Though Delhi’s grandeur has existed for thousands of years, the city has been India’s official capital for almost a century. It’s a metropolis of duality: the old-world architecture of UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb blend with British colonial buildings and more modern planning; the cacophony of millions of people making their way through the busy streets is silenced in the sprawling Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple complex. This is what you need to know before you get lost in Delhi.
Qantas flies directly from Melbourne to Delhi in just under 13 hours. Flights from Sydney and Perth are routed through Melbourne and take about 14 and 16 hours respectively, not including stopover time.
Flying into Indira Gandhi International Airport
Indira Gandhi International Airport accepts an e-Visa if you’re travelling for leisure, business or medical reasons. Australians need to obtain an e-Visa at least four days before they arrive in India, which is then valid for 60 days. Make sure you leave ample time for visas to be processed before you fly. All other types of visas require an appointment. There are no visas available on arrival.
The airport is about a 45-minute drive from the city centre and can be accessed via taxi, rideshare apps like Uber and Ola, city bus and the metro rail. The Delhi Metro Airport Express Line links Terminal 3 with the central part of the city in about 25 minutes and operates between 4.45am and 11.30pm. A ride will cost a maximum of Rs 60 (about $1.16). Car hire can also be organised at Terminal 1 in Delhi Airport.
COVID-19 travel restrictions
As of September 2022, travellers from Australia must complete an Air Suvidha self-declaration form and upload their COVID-19 vaccination certificate before departure. But you’ll need to complete an online self-declaration form and upload an International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate (ICVC) to the Air Suvidha portal before departure. Upon arrival, you may be required to randomly take a COVID-19 test at the airport at your own expense. Face masks are recommended in public, as is downloading the Aarogya Setu contact-tracing app.
Other medical advice
Check with your doctor about what vaccinations you might need before you fly. Common recommendations for travel to India include jabs against yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis A and B, tetanus, rabies, polio, typhoid, cholera and measles. Other important things to consider include:
- Getting a flu shot if you’re travelling in winter as influenza is prevalent during the chillier season in India.
- Malaria is still a risk in Delhi, as are other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever, so apply insect repellent, use a mosquito net while you sleep (especially if you’re visiting following monsoon season) and check with your doctor whether malaria tablets are necessary.
- Delhi belly, a similar sickness to its counterpart ailment Bali belly, often strikes first-time visitors. Pack a stash of medication such as Imodium or similar in your travel first-aid kit just in case.
- Smart Traveller advises air pollution is severe following the winter months, so if you’re worried the air quality could negatively affect your health, check with a medical professional before you leave.
Hindi and English are the country’s official languages and Urdu and Punjabi are considered additional official languages in Delhi. While you’ll get by with English, it’s worthwhile having additional common Hindi phrases to fall back on such as “Namaste” (hello), “Aap kaise hain?” (How are you?) and “Dhanyavad” (Thank you).
The Australian government’s Smart Traveller website recommends visitors familiarise themselves with local laws prior to travelling to avoid penalties. These are a few important things to stay across:
- Don’t photograph airports, military facilities or dams – and check whether it’s OK to photograph a temple before clicking the shutter.
- If you want to snap aerial photos of the intricate city below, you’ll need official permission from the police.
- Cows are treated extremely reverently in the Hindu religion. Deliberately maiming or killing a cow carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
Though the trains can be crowded, the Delhi Metro is an easy and cheap way to make your way around the city. There are 10 lines that will whiz you to your destination.
The bright green and yellow auto rickshaws that zip through the streets are a good way to avoid heavy traffic. Be sharp and check how much a fare should cost before you negotiate with a driver.
Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Ola, which connect users with taxis and auto rickshaws, can be accessed if you have an Indian SIM card in your phone.
If you’re travelling via taxi, it’s better to use those sitting at stands rather than hailing them off the street. Ask your hotel to recommend reliable operators.
Buses are an incredibly cost-effective way to get around, though the 600-plus routes can be a little confusing. On an older-style bus you’ll pay Rs 15 (about 30 cents) for a trip of more than 10 kilometres; on an air-conditioned one, you’ll hand over about Rs 20 (about 40 cents). The Delhi Darshan is a tourist bus that leaves from Scindia House in Connaught Place, whips around the key tourist sites and costs Rs 200 (about $3.87).
- At the time of writing, the Australian dollar was buying 51.5 Indian rupees – check a reliable currency-conversion service for up-to-date exchange rates.
- There have been reports that it’s hard to exchange $100 notes in some parts of India, so try to carry smaller denominations.
- Smart Traveller reports there’s a high risk of skimming at ATMs, so use your cards sparingly. Counterfeit currency is also in circulation; take care when dealing with cash.
- Cards are accepted at many hotels, shops and restaurants.
- With a local SIM, foreigners can use the popular mobile payment app, Paytm.
- Some restaurants will add a “service charge” to your bill and, if so, a tip is not expected. A 10 per cent tip is suitable on a bill up to Rs 100 (about $2). For anything over that amount, five to seven per cent is appreciated.
- Except in fixed-price shops, bargaining is de rigueur. Shoppers are expected to engage in a little haggling, but always remain polite.
- Be sure to remove your shoes before entering homes or temples and avoid displaying the soles of your feet towards people or deities.
