A European traveler once said, “If you haven’t fallen in love with Delhi yet, your experience here is not over.” And if you ask most travelers in Delhi, they do live up to this expression. Delhi, the capital city of India is a melting pot where people from all over the world. In terms of history, the city has been built and rebuilt eleven times by different rulers, and today, though there is only one Delhi, each one of us experience Delhi in our own ways.
Delhi is unique, diverse, historically and culturally rich, but for many first-time visitors it is also hectic, bamboozling, intimidating, daunting, and overwhelming—there goes a lot of adjectives. But a sentiment that does run common in everyone is that Delhi is also strangely endearing, and it gives everyone coming in its midst a unique story to share. So if you’re all ready to wear your escapade seeking shoes, here are some quick tips that will make your journey easy and hassle free.
YOUR FOODIE MANUAL: Undoubtedly Delhi is a foodie’s paradise—the food extravaganza here has much of its roots in the cultural traditions. Being a melting pot for a variety of people from all parts of the world, Delhi also has a huge food palate to offer that has been influenced by several regions and countries over the years. So when you are in Delhi, you can choose from a number of cuisines available to satisfy your appetite, some of which are:
The Mughlai Food (Spice Level: High): Let’s begin with one of the oldest cuisine known in Delhi; the Mughali. The Mughals invaded Delhi centuries ago, and though its empire ended years ago, their influence on the Delhi food habit is still very fresh. To name a few, the Kebabs, Naans, Nihari, Korma, Paaya, Khamiri Roti are Mughal dishes served today in Mughlai restaurants. And the queues that are formed in these restaurants everyday will tell you how loved these dishes really are!
The Punjabi/North Indian Cuisines (Spice Level: High): After the partition of India (Post Indian Independence), the Punjabi community found a home in Delhi, and today they are one of the largest social communities that make up Delhi’s population. Thus, Punjabi food is a major part of Delhi cuisine and also immensely popular. Butter chicken, Chole Bhature, Rajma Chawal, Aloo Paratha, Makke Di Roti with Sarson da Saag, Tandoori roti, and Lassi are a new to name from the lots.
South Indian Cuisine (Spice Level: Medium): South Indian food has also found a great place in Delhi’s food culture. Light and appetizing (not all the food items), it’s loved by food enthusiasts. Some popular covers known to every palate are Dosas, Idlis, Vada, Uttappam, Upma, and the list goes on.
Street Food (Spice Level: Low to High): Delhiites definitely love the street food—hands down. Vendors can be found setting up their street-side stalls in all localities of Delhi, selling their small savory snack items. Name it! Aloo Tikki, Golgappas, Bhelpuri, Pakoras, Papdi Chaat are simply unbeatable—ask the vendors to reduce or add extra spices according to your taste.
Chinese; Momo Food Stalls (Spice Level: Medium): Among the Asian Cuisines and other foreign influences, a cuisine that has become intrinsic is Chinese food. Though Chinese cuisine is a popular cuisine throughout the country, it is extremely prevalent in Delhi; from high end restaurants to road-side mobile vans. Mostly known by names such as Momo Stalls or Chinese Fast-food, they sell Momos, Chowmien, Fried Rice, Manchurian, Chilly Chicken… you’ll be able to chant the names soon.
Continental (Spice Level: Low to Medium): Extremely popular and prevalent in Delhi are also varied continental cuisine—in case your appetite has not been satiated and you want to rejuvenate your palate. Name the country or the region, you’ll find it in Delhi; from the Italian Pizza, American Burger, Mexican tacos to Lebanese, Japanese, Thai and Greek, simply almost anything!
Chai/Tea: Being in Delhi and not trying chai (chai means tea in India) mostly from the street vendors is an opportunity missed; add it in your adventure list. Everywhere you go, you will spot small tea stalls in every possible corner; they might not look very tempting but the best tea is served on the street. Besides, there isn’t much to worry, because the tea served on the street is thoroughly boiled over and over again, and is served in disposable cups.
TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND: For First Time Visitors
- Drink only bottled water, even in good restaurants; don’t accept if the seal is broken prior to use—clearly avoid tap water.
