When you visit Delhi for the first time you either take a tour or google “top places to visit” to make up your plan. Most probably you will get advice for Red fort, Dili Haat, Akshardham and Lotus Temples, Jama Masjid, India Gate, Hauz Khas Complex and maybe Lodhi gardens. All mentioned places are truly amazing, I visited some of them several times. They might form your cultural 2day program in Delhi. However, if you are an avid explorer and want to dig deeper into local experiences and follow an offbeat path, this post is for you. This is a featured list of 21 experiences which might inspire even native Delhiites to explore their city.
Discover the history
1. Purana Qila
It is one of the oldest forts in Delhi constructed about 5000 years ago. Every single stone in that area breathes the history. The fort has a museum with some archaeological items dating 1000 BC and beautiful architecture reflecting that period of time. During day time you can explore fort’s history, sites and in the evening you can attend a light show. It is at 7 or 8 pm depending on the season. The movie portrays a few centuries of history of Delhi. It’s one of the most informative and interesting stories I’ve seen about Delhi.
In Purana Qila you will meet more people than in Tughlakabad fort but still quite a few as for historical value it presents. Maybe this is the only monument site where foreigner ticket is not priced 10 times more than local ones. I think this is another indicator of low popularity, that makes this fort reach offbeat experience list.
2. Tughlakabad fort
It is a ruined fort in South Delhi stretching for 6 km. Centuries back this used to be a city constructed by Tughluq dynasty. Despite an interesting architecture and history behind this monument, there are quite few tourists there. When I visited it, there were hardly 20 people. If you love to explore historical sites, you will definitely enjoy this place. Moreover, if you ever dreamt of a photoset in ruins without a queue of people watching and hurrying you up, this is one of the top places to do it.
Except an interesting story behind the monument, there are also some interesting fauna species you might meet in that area. One of them is Nilgai or Indian Blue Bull. It is the largest Asian Antelope living mainly in northern & central India. In Delhi they are mostly found in the forest region in the southern part of the city. You can spot them around the Tughlaqabad Fort, Jawaharlal Nehru University and in reserve forests of Sanjay Van (Jungle). Don’t confuse them with a ton of other street animals you will find on Delhi roads.
3. Mehrauli Archaeological Park & Lal Koth
Mehrauli Archaeological Park is one of the hidden gems of Delhi. Ironically it is located just next to Qutub Minar which is one of the most popular tourist sites. There are lots of ancient monuments here like Tomb of Balban, Quli Khan’s Tomb, Gandhak ki Baoli, Rajon ki Baoli, and Jamali Kamali mosque. All these monuments are in the midst of natural beauty enhanced by a lake, lots of trees, a rose garden, and presence of different species of birds.
It is one of the least known and offbeat places, so there is no rush that you normally find in Delhi. If you want to enjoy some time by yourself in the midst of the history, heritage and natural beauty of Delhi, Mehrauli Archaeological Park is the place to visit.
4. Agrasen ki Baoli
Agrasen ki Baoli is a historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place and Jantar Mantar in Central Delhi.
It is believed that it was built by King Agrasen during Mahabharat epic era. This is a true gem of architecture and engineering. This step well has 103 steps with a series of carved chambers and passages, 60-meter long and 15-meter wide. It has a unique structure consisting of three levels, with each level lined with arched niches on both sides.
Agrasen ki Baoli is offbeat place infamous for being haunted. According to the belief, this step well was once filled with black water. This water used to entice people to commit suicide by jumping in it. Some people still believe that it is a haunted place, and they advise visitors not to stay here post sunset. Though it’s a beautiful architectural construction to see during daytime.
Spend time with nature
5. Explore birds at Okhla Bird Sanctuary
The Okhla Bird Sanctuary is situated on Yamuna river in Noida. The place has more than 300 avian species including water-birds. This is an amazing place to explore the diversity of feather friends of Delhi, however you might have to be patient to take pictures of them.
6. Garden of Five Senses
This garden was recently added in “Things to do in Delhi”. It was launched in 2003 and currently has 20 acres of territory. It was designed to stimulate all the five senses with the beauty and attractions created around the park. With the help of waterfalls, rocks, greenery, murals & sculpture and wind chimes it brings relaxation.
Cultural and musical performances are held on regular basis in the amphitheatre in the park in the evenings. Also there are many restaurants and craft outlets in the park projecting heritage of India. It is located near Mehrauli Heritage Area. If you are planning to visit Archaeological offbeat route in Mehrauli you can take rest and relax in this garden afterwards.