- A nod of the head might not mean yes; it can also be taken to mean, “I don’t know”, so make your meaning clear.
- Try to remember to only use your right hand when you’re touching someone or giving or receiving something – the left hand is considered “unclean” in Hindu and Muslim cultures.
- Ensure you're appropriately attired before entering mosques or temples – some require shoulders and knees to be covered.
Be conscious of your personal safety when you’re travelling through Delhi and take common-sense precautions, such as keeping your valuables secure and avoiding unlit areas at night. Smart Traveller also advises that women shouldn’t travel alone. If you are flying solo, consider booking a small group tour or a hotel that caters to single female travellers, such as The Imperial’s Eliza Experience, where guests are only attended by female staff. There are also women-only coaches on every train on the Delhi Metro. If you’re joining a tour or group activity, check the credentials before you book.
There are five distinct seasons in Delhi: the usual Northern Hemisphere four, plus monsoon season, which occurs from July to mid-September and is extremely wet, hot and humid. The rest of the year is generally pleasant, with temperatures climbing during summer and cooling to a low of around 5°C in winter.
When to go
An Indian summer might sound dreamy but July in Delhi can reach a steaming 45°C – not ideal for exploring an already congested city. In fact, the best time to visit the city is between October and March when the weather is milder.
There’s also the city’s vibrant cultural and religious calendar to consider. Republic Day, on 26 January, is an extravagant display of civic pride that involves a huge parade of military personnel, dancing schoolchildren, brilliantly adorned elephants and police motorcycle stunt teams.
The India Art Fair kicks off in February, bringing exhibitions by some of South Asia’s biggest artists to town, as does the Delhi Flower Show. See bright chrysanthemums, dahlias, gladioli and more, many in mind-boggling sculptures such as a replica of the Red Fort.
March brings India’s most colourful festival, Holi, when Hindus douse each other in brightly hued powders to celebrate the beginning of spring. Ramadan is also widely observed throughout Delhi and occurs between mid-March and mid-April in 2023. You might find some establishments are closed during this period, so plan around it if you can.
The two-day International Mango Festival in June showcases hundreds of varieties of the juicy fruit, while flag-hoisting ceremonies and kite-flying competitions commemorate India’s independence from Britain every 15 August.
Generally falling in October, Diwali – the five-day festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists – is marked by fireworks, light displays, trails of candles and delectable food. Don’t miss festive sweets like gulab jamun, fried dumplings scented with cardamom and steeped in rose and saffron syrup.
Modesty is advised when travelling through Delhi, unless you’ve donned a sari, in which case a bare midriff is fine. Wear light cotton clothing during the summer but definitely pack woolly warmers if you’re visiting in winter.
Stick to bottled water during your stay (many hotels will provide this in your room); the tap water in Delhi isn’t safe to drink or brush your teeth with. Ask for your drinks to be served without ice cubes.
Though Delhi’s roads are wider than others throughout the country, to say they’re busy would be an understatement: be prepared to drive defensively – but safely, of course. Try to avoid driving at night or in fog and if you are involved in an accident, head straight to the nearest police station – no matter what bystanders say, don’t stay at the scene. During the first three months of a stay in India, you can drive as long as you have an international driving permit and a current Australian driver's licence.
Smart Traveller recommends all visitors take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. It’s also important to see if your policy covers COVID-related issues such as delays and cancelled flights.
Where to stay
Upmarket digs can be found in Connaught Place and the Karol Bagh neighbourhood, which is also close to a variety of international clothing stores. The leafy Chanakyapuri neighbourhood is popular among diplomatic types and also has a range of higher-end hotels.
Backpackers flock to Paharganj, in the city’s north, where there are spice vendors, cheap cafés, a buzzing nightlife scene and budget accommodation. It’s also close to the city’s main train station and the chaotic main bazaar.
If you want to stick close to the historic centre and spend your days traipsing through monuments such as the Red Fort, Old Delhi is your go-to.
How to get to the Taj Mahal
This stunning tribute to the emperor’s favourite wife is actually about 200 kilometres away in Agra but Delhi is a popular starting point for explorations to the 17th-century structure. Many private tours leave from the city centre, but public transport will also get you there. The quickest option is the Gatimaan Express, a high-speed train that will carry you from Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin to Agra Cantonment station in just under two hours.
You’ll then need to get a taxi or rickshaw for the 20-minute ride to the World Heritage mausoleum.
Phone calls and mobile data
Before you land, disable data roaming and don’t answer incoming calls on your mobile phone if you want to keep your monthly bill in check. Invest in a prepaid travel SIM card if keeping in touch with home is important, or buy a prepaid Indian SIM card.
To call Australia, dial +61 followed by the phone number – including the area code minus the zero. So, to call a Sydney landline telephone, you would dial +61 2 then the phone number. To call a mobile phone, use the same country code and dial the mobile number minus the first zero.
Power sockets in India (230V) are the same voltage and frequency as those in Australia but you’ll need an adaptor to fit Australian plugs in Indian sockets.
Handy apps and websites
- XE for up-to-date currency conversion.
- Travel Doctor for pre-travel health advice.
- Smart Traveller for up-to-date safety information.
- The Qantas Travel Ready Hub for the latest travel requirements.
- The Delhi Metro for current timetables and journey planners.
- The Ola and Uber apps for booking transport.