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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Delhi! India is a massive country, and Delhi, where its capital is located, is one of the largest cities in the entire world. But you don’t have to be intimidated at the thought of spending 24 hours in Delhi! Yes the city’s crowded, but it’s also full of fascinating ruins, kind people, and delicious food. With just a little guidance, I promise your 24 hours in Delhi will be a time you’ll never forget.
I usually dream up and gallivant along on my trips entirely independently. But because this was my first time in India and I only had two weeks here, I decided to take the Classic Rajasthan tour with Intrepid Travel. It’s one of their most popular tours, and after taking it, I can certainly see why! You’ll hit all the major sights of Rajasthan and the surrounding areas. So as you read, keep in mind that I experienced this itinerary along with my trusty local guide Ronny and 11 fellow travelers.
24 Hours in Delhi
What to Pack
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
India is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from India, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. Indian electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Delhi
Morning: Old Delhi
Delhi’s geography requires a little explanation if you are a tourist. Delhi is the proper name of the entire city. However, there are different districts and areas within Delhi. One of them, New Delhi, is the capital of India. Another part of Delhi, Old Delhi, is the historic walled city founded by the Muslim emperor of India, Shah Jahan. (We’re going to learn lots more about Mr. Jahan during our trip to India.) The capital used to be in Agra, which we will visit later, but Shah Jahan moved it to Delhi.
Even though Old Delhi is a historic district, it has been modernized in many ways. The streets are full of traffic, which includes cars, tuk tuks, cows, etc. So I was grateful to have Ronny leading us around. I’m from New York City, and even I found Delhi overwhelming at times. But at the same time, it’s an exciting city with incredible history and architecture, so I suggest staying focused on that, instead of getting wigged out by the crowds.
24 Hour tip
You’ll probably get to Old Delhi by metro. Just keep in mind that there are female-only cars on the metro in Delhi. If you are a woman, I suggest taking them. I was never, ever sexually harassed in India, but why not take advantage of this helpful option?
Also, monkeys like to hang out on the metro. They are so cool, but they are not friendly. Do not try to pet them.
1) what’s the most beautiful place in old delhi?
I have not seen every sight in Old Delhi, so I can’t be 100 percent sure. But the most beautiful place we saw in our 24 hours in Delhi was the Jama Masjid. Shah Jahan built this mosque back in the 1650s. It’s one of the largest mosques in India. A Jama Masjid is a mosque that hosts the special Friday noon prayers. (In Islam, Friday is a sacred day like Saturday is for Jewish people and Sunday is for Christians.)
There are a few rules you need to know before visiting Jama Masjid. First, if you want to take photos, you have to pay 300 rupees for a camera permit. I think it’s worth it to have the chance to capture such stunning architecture on film. I mean, if you don’t post photos of Jama Masjid on Instagram, were you even really there?
Second you have to take your shoes off when you enter. Put them in your bag and take them with you; don’t leave them outside unattended. I suggest either bringing socks with you or wearing socks. You might want to wear your cutest socks since everyone is going to be photographing them. I mean, since they already paid 300 rupees to take their camera inside, I assume they’re going to want to photograph everything, including your socks.
Also, since it is a mosque, dress modestly. (This is a good rule of thumb everywhere in India.)
There is a minaret you can climb, but Ronny said you need to pay extra and there’s a grill blocking your view, so none of us did this. Stay on the ground and photograph the cats of Jama Masjid instead! You can often find cats in Muslim communities because the prophet Mohammed loved cats.
2) are there other religious groups in old delhi?
Of course! There are many religious groups in India! Frankly, someone could have an entire blog dedicated to religions in India and never run out of things to write about. But I strongly recommend learning a little about India and religion before you spend 24 hours in Delhi. I can get you started with some basic information.
We’ve talked a bit about Islam in India, but now we’re going to visit a Sikh place of worship (a Gurdwara) in Old Delhi, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib. As at the mosque, you need to take off your shoes before entering. However, here you also have to take off your socks and cover your hair. I brought my little head scarf from Romania that I wear in Orthodox churches. It didn’t cover my hair entirely, but it worked just fine anyway.
