As I was approaching my 30th birthday, I was thinking of all of the ways I could celebrate my big day – I wanted it to be special and inspiring as I entered into a new decade of my life. Since I love to travel, finding a new place to explore was on the top of my wish list.
As luck would have it, Candace accepted a work rotation in India and invited me to join her, so we could wrap up the summer traveling to Southeast Asia together. How perfect! I was immediately in and excited for a totally new experience.
I booked a Monday evening, overnight flight from Houston > Frankfurt > Delhi on United Airlines and had a pleasant experience with them and their partner airline, Lufthansa. I arrived in Germany mid-morning on Tuesday and was on my way to India within just a couple of hours.
Note: Frankfurt is a large airport, and sometimes you will be shuttled by bus from your aircraft to the terminal. Make sure you leave enough time to make your way through the airport if you have a layover here.
I finally made it to Delhi on Wednesday around 1:00 AM local time. As I walked through the airport, I was wide-eyed and slightly on edge, but mostly, I was pretty darn excited to finally be in India! The anticipation had been killing me, and I couldn’t believe I was finally here.
Note: many flights in and out of Delhi arrive and depart in the middle of the night/ early morning.
Since Candace was already in India, she was able to coordinate a driver through her hotel to meet me at the airport. This was a huge relief, since I was alone in the middle of the night at one of the world’s largest airports.
A Broad Recommendation: Book a driver in advance; Delhi airport is crowded and a bit overwhelming. Having a driver waiting for me was perfect for my early morning arrival. The driver cost me 3,500 Indian Rupees (INR) plus taxes, or ~$55 USD – well worth it, if you ask me!
I arrived safely at the Trident Hotel Gurgaon around 3:00 AM and was promptly greeted with a welcome drink; quick shout out here to the best hotel service I believe I have ever received!
And, so, our adventure had begun! I was in INDIA. And, I was safe and sound in the room with one of my besties ready for a few weeks of fun and new experiences. Huge shout out to Candace for staying awake on a work night to make sure that I made it in okay.
For me, the first day was all about avoiding that jet-lag as much as possible! With the 10.5 hour time difference from Houston, I was certainly expecting to feel groggy, but I actually woke up around 7:00 AM to grab breakfast with Candace and started my day off right with a smorgasbord of food options.
Baked into my first day was a whole lot of relaxation. Turns out that Candace’s hotel was actually pretty fancy, and I spent my first day working out at the gym, reading books and sipping water and other complimentary drinks by the beautiful, spa-side pool.
When Candace arrived back to the hotel, we had a delicious, authentic Indian meal at one of the hotel’s fine restaurants, Saffron; the service was above and beyond, and we left feeling totally full. We called it an early night shortly after dinner, as Candace had to do some more work before bed, and I was anticipating an action-packed day exploring Delhi the next day.
Feeling fully refreshed, we woke up early again, and after another delicious breakfast, Candace headed off to work, as I began my lone adventure from Gurgaon into Delhi. I booked the Private Old and New Delhi City Best of Tour in 8 Hours through Tripadvisor, since I couldn’t find any group or walking tours. I was a little nervous at first getting into a private car in another country with a complete stranger, but I had no issues at all once we were on our way.
A Broad Recommendation: I read a ton of reviews before my trip to make sure this tour best suited my interests and that I would be in a safe and comfortable situation; always do your research before booking any excursion.
It took us around an hour to get from Gurgaon to Delhi with all of the traffic. If you have never been to India, you cannot begin to fathom the driving situation here. Experienced drivers communicate using their horns/honking in lieu of turn signals and understand how to maneuver while changing between almost non-existent lanes. I personally could never imagine driving myself here!
When I arrived in Old Delhi, I met up with my guide, and we hired a Rickshaw driver for 600 INR, or $8.40 USD, at the time. For some reason, I wasn’t originally excited about the Rickshaw ride, but man, was I mistaken! I had the time of my life zipping around the narrow streets in that thing. Of course, I wasn’t the one driving (thankfully for everyone involved), and I got to look around and take it all in.
Our first stop was at Jama Masjid, which was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the same guy who built the infamous Taj Mahal. It’s known as the “mosque commanding the view of the world” and is the second largest mosque in all of India. Such a breathtaking site!
I read online that you only have to pay if you want to take pictures inside, but I totally forgot about this and handed over my 300 INR, as well as a small tip of 10 INR for the gentleman watching our shoes (you can’t wear your shoes inside and robes are available for free upon entry). Even if you can get away without paying, I’d recommend just paying it; we are talking about less than $5 USD, and it was worth it for the pictures.
