I had the opportunity to spend most of December 2018 in India - a long time dream of mine, I jumped when the opportunity presented itself. I traveled for three weeks, visiting parts of northern India, southern India, and then western India. I took a rickshaw ride through Old Delhi, block printed shirts in Hyderabad, and went to my best friend's wedding in Gujarat. It was the trip of a lifetime and yet I'm already plotting to get back.
My trip started in Northern India and the colors and smells and food were overwhelming in the best way. There is so much to do and the number one recommendation I can give is: always have on you what you need to feel independent (e.g. food, water, camera), even if you have a dedicated driver. It offers flexibility and the possibility of spontaneity, something that is always a positive in this magical place; India is all in a single time zone but we heard a number of jokes from our friends about “India Standard Time” which is usually 1-2 hours slower than whatever your watch might read (e.g. “The party starts at 8pm” means that the party might start by 10pm.) Have coins that are INR 10-20, for times when you need to tip the woman at the washroom or replenish your water (just in case!). December is the time of year when farmers are burning their crop residue which creates pollution. This article discusses Delhi's pollution and highlights a researcher who is using the crop residue to grow mushrooms! We didn’t let that slow us down and respirator masks we packed from home accompanied us on particularly hazy days.
Day 1: After a long flight, I met up with my mom at the airport in Delhi, who was flying in at the same time from O'Hare, and we went through customs together. We picked up cash at the ATM* and then rendezvoused with our driver. (*I recommend taking rupees with you or using every opportunity to stop at an ATM. Most have withdrawal limits of approximately $100 USD and sometimes there is less than that available.) We got to our hotel at around 5pm and ate an early dinner before crashing into bed.
Day 2: Our first day exploring Delhi started at the President's Palace, or Rashtrapati Bhavan, which is the largest home of any head of state in the world. This area of Delhi must have the most orderly traffic of any place in India and feels very similar to Washington DC. Unless you're touring the inside of the complex, this stop does not require getting out of the car.
Our second stop was to the house where Gandhi was living on the day that he was assassinated. This was a somber visit, but I liked doing this at the very beginning of our trip because it created context for other parts of Gandhi's life when we saw significant landmarks throughout India. It was also in this place where I first discovered and fell in love with the Indian textile khadi. Typically made of cotton, the hand-spun quintessentially Indian fabric was promoted by Gandhi, making khadi a symbol of independence during the swadeshi movement, when he suggested Indians boycott foreign made cloth.
“If we have the ‘khadi spirit’ in us, we would surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life. The ‘khadi spirit’ means infinite patience."
India Gate is a WWI memorial, honoring the more than 70,000 soldiers who died fighting in the British Indian Army. The monument is magnificent and is a popular attraction for Indian nationals who come to pay their respects.
Raj Ghat is the place where Gandhi was cremated. Visitors to this site are primarily there to pay their respects to the Mahatma (Sanskrit for "Great Soul") and are required to take shoes off before walking to the marble slab. If you're pressed for time, Raj Ghat is skippable.
I took my first ever rickshaw ride and y’all: this shit is bananas! All of the props in the world to our driver, Abdul, who is really more of a fighter jet pilot than anything else. The traffic is at a level of insanity that I never even conceived of and the roads in Old Delhi are not more than 15-20 feet wide and as uneven as they come. It was one of THE SMOOTHEST rides I’ve ever taken and at least 9642756 times better than a NYC cab ride. This was the highlight of my whole trip and I cannot recommend it enough! Plan ahead and make sure that you do this on a weekend when there is less traffic.
We ate biscuits as they came out of the coals and shopped for trim, before visiting the studio of a family of silver artisans who have been making jewelry in Old Delhi for 400+ years.
Good breaks. Good horn. Good luck.Our guide, Raj, on driving in Delhi
Day 3: Northern India is one of the centers for Indoislamic architecture. There are arches galore and pillars for miles. Marble is prominent and gemstones aren't uncommon. We had gorgeous, room temperature weather on our third day in Delhi which was perfect for spending time at these sites.
We started our fourth day at Himayun's Tomb. The design of this site became the blueprint for the Taj Mahal.
Qutub Minar is a single pillar in a large complex, and the tallest minaret in India. It is stunning. This is one of the most instagrammable spots in Delhi and if you have any flexibility in your schedule, it is also a lovely spot to journal or read! Arches, columns, and trees abound, and you'll see excerpts from the Quran intricately carved into the former.
After a long day of walking and eating and seeing the absolutely most stunning architecture, we went to bed to prep for an early morning departure to the Taj Mahal, in Agra, India.
Have you been to Delhi?! Where did you go? What did you think? And how much did you love the food? Tell me everything in the comments below!
Michelle Turtora Zagardo
CEO @Lysande. Photographer. Narcolepsy advocate. Gummy bear enthusiast.