Unless catching a train or plane, most visitors choose not to brave the streets of Delhi before sunrise. This is a misstep however, as cycling Delhi in the early morning can be enjoyably illuminating.
From around 5-8am, the narrow alleys of Old Delhi are a hive of activity: there are smart, uniformed school children setting off with satchels, temple worshippers ringing bells, chai-wallahs pouring their first steaming cups, housewives gossiping and dust sweepers going about their never-ending business. Best of all, there are the exotic spice merchants and traders, who along Chandi Chowk, walk on a bed of hot chilli flakes heaving pungent hessian sacks of turmeric and paprika on their wiry shoulders.
One of the safest and most enjoyable ways to see Old Delhi waking up, is to set out with Delhi by Cycle. Meeting in the early morning light at around 6am by the old Turkmen Gate, the cycle group sets off, trained leader upfront, bells pinging in keeping with local road etiquette. Soon enough, many of the top sights appear – the much-photographed Red Fort, Jama Masjid – India’s biggest mosque (open from 7am), the Spice Market and the curiously named Civil Lines, a relic of the former British colonial era which is still rich with military and civic buildings. Few tourists blight the camera lens at this early hour and there is (a little) less traffic on the roads.
Another excellent way to see local life early in the morning is to head to Lodi Gardens, a 90-acre park created in 1936. Once, the area was used as a burial site for Delhi's (pre-Mughal) Sayyid and Lodi rulers, but today the garden is one of Delhi’s most pleasant, especially before the crowds arrive. Here, amongst the tombs and green spaces, morning strollers set off in their trainers, while a few energetic types jog or pull yoga poses amongst the flora and trees (many of which are handily labeled for identification purposes). There’s even a Butterfly Sanctuary within the garden walls, or if you’re feeling adventurous you can join the Laughter Yoga group, which tends to start at around 6.30am.
Otherwise, one of the most arresting morning sites has to be Humayan’s Tomb, which dates back to 1570 and opens from sunrise. Humayun was the second Mughal Emperor of India and his tomb was built by his widow, Biga Begum, at a cost of 1.5 million rupees.
Lastly, don't miss the chance to photograph the garlands, roses and orchids at the Phool Mandi flower market, one of Asia's largest, which is ideal for early birds, opening as it does from 4am.
Header photo: Delhi Sunrise © Satbir Singh
Have you set out to explore the streets of Delhi before dawn? Share your experiences of cycling Delhi below.
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About the author: CarolineEdenCaroline Eden
Award-winning travel writer and broadcaster Caroline Eden specialises in Asia. She regularly contributes to international media including the BBC, Geographical, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller and Asian Art Newspaper. She is also on the judging panel for the annual Asia Spa Awards. Follow her on Twitter as @edentravels.