My journey to India in June (with my long time friend) begins with flying Aeroflot Airlines from JFK in New York (which barely had any restaurants, but a plethora of HIGH end stores) to SVO in Moscow, Russia. Russia’s airport was quiet and in between terminal D and E, we found chairs without any arms for sleeping. A much-needed resting spot to lay down for a while.
We had around a seven hour layover, but in Russia, you need a Visa to leave the airport, which costs $100 USD. Not worth it to venture out of the airport. After another flight, we arrive at New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport at 3am and this is where the real adventures begin.
And without further ado, Delhi through the eyes of the wanderlusting yogi …
After 32 hours of traveling, being sleep deprived and landing in Delhi during the night is not a wonderful combination. It actually is rather terrifying. Going through customs was a piece of cake. Trying to get a LEGIT cab was another story. Our hostel said to get a prepaid cab for $400 Rupees ($6 USD). After getting in one cab that drove us around a loop and then made us get out to prepay, we were certain we were never going to make it to the hostel alive. We tried another company and paid $800 Rupees ($12 USD … the driver said there are night-time fees) and finally made it safe to Stops Hostel. When we returned to the airport to leave India, we only paid $380 Rupees and the drive is 45 minutes with Ola Cabs.
Stops Hostel is on a very sketchy street, with numerous homeless men, women, and children laying on the sidewalks and trash everywhere. We could not believe this was the area we were staying, however, Stops Hostel was nice, once inside. And you also learn very quickly, most of Delhi looks that way anywhere you go!
- Pros to Stops Hostel – 24 security, breakfast included, helpful planning activities, clean room (we stayed in a double private), great 3 course cooking class with Anita, comfy media room with Air Con at all times, pest control bins in hallway and they spray regularly in rooms
- Cons to Stops Hostel – Air con in rooms turn off 10am-1pm & 4pm-7pm for guests to socialize (NOT okay in the summer months), room by the street was EXTREMELY NOISY (horns honking, hostel dogs barking). Ask for a room away from street.
Now that we are settled, first order of business was to find reliable and delicious Indian food. Down the street from the hostel was a vegetarian restaurant that was recommended by the hostel (Bhaja Govinda). I had read NOT to eat meat in fear of Delhi Belly, so a whole vegetarian restaurant sounded safe, and it did not disappoint. It was delicious and the staff was helpful in ordering different dishes! Cashew korma, a black lentil curry, and tandoori dosas were a few of my favorites. One LARGE meal between two people only cost $10 USD! Amazing!
**Tipping in restaurants varies … some say you do not need to tip, whereas others say up to 10%
We ate most of our meals at Bhaja Govinda, but one afternoon we were craving french fries and walked to McDonald’s. The menu had normal and some strange items, and no beef, since cows are sacred in India. I decided to try something different. I got a McSpicy Paneer Sandwich. Paneer is their form of cottage cheese, but with more of a tofu texture. It wasn’t too bad, and I thought the marketing was hilarious (100% Paneer Passion).
Waking up refreshed from having a normal nights sleep, we began our day on our tour we set up online the night before. The tour was called Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing Bus Service (HoHo). There are two routes you can choose from, or do a two-day ticket with both. We chose the Red route, seeing it had more sights to see. The Red route has 14 different sites you can get off the bus to explore. Seeing that it was 110 degrees outside, we only made it to our top 4 sites. They give you a bus schedule, but the buses were sometimes very late to get to the pick up locations. The cost was $700 Rupee/$10.93 USD (but you also have to pay anywhere from $100-$250 Rupee/$1.56-3.90 USD) at most locations.
Stop 1 – Red Fort
From the pictures online, I was disappointed with this fort. The reviews made this fort seem like the best one and a must see, but I beg to differ. The architecture was not overly impressive. There were also a lot of couples in corners making out. Very strange atmosphere. I would recommend going if you have the time, but Old Fort would be my top pick for forts if you are short on time and need to choose one.
Stop 2 – Raj Ghat
This is the location of Gandhi’s cremation. It was the one place in Delhi that seemed peaceful, which was a breath of fresh air. There is not much to see here, besides the cremation site. You do have to take your shoes off before entering and they charge a small amount to watch your shoes. A neat place to stop, especially since it is free to enter.
Stop 3 – Purana Qila (Old Fort)
This was a beautiful fort, and by far my favorite. This is a must see when touring around Delhi. You will be able to get many great photo opportunities here!
Stop 4 – Humayun’s Tomb
There are two tombs on the Red route, and by this point, we are exhausted, overheated, and hungry and can only handle one more site. We asked the tour guide which one was more impressive (Safdarjung Tomb or Humayun’s Tomb) and she said Humayun’s Tomb. It is like a mini Taj Mahal with a couple other beautiful buildings. This is definitely a magical place to visit and seeing it got me excited for the real Taj Mahal.
