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Top Places to Visit in Delhi

The temperatures in Delhi are finally dropping and it is time to get back out and explore the city.  Delhi is well-known for its proximity to the Taj Mahal and the Pink City of Jaipur and for its bustling old town but few know of the intriguing history of the city or how cosmopolitan today’s reincarnation is.  Below are our recommendations for the top things to see to get a real feel for the city!

  • Qutab Minar –  Qutab Minar is one of the top sights to see and with good reason.  The 12th-century brick minaret stands at a whopping 5-stories tall and the surrounding structures are some of the oldest surviving Islamic buildings on the Indian subcontinent.   Come early to try and escape the huge crowds.

A view of Qutab Minar on a sunny day

  • Humayun’s Tomb – A precursor to the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb symbolizes a new era in Mughal architecture. Built at the end of the 16th century,  Humayun’s was the first garden-tomb in India and one of the first examples of red sandstone being used as a dominant construction material. The pinkish-hue of the building and the surrounding gardens provide picture-perfect photo ops and some excellent people watching.

The stunning Humayun's Tomb with fountain reflection

  • Lodi Gardens –  One of the best preserved areas of Delhi,  the tombs of Lodi Gardens were originally part of an earlier settlement.  Built between the 15th and 16th centuries, the buildings represent a variety of different architectural styles and are surrounded by a  beautiful city park. Best of all, it is free to get into!

Lodi Gardens on a cloudy afternoon

 

  • Lodi Art Colony – The quiet neighborhood of Lodi Colony is now the epicenter of Delhi’s street art scene.   Brightly-colored murals cover sides of buildings and showcase India’s past, present and future. The neighborhood is a work-in-progress so make sure to come back often to see the newest works of art.  If you want to know more about the artists and the history behind the project, make sure to join our Delhi Art Tour!The bright colors of Lodi Art Colony
  • Gurudwara Bangla Sahib – One of the most prominent Sikh temples in Delhi, Bangla sahib features a holy pond, community kitchen and museum.  Time your visit around lunch or dinner and you can join for langar. Don’t be shy. All are welcome regardless of religion or nationality and langar is an important aspect of Sikhism.  If you are interested in learning more about Sikhism, make sure to join our Delhi by Public Transport tour which includes a stop at the gurudwara.

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib on a clear day

The Spices of Indian Food

Dear readers,

After a scrumptious Dharavi Cooking Experience, getting hands on and learning how to make Indian dishes, we thought: why not pay homage to the ingredients that make the cuisine unique–a post in appreciation of some of India’s most beloved spices?

India boasts a diverse range of regional cuisines where varying spices and ingredients are used. Indeed, the basis of all dishes is the masala (which means “spice” in Hindi). The richness, the layers of bright, full-bodied and powerful flavours that a medley of spices brings is unbelievable. The ratio of each spice in a masala mix is tailored to one’s taste: it can be blended to evoke balance, or to enhance and emphasize particular flavours. Here are some essential spices found in Indian cuisine:

Turmeric

Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its characteristic yellow hue. It is loved for its potent antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  The chemical compound cucurmin is present in turmeric, which lends this spice its medicinal powers. Studies have shown that curcumin can suppress inflammatory molecules and stimulates one’s antioxidant enzyme capacity. Many Indians swear by turmeric boiled in milk as a home remedy to fight colds and infections.

Chili peppers

What really gives Indian dishes that “spicy” kick? None other than the chili pepper. Chilis are high in vitamins and minerals, particularly in vitamin A and C, immunity boosting nutrients. Also, capsaicin, an active compound of chili, is effective of relieving pain and congestion (that all too-familiar feeling of a runny nose after consuming a dish with chilis). Chilis are also known to have antibacterial and anti-fungal effects, good for ridding harmful bacteria in the stomach.

Cumin

Cumin, a spice native to Egypt, is one of the world’s most loved spices. It’s a spice that is versatile and can be used in various kinds of dishes, with its peppery, nutty  flavour. Rich in iron and fiber, cumin boasts a myriad of health properties–particularly in reducing inflammation and gas as well as aiding digestion. Here in India, jal jeera (cumin water) is commonly consumed to promote digestion; simply boil cumin seeds, let the mixture cool, and drink on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.

