Hello all and happy Monday! There’s something about coming back from vacation mid-week that makes time fly by. I finally found time over the weekend to write about our 5-day trip to New Delhi. I didn’t intend to write a rant and I wish I could say my trip to the capital city of the country I was born in was wonderful and that I can’t wait to go back again, but I think it’s going to be awhile before I feel that way. Let me start with the good parts which included seeing family and attending my cousin’s wedding (there’s always complications when you have a large family but things were fine for the most part). The newly married couple looked stunning and very happy to start their new phase of life together!
Home@F37, a small boutique hotel located in East of Kailash was home for us during our trip. It’s in South Delhi (about 45 mins from the Indira Gandhi International airport). I’d give it a 3 star rating in terms of the actual room and facilities. The best parts of the hotel included the extremely helpful staff (most spoke fairly decent English) that directed us to several of the local places around town (Kailash Colony market, pharmacies, restaurants, public transportation, etc.) and the great food they served, including a late night menu. Their tandoori chicken was excellent as well as the masala chai and hot breakfasts served daily. The kitchen staff seemed happy which is a good sign (I heard a lot of singing coming from the kitchen). The water pressure for the shower was not the best, but we were on the highest floor (level 3) so that could’ve had something to do with it.
Transportation is one of the main things you’ll have to determine once you decide on where to stay. The most common ways include taking an auto rickshaw, the Metro or a taxi. It sounds great, but as soon as the drivers figure out you’re a tourist, the meter in the autos are suddenly “not working” and you’ll quickly get fleeced (a 50 rupee trip becomes 100 rupees). Yes, I know it’s only about a USD $1 difference but who wants to be taken for a ride?! Thank goodness for my husband’s ability to speak Hindi, albeit broken, that got us around the city. You can also opt to go through a tour agency and hire a local driver to take you around town. We tested out the Metro on day 1, but we took it after 5 pm to one of the famous markets in Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk, which was a bad idea. I think half the city was in our cabin, or so it felt like because the concept of “overcrowded” didn’t translate well and people kept shoving and squeezing onto the train. Interestingly, everyone gets scanned before entry into station, like you’re going through airport security.
(ask for the meter to be turned on!)
We planned a day trip to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. After weighing several transportation options, we heard about the new expressway built in August 2012, which makes the drive from New Delhi to Agra possible in 2.5 hours. Sooo…we got a rental car and made the drive ourselves. My other half initiated this PURELY on his own and I thought I was crazy to agree, given all that we’ve seen and heard about the madness of driving in the city. In the end I’m glad we did as it made for a colorful trip and gave us the autonomy to get around.
(sustenance for the trip)
(Yep, they were driving along with us!)
In the city…
Several of the tourist sights are free of charge but many require a fee and for some places the cost for tourists is ridiculously overpriced. I guess if I hadn’t seen the signs with the different cost for locals vs. foreigners I wouldn’t have minded so much. We managed to stop by India Gate, the country’s national monument, and took a few great pictures. We only saw Himayun’s tomb from a distance because we got there at closing time.
I was reallyyyy looking forward to sharing my foodie discoveries but alas my husband got the Delhi Belly from eating something rotten from a roadside stall in Agra (yes, we should’ve known better) so we weren’t up for any gastronomic adventures after day 3. Still, we managed to find a few places beforehand I wouldn’t mind returning back to.
Wandering around Chandni Chowk Market in Old Delhi in the evening was quite the adventure. Sunset in February was usually around 6:30 pm and the market area is not very well lit so most parts can look sketchy to us tourists. It’s rumored to house around 2,500 shops and THE market to come to if you want to do wholesale shopping for Indian clothing (i.e. you’re getting married and have 8+ bridesmaids all planning to be dressed in the latest Indian garb). If you live in the US and buy authentic Indian clothes where prices are usually sky high, you might feel pressured to buy like you’re never coming back, especially given the currency conversion. On an interesting note, Google India took the initiative to offer its web expertise to the 2,000+ shops by giving each store an online presence. Given the craziness of the actual market, I’m really surprised they managed to organize the various shops onto a single website.
Our adventure led us to a few places including Kanwarji’s and the well reviewed Karim’s restaurant. Oddly enough, our experience at Karim’s wasn’t something to rave about. I think this is because we didn’t order what they’re known for which is the tandoor meats and kebabs (we only realized this after the fact when talking with our cousins who go there often). Instead, we tried the chicken tikka curry and chicken biryani, both which were mediocre (Betel Leaf in KL is sooo much better).
Must try: dahi bhalla & ras mali
Khan Market was a place we found to be calm (we went in the morning) and nice if you want to take a coffee/tea break. Consider trying out Chokola, a chain coffee house in the city. Their prices were decent and the atmosphere was comfortable and service was nice. Their Signature Hot Chocolate was rich and had the perfect taste of melted cocoa without being too sweet. A restaurant chain we discovered was the Big Chill (we visited the Kailash Colony Market outlet but there’s also one at Khan Market). The menu boasts mainly of Italian dishes including multiple pastas, salads, soups and baked potatoes. I ordered a spinach-stuffed ravioli dish in a creamy tomato sauce that hit the spot and my husband got a baked potato. It was an overcast day and the weather was getting colder so it was definitely comfort food. Their cheesecake is supposedly scrumptious but we were too stuffed to try it…maybe next time!
Overall, I had more expectations for a capital city that boasts about tourists from all over the world and is supposedly one of the most expensive cities for expats to live in. Shouldn’t that translate to a lot of foreign money, meaning more resources to ramp up the infrastructure?! (I could say a lot about red tape and the government but this isn’t a political blog). So in other words, a lot of potential exists but there are many roadblocks to get through and with the way things work in India ideas take TIME to materialize.
I’d love to hear if anyone has had similar experiences or suggestions for a future visit back to Delhi.