48 hours in… Delhi

| December 15, 2015

Travel writer Stephen McClarence knows India more than most – here he tells us why it is worth hanging around Delhi, and what to see.


Many visitors hardly give Delhi a chance, zipping in and out on their way to alternative destinations in India. Yet this is a fascinating city, worth three or four days in its own right. Thanks to its sleek new metro system, it’s now much easier to get around and take in all that Delhi has to offer.

Delhi is a sprawling metropolis, but the most interesting area for visitors is comparatively compact. Many of the most recognised tourist sites are to the north of the city, ensnared within the tangled, timeworn alleyways of Old Delhi. Just below this stretch, the spacious and ordered streets of New Delhi, merge into the leafy avenues of middle-class south Delhi.

Delight in the grace and style of the Imperial Hotel, an elegant iceberg-white edifice on Janpath, a main road running through the heart of New Delhi. Alternatively the Taj Palace, a short taxi ride from the centre, offers the luxury and courtesy synonymous with the Taj Group.

India’s various conquerors have left an impressive number of great buildings. The Mughal empire left behind the immense Red Fort, residence of the Mughal emperors of India until 1857; the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque dating back to 1650; Humayun’s tomb, the final resting place of the second Mughal emperor who died in 1556; and the lofty Qutb Minar, a 100-metretall tower completed in 1368. The British empire then bequeathed India Gate, a war memorial to the soldiers of the Indian Army who died in the first world war, and the government buildings of Lutyens’ New Delhi with its spacious bungalows.


Brace yourself for the sensory overload of a walk along Chandni Chowk, the chaotic main shopping street of Old Delhi, whose side alleys snake off into spice and wedding bazaars. Sample sweets and snacks at bustling Haldiram’s – a bright, modern shop and restaurant.

For rich north Indian food, try the longestablished Embassy restaurant in Connaught Place, the commercial hub of New Delhi. For lighter south Indian food, the Sagar Ratna restaurant at the Ashok Hotel Humayun’s Tomb in the diplomatic enclave provides unfailingly flavoursome and inexpensive dishes.

The National Museum on Janpath offers a thorough and absorbing survey of Indian history and culture (and a welcome retreat on hot afternoons). For recent history explore the Gandhi Museum, or the Indira Gandhi Museum which includes the sari she was wearing when she was assassinated among its displays.


Rick’s Bar at the Taj Mahal Hotel is the Casablanca-inspired haunt of Delhi’s rich and famous. Progressive jazz, blues and dance music play until late, leaving plenty of time for dinner at the stylish Varq restaurant one floor down.

For cosmopolitan sophistication, try threesixtyº at The Oberoi, New Delhi which offers a multi-cuisine menu including Thai, Chinese and Japanese. For a more relaxed atmosphere, head to Lodi – The Garden Restaurant which provides outdoor and indoor dining (Indian and international) in a beautiful lantern-lit setting on the edge of Lodhi gardens.

10. NIGHT ON THE TOWN Delhi Tourism runs ‘Delhi by Evening’ tours, visiting major sites and culminating in a sound and light show at the Red Fort. For a more composed evening, the sophisticated India International Centre on Max Mueller Marg stages regular concerts of Indian music together with dance, films and exhibitions.

11. EASY LIKE... To unwind, take an auto-rickshaw to Safdarjung’s tomb in south Delhi, a fine example of late Mughal architecture. This is one of the city’s less-visited monuments, frequented more often by mongooses that scurry around its grounds. From there, stroll around Lodhi Gardens, a beautiful and immaculately kept park where families picnic and play cricket.


The state Craft Emporia along Baba Kharak Singh Marg, off Connaught Place, offers bargain (and fixed-price) crafts from India’s various regions. Or spend an hour or two at Dilli Haat, a vibrant year-round craft fair in south Delhi. For more upmarket shopping in south Delhi, try Santushti, a small garden enclave of quality shops, or Khan Market, an ex-pats’ favourite with such established outlets as Anokhi and Fabindia. The market’s exceptional bookshops include Full Circle, with the bohemian Cafe Turtle on its top floor offering excellent snacks and meals. Lodhi Garden, Delhi Rickshaw, Delhi

Be sure to take a trip on the clean, efficient metro, if only from New Delhi (Rajiv Chowk station) to Old Delhi (Chandni Chowk station), a five-minute journey that can take 45 by car. If your trip doesn’t include train travel, make sure to take a moment to marvel at the clamour of heaving humanity in New Delhi railway station.

Gurgaon, Delhi’s ever-growing satellite city, is a taste of booming modern India, with its huge shopping malls and young, middleclass consumers. Alternatively, take the train (including the toy train) to Shimla for a couple of nights at a hill-station to experience the cooler climes of colonial life amid the tea plantations.

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