Many see this frenzied city of contrasts as a jumping point to Rajasthan, the Taj Mahal or another more tourist-friendly destination. But with some of the best historical sights, shopping, eats and Bollywood diva-worthy hotspots in the subcontinent, Delhi belongs on our list in its own right.
Here’s how to do New Delhi and Old Delhi in style.
Navigate Old Delhi’s dizzying wedding market
In Old Delhi, shopping is a sport. You’ve got to keep up with the fast-moving flow of foot traffic, and sidestep from barreling bicycles, seemingly without brakes, loaded up dozens of stacked boxes. But take a step up in the somehow pristinely clean and orderly stores in the wedding market and you’ll get a dizzying, multi-coloured view of just how full on Indian weddings can be. One stall sells only bright and glittery tassels, another specializes in invite stationary and boxes (yes, invites are sometimes delivered in boxes, with mini champagne or another gift for each invitee) and still another has floor to ceiling bangles to match every saree under the moon.
Travel guide musts:
Any bicycle rickshaw can take you here from Chadni Chowk metro station– just ask for the “Old Delhi wedding market”.
Tour the stone-carved monuments of past empires
A must-see Delhi monument is the Qutub Minar, a 72-foot intricately carved stone minaret that was built in the 1100s. Surrounded by ruins of buildings, including two mosques, the space mingles ancient and ominous red stone carvings with the wispy gem and flower-coloured saris of tourists and is sure to send your heart a flutter.
From there, jump ahead to the 15th century, when the Islamic Mughal empire ruled Delhi, with a visit to the Red Fort. Built by the same Shah who erected the Taj Mahal to honour his deceased wife, the sprawling palace compound is defined by exquisite scalloped arches and a grand design of symmetrical pillars (once gold-painted). While much of the wealth has been ransacked from the palace, some elements reveal the Mughal’s once aesthetic prowess, including artwork that inlays naturally coloured gem stones into white marble.
Travel guide musts:
Qutub Minar is walking distance from the metro station of the same name. For the Red Fort, take a rickshaw from Chadni Chowk, and check out the old Delhi market while you’re at it.
Spice it up in New Delhi, plus get a soothing massage and shop on the next page…
Spice it up
So many classy (and sometimes just flashy) restaurants have been popping up in Delhi in recent years, it’s impossible to keep up with the newest hotspot. Punjabi By Nature is one that’s weathered the hype and continues to be a local favourite. The kebabs are melt-in-your-mouth divine here. If you’re daring, try the “Gol Guppa shots.” Spiced vodka is added to tamarind veggies in a bite-sized pastry vessel – inspired from Delhi’s popular street food that uses water in place of alcohol.
Magique is a little more on the high-end side for Delhi, but a steal by Canadian standards. The sprawling pebbled garden swirls around lush ponds, water fountains, dozens of candle chandeliers and bonfires (in the colder months, at least). The menu includes fusion dishes like curried lamb and halibut with saffron couscous.
Travel guide musts:
Punjabi By Nature has five restaurants in Delhi but the most convenient is likely to be the Vasant Vihar location. http://www.punjabibynature.in
Magique is located at Gate 3 in the Garden of 5 Senses in Westend Marg, South Delhi. http://www.keya-kainoosh.com/MagiqueIndex.htm
Go for an Ayurveda massage
Ayurveda massage, which uses warm herbal medicated oils, was developed in India more than 1,000 years ago. The top place in Delhi to try out this ancient medicine, as well as a host of other spa treatments – from Balinese and Thai massages to an “Indian spice scrub” – is Amatrra Spa.
As you gaze up to a seeming starry sky (lit by tiny LED lights), the masseuse runs warm eucalyptus, jasmine and other herbal oils from your ankle to your wrist in one stroke. “We do the massage in the direction of the blood circulation and lymphatic drainage systems so afterwards both these systems are working more efficiently,” explains Dr. Neeru Jain, Amatrra’s on-site Ayurveda doctor. As a bonus, “the oils are very good for the skin.” Show up early to relax in the steam room or sauna of this spa decked out with yellow chrysanthemums, a pebble stream and natural wood accents. A one-hour Ayurveda massage is approximately $90. Travel guide musts:
Amatrra Spa is affiliated with the Ashok hotel at 50 B Diplomatic Enclave, Chankyapuri, New Delhi. www.amatrraspa.com
Stock up on India chic: scarves, cottons and jewellery
For locally spun cotton and silk, as well as prints and designs that are wearable back home and not just in India, our favourites are Anokhi and Fab India. Both have several branches in Delhi. One spot with both stores is Santushti Market, an oasis of green and calm, where you can also drop hundreds on real pashmina scarves, saris and other high-end souvenirs. We also love N Block Market in Greater Kailash 1 (not to be confused with Greater Kailash 2). Here, you’ll find the flagship stores of Anokhi and Fab India and other stores we love, including Vriga, which sells brightly coloured kurtas (long shirts) and salwar kameezes (Indian dresses paired with loose pants). For super soft scarves, bangles and souvenirs for the home, spend at least an hour at Dilli Hut, the local craftsman market, and aim to pay no more than three quarters of the asking price.
Travel guide musts:
Santushti Market is located in Sector 11, Noida, Delhi and N Block Market of Greater Kailash 1 is in South Delhi.
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