Places to see in and around Delhi

Delhi has been the Capital of Hindustan during Mughal and British rule in India. This makes it a big hub of history dating from 11th century. In the recent years, new monuments have been erected thus making it a great mix of past and present attractions. Additionally, its geographical location makes it a great place for day trips and short getaways as well.

In the last few days, we have visited quite a few monuments and traveled around Delhi as well. Though we couldn’t see everything the city had to offer, we did explore quite a bit. I must say, there is so much history here and it makes it evident that India was looted and ruled by loads of ‘outsiders’.

Delhi

See below for the list of places to see in and around Delhi –

Old Delhi

Capital during Mughal era built by King Shahjahan. It was the walled city of Delhi. The walls were destroyed by the British but some remnants and gates remain.

Lal Quila (Red Fort)

Lal QuilaThe palace of the walled city. It housed the royalty from the 16th century to 19th century. Every year, the Prime Minister of India delivers the Republic Day and Independence Day speeches from its ramparts.

Though it appears grand and stupendous, in reality, many of the building inside were destroyed by the British after they won the war against Indian forces in 1857.

Jama Masjid

It was the royal mosque of Delhi. It is a magnificent building overlooking the markets and the Red Fort.

Tip: Women may need to dress conservatively but they provide a full length robe for a small price.

Jama Masjid

Chandni Chowk

Moonlight/sparkling market with small lanes and shops. It still is the heart of Old Delhi.

In my opinion, Chandni Chowk is the stereotypical Delhi. You will find animals, rickshaws, cars, trucks and people on the same road. Somewhat amazingly, it all works and people are able to go through their daily chores without hassle.

Markets

Each lane in Old Delhi sells something different and are known as bazaars. On a normal working day, it is very difficult to walk against the moving crowd. Some lanes are 5-6metres wide and shared by people on foot, rickshaws, hawkers, two wheelers and cows. It is definitely an experience that can only be gained by walking around the area.

Food

Indians love food. Period. Due to the number of people and cuisines, Old Delhi offers some amazing foods. There are traditional fast food shops, parantha (stuffed pancake) shops and kebabs. The kebabs are spicy and you can wash it down with a chilled glass of Mathura Lassi. It is the local variant of the restaurant kind.

Tip: Please be aware that Delhi Belly could be a common occurrence. Always buy bottled mineral water or sealed cold drinks.

Qutab Minar

Qutub MinarBuilt by Qutubuddin Aibak in the 12th century after his victory over the local Hindu kings of India. Its a 20 metres high tower made of red stone with delicate carvings which has stood the test of time. This particular king destroyed Hindu temples and placed pillars from these temples in the complex.

Lotus Temple

Built by the followers of the Bahai religion in 1980s, it is now a symbol of Delhi. It is a beautiful white building resembling a lotus flower and the ambiance inside is peaceful.

Akshardham Temple

Built in 2005 by the followers of the Swami Narayan sect of Hinduism, it is the largest Hindu temple in the world. Its made of pink and red stone and the architectural carvings are extremely detailed. Akshardham TempleThere are 3 exhibitions which are a part of a journey through the history of the sect, Hinduism and India. The exhibitions and the lights and sound show are very much recommended. The ideal time to visit is around 4:30pm as it can be very hot and the lights and sound show is at night.

Take note, you are not allowed to take any electronics inside – so forget about taking photos!

New Delhi

New Delhi was built by the British as their capital in the early 20th century. It was planned by Edwin Lutyens and it is now the capital of India. It is contrasted from Old Delhi by its wide streets, trees and cleanliness.

The opposite of Old Delhi, New Delhi makes one feel like they are no longer in India. It is too organized to be India.

Connaught Place

It is formed by an inner circular road and an outer one with shops and markets in both.

This area offers a wide variety of shopping ranging from brand outlets in the shops to street markets in areas such as Janpath and Palika bazaar.

We picked up trinkets and souveneirs on the street for a small price. Similarly, we were able to bargain for clothes in the Janpath markets.

Tip: Make a judgement call but it is recommended to start with half the price of the shop owners and meet them in the middle.

Government Buildings

This area has a wide range of monuments such as the Indian Parliament, India Gate, Museums and Embassies.

Haridvar & Rishikesh

These towns are around 5-6 hours from Delhi along the river Ganges. At least two nights stay are recommended to enjoy the ambiance.
Haridwar is a Hindu pilgrimage centre and Rishikesh is famous for Yoga, white water rafting and Hippies. Taking a dip in the gushing current of Ganges is set to wash away all your sins. The evening aarti (prayer) in Haridwar at Har ki Pauri is a must watch.

Haridvar

Tip: Be mindful of the conservative crowd and the religious significance of the place. Be careful of the priests and beggars. It is recommended to ignore them or turn them down humbly otherwise they will nag you. Additionally, once the aarti has concluded, the crowd rushes towards the river for blessings, either walk along with the crowd or step aside to avoid any accidents.

