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If you’re a visitor to Delhi, chances are you have some of the more famous and frequented tourist sights on your itinerary, like the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar and Lodi Gardens.

And they should be; after all, how can one fully appreciate the Taj Mahal without making a trip to the splendid Humayun’s Tomb, the architectural predecessor to Taj. And one can’t really boast about having experienced the capital, without having roamed (and gotten lost!) in the cramped bylanes of Chandni Chowk.

However, the city also has a lot to offer to visitors – history buffs in particular – who are willing to deviate from the typical tourist itinerary.

Some of the following are beloved of the residents of the city, and some are sadly languishing in near-anonymity. But if you feel like exploring the lesser known parts of the city, check out my list of off-the-tourist-trail Delhi experiences.


1. Visit museums and galleries

Delhi boasts of some of the finest museums in India, many of which are neglected by most visitors to the city. The National Museum on Janpath is a great place to begin, especially if you have even a passing interest in history—the galleries on the Harappan Civilisation are a personal favourite. The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) just off India Gate is also worth a visit. Don’t be deterred by the ugly silver sculptures on display at the entrance—the gallery houses some stunning and rare works by Indian artists like Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Shergil and Jamini Roy.

Delhi National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum statues

A criminally underrated establishment is the National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum aka Crafts Museum on Bhairon Marg, next to the Pragati Maidan. It’s a cosy little place with exhibits of art and architecture from different states, including terracotta statues, intricate doorways and striking tribal wall art. Art students hang out here alongside the resident musicians, and it’s hard to believe that such an oasis of tranquillity could exist so close to the perpetually busy Mathura Road. Make sure to have either breakfast or lunch at the museum restaurant, Café Lota, one of the best places to eat in Delhi and yet another reason to add this to the must-visit list.

Delhi Crafts Museum gate


2. Visit a gurdwara

Delhi has a sizeable Sikh population, and an ample number of gurdwaras, of course. While there are many famous temples and mosques familiar to tourists, the city’s gurdwaras are often forgotten. Arguably the best known are Sis Ganj Sahibji in Chandni Chowk and Bangla Sahibji in Connaught Place. The best time to visit is early in the morning when the gurdwaras gold domes shimmer in the morning light. Make sure to buy some extra karah prasad (delectable halwa made with desi ghee), and do carry a stole or large handkerchief with you, as covering your head inside the temple premises is compulsory.

Delhi-gurdwara-Bangla-Sahib exterior


3. Wander in a city forest

Blessed with many large parks and gardens, it’s easy to find places in Delhi for walking or running. Most people, with good reason, flock to the beautifully manicured lawns of Lodi Gardens. However, one of the best places for walking, running, or communing with nature, is the Jahanpanah City Forest near Alaknanda (opposite Don Bosco school). A track cuts through the dense woods, looping around the forest for 6.5 kms, with benches placed along the path every hundred metres or so. If you’re not in the mood for a walk then the forest is great for simply sitting and people-watching, whether it’s just passers-by or an early morning yoga class.


If discovering the city’s greener side is on your agenda, definitely make a visit to Jahanpanah Forest, but if a more conventional park is what you’re looking for, do make a trip to the Nehru Park in Chanakyapuri­—but avoid it on weekends as it’s a favourite of Delhi residents.



4. Eat with the locals

One of the best aspects of being in the capital is the presence of the various state houses and bhavans. These are government owned and run complexes which are used to house state government officials on their visits. What is less known (to tourists) is that most of these have canteens which are open to the general, food-loving public. Since these canteens are run by the state, they serve authentic, delicious and inexpensive food.


One of the best known and loved canteens is at Andhra Pradesh Bhavan (or Telangana Bhavan), serving a basic thali (rice, rasam, sambar, vegetables), which can be supplemented with additional dishes like prawn curry, mutton fry and fish curry. On Sundays, the canteen serves a mouth-watering biryani, for which people start lining up as early as 11am!

Viva o Viva at Goa Niwas in Chanakyapuri is another crowd-pleaser, offering everything from calamari fry to crab butter masala. The restaurant’s décor is a little kooky and the music is terrible, but the food is irrefutably good. It’s also one of the few places in Delhi where one can find smoky-flavoured, spiced Goan sausages, eaten with warm paos (bread). Other bhavans include Tamil Nadu Bhavan, Bihar Niwas and Bangla Bhavan.


5. Sunday book market at Daryaganj

Every Sunday of the month, without fail, the interlocking galis of Daryaganj, near Chandni Chowk, are transformed into a massive second-hand book bazaar. Book sellers take over every spare bit of pavement space, and offer every type of book imaginable – from academic texts to rare editions of Jane Austen novels – for as little as 20 rupees. Even if you’re not looking to buy, wandering through the labyrinthine market is recommended for the experience alone.