If you’re visiting India, most likely your flight will land in Delhi. It is a massive city and can confuse anyone that’s not familiar with it. It is divided into 6 main zones – North, South, East, West, Central and Old Delhi. It has an interesting history – it was destroyed and rebuilt many times, a fact that’s evident in many landmarks all over the city.
I won’t talk about Delhi’s history or popular points of interest in this post. I have a detailed travel guide to Delhi where you can find all that information and information about 30 amazing places to visit in this city of Djinns. Instead, this post contains some super important travel tips for Delhi and should be read before you visit the city.
Please don’t believe everything that you read on the internet. I have lived in Delhi for many years and some so called “facts” about the city just make me laugh. This is the first post for Delhi Travel Tips in Backpacker’s Guide to Delhi. Here’s a list of 21 things that you need to keep in mind while visiting Delhi:
Delhi Travel Tips
01 | When to visit Delhi
Visit Delhi in the months of February, March, October or November. Delhi has unbearable summers and foggy winters so please avoid those seasons. Although Delhi rains are unpredictable, but it usually rains around the months of July and August. Delhi does look beautiful when it rains but the city’s already slow traffic comes to a standstill. It is only in the months of February, March, October or November is when you won’t be uncomfortably hot or cold when you go out to see the city’s heritage sites, like Qutub Minar.
02 | Language in Delhi
You will not face any language barrier in most of the parts of Delhi. Hindi is the most commonly spoken language in Delhi but most of the locals speak really good English. Even if you meet someone who doesn’t speak English, they will surely understand basic words like no, yes, please, excuse me, sorry, bye and thank you. Learning a few Hindi words and phrases will definitely be an added advantage. Here are some of the most commonly used words:
Bhaiyya – it means big brother and it is commonly used in Delhi to address older men in a friendly way. One can also use the Hindi word Bhai as “Bro”.
Didi – it means sister, usually older. It is often used in Delhi when addressing an older woman.
Kitne ka hai? – This means “how much is it for” and learning this will help you in case you decide something from a local shop.
App kaise hain? – It is one of the politest ways to ask “how are you?”.
Main theek hoon? – It is a gender neutral way to say “I”m doing well”.
Dhanyaavaad or Shukriya – Both of them mean “thank you”. You don’t really need to remember this because “thank you” or “thanks” is used more commonly in Delhi as compared to the Hindi words.
Thanda – this means cold. This word will surely be useful when you have to buy cold water or drinks.
Garam – it means hot.
03 | Delhi is Very Crowded
Get used to the crowds because Delhi is one of the most populated cities in India. The people of Delhi are called Delhi-ites. It is a melting pot of many different cultures due to a heavy inflow of migrants from all over the country. You can experience many different cultures from all over India in this city.
04 | Nightlife in Delhi
Delhi has a culture of an “early nightlife” because most bars don’t have the permit to remain open post 12:30 am. If you’re planning on buying your own alcohol to drink in your room, ask your Hotel or Hostel staff to guide you to the nearest “Wine and Beer shop”. These shops shut at 10:00 pm.
If you want to experience Delhi nightlife, you can visit the bars around Hauz Khas Village, Khan Market, Connaught Place, DLF Cyber Hub and GK 1 M Block.
05 | Festivals in Delhi
Holi (February or March) and Diwali (October or November) are the most popular Indian festivals and you will surely enjoy celebrating them in Delhi.
Holi is a festival of colors and can be a lot of fun in Delhi but please try to find a local family or a friend who can invite you to celebrate with them. I wrote a detailed article with tips for enjoying Holi in India, do check it out.
Diwali is a festival of lights, fireworks and Puja and it’s one of the biggest festivals of India. The festivities actually last for a month and it is surely fun to be in Delhi around this time. I have so much to say about Diwali that I think I will have to write a separate blog post about it. But in short, you can expect good food, sweets, Diwali Mela (Fair), Dusshera, Diwali parties with card games, fireworks, beautifully decorated houses and more.
06 | Food in Delhi
Delhi has the BEST food. Period. You can find some of the best Mughalai curries, chaat (vegetarian street food), international restaurants and cuisines from all over India.
