Summers in New York and New Delhi are as different as separated twins in Hindi movies. In Delhi, the summer creeps up on you and starts the slow tandoor roast that lasts several months. In New York, however, the heat comes barrelling through, ripping winter to shreds &mdash shocking your system that was bundled up in puffy winter coats one week to force you to strip down to shorts the next.
Much like last year, this year summer came hot and heavy and fast. While I tried to figure out if it was going to burn me a crisp, I decided to get out of the house anyway and get my share of Vitamin D before being roasted beyond belief.
I stuffed $50 into my pocket and headed downtown to kickstart my two-day adventure to see how many New York sights I could pack in on this budget. I was as cool and confident as Jeetendra in his white pants that fifty bucks would go a long way in this city if you knew what you were looking for and planned carefully. Despite the popular notion that everything in NYC costs an arm and a leg, there are ways to avoid being amputated financially.
Entry free visitor passes reserved online cost $2
First stop, the 9/11 Memorial. The memorial doesn&rsquot charge for its tickets but I urge you to reserve your passes online at 911memorial.org for a $2 fee. The place is popular with tourists and the easiest way to speed through an already crawling line with airport-style security is to have your passes printed out and ready to go. New York is a city for walkers &mdash so ditch the stilettoes and wear comfortable walking shoes for maximum mileage.
The 9/11 Memorial with its two giant reflecting pools stands in the footprints of the twin towers that were brought down in 2001. Today, the memorial pools are ringed with the names of those who died in the tragic attacks. As I gawked with the mostly European tourists and NYC school kids, we were all drawn to the &lsquoSurvivor Tree&rsquo &mdash a lone sapling at the World Trade Center site that survived the attacks and which has been nurtured carefully back to health.
The memorial, these days, also stands in the shadow of the new Freedom Tower built on the Northwest corner of the original WTC complex. The gleaming hulk of steel and glass, 104 stories high, was finally completed this year and, as you fly into New York, punctuates the skyline on the southern end of Manhattan.
Staten Island Ferry
Within walking distance of the memorial site is the Staten Island Ferry. Some New Yorkers are notorious for forgetting that this tiny island, off Manhattan, in the southwest part of the city, is a separate borough and therefore part of the city itself. The ferry is meant to transport local Staten Island residents back and forth into downtown Manhattan and is also shared by tourists who want to get great views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Governors Island.
I hop on the ferry and am quickly lulled into a stupor by the hot summer sun. On the decks all around, tourists whip out their cameras and iPhones and snap pictures as the Statue of Liberty comes into view. The ferry doesn&rsquot make stops at the statue or at Ellis Island, but it&rsquos a great way to see the sights without the hours-long wait.
As the boat chugs away from Manhattan, you&rsquore treated to picture perfect views of downtown New York. Little sailboats dot the water as a coastguard ship with on-board machine gun keeps a wary eye on the ferry. Happy to be out of the sun and too lazy to say hi to my old pal Lady Liberty, I take a nap.
The ferry, whose schedule is available online at siferry.com, takes about twenty-five minutes each way and you are required by law to get off the boat and embark again at Staten Island. In under an hour, I have seen New York&rsquos most famous landmark and even packed in a nap &mdash for free. Win-win
Brooklyn Bridge and Grimaldi&rsquos
Entry to the bridge is free pizza at Grimaldi&rsquos, $12
Downtown Manhattan is also home to the Brooklyn Bridge whose image, thanks to Kal Ho Naa Ho&rsquos title song, is seared indelibly onto my brain. Though New York is peppered with pretty bridges, incessant viewing of Shah Rukh&rsquos video online has rendered me capable of only recognizing this brown and very beautiful bridge. You will too &mdash the moment you set your eyes on it
The Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn and is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Spanning the East River, the bridge also has a wide pedestrian walkway. If you&rsquore feeling ambitious, you can trek across the bridge or rent a bike.
Given my propensity to wander aimlessly, I trekked across the bridge thinking of Shah Rukh and all the wonderful words of advice in the Kal Ho Naa Ho song I was also guided by the siren song of Grimaldi&rsquos pizzeria on the other side of the bridge. Rated one of the best pizza places in New York, Grimaldi&rsquos wood fired pizza has tourists snaking around the block waiting for a piping, gooey, hot mess of a yummy pizza. Don&rsquot expect to waltz in and out of Grimaldi&rsquos &mdash it takes a while but it&rsquos well worth it. I bust out $12 for an individual pizza with enough left for a cheesy doggy bag back home. You can also find a Grimaldi&rsquos close to you &mdash look for locations at grimaldisnyc.com.
Chelsea and the high line
Considering I haven&rsquot slipped into any sort of discernible food coma, I coax myself to walk to the subway stop on High Street so I can take the train back into Manhattan and onto my next destination &mdash The High Line (thehighline.org) in Chelsea.
