Aftab Pauro’s INSIDER DELHI CITY guide
I remember very well when I met Andrea and Pia Pauro during a wedding in Bombay some years ago (not so many years ago and the city was already called Mumbai, but telling a story about India using colonial names has a whole other appeal). We met thanks to an indian friend and we immediately started a thick conversation about India and philosophy.
Andrea, italian from his father’s side and indian from his mother’s one, is the owner of one of the best café-restaurant chains in Delhi (Amici Café), and his mother’s family owns one of the most iconic hotels in Asia (the Imperial Hotel Delhi). Pia, his wife, is a fashion designer with her own clothing company that reinvents indian style with a touch of glam (www.piapauro.com). I remember I have been deeply moved by our conversation and I had the feeling of having understood more about India in those 2 hours than in the past ten days of traveling around.
There are people that, even though you meet them only once in your life, hold a place in your mind, and that’s the case of Andrea and Pia; so, when I decided to go back to India after some years, the first person I contacted as soon as I landed was Andrea (sometimes Facebook is useful). That night, together with Pia, they were hosting a dinner at their place in honour of Nicolas Trembley, the Curator of the Swiss Contemporary Art Foundation, and, despite of my very last minute message, I was invited to join them.
Apart from the fact that it probably was the best meal I had during my whole trip to India, the evening was perfect and we had many interesting conversations like that night in Bombay years before. The suggestions that they gave me about Rajasthan were very precious to me and thanks to them I had the chance to see places I would have missed. Therefore, it was an obvious decision to ask them for a City Guide of Delhi, once this magazine was created, and they answered all our questions with their never-ending kindness and availability.
What do you love and what do you hate about Delhi?
The aspect of Delhi (Central Delhi) I love the most is that the city has plenty of trees. Seen from above Delhi looks like a forest. You can understand it well observing the city from the top floor of the Taipan Restaurant at the Oberoi Hotel. On the other hand, what I really hate of Delhi is the traffic that can be insane; an easy solution to that is to be driven around.
Why should somebody come to visit Delhi, and why India?
India is one of the most ancient civilisations with an incredible cultural depth. There really is no end to the number of attractions there are here to see, from Palaces to Forts, to Tombs, to dense forests, to mountains and incredible beaches. There are remote tribes, chaotic urban centres, ancient spiritual centres and more! But the greatest gift India has given humanity is its highly sophisticated philosophies: Vedanta, Buddhism, Sikhism; so, before coming to India I would recommend people to read the Bhagvad Gita and some books on its history.
Few of my recommended books are: The Bhagwad Gita by Eknath Eswaran: there are many more sophisticated books than this on the Bhagwad Gita but this is good for a start; The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple (and other books by him like The City of Djins); India, A History by John Keay; The Mughal Throne, The Saga of India’s Great Emperors by Abraham Eraly; The Wonder That Was India by Arthur L. Basham.
When is the best period to be in Delhi and India?
The best weather is usually in March/April and October/ November.
The winter is when the locals are happiest because of the many cultural events that take place during this time. On February/March the fantastic festival Jahan-e-Khusrau usually takes place in Delhi and it could be a reason to come.
The early monsoons are a beautiful time, or at least I think so: its the time of rebirth as the rain brings life.
What do you suggest to visit in the city?
In one of the oldest cities in the world there are so many things to see!
Here are just a few: Lutyen’s Delhi, the central area of New Delhi, constructed by the British to be the Capital of the Eastern British Empire. This includes the President’s Palace, India Gate, The Imperial Hotel. A good way to visit this area is probably driving around the roads to see the wonderful colonial buildings, The Handi-Crafts Museum, Connaught Place. The National History Museum, the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Nehru Museum and Planetarium: because the building itself was the residence of the General Governor during the British era. The India Habitat Centre: it always has interesting Art Shows or theatre performances, and the India International Center.
For golf players it would be amazing to play golf at the Delhi Golf Club. It also makes for a beautiful walk for non-golfers. It’s a nice place also for a drink in the evening. It’s usually members only but you can pay a fee to play.
Old Delhi: it is a must to get a real feeling of medieval Delhi with all its chaos, food, Islamic heritage. A visit here should include The Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Chandi Chowk.
Qutub Minar: it’s another must visit and probably one of the most impressive building in the city. Khan Market: for a taste of modern Delhi high-end shopping (this is also India).
