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Delhi or Mumbai? Where should you start?

newdelhiAs I wrote about just a couple weeks ago, Air India, which is owned by the Indian Government, is one of the many airlines around the world that is struggling just to stay in business. In their case they are in no real danger, since the fine taxpayers of India can keep helping out until things turn around, but still, in response to this mess they are offering excellent fares in the coming months, at least from New York City.

The world is awash with cheap international flights, and of course India is participating like everyone else. In general, cheap flights to Asia are very easy to find right now, but of course you want to choose your destination carefully. Some Americans and Europeans don’t realize the scale of Central and Eastern Asia, and they think they can fly into Bangkok or Hong Kong and then get US$100 flights to anywhere else in the region, but it’s WAY too large for that and some destinations are really expensive even when you are in the region.

Mumbai or Delhi?

By far, the two most popular entry points for India are Mumbai and Delhi, and of course these are the two largest cities as well. You’ll find advertisements for cheap tickets to India, but you have to consider that these two huge cities are very different.

Mumbai

Right now you can get airfare to Mumbai from New York starting at US$723 on Air India and starting from US$979 from Los Angeles on Continental. Mumbai (which many people remember when it was called Bombay) is the financial and entertainment capital, and it’s also on the coast so it has a temperate climate, and also monsoons, in season. The city is unbelievably crowded all night and all day, and that sensation tends to get to most people after only a few days. It’s not a bad idea to plan maybe 3 days in Mumbai and then move on. From here you can take a train down to Goa, or up north to Rajasthan, which is a very colorful and traditional area.

When in Mumbai you should think about staying in the Colaba neighborhood, which is moderately priced and has plenty of services for visitors.

Delhi

At the moment the best deals on airfare to Delhi are US$765 starting from New York on Air India and US$964 starting from Los Angeles on Malaysia Air. Delhi is the second largest city and it has more of a desert climate, as it’s far inland. Many people get confused between Delhi and New Delhi, so here’s the quick version: Delhi is a huge city, and within that huge city is a special district called New Delhi, which is the capital of the country. So it’s like if Washington DC was part of Manhattan in New York City, but they had very similar names. Still confused? Join the club.

Delhi is more historic and a better place to see the “real India,” as it has more palaces and shrines and authentic culture. Delhi is also quite close to Agra, which is where you’ll find the Taj Mahal. Agra isn’t really a nice city, but the Taj is worth seeing and you can do it on a day trip by train from Delhi.

When choosing a place to stay in Delhi you’ll notice that an area called the Paharganj stands out as the cheapest, at least in the city center. It’s actually in New Delhi and close to the main train station, but it’s also kind of a dump and unless you might think twice about staying there. There are some nice hotels in the Connaught Place area with higher prices but probably worth it.