3 Days in Delhi

Only have 3 Days in Delhi? Here is my guide to where to go to maximize your time here!

Day One

Morning

Tomb of Safdarjung

(Entry Fee: 200 Rupees)

 

An underrated, mostly deserted attraction - you're greeted by this stunning view as you enter.

 

I found the intricate plasterwork on the inner ceilings of the main tomb to be absolutely spectacular. 

 

The red color of the tomb comes from the sandstone and buff stone. This was the first place we saw when we landed in Delhi and it was a nice warmup to all the Mughal architecture we were about to see!

 

Lunch
 

Mamagoto
(About 800 Rupees per person)
Great restaurant focusing on Asian food. Don't know what to get? Any of the two person bowls are recommended.

 

Afternoon

Humayun's Tomb
(Entry Fee: 500 Rupees)


Humayun's Tomb, the inspiration behind the iconic Taj Mahal, was built by Hamida Banu Begum, the wife of the second Mughal emperor Humayan. It's a large sprawling complex with over 100 graves (many unmarked) and lush gardens to relax in away from the din of the city.

Dinner:

Soda Bottle Opener Wala
(650 Rupees per person)

 

Day Two

Morning

Walk around Old Delhi (try to do motorized tuk tuk to get there)
I found the view at the top of Gadodia Market to be quite stunning. This middle floors of this spice market building is mostly comprised of dried pepper vendors, so bring a scarf to cover your mouth since the smell might be irritating to your throat.

 

After that wander around the small meandering streets of Old Delhi. It might be a bit overwhelming if you're not prepared for the chaos, noise, and smells of it all. 

 

If you can, try to make your way slowly to the Haveli Dharampura Hotel. The original haveli was built in the late 1800's but was abandoned and discovered in much deteriorated shape. The owner took 6 long years to beautifully restore it, keeping in mind the original character and Mughal architecture. 

If you're not a hotel guest, they charge a small fee for you to enter and walk around, but I think if you eat lunch or have some tea you can also enter for free that way.

 

Lunch
 

If you didn't eat lunch at the Haveli Dharampura, there is actually a McDonalds on the way to the Red Fort. I recommend eating there because I was unable to find anything safe to eat inside Old Delhi. Also, McDonald's inside India is pretty delicious! I especially liked the Puri Puri Fries and the McAloo Tiki. Remember, cows are regarded as holy in India, so you won’t find any beef served anywhere!

Afternoon
 

Red Fort
(Entry Fee: 150 Rupees)
The Red Fort, where the Prime Minister gives the annual Independence Day Speech, is a symbol of national pride. It was constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan when he decided to move the capital from Agra to Delhi. It took 10 years to complete the fort due to the complexity and scope of the project.

 

An interesting fact about the Red Fort, is that wasn't always red. It was originally white due to its limestone facade. But when parts of the limestone started falling off, the British painted everything red. 

 

Dinner

Walk around Hauz Khas Village and then eat at

Rang De Basanti Urban Dhaba
One of the best restaurants we had for Indian Food. 
Recommended: Chai, Naan, Aloo Moti Karare, Dal Makhani, and anything the server recommends! :)

Or
Coast Cafe

Dessert:

Make sure you check out Natural Ice Cream - they had some of the most flavorful and fresh tasting ice cream I've ever had. They use so much fruit in their ice cream along with very high quality milk. For me it rivaled the best ice cream shops in San Francisco, Portland, and Italy. 

My favorite flavors were custard apple (sitaphal), pistachio, ginger honey, chikoo, grape, and carrot halwa. The flavors sound simple, but each scoop was simply bursting with natural flavor. You could really see they put a large amount of fruit in each batch of ice cream. 

Day Three

Morning
 

Akshardham
(Entry Fee: Free!)

Akshardham is one of the largest comprehensive Hindu temples in the world. It was completely back in 2005 and was a group effort  from over 11,000 artists and many more volunteers. 

The main temple has the most intricate, detailed handicraft and artwork. I'm not sure if I'd try any of the paid activities such as the light show or the cultural boat tour. I found them overly kitchy and cheesy. 

Some tips: 
Since this attraction is free, it tends to draw massive crowds. Try to go early to miss the afternoon crowds.

Also, they don’t allow backpacks, purses, phones, and cameras inside. So don't bring any of that with you or you'll have to wait in a long cloak room line to check it all in. We had to wait over an hour to check our stuff.

Lunch:
Farzi Cafe

Afternoon
Jantar Mantar
(100 rupees)
Jantar ('instrument') Mantar ('calculation') directly translates to 'calculation instrument'. It was built in 1724 by Jai Singh who had a keen interest in science and astronomy. 

 

Jantar Mantar contains many astronomical instruments that do cool things such as determine the position of the sun, read horizontal and vertical angles, and obtain the meridian altitudes.

 

If you have extra time you can check out the Lodi Gardens
It's free and a nice swath of greenery in the middle of Delhi.


