As Delhi prepares to host the Commonwealth Games in six months, we explore some of the city’s most colourful attractions from sari shopping to Bollywood dancing.
Shop for a sari
Shopping for a sari, the traditional garment worn by Indian women, is a truly memorable experience. With hundreds of colourful fabrics (usually cotton or silk) and patterns to choose from, the experience could take up an entire afternoon, so allow plenty of time. Fortunately, shops usually serve tea or soda to refresh you while you make up your mind. Support local villagers and buy khadi (hand-spun cloth). Shops selling unique, handcrafted khadi fabrics, shirts, clothes and products can be found all over Delhi.
A flash in the pan
Boasting 4,500 years of hygiene history, Sulabh International Toilet Museum is one place in Delhi where you won’t need to queue for the loo. An extensive collection of privies, chamber pots and water closets in use since AD1145 are on display, including a beautifully decorated Austrian golden toilet and an electric chamber pot for use on chilly nights. Quirky photographs, poems, trivia (apparently King Louis XIII had a commode under his throne) and artefacts provide yet more washroom wisdom.
Explore ancient alleys
You’ll find quirky on every corner of Delhi’s oldest street, Chandni Chowk, also Asia’s largest wholesale marketplace. The area’s centuries-old, narrow, bustling, and bewildering lanes are not for the faint-hearted which is why a rickshaw is the best way to negotiate the hubbub. Those that do venture into this market will enjoy a melting pot of Old Delhi life, with everything from pigeon flyers to the hidden world of eunuchs. Watch calligraphers practise their painstaking yet elegant art; marvel at precious stones in the jewellers’ lane, Dariba Kalan, and admire garlands made from gold and currency notes in Kinari Bazaar, the wedding street.
Learn to dance Bollywood-style
Forget Pineapple Dance Studios. Try and follow in the footsteps of a Bollywood movie star under the tuition of Rahul Verma, one of Delhi’s leading choreographers, who claims he can teach students basic moves in just two hours. Made up of numerous dance forms from Indian classical to bhangra, hip-hop and jazz, a Bollywood dance lesson will ensure you can strutt your stuff no matter which club you’re in. At the very least, you’ll be able to impress your friends back home.
Let your mind unfurl…
Architecture doesn’t get more quirky than the Lotus Temple. The expressionist flower design of this Bahá’í temple consists of 27 free-standing marble clad ‘petals’ arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. Bahá’í laws state that the temple must be open to everyone regardless of religion. Visit the exhibition or watch a film in the information centre to learn more about the faith celebrated in this elegant Delhi building, which attracts more visitors than either the Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower. Opening hours: Mon-Sat 0930-1730.
…or your body uncurl
If the cross-legged lotus position is more your thing, where better to reconnect with yourself than in India, the birthplace of yoga? Whether you are interested in Ashtanga, Bikram, Hata or Kundalini, Delhi boasts countless yoga and meditation centres offering in-depth courses and drop-in classes. Ask your hotel or home-stay host to direct you to the nearest centre, then pop into a class or arrange a private session.
Throw together a picnic
India Gate, the country’s largest war memorial, is Delhi’s top spot for a picnic at the weekend and offers a real carnival atmosphere. Join the throng of locals who congregate with their family and friends on the lawns surrounding Lutyen’s masterpiece on balmy, summer evenings, while kids enjoy the children’s park. Tuck into tongue-tingling samosas or paranthes (unleavened flat breads) stuffed with vegetables and washed down by cooling cumin-flavoured lassi (yoghurt-based drink). Watch out for the hawkers selling weird and wonderful souvenirs.
Enjoy food for a steal
Restaurants don’t come any funkier than Chor Bizarre, which roughly translated means Thieves Market. This Delhi restaurant is decorated with an eclectic mix of wares that, true to the restaurant’s name, have been collected with or without the consent of their owners. Part art, part kitsch, they include a four-poster dining table, olde-worlde film star pictures and an antiquated car on which food is served. The music is a mix of Hindi and 1950s western tunes and the food is as bizarre as the décor. Try the traditional Kashmiri Wazwan dishes and the all-you-can-eat buffet, which is good value at 425 INR (£6).
Saunter down to the Sufi Dargah (mausoleum) of Hazrat Nizamuddin between 1700-1900 and listen to the entrancing sounds of qawaali singing. Thursday evenings at this venerated Sufi shrine are particularly popular, with throngs of people providing a fair-like atmosphere. On special days like the annual holiday Urs each April, people come from all over the world to absorb this rare musical style, believed to be imparted by the saints. Tour operators like TransIndus organise weekly outings in Delhi to the shrine.