7. Meet Injured Birds Of Delhi
For Nature and wildlife lovers, one of the interesting ways to make your visit to Delhi special, is to visit this Jain Temple/Hospital opposite to Red Fort. There is a Charity Birds Hospital in the grounds of Digambar Jain Temple. This hospital helps injured birds and rabbits of the city. There are many bandaged birds getting lots of love, vitamins and baths.
As it is a Jain establishment, you would have to take off your shoes at the entrance. Any donations will be welcomed there as birds coming to the temple can’t pay their hospital bills.
Explore the city
8. Delhi Cycle Tours
Taking a bicycle guided tour is one of the greatest and least explored ways to see Delhi. You can choose a tour of Old Delhi. It will take you through the narrow lanes with hidden jewels in the form of eateries and heritage sites. You can choose Delhi’s heritage sites tours or tours through New Delhi where you will cross through the India Gate, President’s House (Rashtrapati Bhawan) and other architectural wonders.
There are many bicycle tours to choose from, which are organized by different companies like Delhi By Cycle, Wanderlust India, Thrillophilia and others. Most of the bicycle tours in Delhi are organized in the morning to escape traffic. It is a lifetime experience to explore morning streets of Delhi if you know where to get the best morning tea, breakfast, flowers and the awesome sights to see. The guides of well-known bicycle tour companies mentioned, for sure won’t disappoint you.
9. Rickshaw Rides Around Old Delhi
The roads full of rickshaws always catch foreigner’s attention in India. It is a great fun to take a ride in them, and even better to take a proper tour in a rickshaw with a guide. With rickshaws moving through the lanes of Old Delhi and passing through architectural wonders, colourful shops, famous food stalls and ever colourful markets, a tour in a rickshaw will have much higher personal value than the time and cost of it.
This Old Delhi Rickshaw tour is organized by many different companies. WhenInIndia’s tour is the most famous, which is defined as a Leisurely Rickshaw Tour of the Walled City of Old Delhi.
10. Walking Tours of Delhi
Delhi might not be the city associated with walking because transport takes both pedestrian and car road space. Still there are certain areas where you can enjoy walking without looking on the sides for the next coming bike. There are many walking tours that Delhi offers to you, starting from walking around Old Delhi & Red Fort to the spanky clean markets in Connaught Place.
There are two walking tours which are special in Delhi. The first one is called City Walk Programme. It is organised by Salaam Baalak Trust, which is an NGO that works with homeless street children. It offers a tour into the areas of Paharganj and New Delhi Railway Station from where most of the street children are rescued by the NGO. This walking tour provides a different side of the city and is led by one of the former street kids. This tour will make you appreciate what you have and also give you hope that everything can become better in life.
The second walking tour is conducted by Intach, which is a non-profit organization working for protecting India’s natural and cultural heritage. They offer several Heritage walks around the city, which are lead by expert historians, giving you an overview of the cultural heritage of Delhi.
11. Khari Baoli Tour – Asia’s Largest Wholesale Spice Market
Whether you are a spice lover or not, Khari Baoli is something which you can not experience anywhere else than Delhi. You will find huge heaps of different spices on both sides of the road. Spices also will be in big sacks, ready to be transported across India and beyond. Use handkerchief in the market to cover your nose, if the aroma of spice becomes hard to handle. This market is situated in Old Delhi near the Red Fort. It has been there since 17th Century.
If you like to explore local markets, I featured a list of 12 special markets all across India that might be interesting for you.
12. Daryaganj Book Market
Disclaimer: I’m a book lover, so I couldn’t skip this point in the offbeat experiences list. If you are an “old school” like me and prefer holding a real book than a virtual one, you will enjoy Sunday market in Daryaganj. This is a 2 km road filled with books from both sides. You can find literally any book that can come to your head for the throwaway prices. Some books are sold per kilo while other books are sold per item. Consider taking a bottle of water with you as along the road you will have limited options. Do make bargaining your friend as in any market prices can be negotiated.
13. Shopping markets
Though shopping is not an offbeat thing to do in Delhi, some markets mentioned here are surely offbeat. In Delhi you can find the top brands to shop from the Connaught Place or GK. But the actual fun of shopping in India is in the chaos of local markets, where you can find stuff for dirt cheap price. Sarojini Nagar and Janpath are the markets where the rejected goods of top brands end up. You can buy them at insanely cheap prices. Other shopping hotspots to check out are Lajpat Nagar, Chandani Chowk and Palika Bazaar. Lajpat Nagar will give the best deal for traditional clothes.
Disclaimer: the throwaway prices are available after you learn bargaining Indian style. I recently covered a post about shopping and bargaining in India.
14. Offbeat Delhi Flea Markets
If you want to experience how shopping happens in Indian small towns and villages, then check out weekly flea markets of Delhi. You can find anything in these flea markets, from fashion to household items and handicrafts.
