Back in Delhi after 10+ years!
When I was working as a flight attendant, I was regularly in Delhi. It was one of those destinations that you got called out to fly there if you had a standby duty. In 2004 and 2005, I had travelled to Sri Lanka. And between 2006 and 2009, I was in Delhi from time to time. In October 2019 I had the opportunity to fly back to India to explore more of this mysterious country. In this blog post, I will share a 2-week itinerary for Delhi, Jaipur and Varanasi. But if you can stay longer than two weeks, I will highly recommend it! I, for sure, cannot wait to be back!
Memories of fantastic food and markets
I must admit, I don’t remember much from Delhi from previous visits, and I’m not sure why. I remember visiting the Red Fort and Old Delhi and the fabulous food and the markets. This time around, I had more time to explore Delhi, and I wanted to visit a few sights. There is enough to explore in the city! Especially Old Delhi is a must-see when you visit the city. The streets are filled with cables, it’s full of people, and you can smell food everywhere! It’s the perfect place to buy herbs and spices, especially around Chandni Chowk and Khari Baoli Road! As a photographer, India is heaven when it comes to taking images. So be prepared 😉
Sights you cannot miss in Delhi
Apart from the Red Fort and Old Delhi, there are so many places you can visit! Go, for example, to Agrasen ki baoli, a gorgeous step-well from the 10th century. If you are looking for a quiet and peaceful place, you can stroll around in Lodhi Garden. In the Lodhi Art District, you can also explore some super cool murals and graffiti. Or maybe you want to visit Humayun’s tomb, Qutub Minar and India Gate. The Lotus Temple, Akshardham and Safdarjungs Tumb are also well worth a visit!
Shopping in Delhi
We stayed in the area of Paharganj, which has some lovely markets and shops around. But around Janpath and Khan Market were my favourite places to shop! Be careful with the money you spend and haggle your way for a sale! The same applies to transport in Delhi. We hailed taxi’s and tuk-tuks in the city, but they’ll try to make you pay more. Be sure you have a fixed price agreed on before you get in. And even then, they might try to rip you off. You’ll get used to this quickly, and you’ll master the trade 😉 Buying a SIM-Card is also a great way to stop you from being scammed. This way, you can always check where you are and how much an Uber would cost you, for example. If a tuk-tuk asks you more Rupees than an Uber would cost you, you know they charge way too much! Also, bear in mind, in Old Delhi, there are no cars allowed. So you might have to pay extra for a rickshaw.
After a few nights in Delhi, we travelled to Jaipur in Rajasthan. We travelled by tourist bus, and it was the fanciest bus we took during my trip! After a few hours, we arrived in Jaipur, and we were here during the Ravan Dahan festival. During this festival, they burn a ten-headed king, a statue of Ravan! The streets were filled with people, and the street food in Jaipur was delicious! Jaipur was special for me. The people were so friendly, I never drank that much Chai in my life, and I’ve never been in so many selfies with locals!
What to see in Jaipur
Jaipur is a great place where you can visit many sights. One of the most popular places is the Monkey Temple. The monkeys can be a little intense, so be careful! The official name of the temple is Sun Temple.
Jaipur is also known as the Pink city. When you walk around, you can quickly see why by looking at the buildings. Visit the City Palace, Nahargarh Fort, and the Hawa Mahal for example!
The Amber Palace is also a must-see. On the way, you’ll see the Jal Mahal as well. And don’t forget to stop at the Step Well close to the Palace.
The next place to visit was Pushkar, located at Pushkar Lake. It is a tiny town with a relaxing vibe. As this was a place to visit some friends, we stayed a bit longer in Pushkar and just enjoyed the time there. It is great for shopping, but there are not so many sights. If you are lucky, you can visit Pushkar during the famous camel festival.
Unfortunately, our time in Rajasthan was already over, but on my next trip, I’ll definitely add Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer to the itinerary! I totally fell in love with Rajasthan and there is so much to see and do. I could stay there for months! And that’s only a tiny part of the country!
