Obviously, if you’re visiting a place as a tourist, sightseeing isn’t all you’ll do. So the lists of free attractions are all very well, but how about some tips on surviving on a shoestring budget? On staying cheap, eating cheap, travelling cheap, and even—dare we hope?—shopping cheap. Here goes: some quick tips on making a few rupees go a long way in Delhi.
1. Accommodation: Steer clear of the five star hotels that are the most prominent in the city. Instead, look out for the many smaller hotels, B&Bs, homestays and guest houses that have emerged over the past couple of years. Among the neighbourhoods where you’ll find the biggest concentrations of these accommodations are Greater Kailash, Jasola, and Friends Colony. For a list of all the B&Bs in Delhi, check the Delhi Tourism web site. The site also includes lists of guest houses and budget hotels in the city.
2. Transportation: Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games in October 2010, and the vast improvement in the city’s infrastructure has been a result of that. Part of that improvement is reflected in the way public transport systems have improved, making it much easier to get around Delhi than it was just 6 months ago. Two major tips here:
a. Use the Metro. Delhi’s Metro Rail transport system covers a large part of the city, and is by far the fastest way to get around—plus, it’s clean and efficient. You can buy through tickets at any station, or if you’re in town for longer, buy a Smart Card, which acts as a pass.
b. Use the HOHO buses. The Hop-On, Hop-Off (HOHO) bus service was introduced to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, and operates six days a week (except Mondays, when most tourist attractions in Delhi are shut). The deep blue buses go every half hour on a route that covers 19 of Delhi’s main sights, each of which has a special blue HOHO bus stop sign outside the sight, so you know where the bus will stop.
3. Events and Nightlife: The hookah bars and the lounges and night clubs do cost a packet, but if you’re keen on culture, you may just be able to enjoy a performance—free. Among the venues that hold exhibitions and performances of everything from theatre to dance, cinema and music are Habitat World (at the India Habitat Centre) and the IGNCA. Most exhibitions are free for all visitors, as are some of the shows.
4. Shopping: For souvenir shopping, easily the best place is the outdoor shopping complex, Dilli Haat. This plays host to craftspeople from all across India, who set up stalls for two weeks at a time (or more, if they wish) to sell their wares. You’ll find exquisite stuff here: paintings, textiles and readymade clothing, carpets, papier maché, woodwork, terracotta, and plenty more, all at relatively reasonable prices, since there aren’t any middlemen involved in the sale—which also gives you the assurance that the money you pay goes more or less directly to the person who created the item you’ve bought. Dilli Haat also has frequent cultural programmes, song and dance performances that go on in an informal way through the day and evening.
5. Eating: This can be a little tricky, because of the infamous Delhi Belly. Delhi’s street foods are among the most delicious and cheapest foods the city has to offer—but a sensitive tummy, not used to spice and grease, may not be able to quite bear that. If you’re among those who’d rather stick to sandwiches and similar fare, try the many coffee shops around town—Barista and Café Coffee Day are the two most popular brands and have dozens of stores across town. Their food isn’t fantastic, but it’s generally dependable and safe, and not too expensive. Among the Indian restaurants that serve good (read also hygienically prepared and not too spicy) food are other chain restaurants like Rajdhani, Saravana Bhavan (both of which have outlets in Connaught Place), Sagar Ratna and Not Just Paranthas.