In Travel

New Delhi: A Guide To Exploring India’s Capital

With a mix of ancient ruins and tempting street food, Delhi should be on every bucket list.

It’s easy to be confused between New Delhi and Delhi, given the terms are often used interchangeably. Formally, New Delhi is the capital of India and one of 11 districts of Delhi, a larger state. The Canberra to the ACT, if you will, if the ACT had a population in excess of 18 million.

There’s no clear boundary between the districts, except for the dramatic change in architecture. In New Delhi, there are newer works like India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President’s house), and cleaner streets like those of Connaught Place. Outside of New Delhi are historical monuments like the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, and the aged streets of Old Delhi.

This 24-hour whirlwind guide will take you from New Delhi’s opulent accommodations, to the pristine Lodi Gardens to the mayhem of Old Delhi.

8am: Stay at The Claridges

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The itinerary begins with a night at The Claridges. Depending on when you arrive, try to utilise the hotel’s plush lawns and luxe facilities. With a temperature-controlled pool, sun lounges and cabanas, and friendly service, it’s worthy of its 5-star rating.  If you arrive at nightfall, play it smart and get some rest for a big day ahead. Another good thing about The Claridges: it’s very close to your first stop.

9am: Morning stroll through the Lodi Gardens

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Most parts of Delhi are relentlessly busy, so many locals choose to escape to the Lodi Gardens for respite. The 360,00 square metres of lush, leafy gardens are an oasis of calm amongst the madness. Named after the Lodi dynasty, who once ruled parts of Northern India, the gardens are scattered with rare examples of 15th century architecture and the tombs of ancient leaders dating back to the 1400s. It’s one of the only places in New Delhi where you’ll see old infrastructure.

The morning is the perfect time to go: birds are at their most active, chai wallahs (tea sellers) are out in force, and there’s plenty of shade if needed.

10am: Breakfast at Hotel Saravana Bhawan

After working up an appetite, head to Connaught Place, a business and financial hub, home to a host of eateries and bars.

Find Hotel Saravana Bhawan, a restaurant specialising in South Indian cuisine. Order a dosa (a crispy savoury crepe), filled with a lump of potato stuffing, accompanied by a range of wet chutneys and sambar (lentil and vegetable stew). Wash it down with a sweet or salty lassi.

11am: India Gate

You won’t have any trouble getting a ride to India Gate – tuk-tuk drivers are literally on every corner. Just be sure to settle for a fee first (around 100 rupees is fair).

At 42m tall, India Gate symbolises the sacrifices that Indian and British soldiers made during World War I and the Afghan war. Neatly-inscribed into the gate are over 70,000 names of soldiers who died in combat. Families of the soldiers on the gate often visit to honour their brave relatives.

Underneath is the Amar Jawan Jyoti (‘Flame of the Immortal Soldier’), which commemorates the Indian soldiers who died in combat during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. This memorial’s continuously burning flame is attended 24/7 by soldiers from the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy.

While you’re there, walk down Rajpath and take in the sheer size of Rashtrapati Bhavan (the president’s house), with 340 rooms across 4 floors.

12pm: Old Delhi

Experience the true essence of India with a trip to Old Delhi. Jump on a cycle rickshaw and get taken to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. Within 100 metres you’ll see near collisions, roaming cows, many kinds of wallahs, and plenty more. It’s exhausting just watching it all from your rickshaw seat.

On your way to the mosque, get dropped off at the spice market to wander through the vibrant red chilies, vivid yellow turmeric and stacked sacks of spices. A wise traveller might pack a tissues or two.

12.30pm: Jama Masjid

As you enter the imposing courtyard entrance of Jama Masjid, you instantly forget about the chaos of Old Delhi and become astounded by the size of the 362-year-old mosque. Wander around the courtyard and inside the mosque – constructed in 1656 – bare-foot, observing the locals praying.

1pm: Lunch at Karim’s

Ask any local where to eat and they will likely say Karim’s. It’s a Delhi institution and conveniently located across the road from Jama Masjid.

Over a century old, Karim’s isa Mughal restaurant that specialises in meat cooking- while you’re advised against eating meat from street vendors, Karim’s is busy and the meat fresh.

Karim’s specialties include dil passband seekh kabab (lamb kofta), aloo ghosht (braised mutton with potatoes), and Murgh Afghani (chicken tandoori). Grab some naan, pulao (mixed rice), a Kingfisher, and dig in.

3pm: Hauz Khas

A 1352 madrasa inside the Hauz Khas Complex Photo: Elliot Baker

It will be too slow for a tuk-tuk, so catch a taxi to Hauz Khas – a chic area in South Delhi.

Meander around the Hauz Khas complex, consisting of a medieval madrasa (Islamic seminary), tombs, mosque, and lake, popular with local university students.

There are a number of 13 and 14th century buildings, such as the madrasa (Islamic seminary built in 1352), perfect for exploring and finding better vantage points of the lake below.

Head to Hauz Khas Social for drinks. The cocktails are affordable and elaborate; The Old Smoke combines signature (Indian whisky), orange zest oil, and sweet and sour mix into a glass that’s served over smoke.

Before leaving, walk through Deer Park to see hundreds of deer up close, and also peacocks, the national bird of India.

6pm: Dinner at Bukhara

Arnie chomping into the famous four-metre in diameter Naan Bukhara, which is a whopping four feet in diameter Photo: Twitter

You only need to look at the framed pictures of celebrities dining at Bukhara to know it has quite the reputation.

Centred around the flavours of the North West Frontier, Bukhara uses several tandoor ovens for breads, kababs, and vegetables.

You’ll find dal at most restaurants in Delhi, but none will trump the one here. Whole black lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, simmered over slow coal fires of the tandoor for 18 hours and finished with cream and a dollop of butter. The result is a thicker and richer dal than found anywhere else.

Standouts from the tandoor include the sikandari raan (spiced leg of lamb) and murgh malai (creamy chicken) kabab. Bukhara even supplies you with a special apron so you can eat the traditional way and still look like a celebrity.

Published 12 January, 2018