Once you get inside, you will sit on a rug in a roped in area. In a Sikh Gurdwara, everyone is welcome to come in and sit whether or not they are Sikh. You don’t even need to be religious to enter. At this Gurdwara, men and women can sit together. Just find a spot and listen to the chanting at the front of the room.
If you want to meditate, go for it. I’m terrible at meditating, so I just tried to notice as many interesting little details in the room as I could. There were many images of something that looked like a butterfly-snake hybrid and absolutely zero cats.
3) what exactly is a sikh?
Again, I could spend our entire 24 hours in Delhi answering this question! But Sikhs are different from both Muslims and Hindus, two other major religions in India. Sikhs are monotheists. Ronny told us that male Sikhs can be recognized by certain symbols.
For example, they are supposed to keep their hair long and wear it under a turban. Sikh men also carry a dagger called a kirpan with them. (Sometimes they need a special dispensation to be allowed to wear one, as it is a weapon.)
One of the most interesting features of a Sikh Gurdwara is the langar. This is a kitchen that feeds free vegetarian food to anyone who asks for it. Ronny said that the seating is random and communal, so a millionaire might sit next to a pauper. Or you might have to sit next to your ex! You never can tell in a langar!
We didn’t eat at the langar, but we were able to visit the kitchen and watch them making the chapati bread. We were even allowed to break off a piece of the dough, roll it out, and make the chapati ourselves. Anyone who comes to the langar is allowed to do this, so definitely give it a try. Even if you’re not a master chef, someone will be worse at it than you are.
24 Hours in Delhi
Afternoon: Explore Delhi!
Intrepid Travel is the parent company for Urban Adventures. UA organizes day trips in about 150 cities around the world. Their tours usually range from 2-4 hours, and the group size is limited to 12 people. So it’s nothing like one of those free walking tours where you’re squished in between a giant family of ten and a horde of roving backpackers while your guide makes up stuff and pleads for tips.
Delhi Urban Adventures offers many different tours, but we were visiting Delhi on a Monday and their tours don’t usually run on a Monday. So instead they offered us a private tour of some of the coolest, most hidden gems in Delhi! How bespoke! I’m sure if you contact them, they can put together something similar for you.
But even if you don’t have a guide, these local gems are totally reachable on your own. Just leave plenty of time to allow for traffic and nothing will stop you from experiencing the…
approximately top 5: 24 hours in delhi
1) Jamali kamali mosque and tomb
This tomb is located in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park is a ginormous playground of ruins. If there were a Disney World dedicated to priceless Indian treasures, it would be the same size. You could spend your entire 24 hours in Delhi here and not see everything. But the Jamali Kamali mosque and tomb is a great place to start.
The name makes it sound like Jamali Kamali is one person, but actually they are two separate people. Jamali is a sort of nickname for Shaikh Jamali Kamboh. He was a Sufi saint and poet in the 16th century. Sufis are Muslim mystics. They engage in many different forms of devotion, from whirling (the whirling Dervishes are Sufi) to music and poetry. Our guide said that Jamali’s tomb is supposedly haunted, but I can’t imagine anyone being scared of the ghost of a saint and poet.
I felt much sorrier for Kamali because apparently no one really knows who he is. Even the official plaque on the tomb site said he was “unknown”. That’s so sad! Who would want to be remembered for being unmemorable?
2) tomb of muhammad quli khan
Our next stop in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park was this harmoniously symmetrical tomb. Muhammad Quli Khan himself doesn’t seem to have done anything that special. He was best known for being the brother of a famous general. So I guess this is like erecting a giant tomb to General Patton’s brother? Did General Patton even have a brother? No one cares. He’s as unmemorable as the ghost of poor Kamali.
But Muhammad Quli Khan’s tomb is famous as a symbol of the British occupation of India. The tomb was converted into a summer retreat and boathouse by a minor English nobleman named Sir Thomas Metcalfe. I gotta say, when you convert a tomb into your summer home, it’s like you’re deliberately trying to get haunted by angry ghosts. You could probably make a good horror movie about the haunting of Sir Thomas Metcalfe, except no one would be rooting for Metcalfe or his boats.