Black and white peppercorns

The peppercorn: a familiar spice that is used not only Indian cuisine but also in Asian and Continental cuisine. In fact, records show that the peppercorn has been used in Indian cuisine since 2000 BCE. Peppercorn contains piperine, a chemical property which is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Cloves

This flavourful spice is known for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, being used in various forms of ancient medicine. It is filled with nutrients, aiding digestion and reducing inflammation. (In fact, my mother swears by cloves as a means of curing tooth infections.) Did you know that cloves were transported in the 13 and 14th century to China, India and many more places? It’s no surprise that the spice is a culinary basis in Indian cuisine.

Black and green cardamom seeds

Cardamom (my favourite spice) is found in either black or green varieties. They come from the same plant family but are processed differently: green cardamom is taken whole and harvested before reaching maturity, while black cardamom seeds are extracted and dried. Generally, green cardamom is preferable to flavour sweet dishes and black cardamom is preferable to impart a stronger, deeper flavour.

This powerful spice is also known to help reduce blood pressure, improve breathing (by relaxing airways), and aid digestion (and potentially heal ulcers)!

Cinnamon

Ah, there is nothing quite like the aroma of cinnamon. Its use can be raced back to ancient Egypt, and its medicinal properties have been valued for centuries. What’s at the heart of the health benefits and soothing scent of cinnamon? Cinnamaldehyde: an active compound that is responsible for cinnamon’s potent health benefits. This particular compound has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon is also believed to aid in controlling sugar levels by reducing one’s resistance to insulin (a hormone integral to regulating blood sugar as well as energy levels and metabolism)

Mace

Not many people know what mace is: mace is a spice derived from the outer coat of a seed of nutmeg. It’s a flavour that can been described as a mixture of pepper and cinnamon–more aromatic than nutmeg itself. Records indicate that mace had been used by the Romance in the 1rst century A.D. It was so valuable that in the 14th century, half a kilogram of nutmeg was worth as much as 1 cow or 3 sheep!

Bay leaf

A particularly fragrant spice, bay leaf hails from the Mediterranean and is known for its distinctive aroma. The Greeks and Romans used bay leafs to crown accomplished and revered individuals. Besides flavouring stews, curries and more, bay leaf is also commonly used in cosmetics, soaps, and medicine. Its numerous health benefits include aiding digestion, reducing swelling, and fighting fungal infections to name a few.

Coriander

Ground coriander is included in many Indian spice mixes for its distinct flavour. Coriander has also been touted by various cultures over the centuries for promoting digestion. It is known to have diuretic properties, alleviating gas and promoting smooth digestion. Did you also know that coriander was believed to prevent food poisoning? In fact, coriander seed oil has antimicrobal and antibacterial effects.

Has all this spice talk inspired you to use a few (or all) in your next meal? Get hands on and learn more about how to use them in classic Indian dishes on our Dharavi Cooking Experience!

 

Planning Your Trip to India?

Happy New Year everyone! A new year means more opportunities to explore, new destinations to visit. And of course, India should be on your list!

To make your trip to India easier, we’ve put together a few helpful resources to aid you in choosing transportation, finding accommodation, and more nitty-gritty elements needed to build the perfect itinerary.

1) This is not a secret but we love Lonely Planet. Use this as a guide to learn about different cities, the must-see attractions, the best restaurants and more.

2) What’s our favourite, affordable way of interstate travel in India? Travelling by train! Train travel in India is organized, reliable and fairly simple to navigate. This is a great way to experience typical local means of transportation as well. Avoid paying extra to booking agents and book your train tickets directly here.

3) Looking for the lowest flight rates within India? Make My Trip is our search engine of choice here in India. They always have promo codes you can take advantage of at any time of year.

4) Don’t feel confident in haggling with auto-rickshaw drivers? Have no idea what is a reasonable rate? Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Ola are your best friend. Simply download the applications on your phone and you can book a ride in any major city to take your straight to your desired destination:

4) Looking for authentic, locally-guided tours in Mumbai, Delhi, all over India? We have you covered. Not only does your money go to fund our educational programmes via Reality Gives, but also your guides are trained to provide you with the best experience, showing you the real India: www.realitytoursandtravel.com

Should you go North, South, East or West? Have no idea where to even begin? We’re happy to do all the planning, organizing, booking, and more for you. Simply fill out this form–http://realitytoursandtravel.com/plan-your-trip/

We’ll put together your dream itinerary, catering to your tastes, needs, and budget. Let us make your trip to India memorable.

A Practical Packing List for Your Trip to India

Hello travellers,

We’ve curated a shortlist of things that may not necessarily be on the top of your list of things to have on hand while travelling. We are certain that these items shall prove useful—whether you’re in accessible or remote areas, travelling in a group or solo, irrespective of your situation.

