Delhi Heritage Walks
Within New Delhi lies Old Delhi, a walled city that was the capital of the Mughal empire. Alongside a rich and complex history lives a bustling neighborhood with shops at every turn and stories around every nook and cranny. Delhi Heritage Walks offer weekend tours (led in English) to explore different areas of the city. While you can customize a tour, I was very happy to join in on a Sunday tour of Old Delhi. Our guide was a curious young woman who shared her infectious wonder about the history of the area. She pointed out the historic and the current as we navigated the winding streets -- from a centuries-old candy shop to the many religious centers in the area. One of the things I loved about the tour was how many Indians living in Delhi were on the tour. It was a wonderful reminder to continue to explore my own city at every opportunity.
Old Delhi Charm
Take in the the charm and multi-faceted cultural heritage of Old Delhi by exploring Chandani Chowk street. Before heading out on foot, take a rickshaw ride through the inner routes and lanes perhaps by Kinaari Bazaar, Silver lane, Jama Masjid (India’s largest Mosque), and Khari Baoli (Asia's largest spice market). Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, established the walled city Old Delhi in 1650 AD so there is a vast amount of historic detail and modern culture here. Chandni Chowk runs through the middle of the walled city, from the Lahori Darwaza (Lahore Gate) of the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid.
In the Kitchen, Sunday Dinner for 50,000
India, a land of religions and traditions, is one of the most populated. You can have an amazing experience by attending a service at the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara Sikh Temple in Deli. Masses of people entering the temple, in lines, continually moving forward to get inside. People pressing forward, yet carefully, to the center of the temple to view the Holy Book of the Sikh religion. As a priest hands out flowers, marigolds. Leaving the main floor of the temple, descending down the stairs, smiling people surround you in the kitchen. The frenzy of activity, the volume of food created, from lentils to chapatti, all done with a cadre of volunteers. The strong values are shown by temple members in feeding of the community. An amazing experience, but not for everyone.
Explore 10,000 years of India's history, culture, architecture, and spirituality on over sixty acres of manicured grounds. Akshardham is an elaborate Swaminarayan temple complex that features an IMAX theater, musical fountains, sunken gardens, and the Mandir with over 20,000 statues of India's religious personalities. The main shrine of the temple houses the statue of Lord Swaminarayan. Closed on Mondays
Reflection at Gandhi
Smriti Gandhi Smriti, previously called Birla House, is now a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, the man many consider the "Father of Indian Independence." Gandhi lived in the house during the last several months of his life and was assassinated here in January 1948. View where he spent his days, and stroll the same prayer grounds where he held a nightly congregation.
India Gate at Dusk
Although the India Gate is grand in any light, the site transforms at dusk when locals gather for picnics and social gatherings. Often you will be asked to join an impromptu cricket match or to enjoy a slice of birthday cake, all with the iconic archway as your backdrop. Stroll the grounds and stay until nightfall when the nearby fountains illuminate with colored lights.
Where to Stay
The Roseate New Delhi: Opened in 2014, the main draw of this peaceful boutique resort, designed by Thai architect Khun Lek Bunnag, is a 330-foot swimming pool meandering through a lush, forest-backed, eight-acre garden. Vast, domed, iPad-controlled rooms (and gold leaf–covered pool columns) express an architectural fusion of modern Thai and Indian tastes. Aheli Spa at The Roseate offers a perfect accompaniment to your stay. With an impressive spa menu, The Aheli Spa has five rooms, including three single ones, one couple and a special Hamam which offers the famed Turkish baths. These warm baths are infused with oils and are the perfect place to sweat out toxins post a massage.
The Manor: For nearly eight years, many guests stayed here for the convenience of dining at Indian Accent, the Manor's modern Indian restaurant run by internationally acclaimed chef Manish Mehrotra. Today, the Manor restaurant hosts a series of culinary pop-ups, showcasing cuisines, chefs, and restaurants from around the globe. But perhaps best thing about the Manor is the scale. This 14-room luxury boutique hotel in the affluent, gated Friends Colony neighborhood actually does feel like a restful country home, with a solicitous, friendly, efficient staff and contemporary architecture within a walled, one-acre garden. Spa staff offer guests a free foot massage after an exceptionally long day’s travel or wait at the airport immigration line.
