real life

INDIA: 5 things you didn't know you could do in Delhi ...

Hannah Marton explores India

From making chapatti at a Sikh temple to playing golf at a five-star resort, there’s more to Delhi than sightseeing and drinking chai, says Hanna Marton

Everything you’ve ever heard or read about India is true. Yes, it’s dirty, colourful, crowded and frenetic; some of the men walk around naked (they’re holy men, so it’s OK); abject poverty is everywhere you look and the curries are hotter than Ryan Gosling… naked… in a spa. But there’s a lot more to the mighty subcontinent than the clichés, which I discovered on a recent whirlwind stop in Delhi (population 16 million). Here’s a list of things to do in the capital when you’re not gawking at the Taj Mahal.

Stress-free shopping Yes, in India. Once you’ve survived the organised chaos that is famous Chandi Chowk – a maze of shops selling everything from fireworks to bridal saris – head to one of Delhi’s many state-run shopping emporiums. The prices are fixed so there’s no haggling and you can be assured of quality. For something in-between head to Dilli Haat, just south of Central Delhi: a crowd-free outdoor market established in 1994 by the government to showcase artisans’ work from across India. I scored a pure cashmere scarf for $40.

Walk in Gandhi’s footsteps As in, his last ones. India’s most celebrated freedom fighter had been staying with a prominent businessman for 144 days on January 30, 1948, when he was sadly assassinated on his daily trip to the prayer room. The stately home is now a museum, Gandhi Smriti, dedicated to the Mahatma’s life; it features concrete footsteps that mark his last moments. It also sports an uncanny wax model of Gandhi and his long-suffering wife, Kasturba, who, according to a new biography, Gandhi left for a male, German bodybuilder. Righto.

A visit to the Gandhi museum is a must.

Visit a Sikh temple Popping into a Hindu temple is sooo on the beaten track. For a well-rounded spiritual tour of Delhi, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib is a must – and I would have missed if it weren’t for my legendary Intrepid Travel guide, Badam. According to Badam, the Sikh religion is practised by only two to three per cent of the Indian population, but it’s, like, totally awesome. Sikhs renounce the caste system, men and women are considered equal, and every Sikh temple (gurdwara) features a kitchen that feeds the destitute. Everybody’s welcome to help roll chapatti – even tourists like me, which I did… very badly. (Watch the ladies from Show Me the Curry making chapatti here.)

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See India’s biggest mosque… while wearing a kaftan that would make Camilla Franks hyperventilate. Jama Masjid was built in the 17th century by the Mughals – rulers who emigrated from Afghanistan – and its courtyard can hold more than 20,000 people. Definitely worth a visit, but unless you’re wearing long pants and sleeves à la straightjacket, ladies, you’ll have to don the provided floral muumuus. They are fetching. Be sure to climb the southern minaret for ah-mazing views over Delhi (your thighs will hate you).

Hit the golf course (or spa) Roughly 45 minutes from the bustle of Delhi proper is one of the country’s newest and poshest hotels, Jaypee Greens Golf & Spa Resort. I thought “clubs” were places for dancing and “teeing off” is something you do at 3pm with a biscuit, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to “play” (I use the word lightly) on this Greg Norman-designed golf course. Even with an experienced caddy, three holes took about two hours, so with the 38-degree heat and some impatient Korean businessmen behind us, I decided to retire early. Golf not your bag either? Jaypee Greens is polishing off India’s first Six Senses Spa (yup, the resort is so new it’s not even finished) – opening in October.

Got more time?

  • Take the metro. Introduced in 2002 to take the pressure of Delhi’s insane traffic, the metro is clean, safe (every train has two ladies-only carriages) and free of cows.
  • Chew betel nut, a mild stimulant wrapped in a betel leaf, often with lime and spices. It’s like a strong coffee that makes your mouth slightly numb and your teeth red. Lovely. Enjoyed by 10 to 20 per cent of the world’s population, reports the Australian Drug Foundation.
  • Visit the doll museum, which according to Lonely Planet, boasts 6500 dolls from 85 countries. Or, check out Delhi’s shrine to the other kind of porcelain, the toilet museum: a “mind-boggling” collection of loo paraphernalia dating back to 2500BC. WTF?
  • Get your name engraved on a teensy, tiny grain of rice. I have no idea why anyone would want to buy one, but it’s the latest craze in tourist tat. Next time, I’m getting one for the husband that says, “My wife went to India and all I got was this lousy grain of rice.”

Trip notes

  • Intrepid Travel runs half-day Urban Adventures tours of Delhi with an English-speaking guide for USD$29.50, which covers entrance fees and lunch. Click here to find out more.
  • Double rooms at Jaypee Greens Golf & Spa Resort cost approximately AUD$400 per night during the high season (October to March), but are a lot cheaper in the low season. Click here for more info.
  • On a less extravagant budget? Stay at the comfy and welcoming Bajaj Indian Home Stay in New Delhi, from approx. $70 per deluxe room per night. Click here for more info.
  • AirAsia flies from Melbourne to Delhi from $340 one way. Go the website to book.
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