Three classics of Indian travel writing about Delhi


As the first stop in many people’s Indian travels, the country’s second largest metropolitan area, and the eighth largest city in the world by population, Delhi is truly one of the world’s great urban experiences: a multidimensional crush of life. In recent years there have been three great travelogues set in Delhi, the latest of which, by former BBC journalist Sam Miller, is aptly titled Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity Having settled in Delhi after getting married, Miller sets out to explore the city on foot. Delhi, he tells us, is ‘‘India’s dreamtown — and its purgatory,’ Setting out from Connaught Place, he leads us through the city, talking with strangers, falling into dry manholes, surviving rickshaw crashes, getting chased by pigs, and visiting one of the most harrowing outdoor butchers ever described in print. What comes across are several things: the inherent affability of the author, an excellent sense of humour, and a journalists canny eye for the changes underway in India’s fast globalising capital. Miller continually discovers secrets and surprises, leading us from the 14th century city to a 21st century megalopolis, recording encounters both hilarious and profound, and generally opening the city’s hidden heart.

You can listen to a great interview with Sam Miller, discussing Adventures in a Megacity at Live Mint here.

Several years old now but still a brilliant read is Scoop-Wallah: Life on a Delhi Daily by Justine Hardy. Recently republished as part of Summersdale’s Classic Traveller series, Scoop-Wallah is an inciteful and often side-splitting account of Justine Hardy’s time working for the Indian Express. This is the kind of book that will literally have you laughing out loud in the tube carriage, so vividly do the characters of the city come to life. It’s inciteful too – with the author not afraid to tackle some of the big taboos in India life such as HIV – and most of all peppered with enormous fondness for the author’s adopted homeland. One of our favourite travel books about Delhi.

You can hear an interview with Justine Hardy here.

Last but not least comes William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi Detailing a year spent in Delhi with his wife, this book put Dalrymple on the map as a travel writer to watch with it’s lyrical prose, shrewdly observed dialogue, and a historian’s eye for detail. Populated by a memorable array of characters, and weaving past and present into a seamless narrative, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi became an immediate classic. Long after you put it down, the whirl of pigeons fluttering in a Delhi sky, the blare of rickshaw noises, or the shrill voice of Mrs Puri lingers in the ears!

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