3) lunch at jugmug thela
“Hmmm,” you may be thinking. “Those historic ruins and neglected ghosts are all well and good. But does Delhi have any hipster cafes?” It’s a modern city, isn’t it? Of COURSE there are hipster cafes. Our guide took us by car to Jugmug Thela, which bills itself as a “pop up experience”. It was funny for me to go halfway around the world just to find a cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
But the food and tea and Jugmug Thela is definitely something special. I recommend the thela chai and the spicy potato and pomegranate sandwich. Keep in mind that when Indian restaurants say something spicy, it is absolutely spicy! I love spicy food, so I was in heaven, but if you don’t like it hot, just tell your waiter.
Also chai is just Hindi for tea, so there’s no need to ask for “chai tea”. That’s like asking for “tea tea”. But if you order masala chai in India, you’ll likely get a black tea mixed with cozy spices and lots of milk and sugar. If that doesn’t put a twinkle in your eye, again just ask for something else! But I recommend getting a masala chai in India at least once. It’s extremely unlikely to kill you.
4) jugaad charity shop
The name charity shop is misleading because Jugaad is an actual store. It’s located right near Jugmug Thela. Almost everything Jugaad sells is upcycled. This means that materials that would otherwise be thrown away are turned into jewelry, stationary, bags, and more. Jugaad works with an organization called Karm Marg to train at risk youth to make these items and earn a sustainable living.
The reason I say Jugaad isn’t just a charity is because their items were actually the cutest souvenirs I found in Delhi! I bought a little notebook made out of recycled elephant poop (yes, that’s a thing) and a pair of earrings that I assume were not made out of elephant poop. But who are we kidding? I would have been totally up for wearing poop earrings, as long as they didn’t smell. Even Tilda Swinton wouldn’t dare to be so avant-garde!
5) sunder nursery
If you’re under the impression that Delhi is all traffic, smog, and cows, head directly to Sunder Nursery. This park dates back to the 16th century, and it looks like a little slice of heaven. Our guide said this was intentional because Muslims believe that paradise is a garden. The Sunder Nursery is home to hundreds of trees, which is a rare and special thing to find in such a busy concrete jungle.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the British turned the Muslim garden into something different. After all, if you can turn a tomb into a summer home, you can pretty much do anything. But in this case it wasn’t quite as bad because they merely transformed the place into a nursery for experimental plants. The Sunder Nursery eventually fell into disrepair and wasn’t reopened until 2018. So don’t delay and go today before the crowds learn about it!
24 Hours in Delhi
Evening: Dinner at Crossroads
I’m in a slightly different position than usual on this trip. Because I was traveling with a group of 11 other people, plus our guide, I couldn’t just stumble into a cute little hole in the wall for dinner. Nor could I make my own reservation for fine dining. So my restaurant recommendations need to be for where the group went. However, I do all think these places are great choices if you are traveling with a group. And they have Ronny’s seal of approval, which means they have good hygiene standards.
For the end of our 24 hours in Delhi, we stopped for dinner at Crossroads. I recommend eating vegetarian in India. It’s less likely you’ll get a stomach bug that way. Also Indian vegetarian food is completely delicious! This night I had Paneer Makhani, cottage cheese cooked in tomato and fruit. That sounds like a dessert, but it was savory and sweet at the same time.
If you like cocktails, you won’t be disappointed during your 24 hours in Delhi! Gin is always easy to find in India, I assume as a hold over from the British occupation. But I was surprised to see a Ramos Gin Fizz on the menu because it’s a drink from New Orleans that’s supposed to cure hangovers. And I’ve never heard of Cajun-Indian fusion before. Our whole table agreed that the gin fizzes were excellent. Some may have even had two or three, but I won’t be mean and say who.
The gin fizzes are the perfect thing to get you in the mood for karaoke, Crossroads-style. Our table sang “Sweet Caroline” so off key that the waiters asked us to “never sing again”. So don’t ask for “Sweet Caroline” if you go to to Crossroads. Those poor waiters have suffered enough!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Delhi!
What would you do with 24 hours in Delhi? How bad did Sir Thomas Metcalfe deserve to get haunted? And what karaoke can we sing to make the waiters at Crossroads want to live again? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that just because this itinerary is for 24 hours in Delhi, that doesn’t mean you should only spend 24 hours in Delhi.