The High Line used to be an elevated freight train line that carried raw materials and produce for all the factories and warehouses that lined the train tracks on the West Side. The last train rolled by in 1980, reportedly with three carloads of frozen turkeys. The line was then discarded and in disrepair till local support and powerful backers including the designer Diane von Fürstenberg turned the dilapidated rail line into an aerial greenway in 2009 &mdash an open-air park that preserved the original train tracks and the wild shrubs that popped up besides it.
Located all the way on Manhattan&rsquos West Side, the High Line runs from Gansevoort Street right upto West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues.
Entry on the High Line is free and I get on it at West 18th Street and walk north for a few blocks towards Chelsea Market. In the summer there are food carts and little shops where you can graze and gawk at the same time. Wooden benches arranged amphitheatre style in one part of the park are also a great spot to snack on munchies and people-watch.
In the summer, the park is open from 7am to 11pm, which is great for both a) romance and b) voyeurism. The former is achieved with a stroll under the summer stars while the latter can be accomplished by using said stroll to peek shamelessly into some of Manhattan&rsquos glitziest apartments that line the High Line. Hey, if they didn&rsquot want you to look, they&rsquod buy some curtains, right
I also make a quick stop at Chelsea Market &mdash an enclosed food market between West 15th and 16th Streets on 9th Avenue. If you&rsquore a fan of the Oreo cookie, you&rsquod be happy to know that this building was its birthplace. The market stands in what used to be the former National Biscuit Company complex. The biscuits may be gone but the current Chelsea Market is home to not just little art galleries and shopping areas but also stores that offer high-end gourmet products.
You don&rsquot have to bust the bank shopping at Chelsea Market (chelseamarket.com), but it&rsquos worth a dekko to load up on some snacks or get some coffee. I have my pizza doggy bag, so I call it a night and prep for the next day&rsquos adventures, which kick off in Central Park.
Central Park Shenanigans
Free Movies, music and plays bike rental $14
If your dream is to picnic Babita-style with blankets, beach balls and a cute radio &mdash then there is no greater joy than spending the perfect summer day at Central Park (centralparknyc.org). The grass is indeed greener in New York&rsquos pride and joy &mdash the verdant lungs of the city without which we would all be flailing in a concrete jungle with no escape in sight. The park&rsquos 24,000 different trees, 250 acres of manicured lawns and 150 acres of lakes and streams are enough to give you temporary amnesia about the Big Apple&rsquos dirt and grime.
Each summer, the park also comes alive with free concerts and performances and this year the popular morning television show Good Morning America has a series of free, open concerts featuring big ticket stars like Pitbull, Carly Rae Jepsen, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lopez and John Legend among others. You have to get in line early to get a spot. But if you&rsquore in the city for just a few days, it might well be worth the trouble. Go to centralpark nyc.org/calendar for day-to-day listings of events in the park. The park is open from 6am to 1pm, all through the year.
Summer&rsquos other big draw is Shakespeare in the Park (shakespeareinthepark.org). Each year, veteran actors put on productions of the bard&rsquos biggest plays to eager audiences at the outdoor Delacorte Theater. Past performances of The Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar and Twelfth Night have included marquee names like Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Anne Hathaway. Be warned however that the lines to get the free tickets are insanely long and you have to be prepared to camp out at 6am to get your paws on two tickets for same day performances. This year&rsquos performances include The Comedy of Errors with Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
The Central Park Conservancy also has a free film festival this August 22&ndash26. The films will be screened in the landscape between Sheep&rsquos Meadow and the 72nd Street Cross Drive with gates opening at 6.30pm and the movies kicking off at 8pm.
If all this is too much waiting for you to handle, then you can do what I did &mdash just rent a bike (bikenewyorkcity.com) and hit the bike trail in the park. Depending on what bike you choose, you&rsquoll pay $14&ndash20 an hour. It&rsquos a bit pricey but worth the experience. There&rsquos also a free downloadable Central Park app that can guide you to different sections of the park with handy information about the park&rsquos different statues, fountains and architecture.
So far, I have spent almost $38, mostly on food, snacks and the bike ($28 accounted for $10 in sundries), for a day and a half of sightseeing. I am saving my last dollars for a quick lunch of Chicken and Rice and to end my day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
$6 Chicken and Rice Anyone
The Halal Guys in Midtown Manhattan are a veritable institution among food lovers in the city. While most food carts in the city serve up some version of Middle Eastern-style halal chicken and rice, the Halal cart on West 53rd Street and 6th Avenue is in a league of its own.
