Wha't s a girl to do in/around Delhi on very short notice business trip with very few days to explore?
July 18, 2010 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Going to Delhi to work in our local office for three weeks this coming Saturday...I'll have to work for most of the trip but there will be one normal and one/two long weekends before I go back home - so where's a girl to go to explore on her days off?

I've never been to India, I know it's going to be very hot and wet this time of year. But this may be the only time I get to visit the country so I am determined to make the most of this trip.

I know Agra and Jaipur are accessible from Delhi and that's probably all I do know at the moment...the whole trip only came up a couple of weeks ago and in fact wasn't fully rubberstamped until last Thursday hence the shocking lack of research on my part.

My colleagues in Delhi will undoubtedly have suggestions and be able to help me organise something but I am keen to hear what the hivemind has to suggest - I am after specific ideas for places to go and how to get there that are feasible given the constraints of time/distance and average speed of travel. Anything you wish you'd known before you went to India, i.e. general pointers are also welcome!
posted by koahiatamadl to Travel & Transportation around New Delhi, India (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely go see the Taj Mahal if you are going to Delhi, I myself haven't had a chance so can't say much about how you arrange the logistics of the trip. Sorry.
posted by VickyR at 2:27 PM on July 18, 2010

Reading City of Djinns by William Dalrymple made me really regret my short-sighted decision to spend only a couple days in Delhi when I was there a few years ago. Some of the places I'll go when (!!!) I go back are the Qutub Minar, Jantar Mantar (though there is a similar observatory in Jaipur you'll probably see), Purana Qila, and Humayun's Tomb.

I especially loved the museum dedicated to Gandhi on the grounds of the house where he was assassinated. I believe people just call it the Gandhi Museum, but it might have another official name. It'll be in any decent guidebook.

I also liked the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, which are pretty much #1 and #2 on any Must See list of sights in Delhi. Old Delhi was a fascinating neighborhood to wander in.

If you get any real time in Agra (which I quite liked despite its reputation), check out Fatehpur Sikri, which was the city Akbar built to be his capital. I thought Agra Fort was as beautiful and fascinating as the Taj, if not moreso. There's also a beautiful park on the opposite side of the Yamuna river that faces onto the back of the Taj Mahal.

To give you a sense of time and transport and all that, I found that In two days I was able to see the Gandhi Museum (and some of the nearby New Delhi sites like the India Gate), Old Delhi and the Red Fort/Jama Masjid, time hanging out around Connaught Place, and an afternoon at Dilli Haat. All either on foot or via autorickshaw, with Paharganj as my base of operations. If you're going to be working in Gurgaon or South Delhi, you might have a totally different frame of reference.

For Agra, I was able to see everything mentioned except Fatehpur Sikri in about a day and a half. You'd need another day for that, I think. There are super-express trains from Delhi to Agra which make the Taj Mahal a potential day trip, but you probably couldn't fit a whole lot into that day. Also, the Taj is gorgeous as the sun rises, so it's good to spend the night so you can be waiting at the gate at opening time.
posted by Sara C. at 2:45 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Taj and Jama Masjid - the latter is a stunningly beautiful mosque and, well, you just cannot go to India without seeing the Taj. It was actually a bit of a let-down, since I've seen so many pictures of it, but still, you have to go. Connaught Place is a fun place to hang around, though very tourist-oriented.

My favorite thing to do in India (well, anywhere, really, but especially in India) is just wander around. Hire a cab for the day because Delhi is enormous, get some recs from locals in the office, and just wander around some neighborhoods, markets, etc. Delhi is sort of sensory overload, especially in the monsoon season - just dive right in.

Oh, and definitely ask the people in your office for recommendations of good neighborhoods to explore, both from a safety and an interest point of view. Do be prepared, though, for people to be a bit over-cautious in their safety warnings - even among pretty modern people in India, I found a lot of people who didn't seem to think it was safe for a young woman to be on her own at all. Of course, you can use this to your advantage - get them to take you around their own neighborhood - that's the absolute best way to see the city. I got to see a lot of cool things because someone decided to take me under their wing as their "didi" (word meaning "sister" but also seemed to be used for a woman you feel protective of/kinship with)

If you can, try to get to Varanasi. It's a long train trip for a weekend, but I think you can fly, and it's an absolutely amazing city, like nothing else you'll ever see in your life.

Oh, and normally I don't make a big deal about such warnings, but be mindful of water-born diseases. The rainy season is the worst for this, and they don't call it "Delhi-belly" for nothing. FWIW, I only ever got sick when I ate western-style food.

Have fun!
posted by lunasol at 3:34 PM on July 18, 2010

Adding my voice to Jama Masjid. There is a great restaurant across the way from the main entrance gate called Karim's (just ask) which serves the best traditional mughal food.
If you have a craving for sanity in the heat, go to the Oberoi and relax and get ready to deal with the world again a few hours later.
posted by london302 at 3:51 PM on July 18, 2010

I've been to Delhi probably dozens of times - arriving in India, leaving again, and as a hub to get to the next Northern destination.

I'd recommend a few clustered groups of attractions:

One day: Jama Masjid (eat tasty mughal food nearby), Red Fort & the warren of streets in Old Delhi, south of Chandni Chowk. I find that the Red Fort is kinda empty & not all that interesting inside, but if you're there you might as well take a look around. Chandni Chowk is a famous old market street that runs directly westwards from the Red Fort. Nowadays, it's a horrific & polluted traffic jam, but turn south & you'll wander through all kinds of narrow alleyways with tiny little shops - each alley devoted to a different trade: schoolbooks, sandals, tinsel, rubber stamps, jewellery, etc. It's a great place to get lost in, but you might want to bring a local friend and/or a compass. It's not *that* far a walk back to Connaught Place from Chandni Chowk through this neighbourhood, but it will take you at least an hour or two.

