Many a budget traveler has proceeded directly from the airport to Paharganj—the budget, tourist district in New Delhi—only to find themselves overwhelmed. The attack on the senses, particularly if it’s your first time to India, can be a shock.
Billed as New Delhi’s ‘backpacker ghetto,’ to say that Paharganj is busy would be an understatement. People, carts, vehicles, animals, and beggars compete for every inch of space on the crowded streets. The neighborhood rolls out in a sprawling labyrinth of crumbling buildings and dark alleyways.
Because Paharganj is rife with both poverty and tourists, crime does happen. Be mindful of belongings while walking or sitting in restaurants. While pushing through the crowded environment, a deft hand reaching into your bag or pocket may go unnoticed.
Female travelers report being harassed even more than usual while walking in the area. Beggars are persistent and omnipresent. Giving money to even one can create a mob scene around you as others find out. Sadly, giving handouts is not a sustainable solution to the problem.
Many eateries in Paharganj are tall, narrow slivers that are adorned with quiet rooftop gardens on top. Rooftop restaurants are the best way to escape persistent beggars and get a bird’s-eye view of the chaotic streets.
If you’re getting tired of Indian food, several street-level cafes in Paharganj offer Israeli food and Western-style breakfasts.
Getting a beer in Paharganj can be a peculiar affair. Only a small handful of places are legally licensed to sell alcohol, but your restaurant or hotel staff may run next door to purchase you a beer, for a small commission. Don’t be surprised if your beer arrives warm or you’re asked to drink the beer secretively, slightly out of view while on a rooftop.
The small Gem Bar and Restaurant (located 1050 Main Bizarre; open until midnight) is a popular place to grab a legal drink.
Although daily life swirls by nonstop in Paharganj, the area caters to tourists and you’ll find plenty of shops offering everything from incense to shoes. Don’t expect to do much window-shopping: most of the shops are small, cluttered spaces where an attendant will need to help you.
The Main Bazaar in Paharganj is the place to start looking for bargains, although you’ll still need to negotiate hard.
Backpackers and budget travelers stay in Paharganj for one reason: it’s cheap! You’ll find some of the cheapest accommodation available in New Delhi hidden among the labyrinth of streets in Paharganj. Hostels range from mostly acceptable to dark, nightmarish affairs. Fortunately, there are a small handful of clean, budget hotels in the area.
Getting Out of Paharganj
If you’ve had enough of the madness, you’ll fortunately find the gates to the bustling New Delhi Railway Station just outside of the area. Walking to the station is often quicker than trying to fight through traffic in a rickshaw.
Travel agencies dotted throughout Paharganj will book bus tickets for you to all popular points further afield. Because getting large buses down the busy, narrow streets is a challenge, you’ll most likely have to walk as a group quite a distance with your luggage to the outskirts of Paharganj before boarding.