Some of the most crowded and awesome flea markets are – Wednesday market at Govindpuri, Monday market at Karol Bagh, Sunday Bazaar near Jama Masjid. The prices start at 2 INR only 😀
Enjoy Performance and Arts
15. Visit Kathputli Colony
Kathputli colony is the land of acrobats, magicians, puppeteers, singers, dancers and musician communities. Though all these artists are ambassadors of Indian culture, they live in a slum. This is the same place which inspired Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children. Everyone has heard of a great Indian rope trick. You can see this and many other traditional art tricks performed by the people holding a Guinness Book Record.
The Art of Hope Tour specializes in Kathputli colony tours, which includes puppetry, fire shows, Dance performance and more along with the story of struggle and survival of these artists.
You can join this tour just for 50 USD at GetYourGuide .
16. Indian Dance Lessons at Delhi Dance Academy
For any tourist inspired by Bollywood dancing Delhi Dance Academy provides fun two hours dance class. They introduce you to three different dance styles and teach dancing moves from few Bollywood shows. On top of that, you will get a recording of your dancing in full Bollywood clothing. The best souvenir to take away and enjoy it after going back home. The academy is in Lajpat Nagar and in Gurgaon.
17. Kingdom of Dreams (KOD)
Kingdom of Dreams is a place where ‘’Ultimate, Incredible Indian fantasy comes alive’’. Many people who visited KOD will vouch in favour of this statement. KOD brings together India’s Art, Culture, Heritage, Food, Bollywood, Performing Arts and Shopping experience under one roof. All this is mixed together and presented with technological awesomeness. If you have only one day, and you want to experience entire India with all the comfort you can think of, KOD is the place to go.
Though everything is worth a visit here, I would underline the two shows – Jhumroo and Zangoora, which are particularly famous. They are shown in Las Vegas style live show.
You can enjoy food from every corner of the country here as well, but if you are amazed by Bollywood, then IIFA Buzz, a glamorous Bollywood themed café is the place where you should head to.
Discover something new
18. Delhi’s Sufism
Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi attracts Sufi devotees from across the world. It is the resting place of Nizamuddin Auliya, one of the most famous Sufi saints. On Thursday evenings and on special occasions, the courtyard of the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah erupts with soul stirring Qawwalis (Sufi devotional songs) accompanied by Indian instruments. One of the families singing Qawwalis here has been singing at Hazrat Nizammudin for hundreds of years.
There are more offbeat places of Sufism in Delhi. Two are in Mehrauli, namely Dargah of Bakhtiyar Kaki and the Ashiq Allah Dargah. All the Dargahs provide Sufism along with myths and stories about its history.
If you are going for any Dargah, it is preferable to dress conservatively and cover head with a cloth. Hazrat Nizamuddin is located near Humayun’s Tomb. “Delhi By Foot” conducts walking Sufiyana tours.
19. Changing Of The Guard
Change of the Guard is a military tradition in which armed force personnel at the palaces and borders change periodically for a fresh body of troops to take charge. This function gives goosebumps to anyone who witnesses it as it is a very intense exercise. This change of guards is practiced in Rashtrapati Bhawan, President’s House every Saturday morning. If you are in Delhi on a Saturday, then starting your morning with this military tradition will be an offbeat idea.
20. Crafts Museum
I think in India, where you get overwhelmed with sightseeing options, museums are always an offbeat experience. You rarely find a crowd there and you actually get time to explore each stand as long as you feel like. If you have an interest in art, you will surely love the Crafts Museum, which is in Pragati Maidan. Here you can find artisans from different areas of art demonstrating their skills of pottery, embroidery, weaving, carving etc.
It is one of the largest crafts museum of India and it contains artefacts from all across the country, tracing the entire range on artisanal work. There are more than 22,000 tribal objects in the museum galleries to savour your eyes. There is also a cute little café there to recharge your batteries whenever tired of walking.
21. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets
This is truly one of the most offbeat places to visit in Delhi. You may be surprised that Toilet museums are becoming a fad across the world. There is one in Korea and another in Germany.
This museum in Delhi, as you would have expected, gives an insight on the history of Toilets, of how commodes, sewage system, toilet furniture has evolved since 2500 BC. To make it more interesting, all this history is explained with a lot of wit and wisdom in the museum style.
You will also find here the story of how Sulabh International Organization is making a difference in India by providing public toilets to Urban India.
I hope this list was useful for you. Next time when you are in Delhi, pay a visit to few of them to get the real taste of Delhi. Do you think I skipped some other offbeat experiences? I will be happy to update the list and hear from you =)