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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Wrenn-Haye

Delhi India Travel Inspiration - A Blend of Cultures

Updated: Apr 5


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“Delhi is often referred to as ‘Mini India’ owing to the fact that many religions and cultures reside across the area together with peace and harmony."

General Overview


Delhi is the capital of India, and it is one of the seven Union Territories of India as many people from around the country have settled here; it is a massive metropolitan area in the country’s north. The city sits on the bank of the Yumana River which is a tributary of the Ganges River, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) from the Himalayas.


It accommodates the national capital territory of 'Old Delhi' which dates back to the 1600s, which covers 932 square kilometres (359 square miles), as well as the urban district of 'New Delhi' and it is in fact the largest city in India by area with a total territory of 1,484 square kilometres (573 square miles). On the east side of Delhi sits Uttar Pradesh where you will find the wonderful 'Taj Mahal' in Agra, and to the north, west and south side, it is bordered by the state of Haryana.


With regards to the geographic location of Delhi there is a narrow corridor that joins the Thar Dessert with the Deccan plateau as it approaches the Himalayas, which means that all land routes wishing to access the north west and eastern plains must pass through Delhi, which makes it a crucial centre for the north India transportation network


Photographs Courtesy of JP Lenio & Saragib


Delhi has gained a huge amount of popularity with tourists from across the world and it is an important commercial, transport, and cultural hub as well as being the political hub of India.


As stated, Delhi is a place of culture with a unique blend of both traditional and cosmopolitan styles. The city has many museums, historic forts, monuments, auditoriums, libraries and botanical gardens, as well as numerous places of worship for all the different religions that reside in Delhi.



You may also be surprised to know that alongside the traditional institutions, it also houses commercial and leisure centres, art galleries, cinema multiplexes, bowling alleys and other sporting venues. There is also a multitude of restaurants serving both international and Indian cuisine, so there is something for everyone.


Population and Religion


The estimated metro area population of Delhi as at March 2024 is 33,807,000 which is an increase of 2.63% from 2023.  The population is increasing and currently has a density of 11,297 people per square kilometre which is actually the most in the whole of India.  The increasing employment opportunities in certain of the regions, including the industrial and mineral-rich regions of Delhi, its appealing infrastructure and services provided by the urban areas attract more and more people to live in Delhi each year.


The religions in Delhi vary tremendously; the vast majority of residents are Hindu, however there are smaller numbers of residents who are in the minority and they are Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Buddists and adherents of Islam.



The History of Delhi


We learned so much about both Old and New Delhi and have provided a historical summary of each for you to grasp what Delhi is all about.


Old Delhi:

Old Delhi originally acquired its name in the 1st century B.C from the King of Mauryan Dynasty, Raja Dhilu; at that time it was known as 'Dilli' and 'Dhilli' among others. Officially built as a walled city in the mid-17th century by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan I (1628–1658), designed by his favourite daugther Jahanara.  It was then referred to as 'Shahjahanabad' after his namesake and it was in 1648 that he decided to shift the mughal capital from Agra to this new location.  



It remained the Mughal capital until its fall in 1857 when the British Empire, namely the British East India Company took over its power during the second Anglo-Maratha War, where Shah Jahan II was reduced merely to a figureheard and this officially marked the beginning of direct British Rule in India .  This remainded the case until the Indian Rebellion sought to end the company rule and declared Shah Jahan II the Emperor of India. However, this was short lived due to the fact that the British soon recaptured Delhi and their other territories, thereby ending the rebellion.


New Delhi:

In 1911, under British Rule, King George V declared that the capital of British India would be moved from Calcutta to Delhi. Construction commenced on New Delhi in 1912 on a site about 5 kilometres (3 miles) south of Delhi city centre. The 'New Delhi' city was designed by Edwin Lutyens and was architecturally planned with wide straight avenues, that had trees on either side and grass verges, which connected various points of interest and provided vistas to the surrounding area. In 1947, after India reclaimed its independence, 'New Delhi' was officially declared the capital of India.


An Avenue with Green Grass Verges in New Delihi India
An Avenue in New Delihi

One main noticeable feature of the plan for New Delhi apart from its diagonal road pattern was the 'Rajpath', which is a sizeable avenue.


