Thinking about travelling to India? Here’s how to navigate through a day in Delhi as a solo female traveller.
Delhi, very much like most of India, is a sea of beautiful chaos. The incredible energy of its busy streets, coupled with the heavy scent of spices, glimpses of ancient balconies, and a melting pot of cultures, combusts into an all-around 360-degree experience! I was incredibly excited to be discovering this city – it had been on my bucket list for years. Its history and heritage are undeniable, and part of its appeal to travellers from all over the globe. However, as a female about to set out on solo travel here, I had been told to be wary, given the number of alarming stories about the city in the media. Bad press certainly didn’t make a dent in my desire to explore this part of the world on my own, and here are some tips for how I made it happen.
What to know
Before I head into the nitty-gritty of all the amazing things to do in 24 hours, here are some handy tips for a woman travelling sans-company in Delhi. Bearing in mind that negative and positive aspects exist in every corner of earth, it’s always best to take a sensible approach and not be perturbed by the bad side of things. Get good advice from friends and locals, and don’t go lurking in dark corners!
1. Dress appropriately according to cultural norms
Delhi, in general, is still a conservative city, therefore it is suggested that women wear clothing that covers the arms and legs. A good suggestion is to wear a “kurta”, a traditional long sleeve tunic, and pair it with long loose pants or light-weight jeans. Why? Old customs and traditions still play a big part in Delhi. I chose to go with the flow and blend in with the locals. Whilst we can all agree that what a woman wears is never grounds for harassment, dressing in line with the cultural norms can be a sign of respectfully embracing the culture.
2. Keep calm and courteous
As with anywhere you go, basic courtesy gets you very far – a simple thank you to staff, or a smile to the local shop vendor who has given you a good bargain on a pack of curry pastes. In a city where the dynamics of male and female are still driven by values defined decades ago, an overly friendly manner with the opposite sex is best kept to a minimum. This may not be the case with certain individuals, such as your tour guide or local friends, but as the conservative culture dictates the general rules of Delhi, it’s important to stay in line with local customs.
3. Keep belongings to a minimal
I wore a tiny cross body bag which had some cash, a couple of credit cards, a copy of my passport and my phone. Pickpocketing is common, so carry little and carry it close to the front of your body.
Read more: 10 Tips For Solo Female Travellers
Where to stay:
For luxury locations:
If you feel like splashing out a bit, book yourself a stay in one of the 5-star hotels in town at a central location. The secure area is recommended, and the decadence is a bonus! I stayed at The Imperial, which is a colonial-style establishment draped with all the luxuries and details of times gone by. Built in 1931, its corridors are filled with a rich history and works of arts detailing the Mughal Kings all the way to scenes of the British Empire. Each room is fitted with French linens, rich wood detailing and paintings of Maharanis to keep you company. The hotel’s charming colonial patio is perfect for sundowner drinks.
What to do:
10am: Visit the Janpath Markets
Get your bargaining chips out for a mish-mash of shops! This is the spot for a quick shopping fix when you have very little time. Art carvings, traditional sarees, jewellery, cashmere scarves, you name it. It’s all available here. It’s the perfect location to find unique items and bring home a piece of India with you. When you’re by yourself, it’s wise to politely pass the hustlers on the streets and head into the standing stores instead.
Janpath Markets, Janpath Road, Janpath, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India
11:30am Book a walking tour with “Old Delhi Walk”
They are rated the number one walking tour in Delhi on Trip Advisor, and it did live up to its reputation! If you want to see the real India, this is an experience you cannot miss. It starts in the heart of Old Delhi, and journeys through a multitude of winding alleys. Our guide made it his personal agenda to ensure that all of us got a deeper look into the city’s history and culture, beyond what we read in the guidebooks. We saw a 200-year-old temple that has a reputation for granting fertility, visited a century-old flower market that operates 24/7, looked upon a panoramic view of Old Delhi from the top of an ancient haveli, and ate some amazing street food.
The guides work only with “safe” street food vendors, so it’s safe to say that in all their history with guests, no one has fallen ill to the dreaded “Delhi Belly”. We feasted on freshly fried samosas, delicious puri and heavenly chickpea curry. The trip ended with a magnificent meal inside a haveli, which is a traditional Indian courtyard style home. It is one of the last family-owned residences of its kind, and its resident, Dhruv Gupta, has painstakingly restored it to its former glory. As a beautiful parting gift from the entire walking experience, Dhruv’s wife whipped up a mouthwatering vegetarian lunch.
