India's second-largest city is often seen as a gateway city rather than a destination in itself. Even its name is believed to mean "threshold". But travellers on cheap flights to Delhi who then connect to other places in India are missing a colourful, cosmopolitan and fascinating city.
While Delhi is one of India's boom cities, the disparity between the old and the new - and the rich and poor - is staggering. New shopping malls share the city with street markets, cows and handcarts and gleaming SUVs share the roads, and, from newly built flyovers, the domes of Mughal temples are visible.
Old Delhi is a must-see, with snaking alleyways, busy markets, the Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, and the Red Fort.
New Delhi, built on the orders of George V, has the important government offices and Parliament of India as well as the colonial-era India Gate and Connaught Place, a bustling shopping and commercial district.
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Delhi has a continental climate with very hot summers and very cold winters. The summers are long, running from early April to October, and taking in the monsoon season. Temperatures can hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit). Winter extends from November, plummeting in temperature around January. A cold wave from the Himalayas makes winter very cold. Average temperatures are about 4 degrees (39 Fahrenheit). Most of the rain falls between the months of July and September.
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The best time to take cheap flights to Delhi is February-April when the city is blooming. August-November when the days are sunny and the nights are cool is also a great time to go. An added advantage are the many festivals that take place between September and March. These include Dussehra (September/October), Diwali (October/November), Christmas (December), Lohri (January) and Holi (March).
The months of December-January can be gloomy and not the time to experience Delhi at its best. Also, mid-summer (May, June and July) is scorching with temperatures upwards of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
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Travellers arriving on cheap flights to Delhi have a number of ways of getting downtown. There is a bus service to downtown Delhi that runs 24 hours a day. The journey time is about an hour. Air-conditioned coaches are also available and can be booked in the Arrivals Hall (Terminal 2). There are pre-paid taxi booths in the Arrivals areas of both terminals. Metered taxis and auto rickshaws are also available.
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Stick to a car in Delhi if you want to avoid getting run over. Traffic is hectic, drivers have little patience with pedestrians and the few sidewalks that exist are poorly maintained and crowded. Avoid travelling in rush hour like the plague.
Old Delhi has winding, narrow streets that could be considered walkable, but beware of handcarts and people with heavy loads. They stop for no one. Your best bet for getting around is by taxi or by hiring a car and driver.
If you’re hailing a cab, always negotiate your fare before you board. You can ask to see the fare chart that drivers carry with them. It’s also a good idea to carry some change, since most drivers don’t carry any with them. If you’d rather hire a car and driver, check with a travel agency.
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- The months of May to July are the hottest. One of the most beautiful parks to take a stroll in is Lodi Garden. Early morning is the best time to take in the well-manicured lawns and shady trees. The park is dotted with medieval monuments, the ornate tombs of the Lodi and Sayyid Era.
- Eat and drink on the go: breakfast will typically cost a couple of dollars and consist of idlis (rice cakes), vadas, dosas (crepes), salty pongal, and chapatis with sambar (dhal and vegetables) and coffee. Snack on stuffed parathas from a cart-vendor and wash down with Jal Jeera, a lime, cumin and mint drink. Lunch might be Mughlai chicken or goat curry.
- Almost everything is for sale in Delhi. The Central Cottage Industries Emporium in Connaught Place is the must-go-to market for traditional Indian craftsmanship including rugs and jewellery. Baba Kharak Singh Marg stocks regional handicrafts. For cheaper, Western, thrills, check out Sarojini Nagar Market for the cheap clothes and fabrics.
- To really get a taste of Delhi visit Chandni Chowk. It means Moonlit Avenue, which sounds romantic, but there's little room to stroll around. It's one of the most congested places in Delhi, where you can sample a mouthwatering array of authentic Indian food, delicacies and sweets, rummage through book shops, clothes, shoes and leather goods stores.
- About 15km south of Central Delhi is the Qutb Minar Complex. The Qutub Minar is the tallest brick minaret in the world. The Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque, the Alai Gate, the Alai Minar and the Iron pillar are other important constructions. The story goes that anyone who can circle the 1,500-year-old iron pillar with their hands behind their back will be granted their wish.
- Twenty-five is the legal drinking age in Delhi and cocktails are the grown-up drink of choice. Hotel bars and lounges attract the moneyed young, but outside the hotels, bars and restaurants are attracting more and more revellers.
- In New Delhi, near Humayun's Tomb, is the dargah of Hazrat Khawaja Nizamuddin Auliya, a famous Sufi saint. A settlement, known as Nizamuddin, has grown around the dargah. The shrine also contains the marble tomb of Amir Khusro, the great Persian poet of Delhi, and a number of fine Mughal buildings. On Thursday evenings Qawal (devotional music) is sung, from about 6-7.30pm.
- To see the city at its most colourful, visit around Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15) or Gandhi Jayanti (Gandhi's birthday, October 2). Delhiites celebrate with speeches, military parades and great pomp.
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