Delhi city guide

Delhi will make you ask questions like: “How do people even live here?”. It’s a colossal beehive that will chew you up and spit you out. It won’t kill you, but it comes damn close. Delhi is a megalopolis with, quite possibly, the worst traffic in the world. You might think you’re prepared for it, but you’re not. It was even worse before 2002 when the metro was built. You couldn’t even reach certain parts of Delhi. We often use traffic as an excuse for being late for work, but the struggle is real here. It’s one of the reasons why apps like Uber are so popular in Delhi. Same thing with bike rentals and guided bike rides. Whichever means of exploration you choose make sure you set off early. Schedule ahead and take your time sightseeing. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in traffic on your way to see all the landmarks. You just need to get through the initial shock and you’ll see how beautiful Delhi is. It’s almost a living painting.

Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in Delhi

Swaminarayan Akshardham, the largest Hindu temple on the planet, is located in New Delhi and is a fairly new building (2005)

Most parts of Delhi are very rustic, to say the least. Communal showers, lack of running water, people cooking on coals: just general disorder. Stuck in time, but not in a good way. Then you come across sites that people hold dear and notice how well they’re being kept. That goes particularly for temples and historical sites such as the Red Fort. It looks like a tall, red wall when you approach it from the streets of Delhi. Once you pay for the ticket and enter its premises, you’re presented with a vast courtyard. The Mughal Emperors used this place as their main residence, so it’s not “just” a fort. That dynasty was responsible for centuries of cultural growth of Indian people. The Mughal reigned over this part of Asia for over three hundred years. Their rule ended following the Siege of Delhi; a battle fought against the British East India Company. It’s safe to say that the Red Fort is their legacy. It could function as a separate city with everything from residential quarters to temples and a bazaar.

Swaminarayan Akshardham is a relatively recent addition to Delhi’s roster of landmarks. It was built by the hands of thousands of volunteers from all over the world. Akshardham is a religious complex like no other. A massive temple stands in the centre of it all, surrounded by beautiful gardens, sculptures, and fountains. People come here to learn about yoga, meditation, and Hinduism. Everyone can benefit from a stay within these walls; all it takes is an open mind. I’d call it a modern-day monastery, where tradition meets fibre optics. It’s hard to believe it was only opened in 2005. Jama Masjid is another religious landmark in Delhi. It’s one of the largest mosques in India and part of Shah Jahan’s heritage. He’s the man who commissioned the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. 

Jama Masjid Mosque in old Delhi

Jama Masjid Mosque in old Delhi, the last miracle of architecture commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan

The spice markets are the most organic way to experience Delhi. People here like spicy food, probably spicier than a regular guy can handle. Why would they eat scorching hot food in this stupidly hot climate? Sweating regulates your temperature, so the local cuisine evolved in a certain way. An unaccustomed nose will have trouble coping around one of those markets. Wait until you take a whiff of a random chilli dust cloud and you’ll wish it were only allergy. Employ the services of one of many street food tour companies. Help out the local kids and you won’t be disappointed. They’ll show you places you’d never find on your own.

Expect stuff like a meter-wide alleyway and a crowd of people around a guy sitting next to a cauldron. He’s probably selling breakfast pancakes, that would go great with butter. But he never has any butter. You need to walk further down the alley and look for another guy. He’s usually wearing a black leather jacket and deals sticks of butter like it was cocaine. It’s bizarre. Make sure you steer clear of the westernized food: it’s disgusting. Vendors are trying to appeal to tourists by bastardizing stuff like Bolognese samosas, or pizza with curry potatoes.

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