Dinner

(Splurge):
Masala Library
Modern 5 star Haute Indian Cuisine. Worth checking out if you want a memorable gastronomic experience.

Or go back to Haus Khas Village or Khan Market for dinner.

Things I Wish I Had Known Before Visiting India

Create an Indian Railway and Cleartrip account so you can purchase rail tickets online

Everything in India moves at it’s own pace - just like creating an online account with the Indian Railway system. In my case it took about three weeks for them to approve and activate my account. It will definitely be faster if you’re an Indian national, but in my case and probably most people reading this, you’ll need to allocate at least 3-4 weeks for this.

When you go to their user signup page - fill everything out as usual. You’ll notice though in the mobile section they ask for an Indian mobile number. I saw on some forums that just entering a bunch of 0’s worked for this part, but it kept on erroring out when I tried this. I ended up having to look up phone numbers in Delhi and just putting one in there. For example you can find phone numbers to use on Zomato - which btw is India’s version of Yelp.

After you successfully register, you will get an email from IRCTC with your user id.  You’ll then need to email care@irctc.co.in with your email, user id, and a copy of your passport asking them to activate your account. You should get an automated response that they received an email. Here is where the waiting part starts. From what I’ve seen the average time is between 2-3 weeks for account activation. Mine came about 3 weeks later.

In the meantime, go ahead and make an account on Cleartrip. They've made booking a reservation on Indian Rail super simple and easy. I’d highly recommend it over using the actual Indian Rail site, which is convoluted and hard to use. Once you have an activated Indian Rail account you can buy tickets on Cleartrip with your Indian Rail account login. 
 


If riding Indian Rail, understand the classes

After hearing many horror stories about overcrowded trains and bug infested seats on the Indian Rail, I was quite traumatized when booking tickets. Basically, my recommendation to you is that if you can grab a seat that is labeled Chair - do it. From my experience booking tickets there were two kinds of Chair Classes - Executive Chair and Chair Car. 

If you can’t find a chair class seat, the minimum I’d probably go with is AC First Class. They consist of benches and they usually cram too many people onto each bench. There is a lack of personal space in India, so you will get jostled, nudged, and stared at the whole ride. If that’s something you’re prepared for, then you’ll be ok in this class. Also, AC 2nd class and so forth down the line, conditions just deteriorate. 
 


But If You Can Fly, Do It

Transportation between cities is definitely a pain point in India. My advice is if you can fly nonstop from one city to another, do it. It sure beats dealing with the complicated rail system or having to pay a private driver, which often costs more than a plane ticket. 
 


Hiring a driver between cities

If there are no planes or decent rail options, try to have your hotel arrange a private driver for you. I’d bring along some dramamine or ginger candy for motion sickness because you’ll be in for some major swerving and stop n go driving for the next 5-6 hours.  
 


Get and Indian SIM card and Data Plan after you land

Having an Indian Data Plan is extremely useful while visiting India. You can use it to book Uber, use free wifi at hotspots (all free wifi hotspots require an Indian mobile), find places to eat on Zomato, navigate your way around cities with google maps, etc. We bought a SIM card with Airtel, which had great coverage for us.  

Important: You’ll need to provide them with a Passport Photo and a copy of your travel visa. So before you fly to India print those out and have them with you.

The way Airtel works is that you’ll need to add money to your account and then through the Airtel app or physical store you pick a data plan. I picked the 3g/4g plan with 2.5 GB of data for 28 days. It cost me roughly 350 rupees (~$5 USD). Recharging my data plan was painless with the Airtel mobile app. 


Zomato to discover food!


Zomato (https://www.zomato.com/) is India’s version of Yelp. They’re not in all cities, but they were in most cities that I visited. Be sure to create an account, do some research, and bookmark places you like. When you get to India, you can then open the app and easily find all the places you liked! 
 


Stick to safe places for food

Related to Zomato - if you’re not a local, please please stick to restaurants and more modern looking places. If a place looks questionable, don’t even risk it. Indian standards for cleanliness are just different from Western standards. Why spend 2-3 days marooned in your hotel room running back and forth to the toilet over the risk of eating that questionable looking curry? Definitely never ever eat any street food, no matter how delicious it smells or looks. 

We definitely followed our own advice until about week two when we got a little courageous and had lunch at a questionable looking restaurant. It had tons of good reviews on TripAdvisor but looked kind of unclean and not the place any non locals would eat at. We threw caution to the wind and went against our gut (literally and figuratively) to eat here. What followed was 3 days of the most intense food poisoning I’ve ever had while traveling. We also pretty much lost the chance to explore the city we were in and had semi upset stomachs the rest of our time in India as a result. 


Bring Pepto!

It’s hard not to get a slight case of Delhi Belly even when eating at modern restaurants, so bring Pepto to help soothe your stomach the first week you’re here in India. I wasn’t able to find any Pepto in the pharmacies, so make sure you bring enough. 


If you do get Delhi Belly

Bring Cipro with you or get it at the pharmacy when you land. It’s like a magic bullet for food poisoning.


