Heat, pollution… but we love it!
Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Delhi Travel Diary
Day 1: Airport -> Guest house -> Market
After Doha and its 36 hours of magic, our first hours in Delhi make us regret leaving Doha so early. Farewell to the excessive air conditioning, goodbye to the clean floor cleaned with bleach! Here we are in Delhi, it is 40°C in the shade. First real contact with an Indian to exchange money. I give him my passport, he talks only with JB. Why would I exist eh? I am only a woman
Small parenthesis: in spite of the problems of payment of e-Visa before our departure, it took us only 5 minutes to validate this e-Visa at the airport (a simple stamp marking the deadline). So much for that!
5 minutes later, at the airport, we enter a store to buy water. We hesitate between several bottles, an Indian notices it and advises us a brand. He takes 2 bottles for him, we imitate him and follow him to the checkout. One minute later: “I paid for you, welcome to India, enjoy!”
After so much kindness, we are surrounded by fake cab drivers. We are looking for the prepaid cab office, they don’t care “the office is that way”, that is to say very far from the real office. We continue to follow the signs and pay the cab 400 rupees (5 euros) instead of 350 rupees (because the air conditioning is 50 rupees more). 3 indians surround us to ask where we are going. They go up to take our receipt. I get angry and take it back from their hands
Our receipt still passes from one hand to the other to the hands of the real driver when all these intermediaries understand that we are going to “a friend’s” house and not a hotel. Phew, what a good idea to have booked a guesthouse. On the way, I notice that it’s only a more concentrated version of Vietnam, the dirt and pollution that people were telling me about are quite comparable to Vietnam. I almost feel at home lol
Well, really, the air conditioning is as efficient as a fan but the trip takes 30 minutes, our 70 cents (50 rupees) are well worth it. The driver asks us to give him our phone to call the guest house (he seems not to know where it is). We bought a SIM card at the airport but it won’t be active for a few hours. And after all, he is the cab, he just has to manage! After 2-3 questions to the locals, he finally finds it but asks us a huge tip (which we did not give, let’s not exaggerate)
The guesthouse is run by an old woman from a wealthy background, she is Sikh, and speaks perfect English. She is helped by 3 people (staff, she says, but it’s really domestic) to take care of her and the clients. 2 of them take care of the housework and a Nepalese takes care of the kitchen. Exceptionally, she invites us to eat in the evening with her and two guests, we are too happy and accept with pleasure
The two Australian guests want to go to the market. We take the opportunity to take a cab (with an extra charge of 50 rupees for the air conditioning) with them to go to the Sarojini Market. I buy Bindi there for 20 rupees (you know, this red dot on the forehead of Indian women), on the one hand because I find it pretty, and on the other hand to be left alone (in North India, it means that I am married). There is an immediate before/after effect: people really take me for an Indian/or at least a local. On the other hand, JB continues to be harassed by all the hihihi people
What I find good about this market is that it isn’t very crowded by tourists so I don’t even need to negotiate. There are plenty of stalls where the prices of Punjabi pants are displayed, you just have to look around to find the cheapest store. I buy one at 100 rupees, the pants are super wide, comfortable and if I’m lucky it’s 100% cotton
It is unbearably hot and even the Indians are sweating (we aren’t the only ones!), I notice that the Indians look very fresh. I look closer, they are all a small towel in the hand to wipe the sweat. Ah ah! Seeing us suffering because of the heat, a salesman accosts us and shows us “You NEED hankerchiefs” ahahah!
We eat in an Indian fast-food restaurant next door and learn to queue like Indians: the first served isn’t the first to arrive but the one who manages to impose himself. We discover taxes not mentioned on the sign, inflating a meal supposed to cost us 300 rupees to 400 rupees. Coke is expensive (80 rupees without tax), we will only drink water from now on. In this fast food restaurant, there is a water corner where everyone can fill their water bottle (free of charge) and wash their hands
Tired of the heat, we go back to the guesthouse by taking a rickshaw and the subway (apparently it’s very common in Delhi to get as close as possible to the final destination by taking the subway and then finish by the rickshaw). The subway is air-conditioned, many people sit on the steps leading to the subway just to get some fresh air. JB continues to attract the attention of Indians in the subway, I expect to have many more solicitations, people who come to talk to us or take our pictures but finally nobody disturbs us. To be sure to be quiet, I sit in the subway train reserved for women (there are huge problems of sexual assault in India) while JB stands with the men
In the evening we have dinner with the lady of the guesthouse and the two guests. The staff is busy next door to cook and clear the table for us, without eating with us. The lady gives orders and yells at them in Indian language not to make bread (the famous bread roll that swells) fast enough. It’s a bit weird to be served like that. Little embarrassing moment. But the food is delicious and we consider ourselves lucky to have a real local dinner. We will not forget to give a generous tip to the “staff” at the end of our stay
Day 2 : Qutub Minar -> Humayun’s Tomb -> Taj Mahal Hotel -> Massage
Breakfast at the guesthouse where we eat fried bread with a curry sauce (delicious!). 40 rupees later, a rickshaw takes us to Qutub Minar, where we see the 3rd highest minaret in the world, the largest in India. It is a site that also includes ruins of mosques, tombs and others. It is really very beautiful and carefully realized, in the smallest details.
