Sunday, October 12, 2014

Delhi In-Depth Itinerary

A Minrab, or prayer niche, in Delhi's oldest mosque. 

Want to do something radially out of the ordinary this Summer? Want to travel to India and have a totally unique experience? Want to do all of that without spending a gigantic amount of money? Then come with me on my July 2015 Delhi in Depth itinerary, where we'll explore India's capitol in a way few visitors ever do. We'll visit the parts of the city that are world famous, which see millions of visitors every year, then we'll go to the obscure, hidden corners of Delhi, where wandering in the ruins still gives one a real sense of discovery.

Many a tomb awaits....

Delhi has been the on again, off again, capitol of much of India for most of the past thousand years. As such, it is a place with an astonishing depth and density of history. In the older parts of the city, every little alley has a story to tell, and around every corner is a reminder of the city's tumultuous past.

Yet tourists by and large only visit a handful of the interesting places within the city. The larger part of Delhi's incredible cultural heritage goes unnoticed by the outside world. The aim of this trip is to bring you not only to the famous stuff, but also to take you deep under the surface of the city, so that when you return you can say that instead of just rushing through Delhi, you really got to know it. Don't let the low price and the fact that we'll be staying one place fool you: This trip promises real adventure!

A landscapes of ruins at the 14th century fortress of Tughlaqabad.

EMAIL ME AT: if you would like more information or if you would like to reserve a seat. 


The itinerary is 9 days long. It starts JULY 28 2015 and ends AUGUST 5 2015, not counting international travel to and from Delhi International Airport. In order to confirm a seat, please send me the full trip fee by JUNE 28 2015.


What I'll need is U.S. 500payable through Paypal. 

WHAT THAT COVERS: All accommodation. All in-country transport, including airport pickups/drop-offs, metro cards, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws. Entree fees for monuments. Camera fees. Local guide charges. Tips.

WHAT THAT DOES NOT COVER: International airfare. Visa/passport processing. Health/travel insurance. Gifts. Meals(average breakfast cost: 2 U.S., average dinner cost: 3-4 U.S). Miscellaneous expenses such as bottled water, snacks, batteries, additional medical supplies, etc.

A 10% DISCOUNT will be offered to anyone who brings a friend. So, if you recruit someone to come with you, you'll get 50 off, and another 50 for each additional person. 

Kids...lots of them...


[Note 1: Be advised that India is a very flexible place, which means that to adapt, we'll also have to be flexible. Hence, be ready for a few on-the-spot emendations to this itinerary once we get there...unpredictability is a vital part of the Indian experience! 

Note 2: All links are to my travel blog evenfewergoats.]

DAY 1: You'll arrive at New Delhi International Airport. I'll pick you up at arrivals, and we'll all transfer to our budget hotel in Majnu Ka Tilla, Delhi's center of Tibetan culture, and get some rest.

DAY 2: On our first full day, we'll hit the ground running, focusing on some of Delhi's easier to visit sights. We'll wake up relatively early and have breakfast at one of Majnu-ka-Tilla's very good Tibetan restaurants. After that, we'll take our first-of-many  cycle rickshaw rides to the Delhi Metro. We'll use this to reach Humayun's Tomb, a vast and perfectly proportioned Mughal garden tomb which is one of Delhi's most simultaneously lovely and laid-back major sights. A major influence on the Taj Mahal, and at the time of its construction one of the most advanced pieces of architecture in India, the red sandstone tomb of the second Mughal emperor is the perfect place to start our exploration of Delhi. 

Humayun's Tomb.

After that, we'll go back to the metro and ride to Patel Chowk metro station, from where we'll walk to the nearby Jantar Mantar, a huge 18th century astronomical observatory, and then to the spectacular Agrasen ki Baoli, a deep 14th century step well improbably situated right next to one of Delhi's main business districts.

Agrasen Ki Baoli

Going back to Majnu-ka-Tilla to have lunch and sit out the heat of the day, we'll return to the Delhi Metro around 3-3:30. Getting off at the same stop as earlier in the day, we'll walk to the spectacular 18th century tomb of Safdarjung, the last of the great Mughal garden tombs, and then finish the day off with a stroll through Lodi Gardens, a huge green area created by the British which contains several large 15th century mausoleums. If we're lucky, we may see some giant Flying Foxes waking up for the night as the sun's going down.

Safdarjung's Tomb.