4:00pm Visit Humayun’s Tomb
Some will say that no trip to India is complete without a visit to The Taj Mahal. But a wondrous gem awaits visitors in Delhi in the form of Humayun’s Tomb. Locals say it can easily rival the beauty (and crowds) of its Agra counterpart. Built like a luxurious palace instead of a tomb, it is one of the most well-preserved pieces of Mughal Architecture.
Humayun and his descendants rest in grey stone rooms with unusually carved lattice windows that, interestingly, bear the Star of David. Also known as the Seal of Solomon, this symbol has been prevalent in Islam since its founding. Muslims recognise Solomon as a prophet in the Quran, so it is common to find this symbol within ancient Muslim architecture too. Although it is popularly connected to the Jewish faith, history says the Star of David only made it into the folds of Judaism in the last 200 years when it was adopted by the Zionist movement in Israel in 1897.
Besides being enthralled by its unique bits of symbolic history, I also discovered that the tree-lined walkways in its surrounding gardens are extremely peaceful. It is almost reminiscent of the royal gardens in Vienna, but with a distinct simplistic charm that Delhi carries with ease. I took a seat on one of the benches under an old fig tree and enjoyed the serene ambience, scents and sounds surrounding me. I’d recommend taking some time out of your day to enjoy the quiet here.
Humayun’s Tomb, Mathura Road Opposite Dargah, Nizamuddin, New Delhi, Delhi 110013, India
8:00pm Eat dinner at Chor Bizarre
India’s melting pot of cuisines are incredible, and a dear friend of mine who lived in Delhi took me to one of her favourite spots to eat Kashmiri food, the decadent Chor Bizarre. Located inside a heritage government building, you can expect friendly service and quality barbecued meats. What struck me most was all the historical artefacts that had been fitted into the glass enclosures of the dining tables, and adorned all across the walls. Make sure to end the night with a pot of Kashmiri tea, unique because it is brewed with saffron and almonds for a textured sip. Tales say that the Kashmiris needed the extra protein and nourishment for stamina while fighting wars (which is why almonds are mixed into the tea).
Things to note
- Get a local sim card
Not just because you will need all that data for your Instagram, but also because it’s very important to be reachable when you’re out and about by yourself.
- Take the metro
The metro stations are modern and big, and is a great form of public transport, and can be likened to the metro stations found in Hong Kong and Singapore. As a safety option to consider, the first carriage of every train is for ladies only. I travelled on the metro a couple of times and it was easy and fast, and an added plus point is you beat the heavy traffic! The only slight delay with the trains is that they have security checks before entering the station, so that can be a little time consuming if you are in a rush.
- Otherwise, Uber it!
I nearly booked a driver for my entire stay, which is common for tourists, but a girlfriend who lived in Delhi advised me that Uber would work out the best for me. Not only is it easy to arrange, but there is a panic button on the app that anyone can click should they feel uneasy or unsafe. This panic button has been rolled out in a number of countries. But suffice to say, I took a total of about four Uber trips in 24 hours and each of my journeys were perfectly fine. As basic precaution, always screenshot the licence plate number of your Uber car and send that to a trusted contact for safekeeping, and inform your contact when you have arrived safely at your destination. I don’t just do this in India, I’ve done this in a number of countries I’ve been to alone. There’s no harm in taking extra safety precautions.
Delhi is a wonderful bustling city, and your journey is guaranteed to be a memorable one. As long as you stay well aware of your situations and surroundings, solo travel is an amazing way to discover a destination on your own terms, whilst discovering a part of yourself in the process.
Featured image courtesy of Raghu Nayyar via Unsplash, image 1 courtesy of Aquib Akhter via Unsplash, image 2, 5, 7 – 11 courtesy of Choy Teh, image 3 courtesy of What’s Up Life, image 4 courtesy of Chor Bizarre, image 6 courtesy of Annie Spratt via Unsplash, image 12 courtesy of Annie Spratt via Unsplash