During the visit, we notice that several Indians take pictures of us in secret. JB is often solicited for selfies. He looks like a star and it amuses him a lot. I am the photographer.
You can see that I am very equipped: fan, handkerchief, umbrella (to have the impression of walking in the shade continuously, it is a very effective technique when walking under the sun in Asia, if you don’t have an umbrella, the umbrella will suffice). I wear the Indian pants I bought at the market the day before. Normally, it should be worn with a tunic/blouse to complete the Punjabi look but I haven’t yet found a tunic that I like.
We then alternate between rickshaw and subway to go to Humayun’s Tomb, precursor of the Taj Mahal, which is also a site with several monuments. The site has been very well restored, because the before/after pictures are unrecognizable. The visit is pleasant in spite of the 36°C, because not only is it beautiful, but it is fresh inside, with a small breeze which makes pleasure.
We then go to the Taj Mahal hotel at a subway station because I saw a picture of the hotel and I found it beautiful. Arrived on the spot, we wonder if we were mistaken of address because in front of us stands an ordinary building in rectangular shape. We turn in a circle to find the side that looks the most like the photo but we don’t find it. We enter it anyway, just to see what a 5 star hotel in India looks like. The inside does not disappoint, the outdoor swimming pool makes you want to go in and the service is impeccable (another embarrassing moment: an employee is in charge of opening the tap when you wash your hands in the toilets, …). We stay there to have a little iced tea (I think it is the only place in India where we are sure of the quality of the ice cubes). That’s when we realize that we are in the wrong hotel. The too nice Taj Mahal that I saw the picture of is located in … Mumbai. Upstairs the hotel in Mumbai, downstairs the hotel in Delhi.
Completely frozen after the iced tea and the excessive air conditioning at the hotel bar, we have never been so happy to walk in the streets of Delhi at 36°C.
Our guesthouse is located next to a cinema complex, surrounded by numerous stores, spa, and bui-bui. We think it will still be nice to try the Indian massage. Finally, it will be a Tibetan massage. The prices are quite high here (2500 rupees including taxes or 32€) but the service is tip top. The masseuse is standing on a small chair, which allows her to press hard on our tired muscles. After the massage, we even get a free hammam & shower.
We try bui-bui for the first time in India. We order rolls, momos & bread without pictures on the menu and therefore without knowing what to expect. It’s really delicious (even if our pictures say otherwise). On our way back to the guesthouse, we buy in a street store a kg of ripe mangoes for 100 rupees (1.33€), ten times cheaper than in France.
We self-congratulate ourselves on the judicious choice to live in a residential neighborhood far from the city center (but accessible by subway), which allows us to live almost like locals. 100% Indian breakfast. With bui-bui, nobody tries to rip us off. Nobody follows us, nobody asks us tips for nothing. At no time the rickshaws propose us (or impose us!) to go to a souvenir store (contrary to the rickshaws near the tourist sites), even if it is obviously necessary to discuss (with a first price at 100 rupees, the negotiation is concluded at 30 or 40 rupees). In short, the good life! All the unpleasantness that a lambda tourist encounters in India, well, we don’t feel concerned in this area. And bonus: no tourists on the horizon. Maybe that’s why we survive again and again in Delhi when many had announced the horror to us.
Day 3 : Red Fort -> Old Delhi
It’s Monday and we discover the real Delhi only today with the subway 10 times more crowded than what we saw the last two days. I understand better why everyone is warning us about Delhi as a destination for our first trip to India. Indeed, if everyone takes a hotel in this area, it’s just unbearable. Old Delhi is very noisy, dirty and we are constantly solicited as soon as we get out of the subway. The plan of departure is to find a place to eat, but following the heavy solicitations of the rickshaw, we change plan to go directly to Red Fort with a bicycle rickshaw this time. The traffic is horrible but we are delighted to be in tuk tuk and not on foot because it would have been hard to walk in the middle of all this.
Arrived at Red Fort, we are told that it is closed on Monday but there are many things too good at 20 rickshaw rupees nearby: the great mosque, the spice market etc.. Nice the driver of tuk tuk who could have told us before.
We then hide in the small streets of Old Delhi looking for a restaurant, where the rickshaws can’t bother us. We are the only tourists and spot a bui bui with black walls. We observe the cook and think that even if it isn’t 100% clean by French standards, it isn’t dirty either. We copy our neighbor by showing his plate and ask for 2 dishes like that “not spicy” but he doesn’t seem to understand. The dishes are served super hot and spicy. We have difficulty to stand both the heat and the hot spicy dish. But it’s very good.
