Exploring India’s capital is guaranteed to be a heady experience. From historic architecture to treasured temples, and vibrant flower markets to sari-clad women; all the nuances of India are on show in Delhi.
The city dates back to 1,000 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. Delhi is certainly 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 shares personal 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(!) but 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 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 recommend focusing your time elsewhere.
For those who’d really like to get to know Old Delhi or contribute to charity during their stay, I 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 don’t 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 need to be prepared for lots of people and pushing about. Having said that, if you decide you would like to do Old Delhi at night, I recommend stopping for a meal at Karim’s [one of Old Delhi’s most famous eateries] before or after.
After exploring Old Delhi in the morning, we usually move on to 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. The temple is often a highlight of our guest’s day in Delhi, because it’s full of life, not a still monument, so it adds something different to the tour. To experience the temple at its best, I like to recommend we visit around noon to see the langar (kitchen) in action, 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 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 spire is 72 metres high with 376 steps, and is the tallest stone tower in India.”
“If time permits and you’re feeling active, I recommend taking a walk through the Lodi Gardens on our way back to the hotel. It’s one of the city’s most picturesque parks and a favourite haunt of joggers, yoga-enthusiasts and families who come to picnic.
Do remember 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 for us to tweak together 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 recommend carrying a pair of socks with you in your bag, as the floor can be hot and dusty (while locals typically go barefoot, clean socks are acceptable). Even better, bring along the complimentary slippers from your hotel room!”
(Editor’s note: for more tips like this, do check out our helpful guide on temple etiquette).
“My second piece of advice is not to depend on the guide books so much. They’re 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 I have a wealth of experience at your disposal.”
How long does the tour you’ve described take? What time do we start?
“Altogether, a full day of sightseeing in Delhi at the places I’ve mentioned takes about eight to nine hours. We usually recommend picking you up from your hotel at 9 am, though this is flexible depending on the time of your arrival the previous evening (our guests who arrive on late-night flights tend to appreciate a later start). Usually we’ll drop you back at the hotel at about 5 pm, but 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 suggest exploring Delhi over two days. With two days in hand I recommend doing Old Delhi and the Akshardam temple on Day 1; on Day 2, 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 does Singh recommend for shopping?
“I suggest Khan Market, though it does require a few hours for browsing so it’s better placed on a two-day itinerary, or when you arrive back in Delhi at the end of your tour. Fabindia and Anokhi are great places to pick up textiles and souvenirs.”
And his recommended places to stay?
“I say The Oberoi, Gurgaon for excellent service, and The Imperial for those who’re seeking character and history. Other great choices include The Leela Palace and The Lodhi.”
And for a special dinner?
“Bukhara [at the ITC Maurya hotel] is excellent – their Dal Bukhara and tandoori fish are amazing. Indian Accent serve a fascinating modern take on traditional Indian dishes and is a must for foodies, but note 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 taste, budget and requirement. To get started, please get in touch. Or, for inspiration, you might like to browse our sample itineraries by clicking here.0