Stepping outside the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi at the height of summer in May, you feel a blast of hot air surge over you. For a moment you feel detached from your body; as the 50 degree heat presses down, dust settles on your sticky body and the thick smell of exhaust and smog permeates your lungs.
For first time visitors to India, New Delhi may not necessarily be the best of starting points. The cacophony of blaring horns, calls from street vendors hawking fruits, socks, balloons and everything else in between; topped off by overzealous touts striving to take advantage of your confusion and rip you off may send the most seasoned of travellers into a state of culture shock and have them yearning for peace, comfort and solitude.
This is New Delhi – brash, boisterous, unapologetic and unpredictable. You either love her or hate her.
Personally, New Delhi for me encapsulates all that I yearn about India. The city makes the blood rush to my face, my veins pump with adrenaline and my senses thirst to take in as many sights, sounds and smells as I can.
Some of the must-see attractions include the magnificent Red Fort located in Old Delhi. Built in 1638, it was the residence of Mughal Emperors for more than 200 years. The towering sandstone walls, earlier designed to keep out invaders, now offer welcome respite from the noise and organised chaos of the city. Do also make a stopover at Jama Masjid or Friday Mosque, the largest mosque in India; and climb the minarets to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the sprawling metropolis. During balmy evenings, take a stroll down Lodi Gardens and watch the city wind down after another long day over samosas and cold coffee.
A visit to Delhi will be incomplete without indulging in some shopping. Delhi’s markets are vibrant, diverse and piled with several cheap and unique finds that will pique the interest of even those who are more of “grab and go” shoppers (myself included). Make sure to bargain.
One of the most popular bazaars would be Chandni Chowk. Literally meaning “moon-lit square”, it is one of the oldest and busiest markets and sells a smorgasbord of items such as copperware, textiles, food, furniture and of course, colourful souvenirs and trinkets. It offers tourists an authentic first-hand experience of daily life in India. For those among us who prefer a more upmarket experience, Hauz Khas village provides a more relaxed and contemporary vibe with several laid-back hipster style cafes and boutiques.
Delhi is definitely not for those seeking a manicured travel destination. I cannot promise that you will like this throbbing mass of confusion – but I do guarantee that the memories and experiences you have will take pride of place in your travel portfolio. (Text and photos by Sandeep Singh)