Delhi, a bit like Marmite

Yes, a bit like Marmite. I’m talking about the whole love it/hate it thing.

Up until our arrival in Delhi, India had been amazing. Of course, before we left to come to India we had read about how challenging and frustrating it can be, but we’d also read that the rewards for coping with the challenges are greater than at most places a traveller can go. Up until Delhi we’d had the energy to cope with the frustrations and setbacks it had thrown at us. But we’d never come up against The Delhi Evil Army of Auto-rickshaw Drivers (probably their official title). Sometimes in our 5 days in the capital these people made us angry enough to hate everything about Delhi and made the thought of heading right to the international terminal at the city’s airport oh-so-attractive.


The train journey to Delhi was surprisingly easy for us – I think we’re getting used to the long journeys now. It was pretty depressing to see the state of the suburbs of the city as we rolled past. They are totally strewn with rubbish and some of the houses of the residents back directly onto, or are even built on top of, huge mounds of rubbish. We also had an unexpected guest in our carriage that morning. Across from our beds, as we sat waiting to pull into the station, one of the snoring guys (there are always lots of them) across from us jumped up from his bed rubbing his face. Yes indeed, the poor chap had a small rat perched on his face while he was asleep! We were grateful that this was at the end of our journey and I kept an eye on where it was for the rest of the trip.

Our introduction to the city was to find that despite having booked a train that arrived at New Delhi Station (and consequently booked a hotel within walking distance of that station), it arrived at Old Delhi Station. Fantastic. So our next task was to check the map, figure out how much we thought we should be paying to get to the hotel, and find ourselves an auto-rickshaw driver to start the haggling. Little did we know that the first one that approached us would set the tone for our dealings with the rest of them in Delhi. We knew that the journey should’ve cost about Rs30 but we were expecting him to offer Rs80-100 and we’d haggle him down to about Rs50. We had to laugh in his face when he suggested a price of Rs250! It wasn’t the value of the money – a small amount in GBP, it was the principle of the situation that bothered us. I realised after I shouted ‘do you think I’m stupid?!’ back at him as we walked away that yes, he probably thought I was. Luckily for us Old Delhi Station was one of the few places in Delhi which had a pre-pay booth for auto-rickshaws (still overpriced at Rs50, but no haggling required). We didn’t venture far from the hotel on our first afternoon other than to head to Main Bazaar, a very touristy road full of tacky market stalls, to look for a restaurant for dinner.

Our second day in Delhi was on the day of Holi, when we spent the morning out and about getting pelted with colour, and the afternoon hiding out in our hotel with the rest of the tourists who weren’t brave enough to head out into the vibrant war zone. You can read more about our Holi experience and look at some photos here.

A subtle message for tourists?By the next day we felt like we hadn’t seen much of Delhi at all, and rightly so. So we planned to head over to the Old City and then to see Connaught Place. We left the hotel and hailed an auto-rickshaw, only to be hit once more with an outrageous fee to take us there. We politely refused and decided that the way to not be completely ripped off by these guys was to try not to be touristy – as it was understandable that they charge these inflated prices because there are so many tourists who are stupid enough to pay them. We had already been doing our part by trying to dress appropriately, something which we were disappointed to see that many tourists don’t even consider. We also put the guide book away, tried to catch rickshaws well away from train stations, and avoided going directly to or from major tourist spots or hotels. Did any of this help at all? No, of course it didn’t. In every small town and city so far where we’ve been able to get to places on foot, we’ve walked. It’s meant seeing things, eating foods and meeting people we’d otherwise have missed, and we’re convinced that it’s absolutely the best way to get to know a place. We even covered a huge amount of Mumbai on foot. But the difference between Delhi and Mumbai is that in Mumbai, when we did need to catch a taxi, the driver would happily put the meter on if you asked him to (and we’d be happy to give a tip), no hassle, no stress. Anyway… we stubbornly ended up walking to the Old City, walked up Chandni Chowk to the Red Fort and paid the biggest Indian World Heritage Site entry fee so far to see the most disappointing Indian World Heritage Site so far. So, already exhausted and disappointed, another haggling battle for yet another ultimately overpriced ride to Connaught Place (to have a look around the more modern end of Delhi) didn’t help things, and we arrived there to find the area was predominantly under construction for the Commonwealth Games in October. Good luck to them for getting the place finished in time, because most of the pavements and buildings were dangerously unfinished. We managed to find a decent goverment-run handicrafts emporium for some shoppng, but our preferred dinner option had disappeared in the construction work and we ended up having to find an alternative by traversing the incomplete rocky dust tracks that were supposed to be pavements, mostly in the dark. Yes… by the end of our third day in Delhi, I wanted to be anywhere else and as far as I could tell, Delhi didn’t want us to be there anyway.

A good night’s sleep meant that we felt a little more prepared for another day of being overcharged for being taken to overpriced and unimpressive sights on noisy roads while breathing smoggy air. Hmm, yes we were just a little more prepared, but not much, as we walked out of the hotel doors and straight past the shouting auto-rickshaw drivers waiting outside. ‘Hello! Hello! Where you going?’ I heard… ‘Fuck off!’ I thought.

