24 Hours in Delhi

Delhi, the capital of India. Home to over 11 million people and countless more dreams. The vibe here is much more laid back from the hassle and bustle of Mumbai as you will see on the drive into the city centre from Indira Ghandi airport. Come in October or March when temperatures are pleasant or face getting roasted (May and June) or drowned in the Monsoons (July to September).

Host of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which at an estimated cost of $9.4 billion is the most expensive games ever hosted. It did leave a legacy though, with improved roads, new metro lines and a new airport terminal. In addition, the local authorities taught English to thousands of public service workers. Nothing beats a ride in a tuk-tuk though where you can be part of the traffic chaos for just 25 Rupees for a 5 minute ride.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Delhi is a shrine to the dead with most of the major tourist sites being tombs and mosques such as the impressive Akshardham Temple, the Lotus Temple and the Jantar Mantar. For those who love a big flag then head to Connaught Place where you can admire one as well as browsing the big name brands in the British-built part of the city.

Probably the biggest draw for a visit is the Red Fort in Old Delhi home to the Mughal Emperors for two centuries, although the construction of the new metro line outside it does ruin the ambience at the moment. On 26 January India celebrates Independence Day where hundreds of thousands of people line the wide boulevards up to the Presidential Palace (the biggest such palace in the world no less) and salute the military as they march past. Of course, many still come to Delhi as a starting point for the journeys to Jaipur or Agra, spending a day or so in the city before getting the train to either of the iconic cities. Travel agents or hotel concierges can organise day trips fir around £60.

One attraction you will want to visit if you do just have 24 hours is undoubtably the International Toilet Museum, the most visited museum in Delhi, and devoted to the inventions people such as Thomas Crapper. I’d steer clear of the 4D cinema though if they have one!

Like every city in India, Delhi is cricket crazy, with young children everywhere in the city using makeshift bats to hit homemade balls in every conceivable space. The city is home to current cricketing stars Virat Kohli and Virender Sehwag. The city’s main cricket stadium, the 55,000 capacity Feroz Shah Kotla is located close to Tilak Bridge station. When full it’s an awesome sight and sound although on days when there’s one man and his cow in there it does look like a series of multi-story car parks built around the pitch. Tickets for regional games, such as the Ranji Trophy are cheap and plentiful – even free on days where the game isn’t likely to reach mid-afternoon. Enter via gate 6 next to the park.

Don’t believe the hype about elephants wandering the streets. Just eight licensed, working elephants are left in the capital, down from 14 a year ago, although many are classed as “pets” – perhaps not ideal if you live in a 10th floor apartment.

You can’t really go wrong with eating options in Delhi. Remember to stick to bottled water, avoid unpeeled fruit and stalls on the streets otherwise Delhi Belly may lay you low. Obviously Indian cuisine can be found in most places but it’s worth trying some regional variations such as traditional clay oven tandoor from Kashmir at Bukhara in Sarder Patel Marg. Gulati in Pandara Road Market offers an excellent all you can eat buffet (a choice not a challenge!) whilst Vega, as its name hints at, is a 100% vegan restaurant that’s very popular in the Outer a Circle in Connaught Place.

If you fancy a liquid dinner with style then go back to the colonial days at 1911 in the Hotel Imperial near Barakhambha. Classy cocktails and long drinks that would shake James Bond. Underdoggs Sports Bar and grill in the Ambiance Mall does what it says on the tin.

Finally you may want to get your head down for the night. You get what you pay for in these parts, so if you are saving your rupees for more exotic locations elsewhere, head for one of the AGH (Approved Government Hotels) such as the Avantika Inn on East Patel Nagar Market which offers comfort and security, whilst the Hotel Park View on Ajmal Khan Road has served royalty in the dim and distant past.

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24 Hours in Mumbai

OK – It is fair to say that few people will only “just” have 24 hours in Mumbai so I will condense the highlights from my trip into a single day’s itinerary. For those, like me, making a trip to India for the first time, pull on your culture shockproof trousers and immerse yourself in the melting pot of southern India.  You will frequently stand aghast in amazement, unable to believe the lives that many Indians live. You will never see such polar extremes between poverty and wealth as you will – visible within a minute of leaving Chatrapati Shivaji airport – in India.

I can’t remember the day when Bombay become Mumbai (or even the reasons behind it).  My first memories of the name were from Carry on Cruising when the late (and very recently late) Lance Percival made Sid James’s character, the Captain of the ship (interestingly, one of the only times James played a “serious” Carry On role) a special anniversary cake that included Bombay Duck, which I later found out was dried fish.  Oh, and of course Bombay Sapphire.  Who doesn’t like a cold Bombay Sapphire and tonic when they get home from work? It was actually in 1995 after a petition to the government that the name symbolised the legacy of the unwanted rule by the British.

Life in the city plays out against a constant soundtrack of hoots from pedestrian, dogs, goats, cars, taxis, lorries, bikes and tuk-tuks that jossle for space on the chaotic roads.  According to one friend, a driving test takes 30 seconds and you just need to show you can stop a moving car. Taking any journey in the city is an experience you will never forget.  Remember to allow plenty of time (if you think you have allowed plenty of time, double it), keep the windows up and a bottle of water to hand.

The number one sight that anyone who has visited the city will tell you to visit is the Gate of India, Mumbai’s most recognised monument, constructed to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the city. The colonial splendor of the arch was (and still is) best enjoyed approaching the city by boat.  Once on land, the King and Queen would have enjoyed the elegant piazza.  Today it is the melting pot of the city, with street vendors, here, there and everywhere – if you want to experience India in 5 minutes, stand here at midday.

One place that you should ignore the name of and venture right in there is Chor Bazaar, commonly known as The Thieves Market on Mutton Street in the Central area.  Images of Ali Baba and his cut-throat band of villians are soon dispelled as you wander the the narrow lanes and are greeted by friendly traders who will try and entice you into the age-old haggle.

Just north west of the Central Station, looking out to sea you will see the amazing Haji Ali, a tomb (and mosque) that was built over 500 years ago marooned in the water and only accessible via a causeway at low tide.  One sight that will never leave you will be the sun setting behind it, taking you far away from the maddening crowd behind you.

No visit to the heart of Mumbai is complete without a trip to the Leopold Cafe on Colaba Causeway.  It was here in November 2008 that the first gunfire was heard in the terrorism attack on the city.  A total of 12 people lost their lives in the attack, but the cafe took on a focal point of the resistance of the city and opened its doors just a few days later.  If you want to impress, then head to Aer, the 34th floor rooftop bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, with stunning views and a £20 a head entrance fee at weekends.  The Olive Bar and Kitchen in Union Park also comes highly recommended.

Want something different to eat?  Head to either of the ITC Mumbai hotels and their signature restaurant, Peshawri where you don an apron and tuck into beautifully tender and flavorsome grilled meats and vegetables from Pakistan/Afghanistan. Not cheap by Indian standards but certainly filling.

In terms of accommodation, if you want luxury then the major chains all have outposts close to the airport.  Certainly one of the finest looking hotels in the city is the Oberoi on Naiman Point, one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world.  Go on, treat yourself – you are on holiday and can afford to live like a king once!