Every time I’ve watched a travel show that features India, the host stands in the middle of hectic, loud Old Delhi, culture-shocked at the sheer amount of honking cars, colors, and smells of this tiny part of the country.
Old Delhi is home to street food vendors, impoverished dwellings, and hectic markets, but it makes up only a seventh of Delhi, an urban area with almost 20 million people.
New Delhi, where I chose to spend my time on a recent trip to India—in a neighborhood known as Hauz Khas— is a sly and intriguing city, beyond the flash and drama of TV and far beyond what I thought Delhi would be. There, I hunted for authentic hidden gems of cuisine, historical sites, and nightlife.
Of course, as these things go, the place recommended to me by my friend, a Delhi native, was far from a hidden gem. Qutub Minar is a well-known jewel in Delhi’s repertoire of preserved, ancient cultural sites. Fortunately for me, because I went on a Tuesday, I was one of only a few tourists perusing this fantastically kept minaret and mosque-complex, happily snapping photos while getting a farmer’s tan.
For anyone traveling to Delhi, the historical marvel is one of the earliest known mosque sites on the Indian subcontinent and it's breathtaking in person. The reddish, intricate exterior of the tower was marvelous to behold. Not-so-fun fact: It’s haunted, too. I felt no creepiness as it was bright and sunny, but it’s chilling to find out the reason you can’t climb the staircase to the top of the minaret: 47 people died inside of it during a stampede when the lights went out. I was fine not being allowed inside.
Later that evening, I wandered around Hauz Khas by foot and rickshaw. Although the neighborhood is affluent, there are just as many pockets of eclectic sights and sounds—cars honking incessantly, packs of stray dogs, street vendors vying for my attention, a fat wandering cow, gaggles of friendly kids, the occasional monkey—scattered through what I thought was just like everywhere else in the world. There is a certain hidden madness to Delhi that makes for excellent street photography.
After a day roaming in heat that makes Houston look like Alaska, I needed a drink. Delhi nightlife is just as boisterous and thumping as any major city, but what I loved was how seemingly benign or run-down the exteriors of the bars and clubs were. No place I went to had an ostentatious facade, so walking in was like ripping open ugly gift-wrapping to unveil diamonds or the latest iPhone. If you’re looking to party the night away in Delhi, check out Auro Kitchen & Bar and Summer House Café.
After nursing your Delhi hangover, I endorse a well-appointed meal the next day or evening at Khan Market, a popular shopping and eating area for Delhi locals. I saw no other tourists there during my time and once again, the questionable street and walkways gave nothing away about the glamour and specialness of what was behind the doors and up the stairs. I had lunch and drinks at Foxtrot in Khan Market; beetroot galouti kulchas blessed my plate and I ate those delicious bread pockets faster than you can say, one more Kingfisher, please. You can also visit Sly Granny in the market for the best Old Fashioned you’ll have in your life .
I spent my last meal in Delhi at a restaurant across the street from the Qutub Minar. Featured in Vogue India, chef Sujan Sarkar’s ROOH serves up a gastronomical experience that combines Indian flavors with anything he thinks is tasty. If you’re going in the evening, order one too many cocktails (they’re absolutely fantastic) and the chef’s tasting menu, a mere 15-courses. My favorite bite was the potatoes with fermented paratha, mehrauli goat curd, and tomato pickle, but you’ll have to figure out your own favorite as the menu changes so often. ROOH’s decor is flawless and housed in a 150-year old building, so dress the part. And make sure to practice your best dinner party laugh. Bhojan kaa aanand lijiye! (Enjoy your meal)!
Belly full, Delhi-full, and in a cab on the way back to my room, I saw the lit Qutub Minar pass overhead with a full moon at its back. You’d need years to fully tap into all New Delhi can show and feed you. My three days were only the tip of the minaret.