Delhi is what you’d call polarising.
A lot of visitors don’t like it- they cite it as too loud, too crazy, too dusty, just too much.
I spent four days in Delhi, three of which were ‘head glued to laptop, get work done’ in nature. On one of the days, I decided to do nothing but sightsee.
Arguably, you can only see and do so much in a day.
There are some things, like the Red Fort, that I really wanted to experience, but didn’t have time for (see also: poor planning meant I didn’t look up what days the Red Fort was open, and on the day I wanted to visit, it was closed).
But, for the time I had, I felt like I saw a lot of Delhi, and left intrigued to venture back and see more someday.
On my day exploring the city, I took Uber between stops that weren’t walking distance. Delhi also has a clean, modern metro system, but the driving estimates place to place were quicker, allowing me to experience more.
I stayed in South Delhi, in a private room at the Moustache Hostel. Other female friends who had visited India on their own advised on staying in South Delhi over Central Delhi, because it’s known for being more relaxed, and safer.
Everyone told me to stay clear of Paharganj, which is widely acknowledged among backpackers as a cheap district to stay, but also rampant with tourist scams, plus some pretty grotty accommodation.
On my day spent exploring, I never once felt unsafe.
Many times I felt uncomfortable, especially in older parts of the city where things were drastically different to what I’ve seen before, and where I could feel dozens of people starting at me.
But, I never actually felt like I was in any danger.
I talk about it more in my upcoming tips for female solo travellers in India post, but staring in India isn’t malicious. It can feel intense to foreigners, but for locals, it’s part of their culture- they stare when they’re curious.
The only things I’d fault Delhi for?
The dusty streets had my allergies in overdrive, and the pollution hazard was real.
After only a day in Delhi, I noticed I was coughing more, and the mucus I was coughing up was dark- almost brown in colour (from the dust).
In hindsight, I should have worn my pollution mask. I consider it a miracle I didn’t get sick after India, but then again, coming to India, I had Dengue Fever, so I like to think the universe knew my body had been through enough.
I’d wanted to spend the morning on a breakfast street food tour with Delhi Food Walks, but they were unable to accommodate a solo traveller on the date I wanted to go (no other bookings).
Instead, I decided to take myself on a self-guided food tour through Chandni Chowk.
Chandni Chowk is a must for every first-timer to India. A smorgasbord of the anything and everything, there doesn’t seem to be a limit to what you can find at the market.
From silverware to colourful wedding items, to books and bicycle parts- the market is crammed with things and people browsing, or hawking their wares.
Along the streets, you’ll also find some seriously great eats, including, of course, jalebi. Old Famous Jalebi Wala is easy to miss if there isn’t a queue, so keep your eyes peeled for the corner facade.
Jalebi, fried dough soaked in a sweet syrup, was one of my favourite treats in India.
Other stops I liked: Ved Parkash Lemon for ice cold lemon drinks, and Gadodia Market.
I wandered the market by myself and felt totally safe. I didn’t see any other foreigners walking around on their own, but that didn’t seem to matter. In fact, the only other Westerners I saw were in rickshaw tours or guided group tours.
Both approaches are fine if you think you’ll be uncomfortable walking around on your own, but you miss so much when you don’t take time to explore a bustling place like Chandni Chowk at your own pace. There’s so much to do and see, it was nice being able to pop in places as I liked.
If you’re on a tour- walking or by rickshaw- and couldn’t stop to watch, or peer into shops that catch your eye you’d miss so much.
You’d miss being able to take a closer look at colorful saris, stitched with intricate patterns and details.
You’d miss leaning in closer to inhale the tart citrus as a rickshaw with sliced lemons and oranges creakily rolls past.
You’d miss turning down side streets at random, letting the smell of samosa or glimmer of metal guide your route.
You’d miss men perched high on sacks of grain, napping in between deliveries.
You’d miss men shouting to each other, twisting their way through a maze of humans, cows, rickshaws and carts.
You’d miss a store security guard buying salty nuts from a street cart, and the vendor and patron sharing a laugh.
You may catch a glimpse of all these things as your tour leads you around, but letting the sights guide you is a whole other experience.
I did encounter a bit of harassment in the market, but it was nothing in comparison to what I experienced in Sri Lanka. And, none of it was tactile- meaning, it was men saying things as I passed, but not actually coming close to me.