Next on the itinerary was Chandni Chowk, where we popped out of the Rickshaw again to do some shopping, a.k.a. bartering with the locals. I picked up some authentic Indian pants for myself and some local spices and tea for my boyfriend. I was told that white tea is an Indian delicacy with healing powers and health benefits, so naturally, I had to get that one. I also picked a jasmine tea and a green curry powder that came with a recipe booklet – what a cool add-on!
I’m not really big on shopping, so we moved on pretty quickly to Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s Memorial. This was a serene spot, rich with history. The black marble platform marks the spot of Gandhi’s cremation, the day after his assassination, and an eternal flame burns at one end in his memory.
Entrance to the memorial cost 550 INR, or ~$7.70 USD, at the time, and you have access to walk among the gardens. Since we were on a tight schedule, we just checked out the memorial and moved on.
Humayun’s Tomb, a.k.a. “Baby Taj,” was the next stop on our itinerary.
The tomb was built by Mughal Emperor Humayun’s first wife, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its cultural significance stems from it being the first garden tomb on the Indian subcontinent, and the complex also hosts several smaller monuments. I paid $8.06 USD to get in.
A Broad Recommendation: they have public bathrooms here, which was a nice surprise, but I highly recommend carrying your own tissue and hand sanitizer, as the bathrooms are not fully equipped with the luxury we are accustomed to in the U.S.
For lunch, we stopped at the Masala House, which serves local cuisine with vegetarian and vegan-friendly options. The food was delicious, but my first option on the menu wasn’t available and the service was confusing – at some restaurants, the waiters don’t allow you to serve yourself; here, the waiter never came back to check on me, so I went ahead and did it myself. Overall, the service was fine, and the food was tasty, quick and served in large portions. I spent $16.71 USD on my entree plus water.
After lunch, we ventured to the India Gate, which looks like a mini-Arc de Triomphe, and serves as a war memorial for the 70,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died between 1914–1921 in the First World War. Beneath the archway is India’s “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”, which is bounded by four eternal flames.
The Rajpath leading up to the India Gate is a ceremonial boulevard lined with lawns, canals and rows of trees; it’s considered to be one of the most important roads in India and is the location of the annual Republic Day parade, which takes place in January.
This area was definitely the most crowded and filled with aggressive souvenir salesmen. You just need to stop here for a quick pic, then be on your way.
We moved on to Laxmi Narayan Mandir, which I really enjoyed. It was especially great having a guide here to share stories of all of the gods and goddesses depicted on the walls and in the statues. He also explained the Swastika symbols – I was surprised to learn that Adolf Hitler actually reused this Hindu symbol, as it represents prosperity and good luck.
Our last stop of the day was Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, which boasts a prayer hall, a water tank said to have medicinal powers, a library, a hospital, a school, a museum and an art gallery. Irrespective of religion, all are welcome here and can share a free meal together. The complex is open 24/7, and entry is free, but I left a customary 10 INR tip for the gentleman that watched over our shoes.
The prayer hall was stunning but there were services going on, which made it slightly awkward for me. Since I didn’t have much time to explore, it was very crowded, and you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple, this was one of my least favorite stops.
We arrived back at the hotel around 5:30 PM after navigating through heavy traffic. All said and done, I spent just under $80 USD total for the eight hour excursion, including rides to and from each location and the guide. This included a customary 500 INR (~$7 USD) tip for the driver and 1,000 INR (~$14 USD) for the guide.
I felt safe throughout the day, and my guide gave me pointers as a solo, female traveler that I implemented throughout the rest of my trip. I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone traveling to Delhi!
Note: my guide did change the itinerary based on his personal preferences, so we didn’t follow the itinerary exactly as stated on the Tripadvisor site. He was also willing to tailor the experience to my preferences, but since I had a second day in Delhi, I just went along with his suggestions.
Day two in Delhi was certainly one for the books!
The next day, I had pre-coordinated a driver through TGS Tours & Travels Pvt Ltd, and they helped me plan out my entire day multiple times over, since I was indecisive. I spent 4,200 INR (just under $60 USD at the time) to book my driver (no guide), plus the 500 INR tip. Had I wanted a guide, the cost would have doubled, and after having a guide the day before, I felt confident and excited to meander around on my own.
Funny thing about discovering TGS Tours: I was playing volleyball in Houston, and a girl I hadn’t met before asked if I wanted to join her team. So, we all know the saying, “everything happens for a reason”, and for real it does! After the game, it somehow came up that I would be traveling to India that week, and as luck would have it, she had actually been before – to Delhi, nonetheless.