- North Indian cuisine generally contains lots of spices. So if you are new to heavy spices, preferably start with something easy, like the South Indian; then work your way upward.
- Golden Rule; avoid eating raw vegetables—you don’t how the level of chemical content in them. Many people advice you to take the vegetarian route on your trip to India, but it’s just a stereotype—perhaps relevant 50 years ago! Eat meat, just make sure they’re well cooked.
- It’s tough to pick a good restaurant—but there are many websites that provide accurate information such as Zomato.com, timesguide.com and gocityguides.com. Browse and you’ll find something suitable; but the best is recommendation.
- Always carry a hand sanitizer with you. Also wipe the plates using a dry napkin before the food is served. Make sure the food is warm because it has a bigger change to convey that the food is fresh.
THE DELHI DRESS CODE: When you ask or read tips on what to wear on your trip to Delhi, most people will advise you to dress conservatively or cover most parts of your skin. But in reality, it’s the other way round! Men can simply wear anything, from jeans to shorts with t-shirts to collared shirt; it works perfectly fine. But for women, it isn’t as easy as it sounds! However, covering up with a sari or salwaar kameez, the traditional way at all times isn’t necessary. Western clothing trends have strongly secured a place in the Indian market, so you do see the Delhi girls wearing shorts, dresses, spaghetti-tops, jeans, t-shirts, skirts etc. Clearly, like anywhere else in the world, the trick is to know the place and the situation to balance the conservative or the western styles of dressing.
More traditional and conservative parts of Delhi like Old Delhi (specifically) or places of worship like temples, mosques, gurudwaras etc., would require you to dress conservatively. While in parts of South Delhi, Gurgaon, and North Delhi, like the market areas and the malls will give you the freedom to wear what you desire. A good idea for women in general, is to carry a scarf at all times—it comes handy, especially when you visit places of worship. A scarf is also a good idea to cover your head to reduce the amount of attention in public places and escape the scorching heat. During the summer months, it’s a good idea to wear lose cotton fabric clothes; carry wet tissues and a cap to protect yourself from the heat.
SHOPPING IN DELHI: Bargain! Bargain Some More
Shopping in Delhi can be fun!!! Everything from clothes, footwear, jewelries, gadgets, handicrafts, accessories, bags and and—in short, almost everything under the sun is available in prices that suit everyone’s budget. Flea markets such as Sarojni Nagar, Janpath, Lajpat Nagar are popular among localites and travelers—female traveler especially should check out these markets. One golden rule for travelers; do not forget to bargain—simply turn into a bargaining machine. It is very important because most shopkeepers assume that travelers to India are rich, and it is hard to make them believe otherwise. Always make sure that you negotiate from half the price they quote, and find a common ground. But if you shop in posh markets or showrooms of Hauz Khas, Khan Market, Connaught Place, Saket Mall and etc., they have fixed price showrooms, and there is no point bargaining.
- Markets are closed either on Sundays or Mondays in most parts of Delhi; it’s good to check if the market you are headed to is open the day you plan on visiting.
- Markets are generally crowded, especially in the evening. Most markets open only by 11 am, thus try to visit early if you think you’re tough to beat the heat.
BEEP! BEEP: Ways to Move Within the City Commuting in Delhi is easy—the best mode is by Autos or Tuk- Tuks (as some travelers would like to call them) or by the Delhi Metros, or even by buses (If you want some adventure). Autos are the best and the most effective of them all, but always make sure they use the fare-meter; you must insist, otherwise they might overcharge you. Booking cabs online is a new trend, but it’s possible only if your mobile has internet—Ola Cabs and Uber Cabs are quite popular and they work cheaper than autos. The Delhi Metro also takes you quickly and conveniently to most places within Delhi; visit http://www.delhimetrorail.com. On most routes, the metro runs from 6 A.M. to 11:30 P.M. and are extremely convenient and budget friendly—just make sure you take care of your belongings! But for a longer distance, avail cabs/taxies, such as Radio Cabs or Meru Cabs. Some Commuting Tips are:
- When you board autos, don’t forget to set the fare-meter before starting.
