Delhi, India: Capital-izing on the Weekend
Mumbaikars and Delhiites constantly contend about which city is better. I decided to shed my apprehensions about India’s political and literal capital and find out!
Delhi, the capital of India, is at loggerheads with Mumbai all the time. Mumbaikars and Delhiites constantly contend about which city is better. I decided to shed my apprehensions about India’s political and literal capital and pay a brief weekend visit.
I left home at 7am on Saturday morning and took a flight to Delhi. After noon, I exited the airport with my spirits high and contrary to my expectations, I was hit with a wave of disappointment. Literally speaking, this disappointed was a mix of intense heat and more heat. Never have I regretted wearing jeans so much in my life.
Where I stayed:
ITC Sheraton, Saket
Transport I used in Delhi:
Taxi- local as well as the hotel’s own service. It was the most convenient and comfortable because it stayed with us the whole day and allowed us to travel to multiple places efficiently. Public transport is harder to navigate but I hear that the metro is great for those on a budget! Local taxis are relatively affordable too.
What I ate:
A huge breakfast buffet was included with our stay. From omlettes to dosas (indian pancakes), all sorts of sweet and savory dishes were at out disposal. The service was impeccable. Aside from the displayed juices, they offered other freshly made juices and brought steaming hot, fresh food right to the table- they even cut your whole fruits for you.
For lunch on Saturday, we ate at Imperfecto at Hauz Khas Village. It is a great neighborhood to explore on foot for handicrafts, clothes and a variety of restaurants. The food at Imperfecto was primarily Mediterranean but the cuisine was not very authentic. However, that is not a negative comment. The flavors were wonderful and elements of various cuisines were subtly infused in traditional dishes to create scintillating effects on our taste buds.
On Sunday, we grabbed a quick bite for lunch while touring the city from the countless restaurants sprinkled around Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest marketplaces in Delhi. Parathas (a stuffed Indian bread) and Jalebis are famous there, and rightly so.
At night, we were exhausted from the day’s sightseeing so we visited a restaurant in Sheraton itself- Dakshin. In Hindi, Dakshin means south. It was apparent that the cuisine would be South-Indian but that made me a little jittery because a die-hard non vegetarian like me only thinks of idlis and vadas and all vegetarian things when I think of the south. However, I was pleasantly surprised! We ordered one chicken curry with curry and one mutton curry that was dry, taking up recommendations from our server. Traditionally used to eating it with an appam (a South Indian pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk), my mother stuck to that for the most part. My father and I tried the Parottas- layered flat south indian bread. Served on Banana leaves complete with brass utensils where the water in the glass has an exquisite taste too, we were all floored by how marvelous the food was. I wish I had taken my camera along because besides the food, the presentation was a grand pleaser too.
What I bought:
Honestly, I went thinking I was going to hoard up on clothes and jewelry. However, Chandni Chowk was filled with ornate lehengas (Indian skirt and blouse outfit, complete with a dupatta), saris and other Indian attire. Western clothes are not the highlight of the city and there’s no point buying a t-shirt you can get elsewhere too. Although everything was beautiful and priced as an heavy clothes are, I could not foresee an occasion that would demand such clothes so I passed on them, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t! Especially for travelers from out of India, do pick out a beautiful outfit to flaunt back home.
The one store we did freak out at was Blossom Kochhar’s Aroma Magic. I think my taste for Body Shop has been diluted after visiting this store. An attentive store assistant guided me to a mirror and wash basin and showered me with products to try. Since I don’t use make up anyway, my face was clear and I had now qualms trying the products. My mother stocked up on skin firming and anti-aging products while I picked up a lavender face wash and a cucumber sunscreen. We also picked up a charcoal face pack to share. We threw in a few small bars of wonderfully scented soaps too.
All the products ranged from Rs100 to Rs400, which amounts to less than $7. I was shocked. They didn’t compromise on size or quality either. Blossom Kochhar pioneered in natural beauty products in India many, many years ago and though some retailer, online and otherwise, stock her products all over the world, it was a pleasure to visit her only stand alone store in the world. Unfortunately, we were pressed for time but they had a spa and salon attached to the store that i imagine would scintillate many who like to pamper themselves.
