Delhi is the symbol of old India and new… Even the stones here whisper to our ears of the ages of long ago and the air we breathe is full of the dust and fragrances of the past, as also of the fresh and piercing winds of the present.
A buzzing metropolis, India’s capital Delhi is a fascinating mix of old and new, where tombs, temples and ruins lie cheek by jowl with well-heeled boutiques and urban developments. There is no shortage of things to see and do here, from Old Delhi, founded by the Mughals in 1639, where jewellers weigh gold on dusty scales and labourers haul sacks of spices, to modern New Delhi, with its colonial-era parliament buildings, tree-lined boulevards and penchant for high tea.
Here is our guide to Delhi’s hotspots…
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1921 with the foundation stone laid by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught, India Gate, in the centre of New Delhi, commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during World War I. An imposing Arc-de-Triomphe-like archway, the names of more than 13,500 British and Indian soldiers killed in the Northwestern Frontier in the 1919 Anglo-Afghan War are inscribed on the memorial. Drive past at night when the monument is dramatically floodlit with the nearby fountains making a lovely display with coloured lights.
Old Delhi’s backbone, the densely populated market Chandi Chowk has been around for more than three centuries. An iconic shopping strip, dotted by temples, packed with rickshaws and crammed with stores, everything can be found here, from street food to saris. Tiny bazaars lead off the main drag, so you can dive off and explore the tiny lanes, which glitter with jewellery, decorations, paper goods and more. Khari Baoli is great for spices. Kinari Bazaar glistens with trimmings (lots of sequins) also popular for wedding attire. The cloth bazaar of Katra Neel offers silks, satin, crepe, cotton and everykind of fabric possible. There are also beautiful havelis not to be missed in the area like Dharampura haveli.
This magnificent garden tomb Humayun’s tomb is the first substantial example of Mughal architecture in India. It’s thought to have inspired the Taj Mahal, which it predates by 60 years. Constructed for the Mughal emperor in 1565 by Haji Begum, Humayun’s Persian-born wife, the tomb marries Persian and Mughal elements. The arched facade is inlaid with bands of white marble and red sandstone, and the building follows the strict rules of Islamic geometry. There are also several graves of Mughal rulers inside and from here in 1857, Lieutenant Hudson captured the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II.
Some believe Qutab Minar was erected as a tower of victory to signify the beginning of Muslim rule in India. Others say it served as a minaret to the muezzins to call the faithful to prayer. Either way, erected in 1193, this soaring 73 metres high Afghan-style tower is magnificent. As is the complex, which is studded with ruined tombs and monuments including Ala-ud-din’s sprawling madrasaand tomb and Altamish, entombed in a sandstone and marble mausoleum almost completely covered in Islamic calligraphy. The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India, can be found in the complex, too.
Frequented by presidents, heads of state and international celebrities, Bukhara, housed in ITC Maurya Sheraton, has been raking in the awards for its North-West Frontier Indian cuisine. Presenting delicious tandoor-cooked food with warm, robust flavours, don’t miss their iconic Dal Bukhara – a combination of whole black lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, cooked and simmered over slow coal fires of the tandoor oven overnight. The restaurant’s rustic decor, with stone walls and mock log-top tables, belies its world-famous food and you can watch chefs at work in the kitchen, skewering meat and vegetables on kebab spears.
Voted No. 1 restaurant in India by Conde Nast Traveller, Indian Accent takes an inventive approach to Indian cuisine. Run by Manish Mehrotra, one of India’s top chefs, this is a restaurant which has helped put modern Indian food on the gastronomic map. Fusing the flavours and traditions of India with global ingredients and techniques, every dish is served in innovative fashion: Duck khurchan presented in a cornetto-like cone with herb yoghurt and chilli chutney, galautis stuffed with foie gras and butter popcorn upma and crispy curry leaves.
A journey of spices through South-East Asia – from the Malabar Coast in Kerala, to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam – The Imperial’s Spice Route features a delicious menu crafted by world-famous chef Veena Arora. The interior is stunning,too, completely hand-painted with vegetable and flower dyes, by mural painters brought in especially from a temple in Guruvayur in Kerala. Outside is The Spice Route Courtyard, which is equally transporting, adorned with traditional Thai sculptures from the Chiang Mai region in northern Thailand.
Celebrating the famous 16th-century Jamavar shawls of Kashmir, The Leela Palace’s glittering fine-dining restaurantJamavar serves Indian cuisine, accompanied by an excellent wine selection of over 250 international labels. With recipes taken from royal kitchens across the subcontinent, enjoy the likes of Gosht ki Nihari, an Awadhi lamb delicacy lightly flavoured with saffron, followed by perhaps the homemade kesar and pista kulfi. Groups looking for an all-out treat can book the Maharaja Table, which seats eight people and is separated from the rest of the dining area by gold drapes.
