May 12-17, 2018
A First-Timer in New Delhi, India
Location: New Delhi (city), India
Getting to New Delhi
Given my set-back from crossing the Indian border via Sonauli, I defaulted to New Delhi instead. I was meticulous about my border preparation, identifying every variable I could imagine - including exact fare for a cab. Luckily, all went went.
I don't know anything about New Delhi, I don't know anyone there but I heard intriguing things about India - that it's a must-experience love-it or hate-it place, and a world unto its own. Of course I got curious. For New Delhi, specially Paharganj, the backpacker capital, it's more intimidating - heat, scam, congestion, filth, rape, tummy issues, etc. It was daunting to say the least.
New Delhi was the cheapest flight I could find from Kathmandu - $142, via Jet Airways on the skyscanner.net travel site. Had I been allowed a land crossing via Sonauli, I would have only paid $10 by bus! If the cheapest flight was in China, I would have gone to China instead. The place didn't matter - I just had to be out of Nepal due to visa expiry. As a nomad, home is where I land. Jet Airways, upon reading their 25th anniversary articles seem to be forward thinking - much like Air Asia. The fare was cheap, they served food and the timelines were kept. The only downside is that it's cramped - narrow seats, short leg room and narrow aisle. It's still value for the money.
Airport to Paharganj
Upon landing, the first thing that hit me was the heat - 40° !!! This is the hottest place I've ever been in. Imagine opening the oven to see if the food is done, and you feel the hot air rush out - that is New Delhi. I wonder how people could survive this heat.
En route on the Metro, I also noticed the thick smog engulfing New Delhi - the color of the air is a light brown orange. This is worse than the smog I experienced in Los Angeles.
While walking along the narrow and busy streets of Paharganj, I could also breathe the penetrating fume of chili being cooked. It cleared my sinuses! But it was over powering, I had to put my buff on my nose.
With the heat, smog and the chile fume, New Delhi is quite a challenge. And I'm just a few hours from landing!
Paharganj - Backpacker Area in New Delhi
From the Metro station in Delhi, Paharganj was still 1.4kms away. I didn't want to cab or moto-rickshaw it (for fear of getting scammed), so with the help of my Maps.Me, I navigated the way all the way to my hostel. I ignored the multitude of touts offering me assistance, or striking a conversation with, "Hi, where are you from? Where are you going?" Mind you, dodging the touts and walking it wasn't easy as I was unfamiliar with the overcrowded train station, the congested roads and my 22kg pack. Cows, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws and moto-rickshaws and pedestrians compete for space on these narrow roads. The narrower dark alleys (no moto-rickshaw can go in) that led to my hostel was a different challenge again. By day with the help of my Maps.Me, I still got lost in the maze of alleys! Anyone checking-in in Paharganj, I strongly recommend you arrive by day. It could be a system shock to arrive by night...seriously!
With New Delhi's oppressive heat, my thought bubble was: "it's a global village now, why don't people just move to another place with cooler climate? Why put up with this heat?".
Honestly, I know it's only easy for me - but not for most people to turn their lives on a dime. I'm not sentimentally attached to anything. I can walk-away from anything or anyone if it no longer works - hometown, old neighborhood, career, friends (I have friends I love from a distance...anything closer would be toxic), family (abusive, dysfunctional family members), etc. I go where it works for me - like water finding its own level. So far, in all the years I had been practising this, I have never seen it go wrong.
Through Agoda, I chose the cheapest room at $4/night with a fairly decent review. After booking, I read other reviews on Tripadvisor and to my horror, the reviews talked about bed bugs! Yikes. Upon checking-in, I talked to the owner and told him about my concern. But here's the kicker - I said if I don't experience any bed bugs and if my stay is pleasant, then when I write my objective review, it might offset the negative ones already in place. He asked me to wait a longer time at the lobby. He talked in Hindi to his staff. I don't understand what was said, but I got the feeling he instructed his staff to thoroughly clean the room...perhaps even fumigate it! When I finally got the room, it was clean with fresh sheets and bed-bug free! It still wasn't perfect tho - poor ventilation, small room, unreliable wifi, but really, for $4/night? I'm thankful. However, when it came time to checkout, I couldn't find the same price for my room, so I had to move out to a cheaper place. Instead of losing me, they offered 2 more nights at INR 350/night. It was the best deal I could get at the moment.
Exploring the Neighborhood
Paharganj has a dynamic feel to it, similar to Thamel in Kathmandu. Thamel has the dust, Paharganj has the heat. You can't win 'em all. I already have my regular street-side lassi place - with INR 20, I get a refreshing glass of lassi made in front of me. There are numerous naan and chapati places with their traditional oven right in front of the premises. Dairy stores where I get fresh yogurt/milk/cream are all over the place (1/2 kilo yogurt for INR 35, or $0.55!).Foodwise, Paharganj satiates but be wary about chili in nearly everything they prepare.
