Destination of the Week: Delhi
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This week, TPG Contributor Jenny Miller takes us to the city of Delhi. India's capital (we're counting New Delhi as part of it) is big and gritty, as you might expect of a megalopolis of about 12 million souls. But the impressive monuments, great shopping, and terrific food make it well worth a visit.
WHAT TO DO
As befits a nation of India's size and history, there's no shortage of great monuments in its capital (again, we're counting New Delhi as part of the entirety of Delhi). There's the Red Fort, a formidable sandstone structure that was the onetime stronghold of the Mughals - the Islamic conquerors who invaded India in the 16th century. The India gate here is the country's Arc de Triomphe, commemorating the Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British in World War I.
The impressive Humayun's Tomb is, along with the Taj Mahal, part of the grand Mughal tradition of building towering mausoleums for the dead. This red sandstone structure is well worth seeing, as is the smaller adjoining tomb to Humayun's father, surrounded by a peaceful garden.
Another don't-miss for any lover of history (or fan of Gandhi) is the Gandhi Smriti, the peaceful bungalow where the inspiring leader spent the last few months of his life before being assassinated on the grounds in 1948. Though it could be better organized, the museum houses a moving tribute to Gandhi's philosophy. Most striking of all are the spartan rooms where he lived, and a box holding the few possessions he left behind: a knife, fork, spoon, eyeglasses and not much else.
Unless you relish bumbling your way around large sprawling cities, a convenient and affordable way to see all of Delhi's monuments is to hire a driver for the day, which can be done for around 700 rupees ($11) at one of the government-approved travel agencies.
It's also worth spending a day or an afternoon Old Delhi, the former heart of the city. This once-posh area is now a fascinating warren of decrepit lanes revealing interesting things around every corner. It's also home to Chandni Chowk bazaar, where you can buy well, pretty much anything, from jewelry to glorious fabrics to shoes. Near there you'll find the beautiful Jama Masjid mosque (closed Fridays) as well as the Sikh Temple. It's worth popping into the latter to check out the communal kitchen, where you can plop down and assist with rolling out the round bread known as chapati.
WHERE TO EAT
Speaking of chapati, you're going to encounter a lot of it and its bread-y cousins. North Indian fare favors bread over rice (the preference in the south of the country). One phenomenal place to carbo-load is Karim's, situated in the heart of Chandni Chowk's Muslim section in Old Delhi, near Jama Masjid. The venerable institution's bread-making operations are the first thing you see when you walk in: a team of men rolling out roti, naan, and chapati for the tandoori oven. Order plenty of this to accompany North Indian non-veg grub like tandoori chicken, mutton kebabs, or anything else prepared in the raging-hot ovens.
Delhi is in a portion of India that indulges in meat, which tends to be mostly chicken and "mutton," or goat. Be sure to try butter chicken, which was said to have been invented at another Delhi institution: Moti Mahal. It has since spun off into a chain of restaurants, but the original has been around since 1947.
A number of Delhi-ites will rave that Minar, in Connaught Place, has some of the best food in India, but for whatever reason it seems to be off the tourist circuit. All the better, too. While surrounded by local families, dig into insanely delicious ghee-fried chicken pakoras and another rendition of butter chicken that's so creamy it's almost tangy.
If you're up for a splurge, consider making a reservation Indian Accent in the Manor hotel for a nouveau Indian spin, or Bukhara, inside the ITC Maurya hotel, which is famous for its tandoori meats, celeb sightings, and high prices.
Indians all over the country love digging into food from other regions, so if you find yourself craving dosai or other South Indian grub, it can be easily found at places like Saravana Bhavan in Connaught Place (part of an international chain and very good), or the Indian Coffee Shop near Connaught Place (part of a mostly South Indian chain of old-school coffee shops with waiters in crisp white retro uniforms), which offers dirt-cheap prices and a lovely rooftop patio - two things that make it a popular student hang.
Star Alliance flyers have a number of options for getting to Delhi: United flies direct from Newark, EVA connects from a number of North American hubs via Taipei, while ANA flights arrive via Tokyo Narita, and Asiana flights transit via Seoul. Air India has also recommenced its entry process into Star Alliance, so we could see it join as early as this summer.
SkyTeam members might want to make a similar journey on China Airlines, connecting in Taipei, or China Southern via Guangzhou. Meanwhile, for Oneworld, Cathay Pacific makes the journey to Delhi by connecting in Hong Kong and JAL connects at Tokyo Narita while Qatar Airways offers service via Doha. Emirates also flies to Delhi, connecting through Dubai.
Delhi's Indhira Gandhi Internatonal Airport (DEL) used to be known as one of the worst in the world, but since a recent remodel, it's actually become quite easy to navigate. A new metro line connects DEL with the New Delhi station, making it an easy straight shot to the center of town, where you can get another metro line or a taxi or rickshaw to your destination.
However, if you're staying in one of the many hotels South Delhi, the station location isn't that convenient. Transportation is affordable enough that you might just want to prearrange airport pickup with your hotel or head straight to the prepaid taxi counter, where you pay the set fare in advance, avoiding overcharging and scams.