Rishikesh

Agra

Taj Mahal – It is the most famous Indian landmark in the world. It is a grand and beautiful building made of white marble by Emperor Shah Jahan after the death of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was commissioned by the Emperor in 1632 and completed entirely in 1653. The building is the best example of Mughal Architecture in India.

Tip: The Taj Mahal can be seen for 5 days at night every month, two days before and after the full moon and the full moon night itself. The light from the full moon makes the white marble glow.

Taj Mahal

Red Fort – The primary palace of the greater Mughal rulers, it is around 2km from the Taj Mahal. The fort is built of the red stone like many other buildings in India and houses some amazing examples of architecture from around India.

As the Taj Mahal was built after the Red Fort, from almost every part of the fort one can see the Taj Mahal. Also, walking around the Red Fort made me feel I was on the sets of the hindi movie, Jodha Akbar.

Tip: Guides are available at a small cost and they show you some amazing secrets of the fort.

Red Fort Agra

Vrindavan

It is the town where Lord Krishna was born and spent most of his young life. This is a small village around 2-3 hours from Delhi full of temples and religious fervor. This town has a lot of legends to tell of Krishna and Radha, his childhood sweetheart.

In our experience, we only went to Banke Bihari temple but stopped for the famous local lassi and aalo tikki chaat before taking the bus home.

Red Fort Agra

Modes of Transport

As Delhi is the capital of India and shares border with 2 states, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, there are lots of transport options available.

Metro

This is by far the best mode of transport within Delhi. The metro has connected most of the suburbs and attractions, thus making it very easy to move around.

Tip: The people at the station and inside the train are generally helpful so feel free to ask someone if you think you are unsure or feel lost.
The metro can be very crowded during peak time so be mindful of that.
Get yourself a smart card as queuing for tokens can be rather painful due to the crowd. Also, you will be saving some money too.

Tuk Tuks

In the city, tuk tuks use a meter system which avoids a lot of haggling for fare. Tuk tuks are generally used for distances more than 5km.

Rikshaw & eRikshaw (cycle cart)

The city offers rikshaw as a cheaper mode of transport for short distances, under 5km. These usually run based on sharing or you could hire an entire rikshaw by paying slightly more.

Hire Car / Shared Cabs

There are lots of private and shared cabs available around the city. Hotels usually provide car hiring service (with a driver) which can cost about Rs 1800-2000, ~AUD40.

Buses

For short getaways or day trips from Delhi, there are lots of inter-state buses operated by the Delhi and neighboring state government. Some of the popular routes have AC and Volvo bus options as well.
Alternatively, there are plenty of private buses operators too.

Trains

As India is a big country, it’s Railway System is very well connected. If you are keen to travel to other parts of India, train is a good option as well.
The Govt. have provided numerous online portals to check for train schedule, plan journey, check rates and also for booking.

Food Options

Street food

India is known of it’s street food and also the Delly Belly it can cause! Our recommendation is to skip these all together.

Halwai (sweet shop) & Dhaba

Local cuisine can be enjoyed from sweet shops and dhabas. These outlets usually prepare fresh food each day.
Tip: Ask your hotel operator or a local for recommendation.

Restaurant

There are lots of fast food and restaurant options available across the city, usually in malls. These outlets serve various cuisines from across India and other popular international cuisines with an Indian touch.

In and Around Delhi Gallery

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2 days in Colombo

We finished our Sri Lanka site seeing in Galle and decided to spend the final 2 days in Colombo before flying off.

We booked our stay in Colombo through Airbnb. This was our maiden attempt and we are impressed. The home-stay was with an older couple while their son, living in London, handled all Airbnb communications. The room setup was like a hotel, in fact, even better than hotel. Apart from having basic amenities, such as tea/coffee with an electric kettle, linen, they provided fruits and had a tiny notebook with necessary details such as, closest restaurant, Domino’s Delivery number and Wifi password.

Day 1

We chilled for a while before stepping out to see Colombo. Based on the research we had done, there wasn’t much to do in Colombo so we decided to take a bus to Fort and walk around the old central area of the city. The local bus was an experience to say the least, I have neither sweat so much in a bus nor seen so many people packed into a bus. We survived the bus ride and walked around Pettah area. The area has different markets in each street. At one point, we had a sense of dejavu when we thought we had been to a particular main road before. We then quickly realized that we had been there on our first day in Sri Lanka. However, as there were elections going on, the street was deserted at the time but was now full of people.

Being on a budget and backpacking is tough and we realize this each time we are in a Bakery in Sri Lankamarket. Pettah was no different and we could only look at things without buying. All the walking made us a little hungry and we ended up in a tea & bread house. The waiter gave us a whole tray of bread though we asked for only 2 with our tea. We were billed correctly but it was an interesting cultural experience as this is how Sri Lankans serve bread in tea houses.