Today this avenue stretches westward from the National Stadium all the way to the War Memorial Arch (India Gate) to the central Secretariat buildings and Presidential House (Rashtrapati Bhavan).  This is known as the main east-west axis which separates New Delhi into two parts; a large shopping district and a business district.  Connaught Place is in the north and there are expansive residential areas in the South.


Photos Courtesy of Asif Methar, Mukul Jindal & AXP Photography


Where to Stay in Delhi


We chose to stay in Connaught Place near to the open green park, close to the business district in the north of the city. The hotel was aptly named 'The Connaught' which overlooked the park and the Baseball Stadium. An upclass comfort hotel with ample facilities including a delightful restaurant with a varied menu, bar and pantry that sold wonderful cakes and hand-made chocolates, plus an outdoor swimming pool and terrace, although the city temperature was too cold in January to take advantage of, but the hotel was certainly suitable for the first stop of our tour of India. This location was ideal for us, away from the intense hustle and bustle that surrounded the city.



In addition to spending the first part of our India tour in Delhi, we also chose to fly back to Delhi for our last night before departing for the UK. This time around we ended our holiday staying in a 5 star hotel called 'Leela Palace' in Gurguram, organised by our travel company Audley, who knew that we wanted somewhere special to stay to end our trip. This hotel was about 15-20 minutes from the Ghandi International Airport and it was outstanding with many restaurants and bars to choose from in which to relax and enjoy our last evening. We chose the Italian roof-top restaurant called Zonatta with an amazing view, the Italien Master Chef was a real character; he really looked after us and even baked us a special cake dessert for our recent wedding vow renewal celebration in India which took place in Barli.



The Road System and How to Get Around


In the whole city of Delhi, you will discover a real blend of both old and new road designs.  The network of streets that are based in the Old Delhi area reflect the earlier era, with a few transverse streets leading from one main gate to the other.  Most of the streets in Old Delhi are irregular in direction and width and you can expect to find narrow winding paths in addition to alleyways everywhere you venture.  Old Delhi is accessible to pedestrian traffic only and you will not find any tuk-tuks or vehicles here, only rickshaws which are pulled along by their happy, smiley drivers. You will feel a real sense of going back in time as you explore the many nooks and crannies of this old city.



Other methods of transport around Delhi include the famous tuk-tuks which whizz around for a small fee for a ride. On average you can expect to pay 100 -200 Rupees (GBP£1 - £2.00) for a short journey. Normal cabs are also available to transport you around New Delhi, plus there are many buses available.



The metro too is an ideal way to get around. The Delhi Metro itself is a mass rapid transport (MRT) system that currently services the city of Delhi and adjoins it to various satellite cities including Ghaziabad, Faridabad Gurugram, Noida and Banhadurgarh, all of which sit in the national region of India.


We were informed that the metro is fairly easy to use and consists of 10 colour-coded lines which administer 256 stations with a mix of underground, at-grade and elevated stations. It is India’s largest and busiest metro rail system making around 4,300 trips daily.

With regards to our chosen transport method during our two night stay in Delhi however, we were allocated a regular driver and vehicle by our tour company; and we where looked after for our whole two weeks in North India.


Our driver named 'Mayank', whom we have since become friends with and communicate regularly since returning to the UK, ensured that we were transported to each of our chosen sightseeing destinations efficiently and in a timely and polite manner; he also worked closely with our various sightseeing guides to provide a smooth transition from one location to another.


Our Driver Manay who transported us in the North of India from Delhi down to Udaipur.
Our Driver & Friend Mayank

We found having a regular driver to be the best option for us throughout our trip to India, as we were obviously moving around frequently from one destination to another, namely from Delhi to Agra, Agra to Ranthambhore, Ranthambhore to Jaipur, Jaipur to Barli and finally to Udaipur before flying South. With our luggage in tow this was the ideal solution.


