To the delight of locals and visitors alike, India's capital has emerged as a true 21st-century metropolis — all without neglecting the sparkling palaces, ancient ruins and culinary traditions that have long made it one of the world's most enthralling cities
Author Jay Cheshes Photography Sameer Parekh
DAY TWO | Getting a jump on the morning paid off yesterday, so, after a deep sleep and a breakfast of eggs and bacon from the Imperial’s lavish buffet, you hit the road early once again. A short drive brings you to your first stop: Humayun’s Tomb (1), the last resting place of the second Mughal emperor, along with most of his family. Mission accomplished — you have the magnificent domed mausoleum and its idyllic gardens all to yourself.
You get back into the car, and then, in true Delhi fashion, become instantly mired in a traffic jam. Outside your window, you spot the India Gate triumphal arch, a monument to those who lost their lives for the Raj. You turn up King’s Way (“Rajpath” in Hindi), the city’s most impressive boulevard, which is bordered by parks. If it were Jan. 26 — Republic Day — there’d be tanks rumbling by to commemorate the birth of the nation. Atop a crest, you reach the end of the road and find yourself surrounded by government buildings on India’s version of Capitol Hill. You peer through the gates of the presidential palace, where visiting world leaders are often received. You can gawk, but unless you’re receiving a medal, you’re not getting inside.
Finally, you arrive at the ancient minaret Qutub Minar (2), a 235-foot-tall, 1,000-year-old tower that leans like Pisa’s, located on the southern edge of Delhi. They say you can see the entire city from the top; however, following an accident some years back, tourists are no longer permitted inside. You spend a long moment staring up at it, but by now the sun is beating down, so it’s a good time to start thinking about lunch.
Luckily, you’re just a short drive from Hauz Khas Village, a great welter of dusty streets lined with antiques shops, cafés and hip clothing boutiques set against a backdrop of 13th-century ruins. It’s a Delhi rarity in that it’s a pleasure to stroll, and few other places capture the paradox of modern India as effectively, with juxtapositions of ancient and new, gritty and chic. At Gunpowder (3), you snag a seat on the terrace overlooking the reservoir. The modest restaurant serves “peninsular” cooking from the coastal regions at the tip of India. You order a dish of chicken and egg and shredded Indian flatbread called paratha, as well as an incendiary sweet and sour pork curry from the remote province of Coorg (you end up drinking half a gallon of water trying to put out the fire in your mouth).
On the way back to the center of Delhi, you pause at the Evergreen Sweet House (4) for a sweet snack — a delicious mix of yogurt and honey and crispy poori, a type of fried bread — before heading to Khan Market. This cluster of outdoor shops doesn’t look like much, but it’s the epicenter of high fashion in Delhi: A square foot of real estate here is among the priciest in India. At Good Earth (5), which offers a beautiful collection of clothing and housewares, you pony up for a pillow embroidered with elephants. You opt for one that depicts the trunks pointing up, which means good luck.
After a reviving massage at the Imperial spa, you take a cab to Bukhara (6), which specializes in the cuisine of India’s northwest frontier. It’s the only place in the country that made the influential San Pellegrino list of the world’s 50 best restaurants last year. Seated on a low stool in the grotto-like dining room, you dig into puffy naan and leg of baby lamb, both cooked in a 1,000-degree tandoor oven. You eat yourself silly but don’t linger, knowing you’ll be up early — very early — for your date with the Taj.