She gave me the personal contact info for the owner of TGS Tours, since she had used their services before and had a great experience. Jackpot! I felt a million times better going into the trip having a connection with someone who was trusted – and now, you can too!
So, on my last day “alone” on the trip, I decided to hit all of the other sites I felt I had missed the first day; shout out to this article for giving me such a great synopsis of what to do and see in Delhi. It truly was a life saver!
I started off my day with a visit to the Qutub Minar Complex, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, which easily took me over an hour to walk around.
The Qutub Minar is a 240 feet-high minaret, making it the highest tower in India. A minaret is a tall slender tower, typically part of a mosque, with a balcony from which a muezzin calls Muslims to prayer, in case you didn’t know – I didn’t! The first three storeys of the Qutub Minar are made of red sandstone and the last two are made of marble and sandstone, reflecting the different styles of the people involved in the construction over time.
The complex is open from sunrise to sunset and is cheaper for Indian citizens to visit. For foreign nationals, it was 500 INR or ~$7.00 at the time of my visit.
Note: A security guard offered to take pictures for me. I was warned about this, as folks will demand tips for any and all favors. Since I was flying solo and there were plenty of people around, I accepted the offer and tipped him afterwards. He wasn’t satisfied and followed me around asking for more money until he eventually got the hint and went to find someone else to take pictures of. This is common, so be careful if you choose to say yes.
Next, my driver dropped me off at the Lotus Temple, a unique Buddhist temple shaped like a large Lotus flower. It was a beautiful sight and just a quick 30 minute or so visit. The walk from the road to the temple actually took longer than the visit to the temple itself.
ISKON Temple was a 5 minutes or so drive from the Lotus Temple, so we dropped by there next. This was probably my least favorite stop. It seemed touristy, and I can’t exactly explain why, but I just felt out of place here. I walked around for maybe 10 minutes or so before heading back to the car to meet my driver.
My next stop was Lodhi Garden, which although was out of season, was still a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the city. The complex has several old, degraded temples along a trail. I spent about an hour here, walking the loop and enjoying the outdoors before heading back to the car.
We stopped quickly at Khan Market, which my driver kindly warned me was overpriced. I walked around for no more than 15 minutes and tried on a few shirts, one of which I bartered down to 850 INR (~$12 USD). There were no dressing rooms or mirrors where I was, so I ended up asking a couple of girls to take a picture of me so I could check out my outfit.
Our final stop was the Hindu Akshardham Temple. I was surprised that both of my drivers and my guide the day prior had encouraged me to skip this; I sure would have been disappointed if I had listened to them! This was one of the most beautiful things I saw in all of Delhi. I could’ve easily spent hours here.
Admission is free, but cell phones and cameras aren’t allowed. They had lockers available, but by this point, I trusted my driver well enough to leave my phone with him instead; he showed me exactly where he would be parking and waiting for me. I know this sounds crazy, but my driver was incredibly kind and was reliable all day, so I went for it.
The vast complex included a garden and fountain, where at night, there is a superb light show. The temple was absolutely breathtaking inside; gold, marble, gems and precious stones filled the space. As I mentioned, pictures aren’t allowed, so you will have to check this one out for yourself!
I found my driver taking a nap and all of my belongings were untouched in the back seat. Again, I realize that leaving my belongings behind took a lot of faith, and I wouldn’t have done this if I hadn’t felt safe. Knowing this was a trusted tour company with reputable drivers and doing my research before the trip helped me a lot with my decisions.
I arrived back to the hotel around 4:30 PM and spent the next couple of hours reading and napping by the pool; at this point, I was exhausted after two full days of activities and still had dinner plans later that night.
Around 7:00 PM or so, we headed to this swanky area called the DLF CyberHub for dinner with some of Candace’s coworkers. We ended up eating and drinking [a lot] at The Wine Company.
It was pretty warm out, but we decided to sit outside, since the live music inside was too loud for our vibes, and it appeared to be transitioning into a nightclub. Outside, things were much more relaxed, and we enjoyed some laughs and good conversation over our appetizers and wine.
Although everything was delicious, we were shocked to see our pricey bill at the end of the night, so come prepared to pay a pretty penny!
A Broad Recommendation: Although we don’t particularly recommend this restaurant, we would recommend checking out the DLF CyberHub area.
We ended up heading back to the hotel closer to midnight to get some much needed, yet short-lived, sleep before our 3:00 AM wake-up call for our Taj Mahal visit.
Unfortunately, the rest of the night didn’t go quite as planned…
You will have to check out our next post, Agra, to find out what happened next!
XOXO Travel A-Broads