All the staring

Indian people don’t have the social stigma against staring that we have in the West. You will get stared and gawked at for uncomfortably long periods of time. If you’re a white female, also be prepared for tons of photo requests from locals while you’re at any tourist location. Just embrace it like you’re some kind of celebrity or something! 😃 
 


Air mask for the Pollution


I knew that there was pollution in the cities, but nothing prepared me for the thick layer of smog covering Delhi everyday. The city had a smell of burnt rubber which permeated everything, including my taste buds. I’d highly recommend getting a pack of pollution masks to wear, especially when riding a tuk tuk in heavy traffic. I’ve used the 3M N95 Masks before in Thailand and they worked very well. 
 


Use Uber to properly price a Tuk Tuk


If you have Uber installed and have a data plan, you can quickly price out what it *should* cost to get from one place to another. Then, if you’re in a situation where a tuk tuk is more convenient than an Uber - you know what price point to negotiate the tuk tuk down to.
 


Bring cash with you, no matter what


After 10 years of traveling all over the world, you can get too comfortable with certain things. I definitely did on my last trip to India by only bringing $50 in cash. I figured that I would just withdraw money from the ATM’s there like everywhere I’d been. In most cases that would have worked but I happened to arrive in India during the Great Demonetization of 2016 where Prime Minister Modi effectively removed 87% of the currency from the market, making cash extremely hard to come by. As a result, it was a harrowing first couple of days for us because we couldn’t find any rupees. 
 

The great cash crunch of 2016 - India!

For anyone traveling to India or already inside the country, you’re pretty much going to be affected by the recent demonetization initiative led by the Prime Minister Modi. Basically, about a month ago, the Indian government shocked the hell out of everyone by declaring all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes invalid. This constituted about 87% of the total cash currency market which, as you can imagine, caused total mayhem in India. As if India wasn’t already crazy enough…

 Hour long lines at any ATMs rumored to have cash

Hour long lines at any ATMs rumored to have cash

 Most ATMs looked like this. Disabled and empty of cash.

Most ATMs looked like this. Disabled and empty of cash.


This ‘shock and awe’ demonetization was squarely aimed at all the corruption and ‘under the table’ deals going on in the country. Modi and his cabinet deliberately kept the whole plan in secret to prevent people from having time to move their illegally obtained money elsewhere. The reason being that you only had 50 days to convert all those 500 and 1000 note rupees to new notes at banks, thus declaring your net worth to the bank and the government. 

 Monetary chaos ruled newspaper headline the whole time we were there

Monetary chaos ruled newspaper headline the whole time we were there

 A familiar sight everywhere in India

A familiar sight everywhere in India


A big price to pay to root out corruption, as most of the population here seems to majorly affected by the cash crunch. Most ATM’s I saw had hour long lines or were completely empty. Even if you could get to an ATM, there was a daily withdrawal limit of 2,500 rupees (approx $38). That’s plenty enough to get by here in India, but if you were planning to hit a boatload of temples, attractions, and nice restaurants - you’d probably end up having to go to the ATM more than once. But who wants to spend their valuable vacation time waiting in hour long ATM lines?

 Our failed attempt to get cash from a Western Union 

Our failed attempt to get cash from a Western Union 

 This is what some ATM lines looked like.. but haha this is the line for the Taj Mahal

This is what some ATM lines looked like.. but haha this is the line for the Taj Mahal


Here are some tips on what helped me the cash situation in India. 

Find working ATMs through the power of crowdsourcing

Cash No Cash - Website where you can search by address or postal code to see which ATM’s have been reported to have cash.

Walnut Mobile App - An app that has a crowdsourced showing whether ATM’s have long or short queues.

Live ATM search map - A live feed of ATM searches on the walnut app. Not that useful, but cool to see.

 

Go to the rich neighborhoods to find ATMs

Some of the more upper scale parts of town reportedly tend to have more cash in their ATMs as well as shorter lines. Some places to look in New Delhi would be on Parliament, Shashtri Bhavan or North Avenue.

 

Leverage your network.

You may not know it but you probably have a friend of a friend who knows someone living in India who can help. Just a quick status update on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram could bring out help from places you had no idea existed. For example, we reached out on Facebook and within a couple hours we were connected with someone in India who helped us out tremendously. So yeah, you never know!

 
 Courier from a friend of a friend who helped us out! 

Courier from a friend of a friend who helped us out! 

 

 

Online forums
Try local travel forums such as Couchsurfing, Virtual Tourist, and Flyertalk. There are locals and well versed travelers on these forums who could possibly help you out. 

 

If you can, before you leave for India, see if your bank will exchange your currency into rupees. Otherwise bring a good amount of your local currency and exchange as much as you can at the airport. Expect long lines at the currency exchange counters at India airports.

 

Above all, know that almost everyone here in India is massively affected by this. Most of them are sympathetic to your problem as they are mostly likely in the same boat.