Having your own vehicle for the day, or duration of your holiday in the north of India as we did, also allows you to safely leave your bags, jackets etc in the vehicle when you are engaging in your day's sightseeing around the city, rather than carrying your effects on your person. We therefore recommend finding yourself a driver, or at least negotiating a rate with a local taxi company or tuk tuk, to transport you to your chosen sightseeing spots. Your hotel concierge should be able to arrange this on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself.


Sightseeing in Delhi


As we mentioned, we spent two nights in Delhi and we are glad that we did, as we experienced so much from our stay in this unique city where ancient cultures and architecture meet new.


1. Akshardham Temple:

The very same afternoon that we arrived in Delhi, we headed out with our trusted guide to visit the Akshardham Temple just before sunset, and we are so pleased that we had this trip organised in advance! 


What a truly wonderful spectacle this mandir is; built near the Yamuna riverbank by over 15,000 workers, with its utterly outstanding architecture both inside and outside of the temple itself.  Set in sixty acres of lush lawns and gardens, where you will find exceptionally exquisite bronze statues which honour India's child heroes, valorous warriors, national patriots and great women. Akshardham is a house of God, a Hindu house of worship, as well as a spiritual and cultural campus dedicated to devotion.  It has been heralded the World’s Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple by the Guinness World Record; the complex was inaugurated in November 2005.


We wish that we could display photographs of this spectacular temple, but unfortunately no photography was allowed, so we have no actual snaps of our visit which is a shame as we were completely flabbergasted when we entered the temple and walked around the grounds. On arrival at the temple, you have to pass through strict security to enter the complex for obvious reasons and once you see the vast size of this place and the spectacle before you, you will realise why.


Front Cover of a Book about Akshardham Temple New Delhi India
Book Cover of Akshardham Temple

We highly recommend a visit to Akshardham - it is something that you will always treasure in your memories for evermore.   You need to allow at least two full hours to visit the temple to absorb everything that it has to offer.  It is easily reachable by metro too, with the station being a walkable distance from the main entrance. The fee to enter is 250 Rupees for Adults, 200 Rupees for Senior CItizens and 150 Rupees for Children (4-11 yrs) and you can expect to see large queues, but do rest assured these move quickly and don't generally pose a problem, after all security is paramount to preserve this beautiful place.


2. Five Senses Tour:

The next day, we were up very early and we headed out for a full day of sightseeing. We had a 'Five Senses Tour' booked with our own private guide which we highly our. It was an incredible 4 1/2 hrs well spent and it really was a sensory experience.


First of all to titilate our senses, we made a stop at Isa Khan's Garden Tomb which dates back to the 15th century and was the style of royal Tomb architecturally built during that time. Full historical explanation shown below.



After a short drive, we then visited a UNESCO World Heritage site which comprised of stunning architecural building called 'Humayun's Tomb', built for the Mughal emperor, Mirza Nasir al-Din Muhammad by his wife combined with beautiful gardens. It is a must-see on your itinerary and you can book skip the line tickets with a guide here!


It is a preserved mausoleum monument which was built in 1570 in Mughal architecture from red sandstone and white marble, taking around eight years to erect at a cost of 1.5 million Rupees; it was the first garden tomb of its kind built on the Indian sub-continent. After its construction, there was plenty of inspiration taken to build more of its kind, including the 'Taj Mahal'. We found this place so beautiful, particularly as it was so peaceful and serene when we visited early morning when there was noone around - it certainly left a lasting impression.



Next we were then driven to another area of the city to take part in an art workshop which had been organised by an all-woman NGO group. Here we watched a paper cutting technique as a demonstration by one of the project ladies, before being given the opportunity to create our own piece as a keepsake.  On sale, there were also lots of beautiful framed pieces which we bought as a memory of our time here with this group and which now takes pride of place in our snug at home.  For those that don’t know,  NGO is a charitable and religious association that manages private funds for helping various projects. This was great fun to do as we sipped a cup of freshly brewed Chai.



After our workshop and refreshment stop, we were whisked off for a rickshaw ride through the roads of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. The roads of this area in their glory years, were embellished with many stalls selling both silver and gold alongside shops selling various tasty foods.  This area today can be somewhat busy and chaotic, despite it being a pedestrianised only area, but as you walk down the streets or take a rickshaw ride, you will feel like you have been transported back to Mughal times.  At least there were no tooting horns as with the rest of the city - just a huge amount of locals going about their business.



