CITY GUIDE – As the reopening of India to foreign tourists takes shape, getaway to the capital of the Mughal dynasty, which is well worth a two-day detour. Polluted and overpopulated, the city is however full of architectural gems.
The capital of India leaves no one indifferent. Many visitors abhor or adore this agglomeration of 20 million souls. The former complain about air pollution, which reaches a peak in October and November, sidewalks that are absent, or dirty and rutted, the oppressive heat of May and June… The latter tell you about the architectural heritage of this city, conquered by the tribes of Central Asia from medieval times, and its parks, refuges from the ambient chaos.
New Delhi is not easy to live with. But the authorities have invested heavily in transport infrastructure over the past ten years, developing eight ultramodern metro lines. It is therefore the metro that we advise you to take instead. The Delhi Metro Rail smartphone app will provide you with the map, routes and timetables.
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Indira Gandhi Airport has been transformed in twenty years. In the past, it was squatted by self-proclaimed tourist guides who persisted in persuading travelers that the hotel where they were about to stay was awful, before recommending them a less than stellar address. Terminal 3 opened in 2010 changed all that and the airport is now welcoming and functional.
Upon exiting, head to the Meru taxi company counter a few meters further. For 500 to 800 rupees (6 to 10 euros), you will get into one of the cars parked along the sidewalk opposite. Meru is a little more expensive than the competition, but reliable. Another option is to take the metro which will drop you off in the center at the New Delhi Station, in about forty minutes. It all depends on the address of your hotel. If you take the metro, buy a “Travel card” charged at 150 rupees and which you will have to recharge once your credit has been exhausted. This will save you from buying tokens on each trip.
At the moment
THE GOOD TABLE
Five-minute walk from the metro station Green Park, the establishment serves cuisine from Nagaland, a state in northeastern India, on the Burmese border. The place does not look like much, but its cuisine will change you from the North Indian restaurants that abound in Delhi. The pork-based specialties are worth the detour, as are the “momos”, vegetarian or non-vegetarian ravioli, to be enjoyed as an aperitif.
Nagaland’s kitchen, S-2, Green Park Extension Market, Green Park. Open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Such. : +91 11 46 08 89 68.
THE HOTEL IN VIEW
In the heart of the beautiful districts, the Claridges is a four-star hotel ten minutes walk from the metro Lok Kalyan Marg, on the yellow line. From there, it will be easy for you to explore the capital. The interior and exterior architecture of this establishment, which opened in 1952, smells of the 19th century or the 1950s. A few paintings near the marble entrance hall show the great military battles of the first years of the English conquest. Count between 100 and 200 euros per night.
The Claridges. 12 Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Road. Such. : +91 11 39 55 50 00.
DAY 1: THE QUTAB MINAR AND MEHRAULI, AT THE ORIGINS OF DELHI
Take the yellow metro line and get off at Qutab Minar Station to discover a monument that refers to the foundation of the city by the Ghorides, a Turkish dynasty from Afghanistan. Qutab Minar was built from 1193 by the first Sultan of Delhi, Qutbuddin Aibak. He was the first of a line of Muslim rulers who ruled most of the Indian subcontinent until the 19th century. 72.5 meters high, this red sandstone minaret is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then take a walk in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park which adjoins the monument. The place is full of ruins including the beautiful Jamali Kamali Mosque unfortunately abandoned by the Indian authorities.
Then grab a rickshaw (“auto” in Hindi) and go to the dastkar bazaar. The journey of about ten minutes should not cost you more than 100 rupees (1.30 euro). Dastkar welcomes dozens of artisans from all over India who sell clothes, including cashmere, kitchen or table utensils, interior decoration objects…
To eat lunch
Head to Olive Bar and Kitchen, an Italian restaurant close to the Qutab Minar and 10 minutes from Dastkar. The place has a good reputation and the setting, immaculate white walls, offers a moment of calm. If you prefer more local cuisine, take the yellow metro line you took back to Qutab Minar and go to Hauz Khas, three stations further. There, ask a rickshaw to take you to Hauz Khas Village, fifteen minutes away. In this teeming district, you will be spoiled for choice. Among the addresses, we recommend the Coast Café or even better, Naivedyam, which serves delicious “idli”, savory cakes, and “dosa”, lentil pancakes, specialties from South India, for a handful of euros .
South Delhi is full of medieval ruins: tombs, remains of palaces or mosques among others. The authorities neglect part of this heritage. A 14th century mosque was razed to make way for badminton courts ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games… A 15-minute rickshaw ride from Hauz Khas Village is Bijay Mandal. The site houses the remains of the palace of Mohammed Bin Tughlaq, the former Sultan of Delhi who reigned in the early 14th century. Not to be confused with Vijay Mandal, a neighboring residential complex. Bijay Mandal is neglected by the archaeological service. Garbage is strewn across the rutted ground. Watch where you step. But this medieval gem is worth the detour.
