3 Days* in DELHI
For the uninitiated, Delhi might represent the worst aspects of India travel without any of the redeeming virtues of tourist favorites like Goa and Rajasthan. And for good reason: crowds, pollution and epic traffic are part of the deal in Delhi. But with a well planned itinerary, a strong digestive system and a lot of patience, the city's bustle and energy can win over even the most intrepid visitor.
Full disclosure: my husband and his family are from Delhi, so I've been fortunate enough to receive 5-star treatment during my visits there - a detail that has certainly influenced my opinion of the city. Here, I've tried to recreate that experience from a tourist's perspective. One thing I'd recommend that might sound excessive but is absolutely worth it: hire a car with a driver. The public transportation is hopeless and the traffic is insane. Let a professional handle it - it's much cheaper than you think. You can hire a taxi for a day or private car and driver for the duration of your stay - ask your hotel to arrange it for you.
Day 1* in Delhi
Humayun's Tomb looks more like a grand palace than a mausoleum. Built in 1533, the main structure and surrounding gardens are an exquisite example of Mughal architecture and much less crowded than the similarly designed Taj Mahal in Agra. The red sandstone structures, placid pools and crisp, flat lawns give you a glimpse of the Indian splendor of old. I recommend a morning visit when you can roam around snapping photos and relaxing on the grounds unmolested by tourist groups.
Next, hit up Khan Market. The U-shaped double decker market center may not be much to look at, but there are loads of stylish finds hidden in the shoe box-sized shops. Fabindia and Anokhi also have large outposts there - both affordable one-stop shops for contemporary Indian textiles, kurtas (traditional collarless shirts) and great home décor stuffs like vibrant rizais and duris (blankets and rugs).
For lunch, drop in to the beloved kebab joint Khan Chacha. The mutton seekh romali roll is tender, flavorful and served with an array of tangy chutneys. For vegetarians the paneer and aloo options are also wonderful, as is the curry biryani. It's a good way to experience Indian street food without sacrificing your intestines.
After lunch, head over to Hauz Khas Village. The original Hauz Khas complex, which houses a massive reservoir, a mosque, a tomb and pavilions dating back to the 13th century, is smack in the middle of a very hip urbanized village that’s now the place to go for upscale boutiques and restaurants. You can wander the narrow streets on foot (this is the only option, really), and stock up on clothing from independent fashion labels, beautiful handmade accessories from Nappa Dori and vintage Bollywood posters (All Art).
For dinner, check out Yeti, a super popular Himalayan restaurant in Hauz Khas that’s known for their delicious steamed pork momos (dumplings) and all-around yumminess.
Day 2* in Delhi
Begin your second day with some compulsory Delhi sightseeing: India Gate is a war memorial dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the British Indian Army. The massive arch is located at the end of the ceremonial Rajpath Boulevard which is lined with huge lawns on either side. From there, it’s a relatively easy drive over to Connaught Place or ‘CP’ as locals refer to it. The former location of the British Raj, CP is now a bustling, hive-like business district arranged in concentric circles. CP is a great place for people watching (and getting stared down yourself – Indians are not shy in their curiosity about foreigners).
When you’ve had all the stimulation you can take, make your way to Lodi – The Garden Restaurant. Situated in the lush, serene Lodi Gardens, the restaurant is a welcome bath for the senses with quiet al fresco dining and European-influenced fare. Afterward, you can walk off your lunch in the 90-acre park and poke around the impressively preserved tombs that are scattered throughout the property. You might be struck by how green Delhi actually is, with long tree-lined boulevards and vibrantly landscaped traffic circles. The Gardens showcase some of this attention to horticulture with rolling green lawns and over 100 varieties of trees – a great place to take a nap, in other words.
More eating? Yes, more eating. For dinner, check out Café Lota, an outdoor restaurant in the New Delhi National Craft Museum serving up contemporary versions of Indian regional dishes featuring very fresh vegetables and a huge variety of grains. People adore the amaranth-encrusted fish with sweet potato fries and the beet-infused Bengali Mochar Chop (banana blossom fritters), among other things.
Day 3* in Delhi
No trip to India is complete without the purchase (or at least perusal) of some outrageous jewelry. The Gold Souk mall in Gurgaon is a sight to behold with 18,000 square feet of precious jewelry shops all featuring fine Indian diamonds, gemstones, gold, silver and platinum pieces. I recommend Tanishq for its variety and service. You can plop yourself down in a comfortable chair and indicate which categories of jewels you’d like to be shown: ruby earrings, gold bangles, traditional designs, engagement rings, whatever. The shop attendants will bring trays to you, along with biscuits and tea when your eyes start to blur.
If you manage to escape the Gold Souk with some rupees left in your wallet, head over to DLF Emporio mall for a peek at where Delhi’s super rich come to shop. The mall houses luxury brands, mostly, much like an enclosed version of Rodeo Drive or 5th Avenue. You can eat lunch here (mall food in Delhi is actually fantastic).
OR, if you happen to know or have befriended a member of the famous Gymkhana club - go there. Delhi is full of these fancy, old school sports cum social clubs where members come to socialize, eat and relax on the rambling grounds. The food is delicious (warning: portions are enormous) and you’re sure to be the only tourist.
After lunch, get to a polo match, if you can. India’s obsession with polo is a (charming) after product of the British influence there, and the matches give you a sense of the elegant Anglo-Indian traditions that have stuck around. The Jaipur Polo Grounds are beautiful and conveniently located in the city. Check out the India Polo Association website to see about match times.
For your last supper, go to the mecca of modern-Indian cooking, Indian Accent at the Manor. Adored by foodies for its unique reimagining of Indian home-style dishes, Indian Accent sets itself apart with clever presentations and incorporation of exotic ingredients from all over the world. I recommend the paneer tikka quesadillas with pink peppercorn raita or the meetha achaar Chilean spare ribs with sun dried mango. Note: save room for dessert.
- A collapsible duffel bag for bulky purchases (fabrics, bedding, shoes, etc.)
- Hand sanitizer
- Face cleansing towelettes
- Rang De Basanti
- Monsoon Wedding
- Delhi Belly
- An extravagant piece of jewelry
- Shawls, pashminas, silk scarves
- Juttis (tooled and embroidered leather slippers)