As we continued on our continued 'Five Senses Tour' we had the opportunity to visit an ittar (essential oil) perfume studio which was eighth generation.  Here we got to smell all the beautiful ittar, as well as indulge in making our very own personalised blend of ittar.  This was actually quite difficult to do as there were so many fragrances to choose from and we had to keep smelling coffee beans in-between to clear our senses to make sure we could then create just the right combination of ittar blended together for our very own personalised scent.  We then named each of our ittars and labelled them up to take away with us.  To say this was a unique experience is an understatement, something very special and unique for us to wear knowing no-one else will ever have the same scent on as you!



By now we were feeling a little peckish and our next stop was to try some of the typical Delhi snacks. The snacks that we tried have been part of the culinary history of the city since ancient times.  We were seated in a little restaurant and our guide brought the snacks to us to try and explained what they were - all very tasty and they certainly filled the gap.



Feeling quite ecstatic venturing through both New and Old Delhi with everything that we had experienced that morning, we were then led to the capital’s largest mosque built on a 10 metre elevation, called 'Gurdwara Bangla Sahib' which is one of the most prominent Sikh gurdwaras, or Sikh house of worship.  This mosque can actually hold up to 25,000 people so you can imagine the sheer size of it.  Another sight to behold!  The red and white structures were enhanced with extremely intricate carvings which our guide talked us through.  This mosque was an oasis of calm and solitude; there was chanting of holy words taking place as we explored the mosque and surrounding areas. No photography was allowed inside the mosque itself.

To our surprise we were then taken into the mosque community kitchen which feeds around 35,000 to 40,000 people each day.



This was a real privilege for us to see and it certainly makes you realise the true sense of community spirit. The community kitchen runs 24/7, 365 days of the year. For a further glimpse into this remarkable place, click on our vlog below.


Community Kitchen at 'Gurdwara Bangla Sahib' Mosque


The final part of our 'Five Senses Tour' was to taste one of Delhi's most famous dishes which was 'Butter Chicken' - a rich sauce dish which it is said was invented in frugal times in 1947 following partitition. Today, it is known as 'Murgh Makhani' and it is a type of curry made up of tomato and butter sauce, usually served with rice and breads. What struck us most was the freshness of the flavours with the many spices being used..


After our lunch, stop we were then taken back to our hotel for a rest before our next tour, but not before we were driven through other areas of the city to see all the beautuful architecture with the deep contrast of the mughal buildings.


We can honestly say this was one of the best tours that we did on our India trip, truly fascinating and a memory we will treasure always. We highly recommend taking the time to experience this tour for yourselves when visiting Delhi. Even though you have already seen a snippet of our photos, it by no means does the trip full justice.


3. Delhi Night Food Walk:

We chose to do an exciting walking tour in the evening despite being out the whole morning and feeling a little tired.  However, we had been so exhilarated by what Delhi had presented us with that day, that we were keen to get back on our feet and head out again. This time on an organised ‘Night Food Tour’ within Old Delhi.  Our guide met us at our hotel at around 4.30 p.m that afternoon and our driver took us to the outskirts of the Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk area ready to commence our walk about.


Vanessa & Richard of Escape With Us Worldwide Travel Blogs & Vlogs in Old Delhi ready to start our night food walk and cultural tour
'Our Night Food Tour'

Well what can we say about this particular tour; you think Old Delhi is busy during the day, just wait until you see it at night!  It really does come alive with people everywhere, but the hustle and bustle is fascinating to watch and the atmosphere is electric.  


This tour is particularly to give you an insight into everyday life in Delhi at night.  We were told by our guide that there was no fixed itinerary, it was a case of discussing what we would like to do for our tour, which again lasted around 4+ hours just like our ‘Five Senses Tour’ earlier that same day.


On such a tour and visiting Old Delhi at night you must be prepared for huge crowds of people, narrow lanes and it is also recommended that you wear covered shoes and for the ladies you must take a head-scarf because it is more than likely you will visit a Sikh temple as we did.