Vivanta by Taj Ambassador New Delhi: Still known to locals as the Ambassador, the hotel is a listed heritage site built in 1945 by colonial architect Walter Sykes George in a fusion of British and art deco styles. While the early clientele included Indian royals, today the building and garden grounds have a faded glory. Guests come for the cosmopolitan, high-ceilinged rooms, refurbished by the luxury Taj chain; diligent, efficient service; terrific value for money; and convenient location next door to one of the city’s most upscale shopping malls.
Where to Eat in Delhi
Orient Express, the most expensive restaurant in Delhi and voted one the world’s best restaurants, offers a world-class dining experience alongside live jazz bands and fresh food flown in daily from France. The luxurious culinary journey begins in private booths on faux carriages that beautifully mimic the legendary train. French fare remains triumphant. Revel in the seven-course meal. The individual carriages of the Orient Express are illuminated by gleaming brass fittings, polished wood paneling, and steel facades, which mesmerize and promise to fiercely invigorate your senses.
Bukhara is an icon in Delhi. The award-winning restaurant is almost always full, as the guests are always full on kabobs and giant naans (flatbread). Bukhara's specialty is tandoor-cooked cuisine prepared in a traditional clay oven. Try the Sikandari Raan (marinated whole leg of spring lamb) and Murgh Malai Kebab. Celebrity sightings are common and diners have included heads of states, Bollywood stars, presidents, and food industry aficionados. Come hungry and with clean hands -- Bukhara is cutlery-free.
The Golden Triangle: Snack on the go from food lanes and chaat stalls, sample a variety of dishes in a traditional thali, or drool over rich curries and flaky flatbreads in luxurious palaces. The Golden Triangle's cuisine is as sumptuous as its sights.
Sheltered Street Food at Haldiram's: Haldiram's offers classic street food, snacks, and treats, prepared hygienically and safe for traveler’s tummies. Humble beginnings as a small shop in Bikaner, Rajasthan -- a town renowned for namkeen (snacks) -- and has since become an enterprise of restaurants and exported goods. The bright stores generally have multiple floors organized by cuisine, presenting classic dishes, pre-packaged foods, and sweets.
Where to Shop in Delhi, India
Shopping in Delhi is a treasured affair for both locals and tourists. Open-air markets, government-approved shops, bazaars, and luxury boutiques line the streets with goods ranging from precious gemstones to traditional attire. Several markets, including Dilli Haat, feature permanent and transitional vendors who showcase products from across India. Get lost in the labyrinth of silver and spices at Chandni Chowk or bargain for handicrafts and textiles at Janpath.
Exclusive Rickshaw Ride in Chandni Chowk: Rickshaw rides are common in Chandni Chowk, the vast and crowded market in the Old Delhi quarter, but book a comprehensive rickshaw tour for an immersive experience that lasts longer than 15 minutes. Witness the architectural marvels, multicolored facades, beautifully decorated shops, and the fragrances emanating from the potpourri of eateries that line the historic alleys.
Chandni Chowk is one of the oldest markets in Old Delhi. Like so many other old city bazaars, it is filled alleyways lined with hundreds of little shops that are clustered into areas according to the items they sell. There is the fabric section, which is great to wander through just to see the sari silks, the spice section, the leather section, the brass section and, in the land where weddings are major affairs, the wedding section. Wear comfortable walking shoes to wander the labyrinth of narrow alleyways.
Bustling Janpath Market: Janpath is a busy marketplace that houses both government-approved shops and open-air stalls. Plan to visit soon after arriving in Delhi to grab a few local and traditional clothing items. Of course, there are hundreds of options: countless carpets, shoes, clothing, jewelry, handicrafts, textiles, accessories, paintings, and furniture. Be sure to have rupees available. Most government-regulated shops accept credit cards, though cash is preferred, and the bazaar is cash only.
Traditional Textiles in Janpath: Clothing, fabrics, textiles, and traditional home décor abound at Janpath, a popular market near Connaught Place. Janpath includes a mix of government-regulated shops and open air stalls, though the real deals and ethnic wares are often sold by vendors on the streets and alleys surrounding the market. Many of the merchants travel from their respective states to sell the goods, resulting in a wide range of designs and patterns from across India. Take the time to explore -- and bargain! Janpath, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India.