Charcoal tablets:
We swear by these pills that have, many a time, been life-savers for inopportune/ unfortunate stomach bugs caught on the road. Just take one or two and within a few hours, you’ll be feeling just fine. The charcoal binds to toxins and pathogens so that they get flushed out of your system quickly. They are also affordable and widely available.

Mosquito repellent:
These buggers are everywhere, whether you’re travelling during monsoon season or dry season, up in the hills or in the bustle of cities. Ensure to apply repellent generously, to prevent yourself from catching Dengue fever or from scratching yourself silly. From our experience, the strong kind (not the natural oil-based repellents aka citronella oil) work the best.

Hand sanitizer:
Sometimes you’re in a hurry, sometimes you’re somewhere without full toilet facilities. Especially if you’re eating with your hands, it’s essential to carry some form of hand sanitizer. Maintaining hygiene shouldn’t fall on the back-burner while you’re travelling.

Toilet paper:
If you’re planning on taking public transport, long bus rides, train rides etc, carrying a roll of toilet paper will enhance your sense of comfort. You’ll be hard-pressed to find toilet paper in public washrooms; if you don’t fancy using a bucket of water to cleanse yourself, then just do it! (Wet wipes are also a practical option.)

Appropriate attire:
This may seem like a no-brainer but we’re giving you a gentle reminder about dress code in India. India is home to temples, mosques and religious sites galore. Hence, we recommend travellers to err on the side of caution and dress modestly, to ensure you can visit places without hassle. Ensure to bring scarves, shawls, long sleeved tops, and long pants to cover up when needed (also to fend off mosquitos!)

We know this is not the most enticing of packing lists, however, it is a valuable checklist for those “you-never-know” or “did-not-think-this-would-happen” moments. So without further adieu, happy packing!

What Is It Like Travelling Solo as a Female in India?

“Wait, you’re all alone? I could NEVER travel all by myself.”

I can’t relay the number of times I’ve heard people say this to me, a solo female traveller. And every time, I return their question with a smug smile and respond: “but of course you CAN!”

India can be a daunting country to visit: the disorienting traffic and number of people, the (at times) overwhelming smells, the astounding beauty, the hospitality and warmth, the sheer diversity. It is nothing short of an exhilarating and rewarding hodgepodge of experiences.

But is it truly safe? Yes it is—partially because there will always be people around. You’ll find that you’re actually hardly ever alone.


SURPRISES AND KINDNESS

As a lone female traveller, I’ve found that time and time again people go out of their way to point me in the right direction. Several strangers have taken me or dropped me off exactly where I needed to be, out of kindness and concern. Strangers will offer you food and snacks on trains and public waiting areas. Meandering about the streets of different towns, you’ll likely get invited by families to join them for chai and a snack, even homemade mealswhich are always authentic.

I remember while I was travelling solo around North India, in the pink city of Jaipur, I stopped by a popular neighbourhood chai stall. Only locals were milling about, shouting their orders from all corners of the space. I was staring up at the menu painted on a board and could not read a thing.

A kind man with his family noticed me and quickly stepped in, taking me under his wing. Before I could protest he had ordered tea along with a plate of buttered bread for me. Standing in front of his family, I sheepishly obliged. When we had finished off our chai and bun-maska (a buttery, creamy centre enveloped by a warm soft bun), I thanked him profusely, and he scoffed at melooking almost insulted that I had even thanked him. “Enjoy the rest of your trip around India,” he replied.  Then he walked off with his kids in a hurry. This is just one of several examples of benevolence I encountered.

SELFIES AND STARES

Yes, you’ll be stared at and approached by all sorts of people. Staring can be responded in two ways: smile or ignore. I find that smiling opens a window of opportunity for conversation and connection. Ignoring is effective if don’t want to engage. Do draw attention if their stares make you uncomfortable. Making a scene is always effective at warding off unwanted action.

This also means that you shouldn’t be surprised when asked to take selfies with groups and strangers. I find that most people who do approach, do so out of curiosity towards foreigners. Some have rarely if ever seen a lone female travellerlet alone a foreigner.

Again, two things can happen: you can accept their request and share a few laughs. However, if you’re uncomfortable or tired of it, don’t be afraid of refusing with a polite “nay.” People will respect your wishes.

As in any other country, any other city, any other community, take note of behavioural norms and safety precautions. General safety precautions include being wary of how you’re dressed (cover up or dress according to where you are), avoiding being out alone at odd hours in an unknown neighbourhood (common sense, no?), letting people know where you are (always).