Touts, Shopkeepers, Rickshaw drivers and Vendors
The moment I walked out of my hostel, I am inundated by people who want to sell me something. They are not shy about approaching or calling you. I try to walk briskly with no eye contact. But the moment I stop, someone surely approaches me. Some are subtle, offering me info about where I am and strike a conversation like, "Where are you from?" Of course it would eventually lead to something he wants to sell me, or worse, a scam. My rule is, if someone I don't know strikes an aggressive conversation, I ignore with a smile - no eye contact and no reply.
In fairness though, I've met a few locals who went out of their way to help me when I asked for it - no, they weren't vendors but regular people in the park and subway.
Surprisingly, there aren't enough cafes here (real cafes and not resto/bars with a "Cafe" word to its name). I've been to a few but not really a cafe. Cafe CoffeeCo had wifi with very reasonable price but no a/c and felt like a diner - but it was the best I could find in my area. Open Hands Cafe is a cafe but no wifi. Mojo Cafe was really a resto/bar. I expected there would be more. I couldn't do online work in my room so I had to default to a cafe.
Alone Again, Naturally
My hostel wasn't a popular backpacker place and there was no space for a community lounge. There were no other travelers I could interact with. While walking about town, I would usually eat where locals eat not where the tourists eat, because it's cheaper (and food is authentic). But that also means no travelers to interact with. As far as the locals go, hardly anyone speaks English - to my surprise. I thought Indians speak English as well. It seems only the young and educated ones have a good grasp of the language. Occasionally, I'd have a passing conversation with travelers on the street but that's that. I couldn't help feeling alone here...not because I travel alone, but because the energies are not in sync. It's extremely rare I feel alone. I'm positive if I visit New Delhi again at a different time, it would feel different.
A lifeline in Delhi is the Metro train system. The train lines are like a spider web that connects to every essential part of Delhi. The challenge is to know where to go, what's out there...and find out how to use the Metro to get there. I have already explored nearby neighborhoods, Carol Bagh, Chandni Chowk and Rajiv Chowk. I plan to read up what other places are noteworthy.
There is a Vipassana meditation center just 55 kms south of Delhi. I applied as a server but they were full. I applied to the next closest one in Rohtak, but didn't get a reply. Maybe after my traumatic Lumbini Vipassana episode, I need to take a little break from Vipassana - that's the message I'm getting.
In Search of a New 'Hood
After 5 days, I couldn't take Paharganj anymore. It seems to be the general consensus amongst travelers. I tried looking for alternative neighborhoods. From what I've read, a few places south of Delhi are becoming habitable alternatives - food is more hygienic, a little more upscale and a lot safer. Some of these places are Panchsheel Park, Jugaad, Greater Kailash I, Asaf Ali Road and IGNOU road. I spent an afternoon exploring lodging alternatives in Panchsheel Park but I couldn't work out a web deal. Without a web deal for loding, I'm essentially hemorrhaging cash.
I'd been here 5 days...and I'm still finding my bearings, still adjusting and never really feeling at home. It's been a struggle and a sensory overload. I often catch myself asking, "What am I doing here? What's the whole point again?" So far, this fabled notion that New Delhi is a world unto its own that needs to be experienced seems like romanticized hyperbole. I guess for Europeans who live in manicured settings find India such an exotic place. To me, it's another version of Divisoria or Carriedo in the Philippines - but of course, my only experience of India is being alone in Paharganj, the seedy backpacker-ghetto of Delhi.
I am confident that it will be a different vibe in other places...or even Paharganj again at a different time. But for now, Delhi's smog and Paharganj's rough hewn texture already got me to my tipping point. Time to move out. The 30-day mini-life isn't going to work out here. The struggle despite best efforts means there's a better place for me out there.
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
Reader Comments:Naomi Rae Estreicher
(May 16, 2018) The smog was stifling for me as well! Near the India gate there was a festival thing we had just missed and a beautiful sand mandala. See if you can get out to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn't have the 'guide' though he did know all the most touristy photo spots. There were monkeys and beautiful birds. The souvenir sellers were deceitful. There was an odd system of needing a bus from the parking area to the main gate, but there might be other options too. I only know the one hotel I was in and I think it was a bit pricey but I expect there were other options around 🙂
Devaiah Rohan Pb
(May 15, 2018) If you're going to Bangalore let me know. I'm not in Bangalore, but you should also try visiting Hampi. You'll really like it there
(May 15, 2018) I met is Russian traveler who talked about Puttaparthu which is near Bangalore. If I go Puttaparthu, I'll say Hi when I'm in Bangalore
(May 15, 2018) Hampi is nice went there 15 years ago nicest place I found in 3 months India
(May 15, 2018) Wow, enjoy India! Miss the chai there, 10 rupees!