Visa: At present, the process of getting a tourist visa to India involves applying in person at a visa processing center and waiting as long as several weeks for approval. However, India is in the process of changing this policy: starting in October of this year, it will be possible for Americans to apply for Indian visas online, receive the green light within five days, then pick up their visa at the airport on arrival into India. TPG had a snafu obtaining his Indian visa in November that almost prevented his trip to the Maldives and India, but luckily the folks at Allied Passport & Visa were able to help and expedite things.
Radisson Blu Marina Hotel Connaught Place: Located in the central business hub of Connaught Place, this hotel is close to both attractions and the Airport Express Line Metro Station. The hotel features complimentary WiFi throughout the property, plus convenient concepts like Grab & Run breakfast, and 3-hour Express Laundry. There's 24-hour in-room dining, plus two restaurants and a bar. A spa offers massage, facials, manicures, and pedicures, while the health club (complimentary to Deluxe rooms and up) features fitness equipment and a steam room. Deluxe rooms offer a complimentary buffet breakfast and a welcome drink, while Business Class rooms include discounts on spa treatments and food and drinks. Rates start at 6,999 rupes ($110), or 38,000 Gold points for an award night.
Hilton Garden Inn Delhi: Located south of Delhi's center in the DLF Place Mall, about 30 minutes' drive from DE, this hotel offers free WiFi throughout the property, a 24-hour business center, a fitness center and an outdoor pool, and there are two golf courses about five miles away. The India Grill restaurant serves breakfast lunch and dinner and offers 24-hour room service and a bar, while the Pavillion Pantry has snacks available 24 hours a day. Rooms have king-sized beds and desks with ergonomic Herman Miller chairs, along with flat-screen TVs, coffee makers and mini-refrigerators. Definitely more of a business-trip choice. Prices start at 5,737 rupees ($94), or 30,000 HHonors Points for an award night.
Hyatt Regency Delhi: This hotel is situated in southwest Delhi, close to many embassies, consulates and corporate headquarters, and about 20 minutes from DEL. The 507 guestrooms, including 51 suites, offer complimentary WiFi, large work desks, king beds, and flat-screen TVs. Regency Club rooms include two-way airport limousine transfers along access to the Regency Club Lounge, offering continental breakfast, refreshments throughout the day, and evening cocktails and canapés. The onsite Club Olympus Fitness Centre & Spa offers fitness equipment, yoga classes, a sauna and spa treatments highlighting Eastern and Western healing methods, plus a beauty salon. When you're peckish, choose from the property's nine restaurants and bars, including La Piazza and the China Kitchen. Rooms start at 7,200 rupees per night ($118), or 15,000 Gold Passport Points.
New Delhi Aerocity: Located in the new AeroCity development, this hotel is extremely convenient to DEL as well as to quite a few commercial and diplomatic offices. All 493 guestrooms feature 40-inch TVs, sofas and a writing desk, complimentary bottled water, and a coffee and tea maker. Executive Club rooms include Club lounge access, offering complimentary non-alcoholic drinks, workspace, and an honor bar. All rooms offer WiFi for a fee. On site there's an international restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, a coffee shop, and several bars. Fitness facilities include a gym, and outdoor pool, a sauna, and the Quan Spa. Room rates at this category 6 hotel start at 9,500 rupees ($155) or 30,000 Rewards points per night.
Crowne Plaza New Delhi Mayur Vihar Noida: This suburban hotel is as close as Crowne Plaza gets to central Delhi, but at least it's convenient to the new expressway to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. It's a 25-minute drive to Delhi's center, or you can catch the metro nearby. Internet is free to IHG Rewards Club members. All 160 rooms offer writing desks, free newspaper delivery, and coffee and tea makers. The hotel features a 24-hour business center with a technical concierge and secretarial services available. A 10,000-square-foot wellness facility includes a gym, the Eros spa, and an outdoor pool. There's 24-hour room service, two restaurants, and a cocktail bar. Rates start at 6,075 rupees ($99) or 30,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
Holiday Inn New Delhi Mayur Vihar Noida: This 193-guestroom hotel is another option that's not very central but is located near the metro and the Taj expressway. This one also offers free internet to IHG Rewards Club members. Guests can enjoy free morning newspapers, turndown and valet service, and in-room features like coffee and tea-makers, work areas, and minibars. There's a state-of-the-art fitness center on site, and access to the Eros spa in the adjoing Crowne Plaza (mentioned above). Business travelers will enjoy amenities like a business center and same-day dry-cleaning. At the 24-hour restaurant, choose from Thai, Indian, and American specialties. Rates start at 6,075 rupees ($99) or 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
Le Méridien New Delhi: This 299-guestroom hotel (with 59 suites) is conveniently located in central Delhi near attractions like Connaught Place, the National Museum, and the Presidential Palace. Guestrooms include work desks, coffee and tea makers, and high-speed WiFi for a fee. Club rooms include access to the Club lounge as well as complimentary roundtrip airport transfers. All guests can take advantage of complimentary valet parking, a beauty salon, and 24-hour concierge services. There's a fitness center with a jacuzzi and outdoor pool and the Three Graces by Amatrra spa, which combines an Aruyveda approach with 21st century technology. Three restaurants offer everything from Indian to Chinese food, while the coffee shop and two bars are convenient for other times of day. Room rates at this SPG Category 3 hotel begin at 6,300 rupees ($103) or 7,000 Starpoints per night.