Another day: Humuyun's Tomb, Safdarjang's Tomb, Lodi Gardens & Nizamuddin's Tomb. H & S tombs were forerunners of the Taj, and are very impressive in their own right. Lodi Gardens are a tranquil respite from all the chaos, and have heaps more tiny mausoleums dotted about, and middle class families picknicking. Nizamuddin's Tomb is a must, but as a single female you might want to bring a local friend. It's dedicated to a famous sufi saint-musician, and in the evenings especially, groups of qawwali musicians set up their instruments & sing praises of Allah & the saint. It's a really special place. I only recommend the local friend because single females can attract a lot of attention in India, Nizamuddin's tomb is very crowded, and you have to get through half a mile of a poorer neighbourhood to get there from the main road. It's well worth it, though, and you'll be made to feel very welcome. Great halal tandoori food nearby.

Long weekend: Agra. It's around 4-5 hours from Delhi. Agra Fort (much better than the Red Fort), Taj Mahal, and a second day for Fatehpur Sikri (around 1-2 hours from Agra).

Miscellaneous time: Connaught Place just to wander around, and the Jantar Mantar is right next to it. I've personally never been to the Qutb Minar or the Bahai Temple, but people seem to like them.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:21 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your colleagues are the best resource, but here's what I know:
Agra is in theory at least a long day trip. Take the Bhopal Shatabdi leaving Delhi at ~6am, get to Agra at 8, spend the day with a guided tour, take the 8pm return train arriving back in Delhi at 10:30pm, assuming the trains are on time, etc. Since both the Taj and Fatehpur Sikri are walking tours the only real break you'll get is during the drives between sites, lunch, and the obligatory tourist trap shopping trip. I would not advise doing it this way. A better way is to take the train down one day, spend the next taking a guided day tour, and then back that evening or the next day. That way you can see the Taj at sunset or moonlight.
Your hotel in Delhi and Agra should be able to arrange a day tour for you. In both this case and in Agra I would recommend you get the private car and tour guide. Again, after lunch there will be a stop at some store where you'll get a short lecture on the product (in Agra, soapstone carvings and in Delhi probably Kashmiri rugs) followed by the opportunity to purchase items at a "special tourist rate". Especially in Delhi ask your colleagues on where to go shopping. The government stores will definitely give you more honest prices.
Another advantage of an hotel-arranged tour is that they have a record of who you're with, and it's in their interest to make sure you're safe and enjoy the tour. Get a list of the sites you're going to visit from the hotel and make sure you're taken to all of those. My driver and guide in Delhi were discussing whether to give us the abbreviated version when I responded in Hindi that I would prefer the full tour that I'd paid for (our family looked like your typical American tourists, but I grew up in India). The look on their faces was priceless, and once that was straight they were actually quite informative.
posted by Runes at 6:32 PM on July 18, 2010

A afternoon spent wandering around Edwin Lutyens/Herbert Baker's New Delhi will be time well spent. From India Gate to Rashtrapathi Bavan is a decent walk. Your firm may be able to arrange access to a lot of the grander buildings. The more domestic villas are an enchanting mix of European and Mughal classical styles.
posted by Dr.Pill at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everybody - you've given me plenty of things to look forward to!
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:30 PM on July 22, 2010

Great recommendations on this thread. A couple of more ideas in case you are looking for something slightly different (from culture):

- Bharatpur is an interesting bird sanctuary. A very long time ago, I had cycled from Bharatpur to Fatehpur Sikri (the capital that Akbar built and left) and back; I think it is about 12 kms one way. It may not be viable to do this on cycle any more in that part of India, but both are worth visiting and possible to do in a day.

- Sariska is an interesting tiger sanctuary very near Delhi (in Rajasthan)

- The Himalayan foothills are actually not too far from Delhi. I believe there are now roads all the way to Gomukh, the source of the river Ganges. It may be somewhat strenuous to try to do this in 3-4 days, but this may be worth looking into if you are a mountain person. The hike up to Tapovan - from Gangotri (on a clear morning) will get you a spectacular view of the Sivaling peaks. If you do choose to try something as crazy as that, keep in mind that Tapovan at an altitude of 14000+ fts ..

Have a great time in India!
posted by justlooking at 10:23 PM on July 27, 2010

The Himalayan foothills are actually not too far from Delhi. I believe there are now roads all the way to Gomukh, the source of the river Ganges. It may be somewhat strenuous to try to do this in 3-4 days, but this may be worth looking into if you are a mountain person.

Normally, I'd endorse this but right now it's the height of the monsoon in the North, and the last thing you want to do is go driving around the foothills at that time.

Unless, of course, your idea of a good time is being stranded waiting for landslides to clear, with little option of backtracking because 1) you'd have to reverse for miles as you can't turn around on the narrow roads and 2) you've got a convoy of buses & Tata trucks hemming you in from behind, anyway.

But Bharatpur is nice (the town itself, and Keoladeo National Park), along with Deeg & Alwar, both in the same area. I'd imagine they're all visitable in a day, returning from Agra, assuming you have a car & driver.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:45 PM on July 27, 2010

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