The train to Varanasi
From Pushkar, we took a train to Jaipur and from there a train to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. We were told the journey would take around 24 hours, but it took approximately 36 hours in the end! And I must admit, this was the most challenging journey during my time in India. Security, hygiene, stomach bugs, loads of people, it was all a bit of an issue during this journey. As it was festival season, many train tickets were sold out, and private space was certainly not a given. It was a hot and sweaty trip to Varanasi!
One of the oldest cities in the world
Varanasi isn’t a place for the faint-hearted, maybe, but it was one of my favourite places in India during this trip. As one of the oldest cities in the world, Varanasi is mysterious and spiritual. It is located near the river Ganges where you’ll see people wash away their sins in the sacred waters. In the City of Light, you can walk along the river and the many Ghats and see what is happening there during the day.
Visit the Burning Ghat, also known as Manikarnika Ghat. This is one of the holiest cremation grounds in the world. Around 100 bodies are cremated here a day. For a donation, you can visit the cremation grounds and witness the rituals.
At dusk, you can witness the Ganga Aarti ritual where priests pray to the river Ganges. This ritual takes place at the Dashashwamedh Ghat, and it gets busy! Hundreds, if not thousands, of people are cramped in the ghat and on boats. If you want to witness this, it’s advisable to come a little earlier. It is free to visit and an absolute must-see!
I LOVED Varanasi. It felt different, and it was probably due to the spirituality in this place. At night I would sit on the rooftop overlooking the city, and the children would play with their kites. You can take a boat tour on the Ganges and explore the city from the water in the early morning. Stop at the Blue Lassi for THE tastiest lassi you ever had in your life! There are also more than 2000 temples you can visit, and the Golden Temple is one of the nicest.
Agra and the Taj Mahal
Before heading back to Delhi, we stopped at Agra. And when you’re close to Delhi, you can’t skip a visit to the Taj Mahal. It was probably the most touristy thing we did on this trip! And it was certainly worth it! We stayed in a lovely hostel that provided us with bikes to witness the sunset along the river with a view of the Taj Mahal! For free!
The following morning we all got up at 5 am to see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. As it gets busy here, it’s also recommended to buy a ticket online beforehand. You can also visit Agra Fort and the Tomb of Akbar. Overall, Agra is a pretty touristy place and, although visiting the Taj Mahal is impressive, it wasn’t my favourite place in northern India.
Safety and travelling around
India isn’t a place for first-time travellers, I think. I was in India several times before, and this time I travelled with a friend and his 15-year-old daughter. Overall I felt relatively safe, but you have to be vigilant most of the time. Transport can be the biggest issue, especially if you’re taking night busses and trains. Be sure you book the highest class where possible. Red Bus has an app you can use to book trips, but they also sometimes just didn’t turn up, leaving us on the streets of Delhi late at night… I eat street food all the time, everywhere I travel. Did I get sick? Oh yes! Would avoid eating streetfood help? Absolutely not! Travelling makes you sick from time to time. Hygiene, temperatures and climates are different. Thankfully they have great (and often natural) medicine that will help you in no time!
I have a love and hate relationship with India! But I cannot wait to come back and explore more of this beautiful country. India is intense! You’re constantly a little on edge, and so much is happening at the same time. I mean, 1.3 BILLION people live here! So it’s super fascinating, and the people are overall super lovely! But you will get scammed, harassed and get sick. It can stink and be extremely dirty. But I think I found a balance during this trip, and for this reason, I cannot wait to explore more of this fascinating place.
Disclaimer: To be fully transparent, please note that this blog post contains affiliate links and some purchases made through such links might result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). Not all links are affiliate links as I just want to share knowledge and tips with my readers, and this blog is not aimed to make a ton of money! However, every little helps, of course, to fund future travels.