Old Delhi At Night


We even visited another community kitchen within the ‘Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib’ temple this time which was amazing; on a much smaller scale than the one we witnessed at ‘Gurdwara Bangla Sahib’ however.  Here we wandered through the temple listening to the chanting that was taking place, which was very relaxing and meaningful and it was a privilege to be able to observe.


Our guide was fantastic, he led us through the busy lanes and talked to us about the history of the foods we would be tasting.  He took us to not only reputable street stalls to try Indian snacks, but also to renowned sit-down restaurants to try delicious rich dishes; we even learned about all the different types of Biryani from different regions across India which you can have a quick read of in the photo below. We finally finshed off our food tour with something sweet visiting a famous kulfi shop; so many flavours to choose from too.  



We were even told by our guide at the end of our tour, that we were one of the only clients for a long time that managed to get all the way through the tastings without being full up and unable to manage all the food.  So at this point we would recommend that you do not eat anything too much before you go on the tour, as obvioulsy you will be sampling many delicious and unusual dishes on your culinary journey through Old Delhi and some of them are large dishes of hot food, not just snacks.


Not only did we experience different foods on this trip, we also visited many places in and around the narrow lanes in Old Delhi, including the jewellery market and the spice market where the colourful spices gave off the most wonderful aromas.



In addition to this we visited a building where they were preparing fresh flower garlands with numerous cotton sacks filled to the brim with fresh rose petals and marigolds; the intense fragrance from these flowers was incredible.



We then headed through an old building to a rooftop terrace where we could observe the goings on down in the busy streets; what a scene to behold. Finally, we learned a lot about the history of the people and their culture whilst we sat and sipped freshly brewed Chai with our friendly guide.


Our Friendly Night Food Tour Guide in Old Delhi India
Our Friendly 'Night Food Tour' Guide

Yet another fantastic experience - we highly recommend this tour, as long as you are not frightened to get amongst it with all the crowds, and are not easily deterred to eat some of the dishes presented to you with your hands.  You can definitely rest assured that all the street food stalls and restaurants that were chosen by our guide were clean and reputable, so we did not suffer any tummy problems at all.


Shopping


We did most of our shopping in Old Delhi which is renowned for its hand-made artistic works including such things as ivory carvings and paintings including miniatures with their intricate detail.  You will also find engravings, sculptures of all sorts, plus there is both gold and silver jewellery in abundance as well as textile brocades and embroidery items galore, and gorgeous metalwork pieces to grab your attention. Make sure that you give yourself sufficient time to browse and don't forget to have a little barter with the traders who welcome such activity to sell their wares.


If you visit the fort area, you will find Chandni Chowk, a vibrant bazaar filled with food carts, sweets shops and spice stalls.


Chandni Chowk Bazaar in Old Delhi that has plenty of food carts, sweet shops etc.  Indian lady standing in the foreground.
'Chandni Chowk Bazaar' Old Delhi

Festivals


As with most states, cities, towns and villages across India, Delhi is known for its numerous fairs and festivals, including an ongoing succession of religious festivals and celebrations throughout the year.


'Diwali' is the biggest festival which is celebrated around October to November when the city is decorated with a gazillion earthen lamps. Other festivals include ‘Eid’ which takes place twice annually, the exciting ‘Holi’ festival, ‘Navratri’, a nine day festival which celebrates and worships the Goddess Durga, ‘Independence Day’ celebrating India’s freedom and last but not least, the famous ‘Republic Day’ festival where a grand parade takes place on the Rajpath.



Animals Across the National Capital Territory


You may be surprised to learn that the national capital territory of Delhi has lots of animal life, just like its plant life and it is very diverse.  Among the carnivorous animals which inhabit the ravine lands and hilly ridges, you will find leopards, hyenas, foxes, wolves and jackals.  Wild boars are sometimes also seen around the banks of the Yamuna river.


You can expect to see many monkeys in and around the city, especially around the temple and historical ruins.  Birdlife on the other hand includes year-round species whereas the lakes particularly attract seasonal birds. Fish are also found in abundance in the Yamuna river.


Weather in Delhi