What can I possibly say about India that hasn't already been said? Probably not much I'm guessing. Home to over a billion people of diverse religions, cultures, speaking many languages and living in landscapes from lush tropical coasts to dry arid desert. India. Its sublime and its ridiculous, all in one. And I loved it.
We started our trip in New Delhi where we stayed with old friends, and made some new ones. From there we travelled by car with other friends to Agra and then to Jaipur. On our own from there, my husband and I made our way further south in the state of Rajasthan to the picturesque town of Udaipur, making another new friend on the way. Then, back to New Delhi for a night before hopping on a plane over to Kolkata (Calcutta).
I have a few travel tips and recommendations we garnered in our very short visit that I will share with you over a few installments. First, New Delhi...
We had dinner on our first night in town at Bukhara, in the Sheraton Hotel. This place is a bit of an institution amongst the upper echelons of locals and international visitors (we saw Sania Mirza there - highest ranked Indian female tennis player ever). Prices are high if you are comparing them to other local eateries, but quite reasonable if you compare them to back home. The food (North India style) is fantastic.
Our last night in town we ate at a great little place called Gunpowder. Quite the opposite of Bukhara in all ways (its from the South of India, but still fantastic). A much more chilled and local vibe with outdoor seating, and a bit less punishing on your wallet. We ate outside with new friends and sampled a lot of new to us dishes, all of which were great. Located in the charming Hauz Khas village that we had already fallen in love with the day before on a shopping expedition. Definitely worth the visit.
I got the impression there are a lot more sights to be seen in New Delhi than people give it credit for. We did a bit, but to be honest we were quite content relaxing by the pool and catching up with our friends too. What we did see we loved, including the Red Fort (below), Rashtrapati Bhavan and the India Gate, the gardens - we didn't make it to Lodi but did enjoy a wonderful free concert in Nehru Park on our last night (Thanks Brian & Puru!). In and around Connaught Place, the centre of the British capital is quite interesting too, unfortunately we left quite a bit unexplored. I felt that there were many layers to Delhi that needed to be peeled back to reveal the true city, though it felt like we only partly peeled back the first one. Needless to say, I would love to go back.
We didn't get as much shopping done as we could have in the total of 4 days we were in town, but from what I gathered, there is a lot that could be done. Where I did shop:
Hauz Khas Village. A really charming part of town that was a little off the usual tourist beaten track. Filled with great shops, galleries and cafes (see my notes on Gunpowder in the eating section). My recommendations are Lola's World - french designed and locally made clothes, kids stuff and homewares. Nappa Dori - beautiful leather goods (which kinda took me by surprise considering its India), and hand made luggage. Ogaan - a great range of contemporary Indian designed clothing and homewares, a real treasure trove. Two other galleries took my eye, although I forgot to take a card, with lots of great contemporary art that I would have happily brought back with me had I the space in my suitcase (and my walls at home).
Lodi Colony Market. I didn't make it here, but my trusty guidebooks told me there are quite a few nifty looking shops in this area, which might just have to wait til I get back next time.
Other outstanding shops to note were Viya Home, whose name might sound familiar because of their recent collaboration with US based Odegard. Famous for their outstanding metal work, the Viya Home store in Delhi is a little out of the centre of town but I felt was worth the trip. The two-level store is lovely and would be hard to leave without taking something with you.
Its hard to leave India without having done some shopping somewhere in the city, and the airport is certainly no less tempting. Kimaya has an outlet in the international departure hall and sells contemporary clothing and accessories from over 100 Indian designers. I did a little damage to my credit card here...
We stayed with friends for the first 3 nights of our trip, but then the overnight stay before Kolkata was at the Aman, which in one word is: Amazing. Created from an existing hotel and designed by Australian architect Kerry Hill, the Aman in New Delhi (below) is just a bit of a modern masterpiece. Only 31 rooms and 8 suites, all of which have their own plunge pool (!)....no, that was not a typo. The Aman in New Delhi is a great example of modern Asian style, my only criticism of the design was that it might have been a bit too generic and felt as though it could have been located in almost any of the large Asian cities. (Oh, and the shower heads were a bit too small for my liking!). Apart from that, great. Great service, beautifully designed hotel, two wonderful restaurants to choose from (although we ate at the Tapas bar twice while we were in town....best Tapas outside of Spain!), fantastic local contemporary art on display, a wide range of spa services, and lovely serene rooms. We actually didn't leave ours for the day/night we were there. Being picked up from the train station in one of the hotels fleet of steely grey iconic Ambassadors was definitely a great first impression! The hotel is also quite conveniently located, not far from the lovely Lodi Gardens, India Gate and Humayun’s Tomb.
The only other hotel in town I would vouch for is The Imperial. We had lunch there with our friends one day and it is really lovely. The total opposite of the Aman in every way, and if you prefer to stay in a more period style accommodation then this is right up your alley. The food was great, and our friend mentioned over lunch that he stayed here quite a bit on business trips before moving over and he liked it so much it became his office away from the office (not a bad place to meet with clients I guess!).
Stay tuned, the next installment will be tips on Agra and Jaipur...
(first image: Lutyens designed iron gates at the entrance of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Indian President's residence in New Delhi)