Which is your favourite place in the city?
I love to walk in Lodhi Gardens. Safdarjung’s Tomb it’s just few meters away from the gardens and it’s another of my favourite places. I also love Humayun’s Tomb.
Which is a place you cannot miss when visiting Delhi?
I would say that’s if you have to choose, you definitely cannot miss: Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar, Safdarjung’s Tomb, Jama Masjid and the area around for a taste of the real Delhi.
And the most scenic strolls in the city?
To Walk around India Gate till the Presidents Palace in the evening around sunset.
Humayun’s Tomb is another gorgeous walk to enjoy.
Lodi Gardens is the best evening or early morning walk/jog in Delhi: it’s full of monuments and colourful birds.
The stroll around the red fort is long but impressive.
A Delhi’s secret that you want to reveal to our readers?
Fill a Hamper from L’Opéra in Khan Market and walk to Lodi Gardens, find a shady spot near one of the tombs and have a nice relaxed Picnic. That’s happiness.
Go to watch Polo during Polo Season. Polo Season is from November till February at the Jaipur Polo Grounds, usually on Sundays. You can take a Hamper for this as well and enjoy a picnic.
Best Hotels where to stay in Delhi?
The Imperial: It’s definitely one of the most iconic hotel of India (and it’s not Andrea who says that!).
The Manor Hotel: It’s a tiny hotel in Friends Colony (posh neighbourhood of South Delhi). It’s cute but a little far from the centre, and it has a good restaurant named “Accent”.
BloomRooms: That’s for no frills living.Very well priced and located.The only problem it’s the lack of room service, so not the hotel for lazy people.
The Lodhi Hotel on Lodhi Road: It’s a very beautiful modern hotel. It used to be the Aman Hotel. Has a good sports club with a nice pool and spa. Location is good as well.
La Sagrita: Decent and comfortable place, well located.
The Rose Guesthouse: Located in Haus Khas Village, it is run by a French gentleman. The area is very messy but has a lot of atmosphere.
Where to eat in Delhi?
Yauatcha (Level 2, Ambience Mall, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj, Ambience Mall, New Delhi, Delhi 110070, India, tel. +91 11 4958 4400). For the best Dim Sum in Delhi. Located at the Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj.
Amici Café (47 middle lane, Khan market,Near Gopal Mandir, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, tel. +91 11 4358 7191). For the best pizza in Delhi. It has outlets all over the city.
1911 (The Imperial, Janpath Ln, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India, tel. +91 11 4150 1234). Beautiful conservatory seating overlooking the garden. Very nice atmosphere. You have to take a tour of the hotel after lunch to see one of the largest collections of Colonial Era’s lithographs. Located at the Imperial Hotel.
Café LOTA (National Crafts Museum, Bhairon Marg, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India, tel. +91 78389 60787). At the National Crafts Museum (address). Interesting atmosphere with pan-Indian menu.
Taipan Restaurant at the Oberoi Hotel (Oberoi Hotel, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, Nuova Delhi, Delhi, 110003, India tel. +91 11 2436 3030). Nice relaxed atmosphere with a decent Dim Sum offering.
Megu ( The Leela Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Moti Bagh, New Delhi, Delhi 110023, India, tel. +91 11 3933 1234). Modern Japanese with excellent quality Sushi located at The Leela Hotel.
Wasabi (No 1, Taj Mahal Hotel, Mansingh Road, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India, tel. +91 11 6656 6162). Modern Japanese with excellent Teppanyaki Grill located at the Taj Man Singh Hotel.
Spice Route (The Imperial, Janpath Ln, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India, tel. +91 11 4150 1234). South East Asian Cuisine from Thailand, Southern India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia. Amazing ambiance with original artefacts and frescos. Located at The Imperial Hotel.
Indian Accent (The Manor Hotel, 77, Friends colony West, New Delhi, Delhi 110065, India, tel. +91 11 2692 5151). Modern Indian Cuisine in an intimate atmosphere with excellent food. Award winning restaurant at the Manor Hotel.
Karim’s at the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi (16, Gali Kababian, Jama Masjid, New Delhi, tel. +91 11 23264981). For authentic Indo-Islamic Cuisine. Suggested also because going to the restaurant is a cultural experience itself.
