If that title doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will!
I’m not going to sugar coat it though – New Delhi sucks. This is not going to be as interesting as some of the last few posts, regretfully. But even so, let me fill you in on what this city is all about. New Delhi is the capital of India, as well as the nation's largest city. Almost 22 million people call its metropolitan area home, ranking it as the 5th largest city in the world, and the 1st largest city I've visited so far. That number is from the 2011 census though. It has definitely grown since then, and may have even jumped a spot in the rankings. It is a proud part of what is referred to as the "golden triangle". No, I'm not talking about the opium-heavy areas in Southeast Asia. India has it's own "golden triangle" which consists of New Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. Ironically, these are (in my opinion) the 3 most overblown destinations in India.
New Delhi had, in the past, just been known as "Delhi" (or, in the Hindi pronunciation, "Dilli"), but it has since been renamed. The Indian government has been on a name-changing rampage recently, mostly in attempts to correct for the lingering effects of British Colonization. However, this particular name change confuses me because the name "Delhi" far predates the British entering India. I'm just a just a kid from Ohio though, so don't take my word for it.
Amongst travelers, Delhi has a reputation for being a mediocre destination at best. Of course there will occasionally be the odd person who sticks up for Delhi, like it's the kid that gets picked on at recess, but the truth is that the real draw of this city is the airport. It's one of the cheapest places to fly into from abroad, and is the layover for almost every flight you can book between 2 smaller destinations on the subcontinent. It's actually pretty hard to come to India and avoid coming to New Delhi at some point. Next time I come to India though, I'm going to do my best not to.
New Delhi Round 1
The first time I came to Delhi I was on my way to Leh from Varanasi. I managed to miss my actual train, somehow, and I ended up paying off the conductor of the next train to Delhi to let me stay on board. I only arrived about 8 hours behind schedule. I had a 6am flight to the Himalayas leaving the next day, so all I planned on doing was eating and sleeping.
I got a rickshaw from the train station to my hostel for 70 INR (1.08 USD). This was a few days before the start of the Muslim holiday Eid, so there was a higher than normal presence of farm animals in Delhi. I was sitting in my rickshaw when, from behind me, I heard the clop-clop of hooves against the pavement. Just then two horses raced by us. Riding them were two boys who looked to be about 8 years old. They were literally racing their horses down a crowded street in the middle of the city.
New Delhi Round 2
To be fair, I didn't actually do that much. I had come back from the Himalayas with a cold and felt pretty under the weather. Once I was there though, the strong air conditioning in my hostel perpetuated my condition, because I was constantly going back and forth from hot to cold. I was trying to recuperate, but my progress was slow in that environment. Ultimately I just gave up and got out of there regardless of how I was feeling. Once I was gone, I think that my cold cleared up within 24 hours, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was in New Delhi for a few days, and during that time I did venture out into the city a couple of times. My mojo was pretty low, so instead of striking out on my own like I usually do, I just hopped onto one of the tours that my hostel provided. I just wanted the highlight reel. It was October 2nd – Ghandi’s birthday. That is a national holiday in India, so the streets were deserted. We went to the Red Fortress, Old Delhi, and to a few other random places. Normally I’d give you a thorough run down of it all, but I was really just not impressed. At all. Everybody I knew that had visited Delhi told me that it was going to be bad, and I am inclined to agree. The whole charm of India is that there is so much good, and so much bad, and all of it is coexisting in tiny spaces. It’s always hot, crowded, and sleazy of course, but there are also lots of good things that more than make up for all of that. Those good parts make it all worth it. But not in Delhi. It’s hot, crowded, and sleazy... and that’s it. To make matters worse, it’s so massively big that in order to go actually see the “tourist attractions” you have to spend a ridiculous amount of time and money to fight your way across town in a rickshaw so that by the time you get where you're going you are sweaty and miserable. No thank you! Here are some random pictures I took during my tour anyway:
At the end of the tour we all split cabs back to the hostel. Most of us had had enough. In the taxi I was sitting next to the tour guide, who was an enthusiastic little guy supplied by the hostel. He had been sort of an annoying guide to have because he aggressively insisted that everybody stand at attention when he was talking. That’s a pretty unrealistic expectation for a tour group, especially one walking through a crowded city. People take pictures while they walk. People want to make friends with each other, so sometimes they will talk to each other in the back. But not on his watch I guess.
In the taxi he turned to me and, with a very serious expression on his face, asked me “So, what did you think of the tour?” It was a terrible tour of course. Normally I'd just be polite and tell him that it was good, but I was really tired. I felt like it would have been obvious that I was lying if I claimed to have loved it in an attempt to be polite, so I decided to just be honest. I told him that the tour was okay, but that I really just wasn’t too taken with Delhi.
This was a bit too real for him, as it turned out. He spent the rest of the cab ride yelling at me all the reasons why New Delhi is awesome. When we got back to the hostel he asked us to fill out an evaluation form for his tour. In the form we had to write down his name and rate the experience we had had with him on a number of different criteria. He stood way too close to the girl who was filling out the form, and stared at the paper intently while she nervously said “okay guys… so… 5 out of 5?”
Hostel Review: Stops Hostel
Price: 600 INR (9.26 USD) per night
Both times I was in Delhi I stayed at Stops Hostel. It’s a chain, and I had stayed at their hostel in Varanasi as well. Their location in Delhi was, hands down, the nicest hostel I’ve ever seen in my life. The facilities were immaculate. There was a bar that had a nice seating area, a pool table, and a Foosball table. There was a huge “audio/visual” room with frigid air-conditioning that was covered in comfortable pillows, had a giant projector, dim lights, and big speakers. They have a pretty decent collection of DVDs as well, which included lots of western-made films about India, like Life of Pi, The Darjeeling Limited, and the Grand Marigold Hotel (to name a few). There was a little outside smoking area with turf that had been set down to mimic grass and a staircase that led all the way up to the roof. The beds were comfortable and the rooms were nice. Most of their dorms have the western style glass partition around the shower as well. And best of all, there is plenty of toilet paper. No more bum guns! Oh, and the wifi is (relatively) fast.
However, all that said, it also had some of the most nonsensical rules and inflexible regulations I’ve ever experienced in a hostel. To name a few, although they have good air conditioning, they refuse to turn it on anywhere other than the bar and movie room between the hours of 10am and 7pm. This struck me as a little bit crazy, since these are the hours of the day when air conditioning is most needed. Forget about afternoon naps in your bed. Another one is that there is no food or drink allowed anywhere besides the kitchen and bar area. If you ever visit this hostel you will probably agree that, given the floor plan, these are probably the 2 places you are least likely to want to eat anything. Forget about watching a movie with your dinner. Anyway, I’ll wrap it up there – the point is that nobody that worked there managed to demonstrate even the slightest inkling of flexibility the entire time I was there. I was not the only one who had complaints. However, in spite of all those annoyances, I still recommend this place. I doubt that Delhi has anything better to offer.
Up next—Agra & the Taj Mahal