Stay with an Indian family in Delhi to get the best insider knowledge on everything the city has to offer.

Here’s what happened when a TNT writer visited Delhi:

“This is our first visit to India. We’ve opted for two homestays – essentially, smart B&Bs – in the hope that our hosts will steer us to sights off the tourist trail. And here we are, walking with Mamta through the swirl of vegetable carts, shoe-shine boys and noisy auto-rickshaws on her high street.

She takes us to the new Metro site. “When it opens in July, it will only take 20 minutes to get to Connaught Place [Delhi’s business district],” she says. Chhatarpur station, elevated above the highway, is a foretaste of preparations for the Commonwealth Games in October.

Back indoors, over a cup of sweet masala chai, Mamta advises us on the daunting choice of cafés, restaurants and street food.

“Go to Karim’s for the kebabs,” she suggests, as we discuss our plans for exploring the bazaars along Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. “They’re known for their Mughlai lamb and kebabs.”

With a discerning eye, Mamta and her TV journalist husband, Chetan, have created a welcoming five-bedroom home at The Estate. “We like giving our guests a bit of space, without losing that feeling of being at home,” she smiles.

More warm hospitality welcomes us at Darshan homestay in Kailash Colony a few days later. The Gwalias direct us to their neighbourhood café to sample festival sweets – intense, creamy kaju burfi and treacly sponge gulab jamun. And when I mention visiting the Delhi War Cemetery, they pinpoint the location and arrange a taxi. It’s this first-hand advice – along with chats about Indian life and culture – that enriches the homestay experience.

We’re feeling peckish – it’s time to head for Karim’s. Our rickshaw driver pedals tirelessly along pot-holed streets around the Jami Masjid, to a murky alleyway. It opens into a courtyard alive with cheery waiters zipping between the meat grills, bakery and seating areas.

We tuck into spicy lamb kebabs, rich and soupy aloo palak, mutton dosa and sweet, crusty sheermal bread. Karim was a legendary chef to the Mughal rulers and his descendants offer authentic regal recipes at street food prices.

After five days of exploring, it’s clear Delhi is a city of surprises and contrasts, with imperial grandeur sitting alongside squalor and poverty. But the tantalising food, dramatic street scenes, cultural history and warm welcome ensure it makes a memorable destination.”

The Commonwealth Games in Delhi

Wooden hoardings and construction workers are everywhere; Delhi is being spruced up for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which run from October 3-14. Indira Gandhi International Airport has been re-modelled, new Metro lines reach out to the suburbs, Connaught Place is being given a facelift and 26 new sports venues are sprouting up.

Like the Olympics in London, the Commonwealth Games haven’t been met with universal approval. “Rugby nahi roti” – food not rugby – shouts the anti-Games graffiti. But these dissenting voices are lost amid a sport-loving city in dire need of better transport links.

Head out for an autumn break, perhaps to cheer on New Zealand as it defends its gold in sevens rugby, see Australia sparkle in the swimming events, and watch India and England spar for medals in shooting. Tickets went on sale on June 4, but with staggered release dates you can book online at cwgdelhi2010.org.

Essential information on visiting Delhi

WHEN TO GO: Visit Delhi between October and March to avoid the scorching summer and monsoon season.
GETTING THERE: Fly with Kingfisher Airlines (flykingfisher.com) on brand new A330s. Other carriers include BA (britishairways.com) and Virgin (virgin-atlantic.com).
GETTING AROUND: Use the Metro. For short distances, barter a fare on a tuk-tuk or rickshaw. Delhi is a well-linked hub for travel further afield, including Agra and Jaipur.
VISAS: All foreigners require a visa. Visit in.vfsglobal.co.uk to download a six-month tourist visa application form and take it to offices in Victoria or Goswell Road.
CURRENCY: Indian rupee. 1 GBP = 71 INR.
LANGUAGE: Hindi is India’s official language, though you might also encounter Bengali, Punjabi or Urdu. English is widely spoken in Delhi hotels, shops, stations and tourist sites.
GOING OUT: Kingfisher beer can range from 70 rupees to 200 rupees.
ACCOMMODATION: Visit mahindrahomestays.com for details of The Estate and Darshan Homestays, which cost from £35 a night. For a comfortable backpacker hotel, try Amax in Paharganj (hotelamax.com).
GET MORE INFO AT:  incredibleindia.org or Love Delhi, a guidebook by Australian journalist and Indiaphile Fiona Caulfield.

Words: Graham Barker

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