- Make sure you carry a Delhi map, or if you have a GPS enabled phone, make use of it, for sometimes the drivers take the longest route.
- In case you plan to visit multiple places, use the same auto, but make sure you negotiate the price before you avail this service.
- To ease you, not all auto drivers are crooks—these are tips just in case you pick the wrong guy.
BEGGAR MANIA: When men, women, and children in a deprived state approach you for alms, don’t feel tempted to oblige them. Travelers are warned all the time, but very few listen, why? It looks very real, but these operations are controlled by the mafias. It will be wrong to say that all the beggars are part of this larger plan, but a common thumb rule to follow in this situation is don’t pay them in terms of money, ever and that’s about it. In case you really feel like opening your wallet or show your sympathy, offer them food. In many cases, when you open your purse to a child, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a dozen of children within seconds—don’t panic; just give them a firm no for an answer and move on. At times they will follow you for a couple of meters; in such situations simply walk on. But take care of your belongings; they may snatch and run away. And if you every have to give them money, always be on alert, for they may snatch your wallet and run away; especially when you are in a moving vehicles or caught in the traffic.
BEWARE OF TOUTS AND SCAMS: While traveling in Delhi you might run into some touts (they are always lurking for tourists). You find them at obvious places such as the railway stations, some even at cafes. Don’t pay attention to advices you haven’t asked for. Some auto/taxi drivers will also give the wrong advice, saying the hotel you are headed to is dangerous or closed—this is how they will take you to a different hotel and get a commission. When you are at Railway Stations or even at the Airport, always take the auto/ taxi from the Pre-Paid auto/ taxi booth.Many times when you are in cafes or on the street you’ll be approached by people trying to befriend you; I say, beware! They will steer the conversation to selling different products such as holiday packages, accommodations, taxi services, goods; items etc., in case you find a conversation being steered in that direction with the touts being rather pushy in their demands, politely but strongly say ‘NO’. Also when you visit heritage and monumental sites you would find plain looking men posing as guides, don’t fall into that trap. Inside most monuments in Delhi, you either find audio tours or booths from where you can hire genuine guides. Also make sure you note down the auto/ taxi number, and write down the name of the place you visit in a notebook, in case something unfortunate happens and you need to trace them.
PUBLIC TOILETS: Wondering what to do if you feel the bladder pressure when you’re out there discovering Delhi! Well you don’t have to worry—with Delhi having hosted the Commonwealth Games, public toilet and sanitation system has vastly improved. You will find public toilets often referred to as ‘Sulabh Shauchalaya’ in most places in Delhi, where they will charge a small amount of money—and these pay & use toilets are mostly well maintained. Alternatively, you can also visit malls to relief yourself. And in case of unavoidable emergency situations, there is no harm in using the washroom facilities available at nearby restaurants.
BLUE PRINT SAFETY TIPS
- Avoid traveling alone at night. But in case of unavoidable circumstances, hire a reliable cab; such as Meru Cabs: (011) 4422-4422, and Easy Cabs: (011) 4343-4343. And if you are a female traveler, women driven cabs such as Sakha Cabs: +91-927-870-8888 is also available.
- Avoid lonely/deserted roads and alleys at night as they might not be tourists friendly.
- Be calm and confident. Don’t let the jitters of a first time traveler show on the face or your demeanor. Confidence helps you avoid a lot of unwanted attention.
- In case you’re being approached by an undesirable person, simply move forward towards a busy street or place.
- If need be, be clear and firm in saying ‘NO’, and don’t panic.
- For foreign female travelers, its best to cover your head with a scarf or head gear at most times to avoid unwanted attention, especially at night.
- Stay aware and conscious of your surroundings.
- In case of any problems, dial 100 for police assistance.
- Carry a mobile phone for convenience and safety.
Relax; Chill; Don’t Fret! Both good and undesirable things keep on happening, in all parts of the world, but one way to fully explore Delhi is to stop lingering and paying attention to the small details. If you get too caught-up, there are chances you might miss the true essence of Delhi. Delhi is one of the most distinctive and adventurous cities in the world—and I hope these tips will help you enjoy your Delhi trip and make it memorable.