We do some shopping before stalking in front of a Sikh temple. We see people covering their heads before entering with a kind of yellow bandana (if they don’t have a turban), having their shoes kept & washing their feet before entering. It’s lunch time, I think all these people come to enjoy the free meal offered in Sikh temples. Moreover, this one is well air-conditioned. Very tired by Old Delhi, we decide to return quickly to preserve us. We come to India especially for the Taj Mahal, we should not be disgusted by India so early 🙂
JB knows for the first time the fierce struggle to get into the subway, which painfully reminds him of the Parisian line 13, while I enjoy the atmostphere of Peace & Love in the women’s car next door. It is forbidden for men to get into the women’s wagon, while women can get into any wagon. I still see a few women in the men’s car, it can’t be that dangerous otherwise they wouldn’t have been with the guys (or are they accompanied?).
We go to Select Citywalk to see the foodcourt that the owner of the guesthouse told us about. It’s simply a bling bling mall where you can find all the international brands (H&M, Sephora, Clinique). I take the opportunity to buy Indian clothes at Fabindia, hyper expensive compared to the market (between 1000 and 2000 rupees including taxes), but handmade respecting the traditions blablabla. They will replace some unsuitable clothes I bought in France (technical clothes or my 100% linen dress)
It is true that traditional Indian clothing is good and suitable for the heat. The cotton is very fine but not transparent, the cut is airy, the scarf worn over the top can be used to cover the head and neck. They are very coquettish the indians, the scarf must remind the color of the pants or the top. The set is very coordinated, colorful.
It is on this positive note that we end our stay in Delhi, punctuated by a delicious Indian meal in our small residential area.
PART 2: Practical Tips for Delhi
How to get there
By plane. Delhi is part of the round-the-world ticket. To go there, from Paris, we went through Doha (whose stopover we highly recommend).
- Don’t forget to print the small e-Visa authorization paper sent to your email address.
- Avoid the city center. Saket is a safe and affordable residential area. Choose like us Grace’s Home or Tree of Life which are quality guesthouses close to the subway, restaurants and shopping centers
- Buy the SIM card at the airport, where you can use your passport to get a SIM card. Everywhere else they will be less flexible and may require an Indian ID card. Buy 1 or 2GB as the Wifi in the guesthouses are rotten and you need internet so you don’t get ripped off by the rickshaws.
- At the airport, go to the cab office and take a “prepaid cab”. Give them the address of the hotel and not the name of the hotel. The advantage of being in a guesthouse is that the cab thinks you are at a friend’s house and will not try to rip you off by taking you to another hotel where they get commissions
- Visit the city center on weekends (Red Fort, Grand Mosque), so the subway will be less crowded and you can breathe a little bit. On Sundays, the market in Old Delhi is closed. If you don’t like the market, this is a good time to go to Red Fort and be a bit quiet on the way. On the other hand, the Red Fort is closed on Monday like many monuments
- On weekdays, go to other monuments further away from the city center such as Humayun’s Tomb or Qutub Minar.
- For the rickshaw, negotiate well. If the driver asks for 100 rupees, negotiate at 30 then go up to 40 rupees. In the less touristic areas, the first price will be 70 rupees, and finally pay 40 rupees. A very simple rule is: less than 1Km -> walking. Around 2Km -> 40 rupees. Beyond that: metro
- For the subway, you can buy single tickets. You just have to specify your arrival station. You can buy the tickets at the machine, but you have to pay only with tickets of 10 rupees. A bag check is done at the entrance of the subway, there are 2 entrances for man/woman check.
- There is a wagon reserved only for women for all subways, look for the arrows, it will be safer for you and especially more spacious
- 100 rupees = 1,3€
- Guesthouse: 2800 rupees/double room/day + 100 rupees tip/day
- SIM card + 3G data: 1,300 rupees
- Massage: Rs.2,600/1h massage at Alaya Spa (near our guesthouse)
- Food: 177 rupees/person/meal (we ate for cheap because we were in the residential area, therefore very affordable as for the Indians). To try absolutely: momos (a kind of dim-sum)
- Shopping: clothes at Fabindia cost around 650 rupees/piece, very expensive for the Indian market but it is of excellent quality. Otherwise, at the market, you can buy Indian clothes between 100 and 200 rupees/piece
- Visits: 500 rupees/person (30 rupees for Indians)
- Metro: between 8 and 15 rupees/person/route (but it also depends where you go)
- Rickshaw : about 40 rupees/run (to go from the subway to the monument)
TOTAL: 22,930 rupees or 305€ for 3 days, 2 people (excluding Shopping & Plane)
We could have reduced this budget a little bit by removing the massage at 5492 rupees for two (73€, tips included). However, a good and secure accommodation is advised, even if it means paying 2800 rupees as we did
- Grace’s Home with air conditioning, lunch included, kitchen at your disposal: http: //www.grace-home.in/ (free reservation by email, confirmation by email 2 weeks before arrival date)
- Massage: Alaya Spa Salon (near PVR Cinema) http://alaya.co.in/spalon/ <- I highly recommend, Tibetan massage about 2,500 rupees, taxes included