1. Fast food comes to you
It's not just the ice cream man. Even in Delhi's most residential neighborhoods, hawkers selling roasted corn on the cob, tender coconut juice, and local favorites like the deep-fried mashed-potato patty known as “aloo tikki” troll the streets, calling out their wares in sing-song voices. Listen for the aloo tikki wallah clanging his ladle against his wok and chase him down. You won't regret it.
2. Shopping experiences that absolutely cannot be beat
(Vikram Aiyappa/Flickr Commons)
An outdoor market with stalls selling food and handicrafts from India
's many states, Dilli Haat offers a great shopping experience — no touts, no beggars — and only high-quality merchandise. Don't be a stupid farang, though: Tibetan momos and chowmin (i.e. friedChinese
noodles) is not the way to go here. Try the Fish Fry and Egg Roast at the Kerala stall or the Uttaranchal Thali.
3. Kebabs are everywhere. And they're delicious.
(Sajjad Hussain/AFP Getty Images)
Whether it's a catered party or a drive-up restaurant like Colonel's Kebabs in Defence Colony Market (DefCol to locals) or Qureshi's in Alaknanda, Delhi's fried and tandoori-roasted kebabs are amazing. The chicken tikka kebab (boneless chicken) and mutton seekh kebab (ground goat mixed with green chiles) are the tandoori standbys. But pan-fried goat kebabs — such as the mutton shaami kebab, which melts like butter in your mouth — are the real gems.
4. The bustling wholesale market Chandni Chowk is a dystopian paradise
Built in the 17th century by the same Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal, Chandni Chowk is today a teeming wholesale market, selling everything from glass bangles to bulk spices. My go-to itinerary here includes a lot of street food — deep-fried dough at Old & Famous Jalebiwallah, fried crisps and potatoes topped with yoghurt (papdi chaat) at Natraj Dahi Bhalle Wallah, for instance. Then take a wander through the winding lanes to the Wedding Market or climb to the roof of the chili powder factory for a view of the city.
5. There are endless incredible and ancient monuments that tourists don't even know exist
(Varun Shiv Kapur/Flickr Commons)
Some of them are beautiful. Some are falling down. Others now serve as home to itinerant laborers. Delhi's medieval ruins are all over the city — not only in recognized “sites.” The government is sitting on a tourism gold mine. But for now, you get the joy of discovery, without the pesky guards and ticket takers.
6. Delhi, despite its reputation, is actually pretty leafy
Believe it or not, Delhi is one of the leafiest cities in Asia
. It's strewn with big, forested parks — some of them, like Jamali Kamali, featuring stunning medieval ruins. Beat the heat in the early morning at Jahanpanah City Forest, which features paved two-kilometer, five-kilometer and seven-kilometer jogging paths. Birdsong beats your iPod any day.
7. This place is the perfect locale for an afternoon of quiet reading
(Stephen & Claire Farnsworth/Flickr Commons)
The tomb of India's second Mughal emperor — who ruled what is today Afghanistan
and northern India in the 16th Century — is a stunning, red sandstone mausoleum reminiscent of the white marble Taj Mahal. Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993, it's one of the few architectural marvels in India that has been lovingly restored. And it's quiet enough to dip into a book like William Dalrymple's “The Last Mughal” or Khushwant Singh's “Delhi.”
8. The Delhi Metro actually works
( Raveendran/AFP Getty Images)
There's no better equalizer than public transport. But the Delhi Metro has done more than get middle-class Indians rubbing shoulders with migrant laborers. One of India's few successful infrastructure projects, it's provided a glimpse of the struggling country's possible future. A great antidote to the pessimism that creeps in during the daily skirmishes on the street.
9. The street dogs are really cute and friendly
(Sajjad Hussain/AFP Getty Images)
There's no better testimony to the soft heart beating under Delhi's tough exterior than its huge population of street dogs — most of which are friendly and well fed. Thanks to the Punjabi penchant for exotic purebreds, there's a healthy variety of sizes, shapes and colors. But they all seem to be evolving toward the same khaki colored, short-haired uberdog. (Now and then people complain about biters, but my suspicion is that only happens to those who deserve it).
10. Jama Masjid will help correct your misunderstandings about Islam
(Emmanuel Dunand/ AFP Getty Images)
The main mosque of Old Delhi — the city's medieval core — Jama Masjid was built in the 17th Century. Outside, destitute children and crippled crones beg for alms amid the teeming frenzy of a market selling second-hand auto parts and the like. Slip off your shoes and step through the gates and silence descends. There's no better place to recalibrate your misconceptions about Islam.
