India: A Day of Sightseeing in Delhi
Heading into our trip, we were most nervous about visiting Delhi. Everything we read online about Delhi belly, sensory overload, and questionable sanitation left us wary about what we were walking into. But what is the point in quitting your job to travel the world if you’re not going to get out of your comfort zone, right?! That’s how we felt and we are so glad we took the leap to visit Delhi, India!
We spent our first day in Delhi sightseeing. We decided to go with a driver from our hotel so that we could see as many spots as possible (and it was 100 degrees out). We made the right choice because we were able to check off seven tourist spots and we got to get to know our driver, Sanjeev. Sanjeev is originally from the Nepal/India border, has lived in Delhi for 6 years, and is the nicest human in India/the world. Sanjeev told us about his favorite Indian dishes, that he loves seeing the India Gate lit up at night, how the driving in India is “CRAZY, SIR!”, and about how his family uses black magic as medicine. Sanjeev gave us a local perspective of Delhi and a peek at the kindness of the Delhi people.
Side note, while in Delhi we stayed at The Woodcastle Grand in Tangore Garden. While slightly removed from the hubbub of Delhi, we were obsessed with this hotel! The owner and staff went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable, well fed, and had all the sodas we could possibly want (a small touch of home that is needed in Delhi). Although removed, it is close to a metro stop and the hotel will happily help you set up transportation! Enter our day of sightseeing with Sanjeev and our impressions of Delhi…
Delhi is a Culture Shock
If you’re from the U.S., Delhi is a whole other world. While driving and walking around, everything was a sensory experience. The continuous sounds of horns and yelling on the streets were a continuous backdrop as we walked and drove around the city. Roads were lined with men peeing into the woods or a fence (I’m glad they’re staying hydrated, I suppose). Spitting on the streets is very common, but illegal in the metro. Under-nourished and neglected dogs roam the trash-filled streets. Goats and cows graze along medians and cross the road as they please. People are sleeping on grimy streets and in the back of rickshaws. When buses and trains become too crowded people will hang onto the top for a ride. Men will stare at you with no attempt to be discreet. I had to literally push and shove and be pushed and shoved to buy tokens for the metro because the conventions of a line are lost in Delhi. In a city with about 24 million people, the rules are there really are no rules.
That being said, the culture in Delhi is fascinating and our interactions with the people in Delhi were mostly very positive. The people we met were excited to show us their culture and went out of their way to impress us by giving me flowers as a gift, walking us to the ATM or a sightseeing spot to make sure we were safe, and giving up seats on the metro so we could sit together. We also got to experience locals engaging in their daily routines such as proudly selling wedding invitations, working together to move supplies in carts down the crowded streets, and happily greeting each other with a handshake and a kind word.
Driving in Delhi is an Experience
Driving in other countries is always an experience, but Delhi takes the cake. The roads are crowded with cars, trucks, buses, auto-rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, transport carts pulled by horse or cow, and motorbikes. In Delhi, the lines on the road are less of a suggestion and more of a way for drivers to ensure that they are actually driving right down the middle of the road. When in heavy traffic, it’s one big game of bumper cars! Our rickshaw would use bumping into the back or front of another car as the indication to stop. There is no such thing as too close to another moving object on the streets of Delhi.
I’ve mentioned the continuous horns and yelling on the roads. The horn use was our favorite. As our driver, Sanjeev, said, “you can’t drive in Delhi without a horn, it’s crazy, sir.” The trucks in Delhi even have “HORN PLEASE” painted on the back. One of the best bumper stickers we’ve ever seen. Some of the uses for the horn are:
- to alert someone you are cutting them off
- to alert someone you are going to pass them
- to alert someone they are literally running into you
- to alert a pedestrian you are not going to stop for them
- to alert everyone you are moving
- to alert everyone you are simply on the road
- to alert another car you are near them
- to alert another car that they need to speed up
- to alert another car they need to move out of your way
- to alert the cars in front of you at a stoplight/pay toll that they should move faster
The sound of horns never gets old in Delhi… or does it??
White People are Famous in Delhi
Before getting to Delhi we had heard that people love taking pictures with white people in India. This one was true, but with a caveat. We had many groups of young men ask us for pictures and then proceed to take 5-10 selfies with me. After asking our driver about this, he said that it’s mostly people from rural India visiting Delhi who “think it’s so cool to see you white people.” We found this phenomenon very entertaining.
The Detailed Delhi Architecture Doesn’t Disappoint
On our day sightseeing in Delhi we were able to see the Red Fort, Lotus Temple, Humayun’s Tomb, Dilli Haat Market, India Gate, Qutb Minar, and Laxminarayan Temple. While all worth seeing, our favorites were Lotus Temple and Humayun’s tomb.
The Lotus Temple has simplistic, yet inspiring architecture. The experience at Lotus Temple is very calm and spiritual. You learn a bit about the Baha’i religion and have a chance to reflect silently in the prayer room. The grounds of the temple are also a gorgeous, green relief from the streets of Delhi.
Humayun’s Tomb was another spot with beautiful architecture. It has several smaller tombs you can visit while walking the expansive gardens. We loved the detailed window screens, ornate facades, and pink coloring of Humayun’s Tomb.
Dilli Haat has a great indoor market for souvenir shopping if you’re looking for a keepsake from India without the stress and hustle bustle of the larger outdoor markets. It is government sanctioned and can ship anything home for free (-ish, we’re sure this cost is included in the initial price). It’s a great place to find a rug, scarf, traditional clothing, or knickknacks like Buddhas. We worked with a very nice gentleman and talented salesman to find a peacock wall tapestry. We’re happy to report while an enthusiastic salesman, he was not pushy at all.
We are now headed to Agra for the next leg of our India journey. We will be posting our experiences about the amazing food tour we took in Old Delhi soon. Stay tuned!