Woefully underprepared. I had no idea what to do in Delhi, the mega-city/third-world-smelly-congested-capital of India.
Before I arrived I was sick to my stomach, something I was certain that was supposed to happen after I ate here, not before. I was scared about getting, robbed, ripped off, kidnapped, assaulted and terrible forms of violence against women I had read about in the news over the past few years. I took every precaution, loose cloths, limited cash, completely covered from head to toe and no talking to strangers.
After 4 days in Delhi I learned my precautions and lowered expectations, meant my experience exceeded my delusions of danger. While not my favorite city in the world there are a few good things about Delhi:
Shopping – this is favorite activity in India, period. A Delhi born friend suggested I head to Janpath Market near Connaught Circle (metro stop Rajive Chuk) to buy local shirt/dressed (called Kurtis) to blend in better. This was excellent advice. I bought 3 Kurtis (long tunic like tops), while I am certain I over paid I was able to bargain from 600+ rps to less than 300. While wearing Kurtis with leggings and a head covering shall, I feel significantly less vulnerable than in western dresses. The shawl is like my invisibility cloak, and it works. Once in local dress I was not once followed, harassed, bothered, and even was able to bargain more effectively for items like Jewelry – my second favorite thing to buy in India.
Jewels of India – If you have ever dreams of a sapphire ring – or any other semi-precious stone – this is the place for you. Tourist shops called “Craft Markets” are air-conditioned and sales people offer tea and bottled water to entice you to stay and shop. (I only bought 2 bottle of water in 4 days and was given about eight bottles while shopping) Less high pressure than other markets in the world this is a genuinely fun experience. If you are in the market for jewels, rugs, or just a few trinkets bargain your heart out. Tip: don’t let them sell you in US $, stick to rupees and cash for the best deal. It’s easy to get excited and whip out your credit card but if you stick to a price you are willing to pay, in cash, you can walk away with a better deal, or just walk away. There are loads of markets so don’t feel presseured.
Tuk Tuk – oh yes… the open air death trap that is the three wheeled “moto-rickshaw” is my favorite mode of transportation. Ask to use the meter and/or agree on a price before you get in. I found a local driver I liked to who picked me up the next day and drove me around for 3+ hours with the meter running and the total with generous tip was 200 rps – less then $3. Be firm, use the meter, and ask for price before hand. You will be more connected to the city then if you were in a AC cab – I did that too for 1500 rps for 4 hours and enjoyed it, but felt delightfully isolated from the world.
Splurge for luxury – it’s cheap. I am writing this from the JW Marriott in Chandigarh, a planned city designed in the 1950’s by Americn Architect-planner Albert Mayer, and fresh architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s. It’s a wealthy, clean, safe city at the foot of the Himalayas. Just like everything else in India luxury hotels are rather affordable. My spectacular room is $144 per night, a price I have paid for a Courtyard Marriott in Fresno. The service is exceptional – I have met several extremely friendly staff educated in the UK, traveling solo I welcomed the conversation.
While In Delhi I opted for a local feeling home stay for less than $50 per night I got a immaculate AC room, fridge, mini-bar, comfortable bed, rain shower, wifi, and breakfast. You don’t need luxury to have comfort, but if you are up for the splurge – go for it… luxury lodging doesn’t get cheaper.
Metro Ladies only train car – I didn’t think I would ride the metro, but curiosity got the best of me and I tried it, for only 10 Rupees, why not? The first car on the train is women’s only and it’s lovely. The only alarming part is the metro station security. You have to get in segregated lines – the is probably the only places where the women’s line is shorten then men – I am looking at you every mall, movie theater, or nightclub ever. Also, you have to take off your bag and run it through a scanner. This goes against all my travel instincts, but the lines goes at the speed of the screener (TSA could learn a thing or two from this) and after a few times you get used to it.
Smelly Delhi – on my third day I went to Old Delhi and the Red Fort Area. This is the smelly, crowned, slightly scary, Delhi you have herd about. Not bad, but not in a rush to go back there. Did’t find anything in the markets I had to buy but was amazed at the variety of things for sale, from Saree’s to bikes, chickens, toys, jeans, shoes, and goats (animals not for pets).
I will not pretend to know everything about Delhi, but despite being completely underprepared this solo lady traveler was safe and sound. Ladies, put on your invisibility cloak and Try This… Delhi.