For example: in a city like New Delhi, unfortunately reputed to be an unsafe city, make a point to dress conservatively and avoid venturing out past a certain hour alone. Even if you do, be sure that you have safe and reliable means of travel, that people know where you are going and can reach you.

Do your research, know your options:

On that note, these days ride-sharing apps like Uber and Ola make travelling around cities simple: just book a ride and you’re on your way. No need to haggle, no need to worry about safety, a straightforward solution to ensuring you get to where you want to go.

I know, you’re thinking “I can just take Uber everywhere?” The answer is a resounding, “yes!” I find that cities in India are at times more technologically savvy than other places in the world. You can order anything to be delivered to where you are. Everything is now at your fingertips: you’d likely have connectivity in all cities and even in remote areas up in the mountains.

But don’t shy away from taking trains and public transportation! In New Delhi, the metro system is an absolute life-saver. Air-conditioned, cheap, reliable, it makes travel easy (especially if you want to avoid traffic). There’s also a women’s only compartment, which is heavily enforcedby women within the compartment and officers alike.

In Mumbai, riding the local trains is an experience every visitor needs to partake in. This way, you circumvent the city’s notorious traffic, making getting around faster. Moreover, auto rickshaws in Mumbai run by the meter, at any time of day (note that you can’t take an auto down South).

Lastly, hiring a local guide is an amazing way to navigate and explore a city. You’ll get insider information and the security of being guided by someone from the area: all the contextual details to enhance your adventures and exploration.

What are you afraid of?

Sureyou may get caught, as in any other part of the world, in an uncomfortable situation. In these cases, don’t be afraid to reach out to security or policemen. But trust that people in India will treat you as a guest, always ready to lend a helping hand.

Follow your “gut” feeling and err on the side of caution. Be wary of scams, be wary of your surroundings, but ultimately be open to new experiences. Take an auto-rickshaw, learn to haggle prices, fend off shop vendors. Be open, but be firm.

Travelling alone will teach you to learn the art of balancing being kind and open, to being assertive and brave. It’s an artful dance between adventure and sensibility, a life skill that travelling alone as a woman in India will also impart.

So come ready to be taken spontaneously through the streets by a well-intentioned stranger, come ready to be treated to copious amounts of food, come ready be asked to take selfies.

Come ready to be swept away by the nation: teeming with love, with historical and natural beauty, full of contrasts and contradictions, but consistent cups of sweet masala chai.

Welcome to New Delhi: Getting to the City Centre from Indira Gandhi International Airport

Photo courtesy of IGIA

New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) is the nation’s busiest airport. We aren’t surprised by this, as the city boasts a myriad of monuments, markets and food options to discover. We’ve put together a list of ways to make it easy for you to decide how to get into New Delhi:

Metro

We love New Delhi’s metro system. It is air-conditioned (which, during the inferno of summer heat is a lifesaver), cheap, and reliable throughout the day. Within 20-30 minutes, one can get from the airport to the city centre. Upon arrival, follow signs to the Airport Express metro line (“Orange line”). This metro line takes you from IGIA and stops at Dhaula Kuan, Shiavji Stadium, and ends at New Delhi Railway Station. Alternatively, if you arrive in Terminal 1 (domestic terminal), you can take the new “Magenta line” that is directly connected to IGIA Terminal 1.

  • Operating hours: 04:45 am to 11:30 pm, every 10-15 minutes
  • Accessible from both Terminal 1 (Magenta line) and 3 (Orange line)
  • Cost: (IGIA to New Delhi Station) 60 rupees

Ride-sharing apps: Ola and Uber

Uber and Ola have made us lazier beings, as we succumb to the ease of booking a ride to take us directly to our destination. There are designated areas outside of the arrivals area where your Uber or Ola driver can pick you up from. Although there are no official signs to guide you, you can ask travellers or airport staff to point you in the right direction.

  • Cost: Approximately 250 rupees to 400 rupees (fares fluctuate according to demand)
  • Ensure you have data or internet connection, as well as the Uber/Ola app already downloaded on your phone to make your booking experience seamless
  • Note: Traffic at certain times of day in Delhi can cause long delays; thus, if you need to be somewhere at a particular time, do factor this into your plans.

Taxi

One of the most frequented methods of getting to central Delhi from the airport is via prepaid taxi. This service is overseen by the Delhi Traffic Police: taxi drivers are held accountable for their service.

