Coming in to India is overwhelming from the very moment you step out of your flight. The noise, the chaos, the traffic in the streets, you are sure to feel overwhelmed by everything around you during your first minutes in India.
And getting in was not an easy task.
After our first flight was delayed due to bad weather and an almost missed connection, we finally hit ground on New Delhi at around 1AM…only to realize that our bags had not made the trip with us and had stayed in Frankfurt. But “no worries my friend” the airline guy said, “we call airline and we get your bags here in no time”.
Then he proceeded to hand us $80.00 USD each, a toilet kit, and an XXL white t-shirt “for the trouble” (more like for our silence) and promised that the bags would be delivered the next day. Don’t get me wrong, I was sooo stoked about the extra cash (free money, right???), but I was quickly reminded by my own B.O. that we had been on the same clothes for over 24 hours now, and that it would take an extra 24 for our bags to arrive…
The first $5.00 were spent on deodorant.
WELCOME TO INDIA!!!
Our ride from the airport to the hostel wasn’t a piece of cake either. From the driver not knowing where to go and turning the highway into his personal parking spot (no kidding…he just stopped in the middle of the road), to almost forgetting my passport in that same taxi and having to run after it, my first couple of hours in India were telling me to run!!! Take the first flight anywhere and go!!!
But coming to India was a long-time bucket list item for me, and I was not going to let a few misadventures turn me off of it. On the contrary, I was loving the unexpectedness and randomness that New Delhi was throwing our way, and while it was not always fun and at various times difficult, it proved to be an awesome destination.
To be honest New Delhi is over-populated, polluted, dirty and noisy with cars and Tuk-Tuks. Crossing the street became my favorite extreme sport. One rickshaw driver almost killed me trying to block my path just to tell me that the metro wasn’t working (it was working) and “offered” (insisted) to take me to where I wanted to go.
But Delhi also humbled me by both its simplicity and its complexity. For someone who had traveled extensively like me, New Delhi managed to surprise me at every turn.
The city has what it takes to make you feel so small in a sea of millions of people, and yet to make you grow as a traveler by giving you the skills to get through all the chaos the city can provide. It will also surprise you by sporadic times where all you see is nonsense.
However all of this is not to say that there aren’t any sights in New Delhi, and that the city doesn’t deserve some of your time. New Delhi does have very good restaurants and street markets to visit, as well as some Forts and colorful streets to see and get lost in.
New Delhi’s commercial center, Connaught Place is literally the center of the city. There are many shops, restaurants and hotels in the area, as well as many many (many) touts. There is a local market that opens across the park on Sunday evenings, but it is mainly for cheap clothes and wear.
RED FORT AND NEARBY STREETS
Those who know me know that one of my favorite things to do in any new city is getting lost in its streets. In New Delhi a trip to the Old Fort provided the best opportunity to do this, and Delhi managed to surprise us with its hidden streets and colors.
As for the Red Fort, a lack of research ended up costing us the chance to visit inside the fort, as the fort is not open on Mondays :s But I am keen on taking a second shot at it in this life time.
NEW DELHI’S RANDOMNESS
To say that you might see some strange things throughout New Delhi is an understatement. Just going through the city you will ask yourself “WTF???” on many, many, many occasions.
AGRA & THE TAJ MAHAL
The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most visited destinations, and with good reason. The simple sight of the Taj is sure to leave you speechless while admiring its beauty and perfection. This site alone is worth the visit to India, however there are a few things to know before you embark on your journey to Agra and the Taj Mahal.
1. Getting to Agra
Our time in India was limited, so we took a 1-day tour which included a bus ride and visits to the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, as well as some unnecessary ones to souvenir shops and (fake) places of worship. In my opinion, taking a 1-day tour from New Delhi to Agra to see the sites is rushed and not worth the price paid.
Agra is quite far from New Delhi, the journey could take between 3 to 4 hours, depending on the time of day you leave and the method of transport you use. Therefore it could be best to stay the night in Agra; also as this way you could visit the Taj Mahal during sunrise when the place is free of crowds and the monument at its best.
The easiest way is to go by train; from the New Delhi train station (near Connaught Place), book a ticket to Agra Cantonment (train station). From there, you can take a taxi or rickshaw to both the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal.
2. The Agra Fort
The Agra Fort was one of my favorite sites, and one that is worth the visit to Agra in itself. It is an UNESCO world heritage site, and although it is overshadowed by the Taj Mahal’s popularity, it hosts an array of views worth the visit.
3. The Taj Mahal
If I have to describe the Taj Mahal in one word, that word is a well deserved “Amazing”, due to its structure and level of detail which make the Taj Mahal one of India’s top attractions.
However if I have to describe the Taj in two words, these would be “Amazing” and “Crowded”; describe it in four words and these become “Amazing” and “Crowded as hell”…you get the picture.
The fact is that the Taj Mahal’s immense popularity is also its downside, as the huge crowds and never-ending line-ups you will encounter serve as a complete turn-off to the site.
It may be worth staying in Agra for a night or two simply to avoid the crowds and get the better views at sunrise.
WHERE I STAYED
Sarthak Palace Hotel: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!! Somehow this place has managed to improve their website from the time I went, however their rooms still do not look anything like their pictures at all. Our room was freezing cold with a nice view (hole in the wall) to the street. Hot water is not available between 3AM and 11AM (oh, but they offer a bucket of hot water if needed :s). There is also little to no atmosphere for foreign travelers.
The area around this hotel is quite touristic, with many hotels, restaurants, and street markets to keep your evenings busy. The Karol Bagh metro station is also within walking distance. I do recommend staying in the area, but avoid this place at all costs.
Have you been to India? What are some of the most random things you saw or experienced in this overwhelming city? Tell us about it for a chance for your story to be featured on this blog!