Le Cirque (The Leela Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Moti Bagh, New Delhi, Delhi 110023, India, tel. +91 11 3933 1234). Located at the Leela Hotel.
Travertino (Oberoi Hotel, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, Nuova Delhi, Delhi, 110003, India tel. +91 11 2436 3030). Italian restaurant at the Oberoi Hotel.
1911 at the Imperial Hotel (The Imperial, Janpath Ln, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India, tel. +91 11 4150 1234). It has a massive brunch buffet on Sundays.
The Cube (The Leela Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Moti Bagh, New Delhi, Delhi 110023, India, tel. +91 11 3933 1234). It serves a late breakfast. Located at the Leela Hotel.
360 at the Oberoi Hotel (Oberoi Hotel, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, Nuova Delhi, Delhi, 110003, India tel. +91 11 2436 3030). Over priced but nice.
Bars or tea houses
The Atrium (The Imperial, Janpath Ln, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India, tel. +91 11 4150 1234). Located at the Imperial Hotel.
Elma’s (T.L.R., 31 Hauz Khas Village, 2nd Floor, New Delhi, Delhi 110016, India, tel. +91 11 2652 1020). Very cute tea house located in Meher Chand Market.
L’Opera Pastisserie and Boulangerie (Shop No. 5B, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, India, tel. +91 11 4353 8900).
Bars for drinks in the evening and onwards till 1am…
The Library Bar at the Leela Hotel ( The Leela Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Moti Bagh, New Delhi, Delhi 110023, India, tel. +91 11 3933 1234). Perfect for a quiet drink.
360 Bar at the Oberoi Hotel (Oberoi Hotel, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, Nuova Delhi, Delhi, 110003, India tel. +91 11 2436 3030). Perfect to have drinks with friends.
Town Hall (61, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, India, tel. +91 11 4359 7155). Located in Khan Market, this place can be fun for a drink. Not a sophisticated place but well located.
The Gymkhana Club (2, Safdarjung Road, New Delhi, 110011, India, tel. +91 11 2301 5531). Go there on Thursdays (if you have a friend who is a member because it’s members only). Very relaxed in-door out-door atmosphere. Located in the heart of Delhi. The property is gorgeous with sprawling gardens.
PCO (D4, D Block Market, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, 11005, India, tel. +91 9711108482). It can be fun on a good night (if you’re lucky). It’s a very small place in Visant Vihar. You need a pass code to get in that is only shared by word of mouth. Try calling them… you never know!
What about the nightlife?
I wouldn’t recommend any place for ‘nightlife’. In Delhi it has to be a private party. So it is better to stick to bars and then go home (or to an after party).
The best view in the city?
From the roof of the Oberoi Hotel. Incomparable.
Where to go shopping and what to buy?
Satushti Shopping Complex (Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, Haryana 110021, India). Perfect for fashion shopping.
Meher Chand Market (Lodi Colony, Lodhi Colony, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, India): lots of eclectic boutiques.
Khan Market: you’ll find Good Earth, FabIndia, Anokhi (Subramanium bharti marg, Nuova Delhi, India).
Emporio Mall: Luxury brands and Indian Designers (4, Nelson Mandela Road, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, Delhi 110070, India).
Indian Jewellery and semi antiques: Sundar Nagar Market (Kaka Nagar, India Gate, New Delhi, Delhi, 110003, India).
Delhi Art Gallery for Indian Contemporary Art (11, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi – 110016).
Pashmina Shawls: Ahuja Sons in Khan Market (6/44 w.e.a. Ajmal Khan road, Karol Bagh New Delhi 110005).
One Style Mile in Meheroli for Indian Designers (Kalka Das Marg, Seth Sarai, Mehrauli, New Delhi, Delhi 110030, India).
Three things you need in your suitcase?
Firstly what you should leave out of your suitcase are your opinions and your western point of view. Do not come to India and apply western ideas to everything you see. This will drive you crazy and leave you at a loss, since you will miss what is truly beautiful. Accept India as you would accept a theatrical performance, absorb it without filters and once its over, you will be changed and you will want to come back.
Bring comfortable casual clothes that can easily be washed again and again. Comfortable walking shoes. A good easy to use camera. The best mosquito repellent available in your country (Autan works, sometimes). A good book, preferably one of the above mentioned. Extra passport photos: just in case.
Describe Delhi in one word:
Interview by Federico Sigali