DAY 3: We'll devote the first half of this day to exploring Mehrauli, the foundation of Delhi, and arguably the city's most deeply historical area. Nearly all of the rulers of Delhi have left their mark here, from the Hindu Rajput kings who controlled Delhi before the conquest of North India by Muslim invaders in the 12th century, to the British in the 19th. 

If we're up to it, we can start off the day before dawn, and have a breakfast of Cliff Bars, bananas, and oranges. This way, we can take the metro down to Mehrauli (a 30 minute journey), and see its most impressive monuments in the least crowded, and best lighted, time of day: Just after the sun has come up.

The Qutb Minar at dawn, Delhi's most awe inspiring sight.

We'll start with the world famous Qutb Minar complex, a Unesco World Heritage site, which includes not only one of the world's tallest free standing minarets, the astonishing Qutb Minar, but also one of India's earliest mosques, built with incredibly carved Hindu Temple columns taken from shrines the Muslims destroyed upon their conquest of the city.

Part of a Hindu temple column in the Qutb Minar complex. 

From the Qutb Minar Complex, we'll take a walk next door to one of my favorite places in the whole city, the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, which contains nearly as much fascinating history and architecture as its better known world heritage site neighbor, though it's virtually unknown. Very few tourists make it this far!

The Mehrauli Archaeological Park contains a huge number of ancient buildings, including the remnants of India's first truly domed structure, the most intact tomb-interior in the entire city, two incredible step-wells, a Mughal tomb that was once used as summer house by an eccentric agent of the British East India company to the Mughal court, and much more.

The inside of Jamali-Kamali's Tomb. It's a tiny mausoleum, but it's also one of the very most beautiful places in Delhi. Rarely visited, it's one North India's foremost  hidden gems. 

After our long morning, we'll head back to our hotel, have lunch and a nap, and then head out in the evening for one of Delhi's most interesting sites: Feroz Shah Kotla. Rarely visited by tourists, Feroz Shah Kotla is a medieval fortress constructed by one of the most prolific builder of the Delhi Sultanate, Feroz Shah Tughlaq. Over time, after the fortress had fallen into disuse, it was plundered by later rulers for building material, leaving only a movingly forlorn collection of ruined walls, chambers, and gateways.

Underneath the ruined mosque of Feroz Shah Kotla.

However, much later, it came to be rumored that the fortress was inhabited by a formless spirits, left over from before the world was made, called Djinns. Every Thursday, thousands of Muslims and Hindus alike come to the creepy, atmospheric ruins to give offerings to these spirits, and petition them for favors. Experiencing this is without a doubt one Delhi's foremost adventures.

Offerings to the spirits.

DAY 4: We'll devote this day to exploring a selection of structures from the time of the third dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, the 14th to 15th century Tughlaqs, whose functional, almost brutally militaristic building style contrasts strongly with later, more ornate architecture of their successors. 

In the morning we'll travel down to South Delhi to visit the ruins of the vast, and allegedly cursed, 14th century fortress of Tughlaqabad. This is perhaps Delhi's most foreboding monument. Built over the space of only two years (an incredibly short time, given the size of fortress and the technology at hand), it was meant to keep the Mongols from conquering Delhi. However, the fortress, which was a city unto itself, was abandoned less than a decade after its completion, and the cyclopean gates and walls of Tughlaqabad have stood out crumbling in the scorching Delhi sun for the last seven centuries, largely forgotten.

An underground passageway in Tughlaqabad. 

Next door is the tomb of the builder of Tughlaqabad, Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, and also a secondary fort, Adilabad, that was built by his son in exactly the same, highly functional, no-nonsense style as Tughlaqabad itself. Adilabad, however, is if anything the more haunting site since it sees almost no visitors. 

After going back to our hotel and having our usual lunch and siesta, we'll head to two of the most radically off the beaten track places we'll visit during the course of our itinerary: Two ruins, also from the Tughlaq period, that are some of the last vestiges of the almost totally eradicated 14th century city of Jahanpanah, the fourth city of Delhi.

There are very few remnants of this once massive city that have survived into modern times, but those that do are fascinating, especially given that they are almost unknown to the outside world. They are some of Delhi's most fully hidden monuments, buried as they are deep in the posh, very recent and rapidly growing residential areas of South Delhi.

