Upon landing, we were slightly delirious from lack of sleep on the plane. We stumbled out of the airport into 35 degree heat and frantically tried to pull ourselves together in order to haggle a taxi ride to our hotel. This, sadly, was not handled as well as hoped. We pretty much agreed to the first price thrown at us (1800 rupees / £20 – way too much for Delhi prices!) in desperation to sit down and sleep some more!
Delhi – 1, Max & Flo – 0.
The palaver continued. The taxi driver had no idea where he was going, so we spent over an hour driving around at break neck speed, hurtling over junctions and screeching to a halt to stop and ask people where our hotel actually was. Finally, we pelted past our hotel. Slammed on the breaks. Reversed up the main road. Crashed into a stationary taxi leaving the hotel and watched a large argument erupt between the two drivers.
Welcome to Delhi.
We had decided to treat ourselves to a fancy hotel at the start of our India trip to recover from jet lag and the recent Tough Mudder we had endured the day before. The Maidens Hotel is a huge white colonial building near Civil Lines metro station (North of the Old Town), surrounded by a large white wall and security guards stationed at the two main gates – completely the opposite to your usual backpackers experience! We had very little to complain about at the Maidens. The staff are fantastic, the hotel is luxurious (albeit a little bit tired in places) and they have an excellent happy hour between 4pm and 8pm every evening with a great selection of cocktails – the ice is completely safe too! The only downside was the sudden price increase at the end of our stay, India often adds on tax and unfortunately this was not included in the price the website originally quoted.
N.B. Be warned of the tax in India! It can be a killer if you aren’t careful! When making reservations check on the website what is and isn’t included tax-wise and also remember in most restaurants they will add on tax at the end for spirits (25%) and for beer and wine (12.5%) – can be a bit of a shocker when you think you have been super frugal!
Outside of the Maidens we predominantly travelled by tuk-tuk. On our first day, we were flagged down by a tuk-tuk driver called Damrul (I think thats the correct spelling) who insisted we would get ripped off and cheated if we took one more step by ourselves. He offered to take us to the Red Fort for 50 rupees, or he would take us out for the whole day for 200. We agreed on the latter and set off.
During our 3 days in Delhi, we visited the Red Fort (although did not go in); Old Delhi, New Delhi and a Hindu and Sikh Temple. The temples were very interesting to see, especially the Sikh Temple, which was Damrul’s regular place of worship. He gave us a tour of the ‘Bollywood Temple’, geared us up in head scarves, showed us the holy lake surrounded by a marble portico and finally took us to the kitchens. The kitchen serves food en mass to the people who need it most and was particularly interesting to see. Chapattis were being produced on a humungous scale, whilst enormous cauldrons and woks lined the opposite wall filled with dal, vegetable curry and green salad. People who were eating sat in long rows within the canteen, whilst those waiting, sat outside in the shade until they were called in. Men march up and down the rows with buckets of curry and spoon it out onto peoples trays. Overall, a fantastic system.
Food – A hugely important aspect!
On our first night we didn’t venture too far and popped up the road to Embassy Restaurant, right next to Civil Lines metro station. Here we had a mid-range priced meal which cost us around £30 in total. The chicken curries were decent and the nan was as it should be. However, I would avoid the Chicken Masala which was a little gelatinous and gloopy in its texture!
Our second night was a heavenly experience! Granted, we would not have been able to afford it ourselves (it was a treat from Max’s parents) nor would any budget backpackers BUT if you have the money to spare then definitely go for it! Bukhara is a restaurant within the ITC Hotel in Delhi and is extremely hard to get into at late notice, so book in advance! The ‘dal bukhara’ is to die for and is hands down the best dal I have ever had. Originally, we didn’t order it but the waiter gave us a free side as he said it couldn’t be missed – how right he was! The tandoor cooked chicken was flavoursome and moist and I overall cannot recommend it enough! Granted it does feel completely bizarre waltzing into a fancy hotel which could not be less Indian-esque but the food and decor of this little place fully make up for it.
Our final dining experience was the complete opposite end of the price scale to Bukhara. Andhra Bhawan is a small canteen to the side of one of the government buildings. It cost 200rupees in total (about £2.50) for the both of us and was an all you can eat menu. You pay straight away as you order – we got the Vegetarian dinner – get allocated a seat at one of the communal metal tables and are presented with a silver tray, two Chapatti and the curries are presented by men with silver buckets who repeatedly fill your tray to the brim. You eat with your hands and once you are finished, stroll back out. The service is rapid and the food is excellent. It is filled with locals which is always a good sign and is a great one for people on a budget or those wanting to delve into a more authentic Indian dining experience!
Delhi on the whole was a rollercoaster ride. It is fast, hot, smelly and the poverty you witness can be quite horrifying. Yet there are odd little pockets of delight and some of the people you meet are welcoming and accommodating to a T. Delhi is not somewhere I would stay for long in the future but it is a place that should be experienced when visiting India. You need to be on your toes and alert at all times but the bustle and chaos that go with this city are somewhat intoxicating.