Make some local friends and get them to take you to their favorite places. Vegetarians and vegans will LOVE Delhi food. I strongly recommends these restaurant chains that are all over Delhi – Kebab Gali for Indian curries, Haldiram’s for typical Delhi vegetarian food, Karim’s for Old Delhi style curries, Sagar Ratna for Dosas, Asian Haus for home delivery of Asian food, Sushi Haus for home delivery of sushi, Dee’s Biriyani for Biryanis and Chawla chick inn for Indian curries.
Delhi Travel Tips: Delhi’s Famous Tandoori Chicken in Biryani Inc. Restaurant
07 | Drinking Water in Delhi
ONLY drink bottled water, unless you’re invited to a local resident’s home where they have their own RO (reverse osmosis) filter system. This also applies to ice because tap water ice cubes can make you sick.
08 | Delhi Belly
Have you heard of Delhi Belly? If you’re not from India, most likely you WILL develop a case of “Delhi Belly” in the first week of your visit to Delhi so please carry your diarrhea medicine. It usually lasts for just a day but can last for 2 or 3 in total. Don’t eat melons or papaya if you develop a “Delhi Belly” but curd rice or bananas will help.
09 | Toilets in Delhi
Yes, you need to carry toilet paper in Delhi. Although most of the hotels have them but some don’t. Urban India’s method of sanitation is a “water gun” kind of a jet sprinkler that cleans bums efficiently – better than using just toilet paper. This is called a toilet jet. Try it – you will feel so clean and you won’t ever go back to using only toilet paper after number two.
10 | Cultural Shock
Prepare to be shocked. Some aspects of Delhi, such as poverty, beggars, will seriously shock you. It still shocks me and makes me sad whenever I go back to Delhi, even though I have lived there for many years.
You will also see a lot of people throwing trash literally everywhere, so expect to see some dirty sidewalks and streets. I wish there was a way to clean up Delhi because it needs some serious work. Don’t let these things destroy your Delhi experience, so keep your mind open to accept the differences.
11 | Public Display of Affection
Public Display of Affection is not the best idea in many parts of Delhi. However as per my personal experience, holding hands is totally cool. It also depends upon where in Delhi are you because many areas of South Delhi are a little more liberal than the rest of Delhi, so be mindful of where you are.
12 | Negotiating and Prices
Bargain everywhere. The simplest way is to cut the quoted price in half and then negotiate your way to a middle figure. Bargaining works even in big designer showrooms – I did this while buying my wedding attire.
13 | Scams in Delhi
Be careful of touts – they’re everywhere! If you land in Delhi’s international airport, please directly head to the pre-paid taxi booth. If you arrive by train, please be prepared of many touts that will harass you to go to the hotel or hostel that they recommend. Many of them will try to send you to a dingy hostel in Paharganj – don’t!
Delhi has a lot of affordable hostels in better areas that are easily connected via Delhi metro. I get to witness this on many occasions when I travel with San. He’s from Germany and it’s hilarious how the touts always surround him!
14 | Useful Apps for Traveling in Delhi
There is an app called Zomato (and website) that is the SINGLE most useful resource to eating out and to know about the night life in Delhi. You can find information about almost every restaurant, read their menus, check reviews, get an idea about the prices and location coordinates. This is a very useful app because you can get a sense of where to eat and what to order for your budget.
Delhi people seriously love their food and enjoy sharing reviews on Zomato and social media along with food photos. If you ever look for Delhi’s popular hashtags on Instagram – #DelhiGram, #SoDelhi, #DelhiDiaries – you will mostly see food.
Another very useful app to survive in Delhi is Ola Cabs and at times it is cheaper than even tuk tuks. I often used to travel by tuk tuks but I now regularly use Ola Cabs whenever I go back to Delhi. It’s because it can be stressful to sometimes find a tuk tuk and negotiate to a decent price.
15 | Delhi Metro is the Best Way to Get Around
The best way to get around is Delhi Metro which connects most parts of Delhi really well. It has a separate dedicated coach for female passengers, which is usually the first coach. Click here for more information. Additionally, Delhi has a massive fleet of tuk-tuks which are more commonly known as auto rickshaws or just autos for short. Don’t forget to negotiate if you decide to ride one. For traveling at night, I recommend you avail an app-based taxi service by Ola Cabs which is I mentioned in the previous post and is tracked by GPS.