After night fall, we walked aroGalle Road, Colombound some colonial parts of the city and took a tuk tuk to Galle Road. It is the sea facing road of Colombo and we saw kids flying kites and people enjoying the cool breeze at night. We then met Manuja, Shruti’s poly mate from Singapore. We had sheesha and a couple of drinks with him and his friends. It was nice catching up/meeting him and he took us around to a Sri Lankan Chinese takeaway.

Day 2

The next morning, we left a little late from the house. We took a tuk tuk to Arcade Independence Square. We didn’t know anything about it except that Manuja recommended it and there was a Burger King there. I say this because by now, we were done with the spicy local food and wanted to avoid a bad tummy before the flight. So for the first time since leaving Sydney, we had a big chain fast food for brunch.

Arcade Independence Square

The arcade itself was of British colonial style originally designed as a mental asylum. From there, we walked to the Independence Memorial Hall. Don Senanayake, whose statue was at the location, was the first Prime Minister of Independent Sri Lanka and the memorial is Independence Memorial Hallgrand and beautiful. Our next stop was the National Museum of Sri Lanka. The building was again colonial and we realised that all buildings in this part of Colombo were from British era. In addition, the streets were wide and full of trees.

The museum was full of knowledge of traditional agriculture, religion, warfare, architecture and art. The issue was though that the place had no airconditioning and the fans were not great. I can tell you, its not a lot of fun looking at history while sweating from humidity. We had to end the walk around the museum quickly and go to the museum cafe for some iced coffee.

OGangaramaya Temple, Colombour next stop was the Gangaramaya Buddhist temple. The temple itself is large with some amazing Buddha statues and Elephant tusks. There was a large Bodhi tree with a quiet stop for the Buddhists to pray and people to meditate. It was certainly a special experience feeling the quietness and devotion of the local population. A added extra was that this temple was the stop over point for the wedding parties. We saw brides and grooms in traditional and European attire and they were dressed beautifully.

This was also the case for the SeemSeema Malaka Temple, Colomboa Malaka buddhist temple close by. This temple is in the middle of a lake and is incredibly picturesque. Surrounded by green water, you can see some of the Colombo skyline behind the temple. After this, we basically walked back the way we came to the Arcade.

As we walked around the arcade again, we saw the Kaema Sutra Restaurant by Jacqueline Fernandez. Jacqueline is a Sri Lankan model who is now a Bollywood diva. Though we knew it was expensive, we couldn’t resist the charm of eating in her restaurant. In reality, I am glad we did as the food was beautiful. We tried the Tuna, Jack fruit and Potato curries with string hoppers, hoppers and rotis. We had a desert of Curd with palm syrup which was healthy and tasty. We caught a tuk tuk home and called it a night.

Tip: Always load Google Maps for the area you will exploring during the day. This way, even if you don’t have internet connection, you can never be lost. Also, always have your GPS on with Google Maps when using tuk tuks. Though the drivers are generally very good, sometimes there could be a miscommunication.

Budha in Colombo

In Summary

This leg of the tour started after Trincomalee and ended in Colombo. We crossed the entire breadth of Sri Lanka in 5 days. It was a whirlwind tour but it was definitely worth it. We experienced the food, culture, religion and the history of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has so much to offer to people and the tourism is starting to pick up after the war ended in 2009.

However, the best thing about Sri Lanka are its people. Everywhere we went, people were very nice to us. When they looked at us, they were very curious and asked if we were Indian. A lot of people then tried a few words of Hindi to make us smile. In addition, Sri Lanka is generally quite safe. We never felt threatened and unsafe even while dark.

Finally, Sri Lanka is quite cheap too. As long as you stay away from 5-star hotels and resorts catered for European tourists, you can have a decent holiday for small cash. Read about accommodation, transport and food costs in our previous post about Trincomalee.

Final Thoughts

In our time here, we only have one regret that we should have climbed Sigiriya rock. We gambled it for Adam’s Peak, which, though wasn’t completely disappointing, we didn’t enjoy the climb or the sunrise from up above. The drive from Trinco to Galle in two days was also a bad idea. When we reached Unawantuna beach, we were so tired that we couldn’t enjoy what it had to offer.

Though we didn’t visit them, Sri Lanka also has some amazing national parks with exotic animals. When we come back (and we definitely will!), we are sure to visit them. Likewise, we heard of Sri Lankans love for Cricket but never saw it. It would be a dream to watch a day of a test match in Galle!

I have high hopes for Sri Lanka. It now has a popular government, booming economy and increasing tourism. Sri Lankans are quite a disciplined and hard working people. The driving and zebra crossings showed us that Sri Lankans are happy to follow rules. Unlike India, we rarely heard the car horns in Sri Lanka. Our driver Asanga who happened to be from a less well off family, repeatedly asked us:

Driver: Do you think Sri Lanka can develop?

ArrangedTravelers: Hell Yea!

It also helps India. Most of the common vehicles in Sri Lanka are Indian ;)

Sri Lanka has lot of raw, untouched, natural beauty and while I hope for development,  I also wish the landscape does not get altered much and locals can maintain their warm hearts and welcoming nature.

Colombo Gallery

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