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Great Escapes: Delhi’s Inimitable Mix of Chaos and Charm

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Delhi isn’t a city that can be explained with ease or shown in a photograph and implicitly understood. To begin to scratch the surface of India’s often chaotic and clamorous capital, it’s necessary to walk the streets, ride in the rickshaws, smell the air, meet the people, and absorb its history.

As India celebrates its 75th anniversary after gaining independence in 1947, the country is seeking to continue to establish itself on the international stage as a modern power broker in the political and economic realms. The city’s metro system is clean and efficient, with hundreds of stops across the sprawl of the city and its suburbs; luxury accommodations welcome foreign tourists with unmistakable charm; and a series of infrastructure projects have been completed to improve and beautify corridors of the city.

The city may have one eye to the future, but always has another squarely set on the past. 


The Taj Palace, billed as “the capital’s palace,” is nearing four decades of operation after debuting in 1983.

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The Taj Palace, billed as “the capital’s palace,” is nearing four decades of operation after debuting in 1983. An opulent lobby serves as a hub for visitors staying in one of its approximately 400 rooms, dining in one of half a dozen restaurants and bars, or visiting its outdoor pool, set amid splendorous, manicured garden grounds. The adjacent patio deck is a popular spot for breakfast, beneath the lush green vines hanging from the hotel’s back walls. Rooms are adorned with gilded furnishings and colorful décor, showcasing beds with high leather backings, and bathrooms with rainfall shower heads and soaking tubs.

The Imperial New Delhi is set on an eight-acre compound adjacent to Connaught Place. Opened in 1936, it’s considered the first grand luxury hotel in the city. Its white art deco facade is a testament to its era, and its many hallways and atria showcase 5,000 pieces of artwork, categorized by theme. The Imperial’s spa is an enormous underground facility bedecked in white marble, with treatment rooms set under stone cupolas featuring private saunas, steam rooms, and soaking tubs. The property is noted as the meeting site of Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Mountbatten, and other parties in discussing the Partition of India, and the courtyard behind 1911 Restaurant and Bar was a frequent setting for breakfast, tea, and chats for Gandhi and his cohorts.

For something else entirely, head to Haveli Dharampura. The extravagant four-story building, a former private manse that fell into total disrepair and underwent a six-year top-to-bottom renovation beginning in 2010. Its riad-style courtyard, unbeatable rooftop view of Old Delhi and its sites, and fantastic architecture and style make for a home away from home, for those willing to trek through dense back alleys to find it.


Humayuns Tomb.

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Ease into the city by visiting the area around the impressive India Gate, a war memorial arch. It’s set in a straight line from Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s residence, and surrounded by grassy corridors and monuments. Head to Humayun’s Tomb, a complex that served as the design basis for the Taj Mahal, which was built about 75 years later by the same ruling family. Though the building features red stone rather than white marble, and was built by a wife for her husband rather than a husband for his wife, it’s nevertheless a worthy proxy for the more well known attraction.

Start a tour of Old Delhi by visiting Jami Masjid, the largest mosque in India, with space for 25,000 worshipers. For a view of Delhi’s sprawl, climb a tight spiral staircase up one of its minarets. Nearby is the sizable Red Fort, while the Sikh temple Gurudwara Sis Ganj is worthy of a visit for a look at a different piece of the city’s culture. Once there, you’ll be amid Chandni Chowk and its countless corridors, collectively one of Old Delhi’s busiest quarters. Different streets have shops specializing in different wares, from wedding gifts to fanciful sarees, and pashmina scarves to bustling spice stores. Haggling is encouraged, and a guide is recommended to help navigate through the hectic environment.


Spice Route at The Imperial serves south and southeast Asian cuisine, from Kerala to Malaysia and Thailand, in an immaculate Oriental dining room befitting the heritage of the hotel.

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Be sure to stop at Paranthe Wali Gali, a street hidden in the alleys of Chandi Chowk filled with vendors specializing in fried multi-layer paratha flatbread served with an array of sides and sauces. Kwality Restaurant opened in 1940, and the iconic institution continues delivering fine-tuned staple dishes in a comfortable setting. It’s one of a number of old school joints that remain thriving today, including Karim’s, founded in 1913, and Kake-Da-Hotel, dating to 1931. When in doubt, ask a local for a few nearby recommendations for chaat, chai, or dosa, as there are  countless stalls, vendors, and restaurants scattered across the city.

The Connaught Clubhouse Brewery is one of the only craft breweries in the city, and makes for a refreshing pitstop amid a day of touring or shopping. There is also a contingent of cocktail bars beginning to gain international recognition, including Sidecar, Hoots, and PCO. 

The Orient Express at the Taj Palace is a dining room modeled after the Pullman Cart, a formal setting evocative of the glamor of the golden age of train travel, with the service and cuisine to match. Spice Route at The Imperial serves south and southeast Asian cuisine, from Kerala to Malaysia and Thailand, in an immaculate Oriental dining room befitting the heritage of the hotel. 

Lakhori at Haveli Dharampura offers an array of local flavors and dishes in elevated, creative fashion, and features nightly traditional dance performances during dinner.

The writer was hosted by the Taj Palace New Delhi and The Imperial New Delhi.


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