We were happy to have managed to get a Rs40 ride for Rs100 after about 10 minutes of walking about and haggling with quite a few different drivers away from our hotel (argh… were we actually beginning to accept this shit?!), and we went to Humayun’s Tomb. We had a really pleasant morning wandering about the gardens and exploring the beautiful early Mughal architecture, and I actually started to think that the city might have had something to offer that made all of the other crap worth putting up with after all. After too much curry, we thought we’d treat ourselves to lunch at the ‘All American Diner’ and after the the long walk there (yes of course we walked!) we were very pleased to see a really convincing 50s diner complete with black and white floor tiles, neon lights, red seats and lots of chrome. We had some excellent milkshakes, then I went for the french toast breakfast and Alexandra ordered a cheeseburger. Unfortunately we seemed to be at the only ‘All American Diner’ in the world where a standard cheeseburger comes with a processed, minced chicken patty instead of minced beef. Having had a beefburger at a very good restaurant in Mumbai, we thought this place would have had no problem serving one up. After the burger was left aside, it turned out that my french toast didn’t stretch too far once it had to be shared between us, so some huge desserts were in order, and they weren’t too bad at all. (Although that lunchtime, we really wanted to be back in New York!) We spent the afternoon, visiting Safdarjung’s Tomb and Gandhi Smriti – in the gardens of which, Gandhi took his final steps before being assassinated in 1948 – and did a bit more shopping, including buying some snacks to eat back at the hotel. Although we were severely overcharged yet again to get back to the hotel from south Delhi we overlooked the annoyance because our time in Delhi finally had some positive things to look back on.

Jama MasjidOur last day started with a visit to New Delhi Station to confirm which station our train to Jaipur left from the following morning. Yes of course, the booking said New Delhi, but the train would leave from Old Delhi. Glad we checked. Then we walked back to the Old City to visit Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India which can hold a massive 25,000 people. Then after catching a cycle rickshaw towards Connaught Place (and having to get off because 10 minutes into the journey the driver just stopped because he didn’t actually know where it was), we were pointed towards the metro. Aaah! The Delhi metro! This is what will save the city from critical tourist eyes if they can get it finished in time for the Commonwealth Games. It’s almost as good as Shanghai’s metro and although nowhere near as comprehensive, puts the London Underground to shame. Not least because it cost us an amazing Rs8 (11p!) for our trip to Connaught Place. Leaving the metro station we were approached by a guy who after a friendly chat during which we told him we were shopping and how much we hate the Delhi auto-rickshaw drivers he responded by asking us which shop we wanted to go to, grabbed a driver and ordered him to turn on his meter before telling him to take us to the shop. Thinking that they’re not all bad after all turned out to be a silly thing to do as this driver ended up taking us to a different shop, one presumably connected to the guy outside the station. Another scam… We were starting to learn to assume that no-one approaches you in India unles they want something from you. Which is a shame for the few who just want a genuine chat. Frustrated again, we managed to find the shops we wanted to visit about an hour later because yet another driver tried to take us to a shop where he could get an extra bit of commission. After a little more shopping and a rush to get to the post office to get stuff posted out to friends before it closed, we visited a Muslim shrine called Harzat Nizam-Ud-Din Dargargh. We handed in our shoes (and the shoe bearer handed me a taqiyah to wear) and headed into the shrine which was packed with people. We sat amongst them and at sunset the Sufis began singing qawwali. It was hugely atmospheric and a really great experience.

We finished our last night with an awesome dinner at a restaurant in Lodi Garden, and on the walk back to the hotel we started to be followed by a friendly dog. It seemed to be happy to accompany us for about 15 minutes until we had to cross a major road. Once Alexandra and I had managed to cross the dual carriageway I looked back at the very moment that the dog was hit by a skidding car. It bounced and rolled away down the road but surprisingly managed to clamber to its feet and run, clearly shocked, back across the road, almost causing another pile up on the other side. We couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty after that as we made our way back to the hotel.

The next morning we were up at 3.15am for our train and our final hours in Delhi were punctuated in the same way as our first had been, with a huge rip off from a taxi driver. Only this time it was by the driver of the very hotel that we’d been staying with (and spending plenty of money with), taking advantage of our need for a taxi so early in the morning and not giving a shit about sending their customers away unhappy. Hopefully Jaipur is a little more welcoming!

Goodbye Delhi… you’ve got a few positives, and I can see that you might improve in the years to come, but I don’t think I’ll be coming back.

Anthony Written by:


  1. Heather
    March 8

    Oh know, its sounds like Dehli was painful! I hope your next adventure is a little less stressful! Lovely pics again!

    lots of love to you both

    p.s first jerk chicken of the year on saturday, it was very very tasty

  2. Heather
    March 8

    how much longer are you in india for? where next? Is it Nepal? xxx

  3. March 9

    You killed that poor dog you BAS****S!

Comments are closed.