7:00 a.m. It’s a new day in Delhi. I’ve been here in the Indian capital for about 18 hours now and so far, so good. It’s my first trip abroad after a lengthy battle with a liver infection, and while some might say it isn’t a good idea to be traveling while I might still have some unresolved health issue, I honestly have never felt better since quite a long time. Plus, I’m really determined to conclude this year — and this decade — on a positive note. So here I am at my hotel just on the edge of Old Delhi. After waking up from a terrific night of rest, I do a bit of online work (I’m officially a freelancer now!), eat breakfast, take a shower, and change into a new set of clothes.
8:30 a.m. I walk out of the hotel. The temperature is colder than I expected, but I actually prefer it. I’m about to start a walking tour of the neighborhood, and the chilly air makes this affair less tiring. The warm light of the early morning sun makes the narrow alleyways of the area atmospheric, and this early, the streets are not as hectic as it was when I arrived from the airport yesterday.
9:00 a.m. I arrive at my first destination, the Jama Masjid, in the middle of Old Delhi. The mosque is the largest in Delhi, able to hold 25,000 people. It’s an elegant showcase of Mughal architecture, with the red-sandstone stucture designed and commissioned by Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656. Today, I’m walking along with busloads of tourists and worshippers through its spacious courtyards. I’m relishing the relative peace within the frenzy of the neighborhood outside the mosque’s gates.
9:30 a.m. A few minutes’ walk northeast of the Jama Masjid is the Red Fort, the largest of Old Delhi’s monuments and perhaps the most famous sight in the capital. The fort was commissioned by Shah Jahan as well and was modeled after the Agra Fort. Mughal emperors used the fort as their residences until the empire’s decline. The British then took over in 1857 and built barracks inside the fort. The Red Fort was bought by a private organization last year and is currently undergoing renovation, so it’s closed to the public. Nevertheless, I stroll along the pathway hugging the outside walls and gain a glimpse of the majestic architecture of the Mughal era.
10:00 a.m. Back in Chandni Chowk, the main area in Old Delhi, my legs are beginning to tire. I underestimated the walk between sights – not only are the distances farther than they look on the map, but the crowds also make walking much more exhausting. A passing cycle rickshaw calls my attention, and I give in despite the driver seemingly wanting to take me to stores where he’ll earn commissions. We agree on a fare, and I hop on.
11:00 a.m. True enough, the driver does take me to a couple of stores – one in a textile shop deep within Old Delhi’s tangle of narrow alleyways and another in a spice store in the famed Spice Market. But I remain mostly unscathed, having only purchased an overpriced packet of spice. But as soon as the driver says that the fare is only for the first hour of the tour, I pay him the price we agreed upon and decide to walk the rest of the way despite his protests.
12:00 noon. I’m not yet confident my stomach can handle India’s street food, so I have a veg burger in McDonald’s. I return to the hotel, rest a bit, go out again, then take a metro to New Delhi.
1:30 p.m. I get down at Khan Market station and walk a few minutes before I arrive at Lodi Gardens, a pocket of tranquility in the chaos of the city. The garden was built around where the tombs of Lodis, who ruled northern India in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, those tombs, along with the dozens of species of trees, provide an interesting background for locals escaping the hubbub outside the garden’s perimeter.
2:00 p.m. I endure another lengthy walk to get to Purana Qila, another Mughal fort in the city. This one’s smaller than the Red Fort, but it’s still an excellent display of Mughal grandeur. Inside the fort is a wide space of manicured lawns, medieval redstone structures, and crumbling walls. It’s a place you can spend hours in just walking around or sitting on a bench.
3:00 p.m. I decide to continue my tour of Delhi, having another fair amount of walk to Rajpath, an area in New Delhi where the government offices are located. At the eastern end of the Rajpath is the India Gate, an Arc de Triomphe-lookalike monument honoring the thousands of Indian soliders who died in World War I fighting for the British. Despite the somber commemoration of the monument, the place today has a festive vibe and is packed with people and pushy vendors as organizers prepare for an event later in the day.
4:30 p.m. Another lengthy walk north brings me to Connaught Place, a circular maze of upscale shops, restaurants, and offices radiating from a central park. I rest at a Starbucks branch nearby to recharge both my legs and my phone before heading off for another stroll to the park. The park is also preparing for a public event, and as the late afternoon sun turns the sky into a faded orange, people are starting to flock the area.
6:00 p.m. I arrive in the hostel just as it turns dark. The chaos of the early evening reaches its crescendo as soon as I enter the edge of Old Delhi: the buzz of the autorickshaws, the honking of the motorcycles, the pounding of the jackhammers, and the steady drone of crowds. I enter the hostel, and the cacophony is suddenly replaced by Indian pop music played in the main hotel lobby. I order a veg burger from the reception desk – a deserved meal after a satisfying yet tiring day.