Dizzying Patterns of Wood Blocks: Known locally as the "Hippie Market," Paharganj has everything you need and plenty of surprises, too. Check out these stunning printing blocks in every size, style, and material. The proprietor of the shop, Mr. Jimmy, took us to his nearby warehouse in a building that used to be his hotel. We reached through the winding back streets where we sipped tea, listened to stories of his days as a hotelier, and looked at glass and paper lanterns, wooden boxes with pretty ceramic knobs, craft bracelets, sculptures of Hindu gods, architectural details, and so much more. Shopping with Mr. Jimmy is more of a cultural event than it is an opportunity to fill your bag, though your backpack will certainly be full when you leave.
Shopping for Garments and Jewelry: Khan Market is consistently ranked one of the most expensive commercial real estate locations in the world. But don't let this deter you from visiting the collection of shops and restaurants. There are several moderately priced stores, like Fab India (garments) and Amrapali (jewelry). Stop for lunch at Big Chill Cafe, an Italian joint that is very popular with the locals. For easy accessibility and to avoid Delhi traffic, take the metro. It is air-conditioned and was the first metro in the world to be certified for environmentally friendly construction. Note: Khan Market is closed on Sundays. Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, India.
An Indian Designer Showcase: Ogaan both exhibits and sells the latest in Indian fashion. It is a showcase and retail space -- a unique experience that pairs design and canvas. Some of the biggest names in Indian fashion have launched their collections at Ogaan. The 6,000 square foot flagship boutique features clothing, jewelry, and accessories. No.H-2, Hauz Khas Village, Hauz Khas Village, Deer Park, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, Delhi 110016, India.
Henna Artists: Don't leave without witnessing the amazing skills of the henna drawers. The best henna artists are found at the Haat. The show starts when the artist, unaware, performs a live show drawing on your hands. It is art meant to adorn the female body during special ceremonies, to enhance the hands and arms. Each drawing has its own message, hidden to the untrained eye... it is mysterious, feminine and sensual in its own way.
Delhi is renowned for its textiles and garments, ranging from handwoven linens to contemporary block-printing. Stop by Meena Bazaar for high-quality traditional attire, including lehengas, suits, and sarees. For more modern garments, check out the leather, cane, and bamboo product lines at Khadi Bhawan. Pick your fabric, and a tailor will often create custom clothing in less than one business day.
Anokhi is my favorite store for colorful Indian clothing and textiles in Delhi. Their dyeing process pairs quality dyes and fabrics with sustainable business practices. Anokhi has sensibly taken their stunning fabrics and used each pattern to cut a range of styles of shirts -- some long and traditional for the Indian market, and some shorter and more flexible in design for the international market. Similar to Khaadi in Pakistan. Be aware that they do not use darts on women's clothing. Best to plan up a size for full-busted women. In addition to women's clothing, there is one rack of men's shirts (not an extensive selection, but good), bathrobes and pajamas, a children's rack that's really adorable. They also have some housewares such as curtains, bed covers, quilts, placemats, cloth napkins, table cloths and the like, and a few crafts like fabric-covered books, stationary that's been block-printed, and some little fabric dolls. Accessories include scarves of different sizes, headbands, underwear made out of the block print fabric (for men and women), tote bags, overnight bags, and wallets. Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj II, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, Delhi 110070, India.
Anokhi has sold clothes and linens with contemporary block-print designs since 1970. 32 Khan Market, New Delhi, 91/(0) 11-2460-3423; 2nd Floor KK Square, C-11, Prithviraj Rd., C-Scheme, Jaipur, 91/(0) 14- 1400-7244; plus 21 other locations across India.
Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing: Admire block-printed cloth and watch carving and printing demonstrations. The store sells museum-inspired pieces. Anokhi Haveli, Kheri Gate, Amber, Jaipur, 91/(0) 14-1253-0226.
Dilli Haat is an open-air market with a large quantity of permanent and transitional stalls and vendors. The space resembles a traditional village market showcasing products from across India. Temporary vendors generally rotate every 15 days. Items include textiles, crafts, clothing, shoes, beads, gems, and art, as well as a food court with specialty items from across the country. The small entrance fee and gated exterior keep unwanted panhandlers at bay, allowing for a leisurely shopping experience. Though prices are reasonable, bargaining is still encouraged. Dilli Haat is a favorite jaunt for locals and tourists, adding to the diversity of the experience. Prices are usually higher at the front entrance to the village. As you work your way through, diligent shoppers are rewarded with reduced prices towards the back of the village. Sri Aurobindo Marg, Laxmi Bai Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110023, India.