Though Delhi’s grandeur has existed for thousands of years, it’s only been India’s official capital for just over a century. It’s a city 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. Whether it’s your first visit or your fiftieth, this is what you need to know before you get lost in Delhi.
Qantas offers flights to Singapore then onwards to Delhi via partner airlines. Flight time from Sydney is around 13.5 hours, not including stopover time in Singapore. Flights from Melbourne take a similar amount of time and flights from Perth take just over 11.5 hours.
Flying into Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport
Delhi 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 visas require an appointment. There are no visas available on arrival.
The airport is around a 45-minute drive from the city centre and can be accessed via taxi, city bus and the metro rail. The Delhi Metro Airport Express Line links Terminal 3 with the central part of the city in around 25 minutes and operates between 4.45am and 11.30pm. A ride will cost a max of 60 Rs ($1.20).
Hindi and English are the country’s official languages and Urdu and Punjabi are considered additional official language in Delhi. While you’ll get by with English (minus questionable Australian slang), it’s worthwhile to have 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 the laws prior to travelling to avoid penalties. These are a few important things to stay across:
- Don’t photograph airports, military venues or dams – and check whether it’s okay 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.
Vaccine and health 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, hepatitis A and B, tetanus and measles. Other important things to prepare for 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 disease 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, an extremely 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.
Though the trains are pretty crowded, the Delhi Metro is an easy and cheap way to make your way around the city. There are eight lines that will whiz you to your destination.
The bright green and yellow auto rickshaws that zip throughout 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, an app that connects users with taxis and autorickshaws, 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 at your hotel for their recommendations.
Buses are an incredibly cost-effective way to get around, though the 814 routes can be a little confusing. On an older-style bus you’ll pay 15Rs (30 cents) for a trip of more than 10 kilometres; on an air-conditioned one you’ll hand over 20 Rs (50 cents). The Delhi Darshan is a tourist-specific bus that leaves from Scindia House in Connaught Place, whips around the key tourist sites and costs 200 Rs.
- At the time of writing the Australian dollar was buying 50.7 Indian rupees (INR/Rs) – check a reliable currency conversion service for up-to-date exchange rates.
- The 500 and 1000 rupee bank notes have recently been replaced. It’s illegal to hold more than 10 of the old notes so make sure the hard cash you’re carrying complies.
- There have been reports it’s hard to exchange AU$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 them sparingly.
- 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 100Rs; over that amount five to seven per cent is appreciated.
- Some fancy footwork is required: be sure to remove your shoes before entering homes or temples and avoid pointing 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.
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.
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 oC in winter.
Be cautious 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 Leela Palace New Delhi’s Kamal package 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 credentials before you book.
When to go
An Indian summer might sound dreamy but July in Delhi can reach a steaming 45 oC – 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 and, in the autumn, the gorgeous gardens throughout the city are in full bloom.
Ramadan is celebrated widely throughout Delhi and occurs between mid May and mid June in 2018. You might find some establishments are closed during this period so plan around it if you can.
Modesty is preferable when travelling through Delhi, unless you’ve donned a sari, in which case bare midriff is fine. Wear light cotton clothing during the summer but definitely pack woolly warmers if you’re visiting in winter.
Part of the appeal of India is the riot of brightly coloured clothing so trade your monochrome threads for a collection of vibrant hues.
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 any 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 a significant understatement so 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 drivers licence.
Smart Traveller recommends all visitors take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.
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 historical 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 203 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 Nizamuddin Railway Station to Agra Cantonment station in just under two hours. You’ll then need to get a taxi or rickshaw the 20 minutes 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 Delhi Metro for current timetables and journey planners.