**There was no toilet paper in the bathroom, so I would always have wipes/tissues with you while touring around.
**The HoHo Tour is an easy way to get around to the sites throughout Delhi. The air-conditioned bus saved us from heat exhaustion and rejuvenated us before the next stops. We also saw the India Gate and the President’s House without getting off the bus. If they timed their pick ups better, it would be a perfect tour. This is a great and cheaper alternative than hiring a private driver to take you around to the sites. The tour guides were friendly, and they even dropped us off close to our hostel so we could walk, instead of taking a tuk tuk.
**A side note … As we walked around in the above locations, we were stopped and asked at least 20 times to take pictures with Indians and Middle Easterns. This is a very common occurrence for Westerns. It will make you feel like a celebrity! Enjoy the experience and take some pictures (selfies) with them also, as I did!
The next day we scheduled a tour with Salaam Baalak Trust. We found out about this tour through a couple staying at the hostel, and they said it was their favorite thing they did in Delhi. This is a two-hour City Walk tour with kids from the streets of Delhi. Three, 16-18 year old, young men toured us around the streets that they came from and explained how Salaam Baalak Trust helps to get kids off the streets and into a better life. Before the tour ends, you get to go into one of the 18 group homes and see the kids. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience. It is a donation only program and you do receive a tax-exempt form if you choose to donate. If you want to really see Delhi and how people live, this is definitely a recommended tour and you are also helping a wonderful organization!
After the tour, we went to the train station and headed from New Delhi to Agra. If you know when you want to depart, you can book your train ticket up to a month in advance. We went in the morning on the same day we wanted to leave, but it is off tourist season during the summer. If you are booking during the winter months, you would need to do it in advance to assure you have a seat. You have to go to the International Tourism room on the second floor to buy your ticket (there are big signs pointing you in the right direction). There are different sections on the train, and we had class 2A air condition. They are pretty much like six bunks in one little section. The air condition did not get cold until about 15 minutes into the ride (after sitting on the train for 10 minutes). It was hot and miserable for those 25 minutes, but then the train ride was completely fine. Most people fell asleep and I blogged! The train cost $740 Rupee ($11.56 USD) for a three-hour trip. A very inexpensive way to travel from city to city. It is not the cleanest or nicest way, but it gets you from point A to B.
Delhi is an overwhelming, chaotic rat race! It is hard to put into words what it is like. You have to be prepared for anything and can not ever let your alert down! The city is dirty and the air quality is horrendous! My nose started running and my friend had a cough the whole time until we left. I also have reason to believe I got a fungus in my GI tract that landed me in the hospital later in Cambodia. With all that said, it is a country I am glad I was able to experience, and the food was incredible!
Everything is remarkably cheap. After a few days I felt comfortable enough to go down a side street to find a converter I needed. After talking to a few people selling different things, I was directed farther down the street. I found exactly what I was looking for. The crazy part, it was only $30 Rupee ($0.47 USD)
I miss the thrill of haggling for everything from clothes to tuk tuk rides. It almost became like a fun game. Delhi will always have a special place in my heart, but I doubt I will ever return … maybe South India next!
Recommended Sites and Advice
- hostelworld.com – Stops Hostel (as long as it is during the cooler months)
- JFK airport has a “Kiss and Fly” drop off area. A metro then takes passengers to the airport terminals free of charge. This makes saying goodbye easier with less commotion and you can actually park without getting harassed to leave. There are no bathrooms at the Kiss and Fly.
- Aeroflot Airlines – Mediocre at best. Not a lot of leg room, food okay, no air conditioning on the first leg of the journey, literally sweating and kept the lights on most of the trip, which made it hard to sleep. Aeroflot would be sufficient for short length flights (8 hours was too long).
- 1 kg = $20-25 Rupees for tuk tuk/ $15-20 Rupee for a large bottle of water… the locals will charge quadruple if you allow it. You have to bargain with them and walk away if you are not getting the price you want. Most likely, you will find someone who will give you what you want, or at least close to it!
- Assume everything will be paid in Rupee. Most places, including the hostel, did not take credit cards or foreign money. Also, a lot of stores and tuk tuks do not have a lot of change, so keep small bills readily available.
- On the streets, some people will not leave you alone, and they will follow you, trying to sell their merchandise or get you into a tuk tuk. I found speaking Spanish would get them to leave you in peace, because they are not familiar with the language. I do not know much Spanish, but I used enough for them to get frustrated and stop trying. You could do this with any language and I am sure it would work!
- Banks close at 4:30 pm, if you need to exchange money. You also need to have your passport with you to exchange money. ATM’s work fine for getting money out. You may need to go to a couple different ones (by the hostel, 2 were not working, but the third one we found worked). Another place you need your passport, is when you buy your train ticket.