Temples, tombs, gardens and markets, topped off with world-class cuisine – India’s lively capital has much to offer, says Hallie Campbell.
1. GAURI SHANKAR TEMPLE
To make the best use of your spare time in Delhi, go by private car. TWX (travelworldexperiences.com, tel +91 11 4379 9700) can provide an air-conditioned vehicle, driver and guide for half-day tours for R4,700 ($75).
Start auspiciously in the Hindu tradition by visiting the Gauri Shankar Temple, located by Chandi Chowk, the legendary Mughal-dynasty bazaar across from the Red Fort’s Lahori Gate. This important 12th-century temple (rebuilt in 1959), dedicated to the god Shiva and his consort Gauri, is a non-touristy place where locals have come for generations.
The evening aarti (19h30) is a particularly atmospheric time to visit – worshippers wave incense, chant, ring bells and offer marigold garlands to the bejewelled images of the deities located beside the temple’s sacred 800-year-old lingam (the Hindu phallic image of Shiva). Open daily 04h30-10h00, 17h00-21h00; free entry; no photography inside, avoid wearing shorts and expect to remove shoes.
2. HUMAYUN’S TOMB
Head for the city’s broad boulevards and green gardens developed by Edwin Lutyens, architect of the British Raj, from 1912 to 1931. You’ll see his splendid India Gate as you pass Raisina Hill. Stop for coffee at Threesixty at the Oberoi (Dr Zakir Hussain Marg, oberoihotels.com), one of the city’s hottest cafés, before taking a short stroll to Humayun’s Tomb.
Commissioned in 1570 by his wife, this is a justly celebrated masterpiece of early Mughal architecture, featuring distinctive red sandstone with inlaid white marble, intricate jali window screens and chattris (pavilions). The tomb is set in a charbagh garden, with flowing quadrilateral waterways that inspired the Taj Mahal a century later. The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was captured by British forces here during the 1857 mutiny, ending one of the world’s greatest dynasties. Open sunrise to sunset; entry R250 ($4).
3. LODI GARDENS
Next, enjoy the cool, lush beauty of Delhi’s best-loved park, Lodi Gardens. Covering 36 hectares, it is an oasis away from the dust, crowds and chaos that can make the capital overwhelming. It’s also the spot to watch Dilliwallahs, as the city’s inhabitants are known, at play. Sari-clad matriarchs gossip over cups of chai while captains of industry jog past huffing and puffing, and children play in the fountains or among the picturesque ruins from the Lodi Sultanate that ruled before the Mughals. Open sunrise to sunset.
4. KHAN MARKET
Bustling Khan Market at Rabindra Nagar is a Delhi institution. Unlike Janpath and Connaught Place markets, where you can waste hours haggling for tourist tat, Khan Market’s fixed-price shops are known for their quality. In an hour you can get all your shopping done, paying the same price as locals.
For fabrics go to Fab India and Anokhi. For the best in homewares check out Good Earth. Shri Gandhi Sewa Sadan has been selling pashminas since 1967. Find bling jewellery at Amrapali and luxurious Ayurvedic spa products at Kama, Forest Essentials or Biotique. Full Circle is outstanding for books, while Mercury is best for CDs and Bollywood DVDs. Open Monday-Saturday 10h30-20h00.
5. INDIAN ACCENT
Conclude by indulging in the extraordinary cuisine of Indian Accent, repeatedly voted the best restaurant in India. Just a 15-minute car journey from Khan Market, you can enjoy a mouth-watering gourmet lunch cooked by celebrity chef Manish Mehrotra for less than R2,500 ($40); all in chic surroundings that reflect the best of 21st-century Delhi. Book in advance. The Manor Hotel, 77 Friend’s Colony West; tel +91 11 4323 5151; indianaccent.com