(May 15, 2018) just this morning, I tried getting my first street milk tea. The vendor said, '15 Rupee'. I remembered your post. I said, '10!' He smiled and we agreed on INR 10 🙂
Thai Plum Village
(May 15, 2018) Ate Indian food everyday in Delhi...only stomach issue was when got a pizza from a local Domino. hihi.
(May 15, 2018) when I see street food being cooked or fried in hot oil, it's my assurance it's safe to eat. So far, no Delhi-belly 🙂
(May 15, 2018) Have you checked out any music there Gigit?
(May 15, 2018) enjoy for me, im vegan, no Indian street food for me hehe
Vinyasa Krama by Srivatsa Ramaswami
(May 15, 2018) Enjoy Git!
(May 15, 2018) Lassi!! Mango lassi! Hi Gigit 🙂
(May 15, 2018) India's lassi is ❤❤❤
(May 15, 2018) Di nalalayo ang itsura sa Maynila Gigit Sulit!
Pranawayu Yoga Teacher at Taman Hati Yoga Ashram, Bali
(May 15, 2018) love India
Bahay ni Tuding Inn and Resto
(May 15, 2018) oh dear- too bad for you. but a reminder to me that i was so blessed when i was there
(May 15, 2018) Spicy...
(May 15, 2018) Bakit ka nakatakip ang mukha
(May 15, 2018) Happy for you!
Thai Plum Village
(May 15, 2018) Vegetarians Delight
(May 15, 2018) WOW!
Next stop: Meditation with Shirly Pnina at Lodi Garden, New Delhi
New Delhi (city), India
Travel Tips for New Delhi
- the backpacker area in New Delhi is Paharganj. Paharganj is close to the Delhi rail station which gets handy for local and provincial travels. Anyone checking-in in Paharganj, I strongly recommend you arrive by day. It could be a system shock to arrive by night...seriously! Some hostels are tucked inside narrow dark alleys with bystanders and hard to find by day, let alone by night
- if taking the New Delhi Airport Express Metro upon landing, buy a Metro Card and load it up. It saves you time (instead of lining up to buy a ticket everytime you ride the Metro). Besides, riding the Metro is the most convenient way of getting across town - no traffic!
- Delhi is aggressively promoting the "water re-filling" station, usually located along the Metro stops. Use it! It stops more plastic bottles ending up in the bellies of whales!
- if Paharganj is too much for you (Danish rape of 2014, scams, filthy, congested, chaos, etc.) you can try other developing areas in the south which are increasingly becoming an alternative to the seedy Paharganj. These new alternatives offer quality food, more hygiene and safer, upscale neighborhoods - Jugaad, Greater Kailash I, Asaf Ali Road and IGNOU road
How to get to Paharganj (New Delhi) from the Indira Gandhi International Airport
- cab - cab takes you to Paharganj, $8-$11, 21 mins, 20 kms
- Metro - from the airport, take the Delhi Metro - Orange Line and it will take you all the way to the Paharganj rail area, 22 mins, $1, trip every 15 minutes. From the train station, you can pay a motorickshaw INR 50 for the 1.4km trip to Paharganj
Travel Tips for India
- e-VISA - visa on arrival is no longer done. Tourists should apply online for an e-VISA. Tourist e-VISA for 60 days = US$51.25 (including surcharges, non-refundable). NOTE: e-VISA is only honored in 25 designated airports and 5 designated seaports (Cochin, Goa, Mangalore,Mumbai,Chennai). You CANNOT do a land crossing using an e-VISA.
- US$1 = Indian Rupee (INR) 67.18
- nearly every food served is spicy...there is no escaping it
- other travel destinations in India
- always good to have an Indian SIM. It's handy to get wifi in some cafes
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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- Trekking to Naddi from Upper Bhagsu, Dharamshala June 19, 2018
- Matters of the Heart Jun 17, 2018
- A First Timer in Dharamshala Jun 14, 2018
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- Meditation with Shirly Pnina at Lodi Garden, New Delhi May 15, 2018
- A First-Timer in New Delhi, India May 12-17, 2018
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- Satsang (spiritual discourse) by Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati May 21, 2018
- Ganga Aarti (devotional fire ritual) at Parmarth Niketan Ashram May 21, 2018
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- India e-VISA snag May 9, 2018
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