The forgotten ruins of the Bijay Mandal

What we'll visit first is the Bijay Mandal, described by Lucy Peck, a leading author on Indian architecture, as "one of the most intriguing buildings in Delhi." What it is is the remains of a series of palaces that were in use from the 13th to 16th century, by different rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. While the ruins are themselves quite extensive, archaeologists and historians are not sure what purposes the individual structures served, or the period they date from, making the Bijay Mandal one of the most mysterious historical sites in all of Delhi. 

Right next to the Bijay Mandal is the gigantic, though much neglected, Begumpur Masjid, a forgotten 14th century mosque which, despite its obscurity, ranks right up there with the most impressive places of worship in the entire city.

The crumbling corridors of Begumpur Masjid.

DAY 5: This day will begin with one of our most unusual and off-the-beaten-path activities: An urban wildlife safari. We won't take the metro or even have to ride in a rickshaw: We'll simply walk to the Northern Ridge, which is about a mile from our hotel. 

The ridge itself is a rocky rise in the ground, covered with dense vegetation, and now the home of literally thousands of Resus Monkeys, along with plenty of peacocks, parrots, and other bird-life. I can guarantee you'll be astonished by the number of monkeys you'll see. At the same time, The Northern Ridge, which constitutes the most significant, and therefore at one time most strategically vital, stretch of high ground in northern Delhi has seen more than its fair share of interesting history. It's dotted with seldom visited ruins, such as hunting lodges, step-wells, mosques, and astronomical observatories from the reign of Feroz Shah Tughlaq, and also a great many far more recent structures from the 19th century, when Delhi was ruled by the British. During the Seapoy Uprising, when much of India rose up against British rule, the Northern Ridge was the site of brutal fighting between British troops besieging what was then the city of Delhi and the forces attempting to depose them.

A monkey and flowers at the Ridge. Photo: Vick Kelsey.

We'll walk just as long as we feel like it on the ridge (there's a huge amount to see, spread over a vast area) then we'll head back to our hotel for our usual lunch and siesta. Then we'll head south again, to Purana Qila, a giant fortress, largely built during the 16th century by Sheh Shah Suri, an Afghan conqueror who, in a brief though spectacular career, laid the groundwork for the success of the Mughal Empire, which supplanted his short lived kingdom and stole his best ideas. 

Purana Qila has the tallest and arguably most impressive walls of any fort in Delhi, along with one of the most perfect mosques in the city, the wonderfully decorated Qila-i-Kohna Masjid. The fort is also a very pleasant, laid back area to wander around in, perfect for an evening stroll.

Prayers at the Qila-i-Kohna Masjid.

DAY 6: This day will focus on one of the most challenging, intense, and rewarding places to visit in Delhi: The Old City, or Shahjahanabad. Founded in the 17th century by the greatest builder of the Mughal era, and perhaps of all Indian history, Shah Jahan, Old Delhi is a hallucinogenic bombardment of chaos and beauty, poverty and glory, blaring horns and unexpected silence. A long wander in its crowded bazaars, through its narrow, canyon-like streets and into its past-their-prime but unquestionably beautiful ruins is one of the great Delhi experiences.

The stupendous Jama Masjid. Photo: Katie Bongiorno.

In the morning, we'll start our wanderings in the Old City, making first for the Jama Masjid, the last of Shah Jahan's great building achievements, and certainly the the most impressive mosque we'll see during our itinerary. After that, we'll plunge into Old Delhi's labyrinthine back lanes, where we'll walk into any number of crumbling mansions, hidden bazaars, and old Jain temples, all of which rarely see tourists due simply to the overwhelming, medieval, layout of the streets. Old Delhi has an almost limitless number of hidden treasures, if one is adventurous enough to look for them, and we can spend just as long as we feel like it delving deep into the heart of the old city.

This gets my vote for the most haunting building in all of Delhi. Buried deep in the maze of  Old Delhi's tangled back-lanes, and impossible to find unless you know exactly where to look, this is the one of the exceedingly few largely intact 19th century traditional houses in the city. It's under severe threat of destruction, either by weather or by development, and may not exist in a few years time. You may be one of the last travelers ever to see it. Just one of Old Delhi's countless hidden splendors. 

After our lunch and siesta we'll head to a different part of Old Delhi, the Gadodia Spice Market, which is the surreal combination of Asia's largest wholesale spice market and Old Delhi's finest collection of early twentieth century architecture. The smell/sensation of being in a courtyard full of, literally, millions of chili peppers may just be your most enduring memory of Delhi. The main market is in a huge courtyard that we can climb up on top of and get a great view out over Old Delhi.

