With temperatures in the UK dropping below freezing and staying there, what better time to start planning your sunshine get away? Delhi is the first part of the Golden Triangle and the cheapest place to fly in and out of. A room in a hotel can cost you as little as £15 a night so once you’ve arrived, the world is your oyster…
Here are my top 5 things not to miss:
- Old Delhi
Hire a rickshaw and head into the bustling heart of this crazy city; electrical wires zigzag across the streets at eye level; sequins and spices nestle alongside street hawkers, taxi drivers and fifteen lanes of traffic all moving in apparently random directions, beeping and swerving around rickshaw drivers as they head the wrong way around the traffic islands: Delhi is a feast for the senses – and a total culture shock.
Being one white face in a city of 18 million people you’d think you might disappear, but – like a penguin in a cage full of flamingos – you are instantly obvious and anyone who spots you will try to ‘befriend’ you in hope of giving you some sort of information which warrants a tip. Walking down the street is an adventure in itself; dodging the cracked pavements, random cows and the one thousand other people hurrying about their business. From the grinding poverty of makeshift homes on the side of the road to the holy Sadus, dressed in orange, crouched on street corners, or tuk tuk drivers sleeping on mats in the sunshine, what will strike you most about Delhi is its seemingly endless mass of teeming humanity.
After a day in the old town you can head to the Gates of India, a remnant of colonial British rule, set in a huge park which even by night is filled with families and vendors selling food: the perfect end to a perfect day.
- Qutb Minar
Built in the city’s trademark red sandstone and started in 1193 by the first sultan this five story, 73 metre high tower is the crowning glory of a World Heritage Site which contains the oldest mosque in northern India.
An inscription over the eastern gate, left by the victorious army, boasts that it was constructed from the ruins of 27 Hindu temples. The highest tower in India, Qutb Minar commemorates the defeat of Dehli’s last Hindu ruler and an ancient iron pillar stands as silent testimony to almost 2,000 years of history in this – one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
The hassle factor in India is enormous. In the centre of Delhi it can be quite annoying and at its major attractions there is an endless supply of strange men attempting to offer you ‘tours’. Whilst it is wise to rebuff most of these don’t be too upset if you are approached by strange people who want to take your photo – it isn’t a con, (unlike everything else!), they really just think you look funny and want you to pose with their mum. Relax, be polite and enjoy your temporary celebrity status.
- Humanyan’s Tomb
Wild green parrots and screeching peacocks are the sole inhabitants of this lovingly restored garden tomb, the first ever to be built on the Indian sub-continent.
The inspiration for the Taj Mahal, unlike a lot of other historical buildings in India, the colours and patterns are bright and the tiles and dome still intact.
It can be reached via the Indian equivalent of the London Underground, which is swish and modern and surprisingly clean, (bins are non-existent elsewhere). However, a word of warning – as a women – even travelling with a man – avoid the packed tubes at rush hour as there are a few men who will try to take advantage of you; I had a nasty experience with a man who tried to rub himself against me, despite being with my husband at the time.
- The Red Fort
The ultimate symbol of Mughal power, this impressive octagonal fort was created by Shah Jahan after he moved his capital from Agra to Delhi in 1638. The man responsible for creating the Taj Mahal, it was originally built in white and red, but after a century of occupation by the British, who used it as a barracks, it lost its original colour, although this is gradually being corrected.
The downside of visiting sites in India, aside from the fact they are unlikely to contain much furniture or other remnants of the people who occupied it, is that they all smell of …wee. A combination of no public conveniences and a slightly different take on hygiene means you are never far from a stinky corner of an ancient monument. Nice.
- Jama Masjid
Dominating Old Delhi this giant mosque – The Friday Mosque – is the largest mosque in India. The courtyard can accommodate 25, 000 worshippers and climbing the 121 steps to the top of the minaret offers spectacular views across a city of 18 million people, – how far you can see depends on the air quality, which is amongst the lowest in the world.
What is wonderful is that all around you are Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist temples, Sikh Gurdwaras and Christian churches – Delhi is a place where all of India lives alongside one another, a true melting pot where animal and humans of all types huddle together. A visit to India will change your perspective – for the better.