What I visited:
The tallest brick minarette in the world stands at 73m. It was constructed by Qutub-ud-din Aibak after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu Kingdom. At the foot of this five-storey part-red sandstone and part-marble and sandstone tower is Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India. A symbol of political domination as well as a site of faith, three men contributed to the minarette. Qutub Minar commenced the construction in 1193 with the basement. His successor, Iltutmuch, added three more stories and the fourth and fifth storey was added by Firoz Shah Tughlak in 1368.
Unfortunately, the interiors are no longer open to public because the higher floors started becoming a hot-spot of suicide attempts that were spinning out of control. Lower floors remained open for a while but in today’s date you can only encircle the outside. This makes for a quick visit- especially without a guide. If you must take one, elect for the audio guide at most Indian sights because the local guided often sensationalize the history and provide wrong information.
Lotus Temple, Baha’i House of Worship.
As extravagant as it is from the outside, it’s as unimpressive from the inside. That was until I realized the importance of the site. Founded in Persia in the 19th Century, Baha’i Faith has three core principles- unity of God, unity of religion and unity of mankind. According to this faith, the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection and being of service to humanity.
Inside, there is no statue and no diety. Just a podium for sermons lies ahead of numerous wooden pews. Patrons constantly shh people who speak inside the temple because it is a space for meditation and reflection. If a visitor has time in hand, they should close their eyes and clear their minds here.
India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan
Arguable the most beautiful and cleanest stretch in Delhi, Rajpat has two ends of the road with two extremely important Indian constructs. The India Gate stands at 42m, commemorating the lives of 70,000 Indian Soldiers that were lost in fighting for the British army in World War I.
Another memorial, Amar Jawan Jyoti, stands across the India Gate, at another crossroad, after India gained independence in 194. The eternal flame burns day and night under the arch to remind the nation of soldiers who laid down their lives in the Indo-Pakistan War of December 1971.
Our cabbie told us that India gate is a sight to be seen at night. Lit heavily with ample police forces around, it is one of the few safer areas in Delhi where people often pull up in cars for late night ice cream sessions.
On the other end of Rajpath is the Rashtrapati Bhavan- the presidential house- where the current president, Pranab Mukherjee, resides and many halla, guest rooms and offices are saturated across the huge mansion’s 130 hectare estate.
Connaught Place and Palika Bazaar
The quintessential metropolitan shopping complex flooding all major cities in India has been embraced by Delhi too. Filled with international brands and cuisines, it is worth a visit but nothing hugely new. For locals, it’s a taste of the international world and a great shopping refuge.
Across the street is an underground market, Palika Bazaar, that stocks everything from clothes to luggage to electronics. Don’t look for high quality goods here because the quality matches the price. Apart from a few silver stores, not much is ‘real’ here which in turn makes it a great site for bargaining. A vendor quoted $10 for an earring that I bargained down to $3. The word of the day at Palika Bazaar is definitely ‘bargain’ every day.
Lal Quila aka Red Fort (it’s a literal translation, don’t get confused!)
Today, the Red Fort is in the limelight once a year as the Prime Minister hoists the Indian Flag and imparts a national speech every August 15th, India’s Independence day. However, the Red Fort was the residence of Mughal Emperors for nearly 200 years, until 1857.
From the outside, it is a long-running, overwhelming presence that attracts many tourists. Inside, it houses many musuems. Besides it’s historical importance, it also serves as a benchmark of architectural innovation that has given inspiration to many buildings and gardens across the land.
Overall, my visit to Delhi was not one I would change but I landed back in Mumbai and it felt like a hillstation. The weather in the capital in summers is a real downer and monsoons had not arrived yet so the hot air clung to your pores adding to the discomfort. Delhi is known to be one of the most unsafe cities in the country too which is a matter of great shame since it is the capital and that is what hindered my venturing alone to explore the inner workings of the city.
Remember, lone travelers should try not to stay out too late at night or frequent isolated territories. Venture in crowded areas to avoid trouble or try to travel in groups. Personally, I did not feel threatened but I was careful not to put myself in risky situations too. And after a few days in Delhi, come straight to Mumbai for a few days of carefree breathing and less calculated decision-making!