi, Akshardham.
Akshardam Temple is one of the largest Hindu complexes in India. It even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records! 😲The temple complex includes a lake and lotus garden, plus the interior is decorated with carved pillars, ornate domes, and over 20,000 statues of divine figures. The intricate details are just flawless!
Cost and location: Free entry; Akshardam Metro- blue line
They don’t allow photos inside, and they keep all your cameras and mobile devices in a cloak room. 📷At least I managed to get some sneaky shots of my own through the gate.
From there I returned to my hostel where I chatted with a few Indian locals who run the place, plus a few long-term backpackers traveling through India. The one Indian guy was very active on couchsurfing. He’s hosted over 150 people in the past three years, and now he’s planning a big backpacking trip to reunite with many of them in Europe. He is also a former Sikh. Sikhism is one of the major religions in India. Among other things, they believe in one God, karma, and reincarnation. Sikhs also wear articles of faith, including long, uncut hair wrapped in a turban.
He said he used to practice, but doesn’t any longer. He’s even cut his hair off, and only wears a turban when he sees his family, so that they don’t see what he’s done! I also talked with the long-term travelers about their experience in India. They all had rave reviews about the places they’d been; however, they did mention that they had gotten sick at least 2-3 times during their trip. They had vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and many even ended up in the hospital on fluids. It’s made me very apprehensive of the food I choose to eat. 🤔
Anyway, the next morning I left early with a plan of attack. I mapped out all the places I wanted to see, and a route of how to get there. I quickly learned; however, that New Delhi is not walkable in the slightest. Five minutes after walking on this path, the sidewalk ended and turned into a freeway. I realized the only way to get around was either by tuk-tuk, rickshaw, motorbike, taxi or metro.
I opted for the metro, since it’s actually incredibly cheap, hassle-free, and user-friendly.All of the signs are posted in Hindi and English, which makes it very easy to navigate. Each fare is around 30-60 cents, and can take you to practically anywhere in the city.
When you arrive at the metro you buy a token from a machine, which you then scan as you enter and exit to verify your travel.
The metro is also air conditioned, which is something I looked forward to as the heat of the day brought temps soaring over 100 degrees.
Rules, rules, rules!
I also noticed that there are a ton of rules here, with each having a very specific, and unpleasant penalty. I guess I’m glad it keeps things nice and orderly. Anyway, my first stop of the day was to the Lotus Temple.
The Lotus Temple (The Baha’i House of Worship)
It is composed of 27 marble “petals”, which are arranged in clusters to form nine symmetrical sides. 💮
Cost and location: Free entry; Kalkaji Mandir- purple line
A short 15-walk through a public park took me to another temple, ISCKON Hare Krishna.
Believers of the Hare Krishna movement take part in yoga, meditation, vegetarianism, and studying sacred texts.
They also believe in the ideals of one supreme God, karma, and reincarnation through grace.To make your life divine, you must always chant the name of God, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…”Here is a short clip from my visit.
Cost and location: Free entry; Kalkaji Mandir- purple line
From there I walked back towards to the metro to my final stop here: Kalkaji Mandir Hindu Temple.
Kalkaji Mandir Hindu Temple
The holy shrine at Kalkaji Mandir Temple is believed to be a place where one receives blessings, which can fulfill all their wishes and desires.
Because of this belief, the place was a madhouse, with everyone waiting in line to visit this shrine.
Instead I decided to browse the adjacent market for jewelry and snacks, then made a bee line to the exit.
Cost and location: Free entry; Kalkaji Mandir- purple line
Side note on WiFi: There’s also free WiFi in most metro and railway stations. The problem is that you need an Indian number to register, so I’d recommend getting a local sim card if you plan to stay here for awhile.After I took the metro to visit two more temples. The first was called Jantar Mantar, which is actually an observatory used in the 18th century to predict the movements of the sun, moon, and planets. It looked OK from the outside, but the entry fee was 500 rupees, so I decided to pass.