11. Hauz Khas Village, or HKV, has (finally) brought the pub crawl to Delhi
The dozens of bars, bakeries and boutiques of this bohemian enclave sit smack dab in the center of an ancient village — absorbed into the city as Delhi expanded. Work up an appetite — or a thirst — by touring the medieval madrassa and tomb of Feroz Shah Tuglaq (1351-88), which now serves as a makeout spot for young couples. Then from the open-air terrace of the ultra-boho Gunpowder, which offers the city's best Kerala curries, you can look down on the medieval lake that once supplied the water to the Tuglaq's Delhi Sultanate in the 1300s.
12. Delhi is the seat of government, which for regular folks means great regional food at rock-bottom prices
Goa, Kerala, Sikkim and (especially) Maharashtra all serve up some terrific grub. But Andhra Pradesh Bhavan is the real standout. On Sundays, Delhiwallahs from all walks of life push and shove and clamor at the door to get a crack at the chicken biryani. Don't worry, though, the canteen's patented number system — and the manager's booming voice calling out ticket numbers like a metronome — make AP Bhavan one of the most efficient establishments in the country.
13. The auto rickshaws combine the convenience of economical transportation with the pleasures of a roller coaster and the catharsis of a fistfight
(Andrea Kirkby/Flickr Commons)
It's the easiest way to get around the city, though you can find yourself spending 20 minutes haggling over $0.25 if you lose perspective.
14. There's a thing called jugaad, and when used for good, it's awesome
(Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP Getty Images)
Jugaad — which means everything from fixing your car with a wire coathanger to fixing the bid for a lucrative cement contract with a well-orchestrated bribe — doesn't really translate. But it's what makes Delhi tick. See the positive side of jugaad in action on any street corner, where you can get your shoes fixed or your coffee maker repaired, most of the time for less than a dollar.
15. The greatest weddings in the world are held here, and crashing them is practically encouraged
(Praksh Singh/AFP Getty Images)
Here Comes the Bride is great and all. But let's face it: All weddings would be better if the groom turned up riding a white horse, surrounded by a bunch of drunken, dancing maniacs. And that's not even the best thing about a Delhi wedding. The best thing is that there's kind of no real guest list. A 600-person turnout is small, and crashing is almost mandatory.
16. Jalebis are better than cronuts
Cronuts schmonuts. You want something decadent? Try jalebis. Here's what you do: Squeeze pastry dough from an cake-icing tube into a deep-frier filled with clarified butter and sugar syrup, carefully squiggling it into the shape of a pretzel. Repeat for 100 years, occasionally washing the deep-frier. Yep, this place in Chandni Chowk has been around since 1905.
17. There's the Paranthewallah Gully
(Yelp Inc./Flickr Commons)
Around the corner from Old & Famous Jalebiwallah, this is a narrow lane filled with century-old restaurants specializing in the stuffed north Indian flatbreads called “parathas.” Parathas stuffed with potatoes are a staple of every restaurant in India. But here you can get them stuffed with virtually anything — from bitter gourd (my favorite) to papadum. Better still, they dispense with the griddle and deep-fry the suckers.
18. The Old Fort is both stunning and charming
(Matt King/Getty Images)
The Old Fort or “Purana Qila” is a stunning medieval fortress built in the 16th Century. In the afternoons, couples splash around the moat in pedal boats — pleasant in Delhi's brief, sunny winter. And year round, there's a campy but fun sound and light show every night after sundown with a blaring recorded history of the “Seven Cities of Delhi.”
19. This gorgeous park in the middle of the city
(Bertram Ng/Flickr Commons)
A sprawling, manicured park, Raj Ghat proves that Indians can keep public spaces clean when they really, really want to. Raj Ghat itself is a memorial to Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi — the leader of India's freedom struggle. The park also features a memorial to India's first prime minister and greatest statesman, Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as a memorial to his daughter, Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mohandas).
20. India Gate is the ideal place for people watching
The national monument of India, this L'Arc de Triomphe-esque structure was designed by Raj-era architect Edward Lutyens as a memorial for the 90,000 Indian soldiers killed fighting for Britain in World War I. After independence, India removed the statue of George V from beneath the arch, making it a modern symbol of India's freedom struggle. It's a brilliant place to see tourists from all over the country — many of them of modest means — enjoying an ice cream and snapping photos.