Even though you have signed up for volunteering, you are still going to want to travel whilst in India especially as you have all those free weekends. Where better to start than New Delhi with its close proximity to Faridabad, easy to navigate metro system and a range of sights to give you a real feel for the history and culture of the country. However, with so much to see there, where to begin?
Getting to Delhi
Getting from the volunteer accommodation in Faridabad to the centre of New Delhi really couldn’t be any easier. It’s a 100 rupee tuk-tuk ride to the metro station (that’s £1 shared between as many people want to go and the tuk-tuk has been known to squeeze in an impressive 12 people!) Or, if you are particularly frugal and it’s a nice day, then a 15 minute walk down the main market street of Sector 10 will also take you to Escorts Mujesers.
Once at the station (for the first time) we recommend passing straight through security (please bear in mind there are separate queues for men and women) and going to the Customer Care booth. Here you can purchase a Smart Card for 150 rupees. This involves a 50 rupee deposit for the card (which will be returned to you as and when you want as long as the card is still in one piece) and 100 rupees credit. Now £1 may not seem like a lot of credit to get you started but it will certainly last for a full-on weekend of exploring – the furthest you will travel will be the ride into Delhi itself and this is only a whopping 26 rupees (that’s right … 26p). Further top-ups can be done at any Customer Care centre (every metro station has one) and are 200 rupees at a time. With card in hand, you can make your way to the platform and don’t worry about getting lost as you are at the end of the line so there’s only one platform!
Navigating the metro system is akin to any other such transport network. You enter on the violet line and all the lines are colour coded. The names of each station are always displayed and read out in both Hindi and English. Intersections are clearly marked on the Delhi metro map which is displayed at the stations – don’t forget to get a picture of it on your phone or print a picture of it out before you arrive. When you wish to switch lines then colourful feet are stuck on the floor of the metro station so just follow these. Whilst in the metro system, remember not to eat or drink (although there are places to purchase drinks/snacks for when you exit). Also, if you are a solo female traveller, then there is one coach (normally the one at the front of the train) reserved for women only. You can therefore queue up without men gawking at you (which will happen from time to time as they are very curious of westerners) and often get a seat when otherwise it would be tightly packed.
Where you head to in New Delhi will depend on where you want to go. Some stations are within walking distance of the place you want to see whilst others will require a tuk-tuk to take you the short journey. It is worth having a mapping app on your phone if you are going to walk. Also, knowledge of how far you need to go will help with bartering for a tuk-tuk. If in doubt, ask at the Customer Care centre where they can tell you which exit to leave the station, if you need a tuk-tuk and how much it should cost you.
Places to see in Delhi
In no particular order, here are some of the places we visited in Delhi. At the end of the list are places other volunteers visited and recommended. As with all capital cities, there are a lot of sights and what you see will depend on a number of factors including time, money and interests. If you have a lot of time, we recommend getting a Lonely Planet guide or similar to find the places that will interest you most.
- Akshardham Temple: The largest Hindu temple in the world but only built recently in 2005, this is a must see. It’s a lot to take in and cameras are not allowed inside. However, there is a very secure locker system in place to leave your bags. If you do want a picture of the day then you can pay to have one taken professionally or buy a very cheap pack of postcards inside. As with all Hindu temples, shoes are not allowed inside the main temple itself but again there is a secure locker system separately for these. You’ll probably spend longer than you think here and we recommend eating in the on site restaurant too.
- Chandni Chowk: This is at the heart of Old Delhi and is the main shopping bazaar favoured by tourists and locals alike. Explore to your heart’s content (watching out for the hawkers, motorcyclists and crowds as you go) for spices, jewellery, clothing and much, much more. Top Tip: Why not stop for some authentic India street food during your exploration? Jalebi Wala is famous for its samosas and jalebi (a syrup-covered doughnut), both of which will leave you wanting more!
- Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib: Dedicated to the ninth guru who was beheaded by a Mughal emperor, this Gurdwara can be found along Chandni Chowk. There is a tourist information centre on-site which will allow you to leave your shoes in a safe place and obtain a covering for your head if you do not already have something suitable. Inside, everyone is extremely welcoming and you are free to sit amongst those worshipping. You can also eat for free with the rest of the community where no matter who you are (young, old, man, woman, rich or poor), you will be treated equally.
- Gandhi Smriti: This memorial museum to Gandhi is a great place to learn more about his life, his message and his final days before his assassination. All of the information is in English although there is quite a bit of reading so come prepared. There are also audio visual interactive exhibits upstairs which are very modern and allow you to engage with the information in a completely different way. Outside you will see the exact location where Gandhi was shot and can pay your respects accordingly.
- Humayun’s Tomb:This was a complete surprise and actually turned out to be one of the highlights of our several trips to Delhi. The site contains some smaller tombs, gates and ruins that you can walk around. There is also a small museum housed in one of the gates which offers in English the background information. Then you walk out to see the main attraction which is impressive in both size and style. Be prepared to be amazed.
- India Gate:We only drove past the India Gate on a tour around Delhi and, as we had already been to the Gateway of India in Mumbai, opted not to walk back. However, this is a signature landmark of Delhi and, if time permits, it’s worth a visit to see this tribute to Indian army soldiers.
- Qutb Minar:Located in the greater Delhi area, but easily accessible by Metro, this complex contains a number of ruined tombs and monuments that are of early Islamic design.
There were a number of places that we opted not to visit during our time as they overlapped with similar places we had seen or planned to see elsewhere in Northern India. However, these are typically visited by volunteers during their stay in Faridabad and are good examples of the varied culture of India:
- Red Fort – having visited both Amber and Agra Forts in Jaipur and Agra respectively, we decided not to visit here. It is located at one end of Chandni Chowk and is a great example of the Mughal Empire’s influence on Delhi. If you’re not planning to visit any of the great forts elsewhere, this is a must to appreciate old India.
- Jama Masjid – again we had visited some beautiful mosques across India so opted to leave what is India’s largest mosque. However, its easy to reach location make it a great addition to a trip to Delhi. Please note that women will be expected to wear the scarves and robes provided.
- Connaught Place – the heart of modern Delhi, this is a central location and great choice for anyone wanting a more upmarket meal. The design is circular with the inner circle labelled A to F, and outer circle, G to N. Central park is found at the centre of the circle.
- Dilli Haat – ask Vishy and he will organise a trip to Dilli Haat for you. It’s a great place to try food from any (or all!) of the states of India as well as get some shopping done for any of the local crafts made and sold in India. A firm favourite evening out amongst volunteers.
As the capital of India, there are many other opportunities to explore and understand this fascinating country. The metro provides a quick and easy method of travelling around however, for those more difficult destinations, a taxi or private car arranged through Vishy can also be arranged.
For specific detailed, information on any of the projects that PMGY provides then please contact them directly by going to www.planmygapyear.co.uk.