Delhi Travel Tips: Delhi Metro, Image from Wikipedia
16 | Get Used to the Stares
People in North India tend to stare a lot. Please don’t be offended because most of them do this out of curiosity. Get used to it and don’t let this make you uncomfortable.
A massive chunk of Delhi’s population comprises of migrant labourers, who enter Delhi from the neighboring states every single day to find employment. Many of them come from extremely remote villages with a completely different kind of life as compared to Delhi. For them, seeing extremely modernized Indian women is a massive culture shock. It is even a bigger shock when they see people from other countries. This is why they stare. They don’t mean to be rude at all but they’re curious!
17 | Personal Space
The concept of personal space is almost nonexistent, not just in Delhi but all over India. Whether you’re standing in a queue or traveling in the metro, get used to moving shoulder-to-shoulder.
Delhi Travel Tips: No “personal space”. Image by Reddit
18 | Delhi for Solo Women Travelers
This has been said before many times but I think it is my duty to tell you – dress sensibly and don’t walk around alone at night. As a thumb rule, try to blend in with the locals and wear what you see them wearing.
It’s completely okay to wear a pair of shorts and walk around in places that are popular among the youth such as Hauz Khas Village, Khan Market, etc. However, wearing the same thing in conservative areas such as old Delhi or train stations will attract unnecessary attention and is almost as good as inviting trouble.
19 | Transport from Delhi Airport
Transport to and from Delhi Airport – Delhi airport (Indira Gandhi International Airport) is around one hour away from the main city. If you are a woman traveler and your flight lands in the middle of the night, it’s a good idea to stay in the airport till early morning (5 am) and then move on to your hostel or hotel. The airport is connected to the main city by Delhi Metro, and the station is right outside IGI Airport’s Gate 4. This metro line runs from 5 am to 11:30 pm.
Alternatively, for safe Delhi airport transfer, you can pre book your ride with Blacklane and have one of their professional drivers pick you up in a luxurious car.
20 | Bug Spray
Carry a bug spray or insect repellent. Although a lot of mosquito bites will only cause you irritation, but some may cause Dengue or Malaria. I have suffered from Dengue once and it was horrible. If you end up catching any sickness like this – just write to me, I will do the best to help you.
21 | Delhi Weddings Are Awesome
Of course, you’ve heard that Indian weddings are big. But you must keep in mind that Delhi weddings are massive. Try to get yourself invited for one while you’re there. Indian weddings don’t really have a major restriction on the guest counts.
How to get yourself invited? Super simple. When you meet the locals, wait for them to mention that their “friend’s friend’s third cousin” is getting married. At that point make a dreamy face and say that you’ve always wanted to see an Indian wedding. That’s it. I bet they will try everything they can to make it possible for you. Psst – if you do end up going then don’t be cheap. Carry a wedding gift that’s useful.
I had a “small” wedding by Delhi standards and it had close to 300 people. Attending a Delhi wedding is a “must do” experience.
Emergency Numbers: 100 for police, 101 for the fire department and 102 for an ambulance.
It is possible to love and hate Delhi at the same time. I recommend you carry your camera around – who knows, you may spot a lazy cow chilling on the road while the rest of the traffic comes to a standstill or a monkey enjoying a motorbike ride with his human friend. Delhi has a lot of interesting sights and it never fails to surprise me even after living here for many years. Stay tuned for more Delhi Travel Tips in the “Backpacker’s guide to Delhi” series for information about where to stay, what not to miss, what to eat and where to drink.
Where to visit after Delhi:
Kasol and Parvati valley in the Himalayas
Dharamkot & Dharamshala – India’s little Tibet in Himachal and the residence of the current Dalai Lama
Old Manali – was a part of the original hippie train
Varanasi – the spiritual capital of India
Jaisalmer in Rajasthan
Kheerganga in the Himalayas
Or, you can get on a flight to Goa to enjoy beaches.
For more destinations, check out my India Travel page.
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