Gadodia Spice Market. Those bags are full of tens of thousands of chilies!

DAY 7: This day will start out with a visit to another of the forgotten architectural masterpieces of the Tughlaq era, Khirki Masjid, the most unusual mosque in Delhi. Totally hidden inside a modern residential area, and overshadowed by a monstrous shopping mall, Khirki Masjid is an utterly unique building. More than perhaps any other monument in the city, entering the dark, eerie, bat-infested corridors of Khirki Masjid is like stepping six hundred years into the past.

Khirki Masjid....this is right next to a shopping mall....

The second part of our day will be taken up with a visit to Hauz Khas. Another surreal, unexpected corner of Delhi, Hauz Khas is a bizarre (at least to me) mixture of posh boutiques and upscale restaurants, right next to a fascinating collection of Delhi Sultanate ruins, including the tomb of Feroz Shah Tughlaq, and a large 14th century madrasa. The ruins are enclosed in a pleasant park, and the area is a nice place to hang around in at the end of the day.

DAY 8: The first half of our last day in Delhi will be left free for shopping and tying up loose ends. We can go to any number of places throughout the city to pick up souvenirs, and if there are any places you wanted to see that we missed, we can visit those as well. 

We'll finish the trip with a visit to the Delhi Red Fort, the seat of the emperor throughout the bulk of the Mughal dynasty. Even in the fort's current state, having been partially destroyed by the British after the Sepoy Uprising, the opulent palaces, mosques, bazaars and pavilions of the Delhi Red Fort are a fitting reminder of the glory of Delhi's past.

DAY 9: Nothing is planned for the last day of our itinerary. Depending on when your flight is, we may be able to visit something else in the morning. We'll play it by ear.

Otherwise, transfer to onward destination.


Elaborate niche. Lodi Gardens. 


I would describe this as a physically easy to moderate trip. There will be no difficult hikes, but we will be spending a whole lot of time on our feet. Exploring old buildings can also involve quite a bit climbing up and down stairs and occasionally dealing with heights.


[Note: I am not a doctor. You should consult with a trained medical practitioner several months before departing.]

FOOD:   As a rule of thumb, meat and uncooked fruits and  vegetables are the foods most likely to get you sick. Meat should generally be avoided unless it's from a relatively upscale restaurant with visibly decent health standards. Eating street food is generally unwise, particularly cut fruit. There are some exceptions, which I'll show you when we're there (it's impossible to explain without being there!). Fruits with peels or rinds (bananas, oranges, litchis, unopened watermelons, etc.) are usually fine. 

WATER: On this trip, only drink bottled water, and avoid drinks with ice. DO NOT PUT TAP WATER IN YOUR MOUTH FOR ANY REASON! Also, please refrain from sharing water bottles, as this can facilitate the transmission of various ailments (and this goes even if you're feeling fine!). Avoid swallowing water while brushing teeth and in the shower.  

BUGS: While you should consult with your doctor as to specific medications to be taken to combat certain mosquito and other insect born diseases, it is also highly recommended that you have a ready supply of bug spray or anti-insect ointments. It's difficult to anticipate how bad the bugs will be in Delhi during any given time of year, so simply plan to be prepared!

Early 13th century calligraphy and arabesque at the Qutb Minar.


Our trip falls during what is usually the monsoon season in Delhi. Therefore, the weather will either be very hot, or we'll have cooler temperatures with grey skies and showers. It's impossible to say which beforehand, so be prepared both for extreme heat, and rain. In Delhi, rain is a thing to celebrate as it means lower temperatures, and monsoon showers rarely last long. 

Since India is a conservative country, be prepared to cover up, especially at religious sites. The best footwear for this trip will be sandals, as we'll be going to many places that require one to take off one's shoes. Long sleeved shirts and long pants are necessary for women, particularly in conservative areas such as Old Delhi. In general, from a cultural standpoint, long pants are preferable to shorts.

AGAIN, MAIL ME AT to book a seat or request more information. Get in touch soon as seats are limited. See you in India!

Rajon Ki Baoli, Delhi's most ornate step well, which, like the vast majority of the city's cultural heritage, goes unnoticed by tourists. 

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