Worth also noting, I’d been to other bits of India before Delhi, so that may have played a role in why I didn’t find the market as overwhelming as others do, who visit Delhi as an introduction to India.
My advice would be to stay to the side, and prepare to be constantly on alert- for trolleys, motorbikes, rickshaws, dogs and people. It’s loud and crazy, but it’s also incredible to soak in the daily bits of life happening all around.
While you’re wandering, don’t miss the spice market in Chandni, it’s the biggest in Asia. It’s fragrant and colourful, but can be a bit hard to find. Don’t be afraid to ask someone if you’re unsure of the entrance on Khari Baoli Road.
And, when you’re inside the market, don’t inhale too deeply- the spices, especially the chili seasonings, are potent.
Post spice peruse, I walked over to the Jameh Masjid mosque, the biggest in India.
To my knowledge, foreigners are allowed to enter, but I didn’t try to. Being short on time, and wanting to see more of the market, I was content to observe the towering red mosque from the outside.
From the market, I called an Uber (best to call for one from main streets surrounding the inner market) to India Gate.
India Gate was built for and dedicated to all the Indian soldiers of the British Army who died in World War I.
The area surrounding the gate, which resembles an arch, is flanked by green lawns.
When I visited, the gate was absolutely packed with school children, as well as people (appeared to be a mix of domestic travellers and locals) milling about.
People were lunching, playing games in the afternoon sun, and genuinely enjoying each other’s company- something we don’t pause enough to do in the ‘Western’ world.
I didn’t stay at the gate too long- about 45 minutes in total, enough time to wander around the exterior and people watch for a bit.
From India Gate, I took another Uber to Agrasen ki Baoli. Down a peaceful residential street, you’ll find a centuries-old, subterranean stepwell, hidden behind a stone wall.
Here, mis-matched bricks are pieced together to form arches of all sizes. In some, you’ll find people resting from the hot sun, and in others, cats lounge, keeping a watchful eye on visitors.
Stepwells, otherwise known as “baoli” or “bawli”, depending on the region, were built centuries ago in the arid zones of Rajasthan to provide water all year around.
These days, the wells are no longer used for storing water. Instead, depending on where you are in Rajasthan, you’ll find people swimming, bathing, or simply admiring the geometric features.
From the stepwell, I popped over to Khan Market. Arriving at the market, I instantly felt like I was in another part of the city.
Not having looked up anything about the market prior to visiting, but going on the recommendation from two good friends, I was surprised by how modern and orderly the market was.
It’s definitely still India, but with a certain polish I hadn’t encountered elsewhere.
It’d be a good place to visit if you’re looking for more of an upmarket place to have lunch or dinner with friends. Even the alleyways between stores were more orderly than anything I’d experienced in India up til then.
I’d contemplated a stroll through the Lodi Garden, which is rated for being a quiet, serene escape from the craziness of Delhi, but ultimately decided to check out a cafe I’d heard good things about- Cravity.
There, I ordered a paneer sandwich and mocha, and pulled out a book to read for a bit. I’d read their almond croissants are the stuff legends are made of, so I picked one up for the morning, knowing I’d want something for my early train to Agra. Sure enough, it was incredible- flaky and flavourful. Odd to say one of the best almond croissants I’ve ever had was in India, but true nonetheless.
Here, I cheated a bit on my one day of sightseeing. I had work to finish, so I headed back to my hostel to work and Netflix.
Also, I wasn’t too keen on staying out on my own in the evening. The Delhi I experienced was safer than how mass media portrays the city, but I also took precautions- like not being out at night by myself.
Before heading back to my hostel though, I did stop at Evergreen Sweet House. This famed food establishment started out selling Indian sweets and desserts, but has grown to also offer savoury items. The sweet house is popular with locals, and was bustling when I visited.
Here, I picked up a few candies to have with my dinner later in the evening.
Back at my hostel, I ordered takeaway chai and dinner from Zomato. My favourite vendors while in Delhi were Chai Point for piping hot boxes of perfectly spiced chai, and Salad Days for healthy eats (who knew I’d find cold pressed juice and salads packed with fresh veg in Delhi).
As the night went on, I did laundry and packed my bags for my morning departure to Agra.
I may not have done and seen all there is to do in Delhi, but I appreciated that I was able to experience a few different sides to the city, and learn more about its history, as well as current realities.
If you only had one day in Delhi, how would you spend it?
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