Prepaid taxi are available at both domestic and international arrival areas. Upon arrival at Terminal 3, you’ll find a prepaid taxi counter inside the terminal as well as another one when you exit and head towards the taxi zone. We advise travellers to arrange for their taxi from the counter inside the terminal to avoid being approached by unofficial taxi drivers and touts. Your fare is pre-determined by the government and varies depending on the area you are going.

  • Cost: approximately 400-500 rupees to the city centre (a surcharge of 25% is applicable for late night travel from 11pm to 5am)

Here are few tips to ensure you have a smooth experience:

  • When you pay for your taxi at the counter, you will be handed two receipts (one green and one pink) with taxi’s number.
  • The green receipt is to be handed to the driver at the end of the trip; this is what he needs to show to get paid by the taxi office. Ensure that you do not give the taxi driver this receipt until you arrive at your destination. If your driver is being difficult, this receipt will be useful in navigating negotiations with him.

Bus

Buses are another cheap way to get into the city. Most buses are owned by the State-owned Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) or private companies. DTC runs shuttle services every 30 minutes, taking passengers from Terminal 3 to central New Delhi (for example, Connaught Place and Interstate Bus Terminals). These buses also offer comfort of air conditioning.
  • Pick-up/drop-off point: Terminal 3 “staging area,” across from the Centaur Hotel
  • For detailed routes and schedules visit: http://www.delhi.gov.in/wps/wcm/connect/DOIT_DTC/dtc/all+services/igi+airport+bus+service
  • Note: when on the road in Delhi, traffic can pose a problem so do keep in mind that getting into the city centre may take longer than expected.

Happy travels! We can’t wait to take you around Delhi.

Useful Apps To Help You Make The Most Of Your Trip To India

India is a vast and vibrant country with endless experiences available wherever you look and a culture that is truly unique. Many travelers flock to this birthplace of spirituality, home of mouth-watering cuisine and endless geographical beauty.

However, with so much to experience and such a different way of life to the one visitors are used to, many tourists struggle to navigate the frantic, occasionally over-crowded and somewhat stuffy life that mother India has to offer them. Fortunately, using these five apps can significantly improve your time spent in this wonderful country and help you get around easily and problem free. (more…)

Celebrating One Year Of Chai Break: Our Top 5 Posts

1. Definitive Guide to Riding Mumbai Trains (With Pictures)

Mumbai’s local railway is aptly nicknamed the “lifeline of the city.” Mumbai is one of the densest cities in the world and the trains are its saving grace, transporting a staggering 6.9 million people per day. Trains can get so overcrowded during peak hours that it is common to have 14-16 people per square meter. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry, after reading this guide you will have all the information to conquer the Mumbai local trains. (more…)

How Seneca Can Prepare You For India

India will not be what you expect. You will meet people that are friendlier and more generous than you ever thought possible. You will taste foods so delicious you’ll begin to wonder why Indian food isn’t everyone’s favourite. You will see sights so beautiful that they will remain embedded in your memory for the rest of your life. But you’ll also have to overcome challenges so great that many travellers write off India entirely. Logistically, you will face a myriad of transportation issues. Culturally, you will have some of your most basic assumptions about life and society come into question. And throughout your visit, a thousand and one things will threaten to make you sick. Your time in India will be uncomfortable in one way or another, but these challenges and the beautiful moments that inevitably follow are precisely why we travel: to get out of our comfort zone, challenge ourselves and broaden our worldview. Recognizing this goal and preparing yourself for the challenges that you will inevitably face can dramatically improve how much you enjoy your trip. The first century Stoic philosopher, Seneca, is the unlikely guide to the importance of mentally preparing for your trip. (more…)

Essential Guide To North Indian Food (With Pictures)

Among the first of many realizations you’ll have when you arrive in India is that there is no such thing as “Indian food.” The Indian subcontinent packs in as much or more diversity than Europe and the food is no exception. To help you get your bearings, we’ve created a guide of our “must-try” foods in Northern India. (PS: You should also come on our Old Delhi street food tour and we’ll show you the best places to sample these dishes!)

Chole Bhature – छोले भटूरे

The quintessential Delhi street food, Chole Bhature is spicy chickpeas eaten with fried bread (bhature). Typically sold at street stalls or small restaurants, it can be a great snack or meal at any time of day. It can be easily identified by the puffed up bhature.

As with any street food, be sure to evaluate the cleanliness of the stall before ordering. Checking how busy the stand is and how they handle the money (ideally someone who isn’t handling the food!) are both good indicators. (more…)

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