Eager to consume copious amounts of carbs, I head over to order a platter of sautéed and seasoned chicken over yellow rice, which comes with pita bread and a mysterious and highly addictive white sauce. The amazing platter is not just filling but delicious and makes you want to come back for more And more And more Carb overload for just $6 Check The Halal Guys are at a bunch of locations these days. Check the ones closest to you on their website 53rdand6th.com.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Suggested donation $25 my donation $6
With six dollars left in my pocket, I stagger uptown to make one last stop at my favourite museum &mdash The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org). It&rsquos the largest art museum in the United States and one of the biggest three art museums in the world. You don&rsquot have to be a hardcore museum buff to enjoy what the Met offers.
I usually hightail it to the Egypt section and spend time with the mummies before being creeped out and making it out into the sunny atrium. With enough art from different eras and cultures from across the world, you can wander around the Met till you stumble on something you love.
The museum has a &lsquosuggested donation&rsquo of $25, which is a lot of money. But you can get away with as little as $5. You don&rsquot have to feel bad about skimping on the cash &mdash the Met is an incredibly rich institution with powerful backers so chances are no one is missing our $25 little beans. Also remember, it&rsquos a &lsquosuggested&rsquo donation &mdash just like that diet your spouse &lsquosuggested&rsquo you get on. You can always work around it. Having said that, I drop my last six bucks at the entrance and head to my long ago dead pals waiting for me in the Egypt section.
I emerge from the Museum three hours later and head back home and kick back my sneakers to finally settle in. Two days and fifty bucks later, I feel satisfied about covering a lot of ground in the city. Now, if there was only a way to get rid of those nasty calluses
New York is phenomenally connected via its public transportation. Start the savings at the airport itself. Share a ride with other passengers in a shuttle bus to and from your hotel. Book ahead here supershuttle.com
Get a Metropass Instead of taking a cab everywhere, discover the city&rsquos impressive and efficient subway system. You can buy passes to the Metro for different denominations. Each ride costs $2.50. Plan your train rides to your destinations here hopstop.com.
Where to stay
For all hotel options, go to hotels.com.
If you&rsquore young and adventurous, hit up couchsurfing.com for hosts who are willing to let you crash on their couch for a few days. It&rsquos free and &mdash depending on your host &mdash could be a great experience or a night out of the movie Psycho.
Craigslist.com could also have potential leads for vacation rentals.
If you&rsquod like a regular, cheap hotel, try the Jane. Like all rooms in New York, the rooms at the Jane are compact and functional. Prices range from $110 to 135 per night. More info here thejanenyc.com.
Long Island City (LIC) in Queens is also a good place to explore hotel options. LIC is just across the water from Manhattan and has great accessibility to touristy spots like Times Square. Try the Red Roof Inn for cheap, comfortable rooms averaging $100 a night. More info here redroof.com
Where to eat
Unless your hotel provides you with free breakfast, the number one rule would be to stay clear of hotel food. It&rsquos pricey and you can get far more variety for a fraction of the cost away from the hotel. For breakfast, try New York-style bagels and a coffee from a local deli for less than $5.
For lunch, try and eat at a food cart. The food is usually tasty and cheap. New York is peppered with these little carts and chances are you&rsquoll always find someone making a hot and tasty meal of falafel sandwiches and chicken and rice. Try the Halal Guys at West 53rd and 6th Avenue (53rdand6th.com) for a gut-busting chicken and rice or lamb-over-rice platter.
Check out yelp.com for food ideas based on your location. Feel like cheap Italian Chances are there are tons of choices right where you are.
New York also offers a smorgasbord of great ethnic cuisine from around the world. Try Chinatown in downtown Manhattan or in Flushing, Queens for cheap authentic goodies, the Murray Hill neighbourhood for South Asian food or K-town near Midtown Manhattan for authentic Korean food.
Check local sites like nymag.com, gothamist.com, villagevoice.com or timeout.com for more choices on cheap eats.
Never pay full price for museums or Broadway shows
Most museums offer free or pay-as-you-wish days to accommodate wallet-weary visitors.
The Museum of Modern Art (moma.org) has free Friday night entry, 4&ndash8pm. Tickets are not available in advance and same-day tickets allow you to check out all the galleries, exhibitions and films at MOMA. Regular tickets are $25 for adults.
The Guggenheim (guggenheim.org) has pay-what-you-wish hours on Saturday, 5.45&ndash7.45pm. Regular admission is $22.
If you&rsquore a student, carry your student ID for discounted tickets.
If there&rsquos a sign for suggested donation, use your discretion and pay as you wish.
Buy tickets for same-day Broadway shows at the TKTS booths (tdf.org) at Times Square, South Street Seaport or Downtown Brooklyn. Deciding what show to watch can be overwhelming for some at the counter &mdash so download the TKTS app in advance and plan what you want to watch while you wait in line.