ITC Muraya: This venerable, 438-guestroom hotel, located in SW Delhi near diplomatic embassies and the city's greenbelt, has been a favorite with visiting politicians and big shots for several decades. Enjoy 24-hour butler, concierge, room service, plus a beauty salon on site; WiFi is available in public areas and rooms for a daily fee. The hotel is home to Bukhara, specializing in tandoori cuisines - it was named one of the 50 best restaurants in the world by Restaurants magazine in 2006 and draws tourists and locals from all over the city. There are also five other restaurants and bars, including an Irish pub. To relax, take advantage of the 24-hour fitness center, outdoor pool, tennis courts, and a spa. Rates at this SPG Category 4 hotel begin at 8,500 rupees ($139) or 10,000 Starpoints per night.
Sheraton New Delhi: This hotel is located in a green residential neighborhood south of central Delhi, about 35 minutes from DEL. Many amenities cater to business travelers, including a 24-hour business center, shoe shine services, and express check-in and check-out. The landscaped outdoor pool is a great place to relax, along with the steam room and sauna; enjoy an Indian-style massage at the spa. Rooms offer coffee and tea makers and internet for a fee, while Executive Club rooms include a work desk, and in some cases, complimentary buffet breakfast and boardroom use. Female solo travelers can request the ladies-only floor. Rooms at this SPG Category 3 hotel begin at 7,600 rupees ($124) or 7,000 Starpoints per night.
Four Points by Sheraton New Delhi, Airport Highway: This 70-guestroom hotel's main location selling point is its convenience to DEL, just 4 miles away. It has everything a business traveler might need, including free WiFi throughout the property, a business center, and extensive meeting rooms and even a ballroom. For leisure, you'll find an outdoor swimming pool, a fitness center and a bar and restaurant on site. Rooms overlook landscaped gardens and offer amenities such as twice-daily housekeeping, coffee and tea in the room, and a pillow menu for those with a preference. Rates at this SPG Category 1 hotel begin at 5,625 rupees ($92) or 2,000 Starpoints per night.
American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels and Resorts is a hotel program specifically for American Express Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders. By booking through this portal, you receive added perks and benefits thrown in with your stay – sort of like you would with elite status or by booking through a travel agent with great contacts at a hotel.
Imperial New Delhi: A luxury hotel that's a blend of Colonial, Deco, and Victorian styles, the Imperial has a long history as one of Asia's finest hotels. Silver tea service, teak furniture, and turbaned waiters evoke - for better or worse - a throwback to 19th-century India. There are 8 restaurants and bars on site, including Italian and French options, and the 1911 bar (where it's fun to have a drink even if you're not staying here). The Eliza Room has added security for solo female travelers, and guestroom styles range from Deco to Colonial to over-the-top suites. The Imperial Spa specializes in Aruyvedic treatments, and there's also an outdoor pool, fitness center with raquet club and yoga studio. Rates in late March begin at 12,600 rupees ($206) per night.
Leela Palace: The Leela is another of the city's ultra-luxurious hotels, with the soaring ceilings and opulent decor to suit its 5-star designation. The Leela is situated in South Delhi, convenient to many offices, and fairly accessible to the main attractions, as well. There are 260 guestrooms and suites, including the Maharaja Suite, which has its own pool. Royal Club level rooms include butler service, a private lounge, and airport limousine transfers. You'll find four restaurants on-site, offering everything from French to Japanese food, plus a bar. There's also a swimming pool, fitness center and a spa offering Ayurvedic-inspired treatments. And most important: an on-call astrologer. Room rates in late March begin at 12,750 rupees ($210) per night.
The Oberoi: Overlooking the Delhi Golf Club, this luxury hotel is surrounded by greenery, a far cry from the honking that dominates the rest of the city. All rooms feature work desks, WiFi, butler service, and a choice of newspapers. Five restaurants range from Italian food to Chinese. The 9,000-square-foot spa offers the best of Eastern and Western treatments, and the adjoining gym has a fitness center, steam room, and lap pool. For business travelers, there's a 24-hour business center offering every convenience, plus meeting rooms if needed. The outdoor heated swimming pool offers 20 sunbeds for lounging. In late March, rates begin at 11,500 rupees ($188) per night.
Leading Hotels of the World
The Taj Mahal New Delhi: A favorite with visiting dignitaries, the Taj is a study in luxury. However, some accommodations here are a little more luxurious than the others. Luxury rooms are on higher floors than Deluxe rooms, and Taj Club rooms come with choice of newspapers and magazines, fresh flowers, and a 24-hour butler. A spa offers treatments, plus a pool, gym, steam room, and yoga classes on request. Eating and drinking options include a Chinese restaurant, a Morimoto-branded Japanese eatery, and Rick's, a bar named for the classic film Casablanca. In late March, rates begin at 7,600 rupees ($124) per night.