Continue your discovery of the medieval remains by taking a rickshaw for the Lodi Park, the “Lodi Garden”, about twenty minutes away. Take the time to stroll through this 36-hectare green space, clean and peaceful, which contrasts with the rest of the capital. There are several monuments from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
Less than fifteen minutes from Lodi Garden, khan market is a popular place for expatriates and tourists. The businesses in this market are of little interest. But the neighborhood is home to a few rare good restaurants like Mamagoto, which in its own words serves “fun” and “creative” Asian cuisine. If you miss French cuisine, go have a dessert at L’Opéra. This bakery-pastry chain offers éclairs, macaroons and other sweets worthy of the best French bakeries.
DAY 2: RED FORT, HUMAYUN’S TOMB, NORTH AND WEST DELHI MUST-SEES
Direction the north of the city for the visit of the strong red. The monument is accessible from the Lal Quila Station on the purple metro line. The Fort was built from 1638 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and was the residence of the last representative of the dynasty, Bahadur Shah Zafar until 1857. A mutiny of the soldiers of the Indian army nearly exterminated the colonial presence English that year. But the British overcame the rebels and in retaliation, razed most of the Red Fort, including the apartments of the Emperor’s harem as well as the gardens. They transformed most of the site into military barracks. The Scottish architect James Fergusson then denounced “vandalism”. However, the interior of the fort deserves some attention, especially the Diwan-i Am and the Diwan-i Khas, where the emperor gave audience. On leaving the fort, be driven to Dariba Kalanan alley in the district of Chandni Chowk, which is full of jewelry shops and other silver objects. Do not hesitate to haggle.
To eat lunch
From Lal Quila station, take the purple line in the other direction and get off at the fourth stop, mandi house. Meet at Café Lota ten minutes away. It is inside the Craft Museum, a kind of small open-air market where you will find all kinds of trinkets and handcrafted fabrics. Café Lota is quite popular, so try to book ahead. It offers specialties from North, South and West India. You will be spoiled for choice.
Get dropped off at Humayun Tomb just 4 kilometers from the Lota cafe. For 600 rupees (7.50 euros), you can visit this 16th century mausoleum whose architecture greatly inspired that of the Taj Mahal. Its construction was financed by Akbar, son of Mughal Emperor Humayun. Then go to Sunder Nursery, a 36-hectare park, undoubtedly the most beautiful in Delhi. The place was developed by the Aga Khan Foundation and is home to six UNESCO World Heritage monuments. Stroll around the mausoleum of Mirza, near the herb garden, in the “Gulestan” (which means “garden of roses” in Persian), the garden of pleasures crossed by marble canals… Entrance ticket costs 1.50 euro.
Karim’s is one of the city’s most famous restaurant franchises. The first of the name was opened near the jamia mosque in 1913 by the Mughal Emperor’s former cook Bahadur Zafar Shah. It was so successful that it spread to several neighborhoods including that of Nizamuddin Market, a stone’s throw from Humayun’s tomb. We recommend the seekh kebabs, spicy minced meat cooked over charcoal, and the mutton dishes in sauce.
Olive Bar & Kitchen, One Style Mile, 6-8 Kalka Das Marg, Mehrauli. Such. : +91 98 10 23 54 72.
Coast Cafe, H-2, 2nd Floor, Hauz Khas Village. Such. : +91 11 41 60 17 17.
Naivedyam, 1, Hauz Khas Village, Deer Park. Such. : +91 11 26 96 04 26.
Mamagoto, 53 Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar. Such. : +91 11 45 16 60 60.
The Opera House, 5 B Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar.
Cafe Lota, National Crafts Museum, Bhairon Marg, Pragati Maidan. Such. : +91 78 38 96 07 87.
Karim’s, 168/2 Jha House Basti, Hazrat Nizamuddin West. Closed on Mondays. Such. : +91 11 41 82 78 71.
Or sleep ?
Imperial Hotel, Janpath Lane, Connaught Place. A 5-minute walk from Janpath station (purple line), the property is conveniently located in the very center of Delhi. From 180 euros per night.
The Manor Hotel, Mathura Road, 77 Friends Colony West, 10 minute walk to Ashram Metro (pink line), West. From 120 euros per night.
Dastkar, Nature Bazaar venue, Anuvrat Marg, Kisan Haat, Andheria Modh. Such. : +91 11 26 80 86 33.
Central Cottage Industries Emporium, Gate No 3, Jawahar Vyapar Bhawan, Janpath Rd, HC Mathur Lane. Such. : +91 11 23 32 04 39.
National Crafts Museum, Bhairon Marg, Pragati Maidan. Such. : +91 11 23 37 18 87.
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