Combining a rich history and some of Delhi’s most avant-garde shops, Hauz Khas Village is the epitome of the capital’s dynamism, vibrancy and diversity. Hugging an ancient reservoir, thronged by birds and surrounded by parkland, the neighbourhood is chock-a-block with design agencies, cool boutiques and offbeat shops. Bodice Studio is the place to go for one-off fashion treasures. Tatsat offers hand-crafted curios. Elegant leather shoulder bags can be found at Nappa Dori and Ogaan is the go-to for easy-to-wear wardrobe staples. The refreshingly sharp kiwi kulfi at Kulfiano is the perfect way to top off a shopping spree.
Established in the 1950s, this upmarket shopping enclave is where the capital’s elite spends much of its time and money. And for good reason. There are fabulous shops aplenty here including: Anokhi (elegant Indian-inspired fashion made from beautiful block-print fabrics), Fabindia (a go-to for jewel-coloured scarfs) and Good Earth (artful homeware influenced by local handicrafts). Anand Stationers supplies beautiful handmade paperor there’s Mehra Bros for cool papier-mâché ornaments. Café Turtle above the magnificently stocked Full Circle Bookstore provides the perfect pitstop.
Set right in the heart of New Delhi, Connaught Place is a bustling hive of activity. Named after George V’s uncle, the Duke of Connaught, and fashioned after the Palladian colonnades of Bath, this sprawling circular market is now filled with big brands. There are some lovely adjacent markets, too: Janpath’s tidy shops, home to a diverse array of handicrafts from across the subcontinent, while nearby Shankar Market is a fabric-lover’s paradise. Lined with more than 150 stalls, expect Orissan weaves and eye-catching ikat designs alongside rolls of block-print organic cotton and folds of lustrous raw silk.
This open-air food and crafts market is an extravaganza of colour, with its thatched cottages sellingan impressive array of regional handicrafts from across India. Pretty much all you could want is here: elegant embroidered throws, gossamer-soft pashminas and stylish mango wood-carved salad bowls to flamboyant shawls, pretty sequinned slippers and busily beaded bags. The market is also an excellent place to sample regional specialities, including delicious food from Nagaland and Tamil Nadu. Go in the evening when Dilli Haat twinkles with fairy lights.
Sundar Nagar is considered the best market to trawl for authentic antiques, interesting second-hand goods and unique artworks. From exquisite garments, heirloom jewellery and authentic ceramics to carved-wood furniture, marble figures and tribal artifacts, the gleaming, haphazard displays play home to a plethora of pleasant surprises. There are numerous art galleries, too, selling work by Indian masters like Satish Gujral and Krishna Khanna. Excellent restaurants are also cropping up including the much-loved Basil & Thyme with European classics and Number 8 serving up a delicious Tandoori Chicken Tikka Salad.
The Imperial is Delhi’s most famous luxury hotel with a brilliantly central location, a rich history and an excellent spa. A blend of Victorian, colonial and Art Deco, this iconic 235-room property is a picture of colonial-era nostalgia and elegance with rattan furniture, wheeling fans, vintage photographs, Burma teak, black-and-white marble floors and staff in period uniform. The grand and impressive public areas feature several designer shops plus four restaurants: all-day dining at multi-cuisine 1911, Daniell’s Tavern serving pan-Indian, San Gimignano with Italian fare and Southeast Asian fare at The Spice Route.
Located in Lutyens’ leafy diplomatic quarter in the very heart of Delhi, a stone’s throw from some of the city’s most prominent landmarks, Taj Mahal Hotel is one of the best-placed hotels in the capital. It’s grandeur meets understated elegance here with glorious Mughal architecture,manicured gardens, large outdoor pool and five excellent restaurants. There are 292 luxurious rooms and grand suites, all of which offer stunning views of Delhi’s historic skyline. Antiques, priceless art and traditional accents and colours further the beautiful interiors, mingled with contemporary style and modern amenities.
A glorious illustration of old-world European charm, the 19th-century Oberoi Maidens is one of the earliest heritage hotels in Delhi. With a pearl white façade, it is the epitome of calm, where peacocks roam among the elegant fountains and palm trees on the lush lawns. Now in the hands of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, the property features 55 spacious rooms, boasting high ceilings and classic furniture. The mix of royal pleasures, colonial charm and modem delights are reflected in the restaurants, too, with exquisite Indian cuisine in The Curzon Room and al-fresco dining on The Garden Terrace.
The best of New Delhi’s more affordable options, Claridges has a great location for sightseeing and shopping, as well as being just opposite the delightful Lodi Gardens.An elegant five-storey property built in 1952 that gives a nod to the city’s British colonial past (afternoon tea is still served on the lawn), the interiors are classic contemporary coming in muted tones, with polished wood floors and good lighting. A lovely pool sits in a peaceful palm-tree lined court. There are four restaurants – the highlight is Dhaba which focuses on Punjabi tandoor rotis and tikkas, balti lamb and a delicious aubergine curry.
These ideas are just a starting point for what your trip to India could include. To start planning your luxury tailor-made holiday to India, please contact us. Each trip designed by Rajasthan Tours is created uniquely for you, working to your budget, style and interests with an absolute commitment to quality. We take the work off you to allow you to enjoy the most memorable holiday experience.
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