From there I went to the most impressive temple of the day, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is the most prominent Sikh temple in New Delhi.It was originally the home of 17th century spiritual leader, Har Krishan Singh, who helped thousands suffering from smallpox by giving them fresh water from this pool.The home has since become a special place of worship, where at least 15,000 visitors come each day to bathe in its healing waters.They also have a community kitchen where visitors receive a free meal of curry and paratha, plus free drinking water and restrooms on site.All are welcome in this place, regardless of race, class, gender, or religion. This represents the foundation of Sikhism: equality, unity, and selfless service. As a sign of respect, visitors are simply asked to remove their shoes, wash their hands and feet, and cover their heads.As I walked the perimeter of the pool, I listened to the chant of spiritual hymns echo through the complex while birds gracefully flew overhead. Such a feeling of peace and serenity! ☮ 🕊
Cost and location: Free entry and free meal; Janpath- purple line
Before entering I had to remove my shoes and socks, and store them in this foreigner room. When I returned to the room to get my shoes I met two Israelis and a Canadian traveler. We got to talking and decided to head to Old Delhi together, to do a bit of exploring.
Old Delhi (Chandni Chowk)
Old Delhi is also home to many important historic sites, dating back to the 16th century, including the Red Fort.
The Red Fort is comprised of massive red sandstone walls, and used to be the home of India’s 17th century emperor during the Mughal dynasty.Now it’s home to many museums, and has even been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cost and location: 500 rupees to enter; Chandni Chowk- yellow line
Upon leaving I went to try my first Indian dish, dahi bhalla. This traditional snack is a nice balance of crutchy lentil balls, creamy and tangy yogurt, plus a sweet chutney drizzle. I also grabbed some prepackaged Indian snacks to try later on. 😉
Cost and location: Free to wander; Chandni Chowk- yellow line
My last day in Delhi I headed to Lodi Gardens.
The gardens are an idyllic city escape, filled with flowers, birds, and refreshing ponds.
It also house the tombs and religious relics of many elite 16th century rulers from the Lodhi era. I saw many people (and dogs) hanging out in the public gardens. The place was also well-maintained with gardeners and cleaning staff.Cost and location: Free entry; Khan Market- purple line
From there I wandered to Lodhi Colony, to view some of its modern street art.
Lodhi Colony Street Art
Lodhi Colony is Delhi’s first open air public art district.Many of the pieces were inspired by the beauty of nature. Others stress the importance of community, or the ability to see things from a different perspective.
Later I went wandering around the neighborhoods surrounding Lodhi to get a better feel for the residential districts of New Delhi.Some of the homes looked quite upscale, while others were crumbling in ruins. While walking around, I watched families out in the streets eating together, playing soccer, and kids riding their bikes. Sure, I stood out like a sore thumb, but nobody hassled me. They merely looked in curiosity, and many smiled and said, “Hello”.Hinduism is the main religion here, and it seems very ingrained in the culture. Although it’s a chaotic city, it still maintains a spiritual and calm feeling as well.
To be honest, I saw lots of animals on the street. I even found a dog that looked exactly like my parents’! 🐕After, as I was walking back to the metro, I randomly walked into an old friend I had met in Bulgaria a few years back. He was actually here in Delhi to pick up some medicine to help his ill father. He said it was too expensive back in the US, and it wasn’t covered under his health insurance. Apparently, India is a good place to go for getting pharmaceuticals at a fraction of the price. Anyway, we decided to catch up while walking through the Khan Market. The market had a lot of modern chains, like Subway and Starbucks, but they also had unique shops, like this trendy boutique called, Play Clan, which sold modern bags, paintings, and clothing, all with an Indian flare.
Cost and location: Free to wander; Rajiv Chowk- yellow line
Anyway, I ended the evening with a meal at a cheap local restaurant near my hostel. They served some lentil curry with poori (a puffy bread), accompanied with onions, pepper and a spicy paste.
Cost: less than 2 USD
Well, that concludes my time in New Delhi. Up next I’m heading to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then! 😀