Harriet O'Brien finds that a trip to India's capital is a tale of two cities - the planned elegance of New Delhi, and the teeming markets of the old city.
WHY GO NOW?
Because daytime temperatures are pleasant (around 22C), because the city is full of flowers and birdsong, and because if you don't go soon the intense heat of summer will render even stepping outside a painful activity.
British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com), Air India (020-8560 9996; www.airindia.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; virgin-atlantic.com) fly non-stop from Heathrow. Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flies via Dubai from several UK airports. UK passport holders need a visa. A standard tourist visa costs £30 from the India High Commission in London (0906 844 4544; www.hcilondon.net) or from the consulates in Birmingham (0121- 212 2782) and Edinburgh (0131-229 2144).
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Spread along the west bank of the Yamuna river, Delhi is essentially two cities. Old Delhi is a maze of narrow alleys and bustling markets. It developed as the 17th-century walled city of Shahjahanabad and today it spreads into the Civil Lines further north, which is where the British once lived until they built New Delhi. When the colonial rulers decided to move India's capital from Calcutta, a brand new city was created south of Old Delhi, much of it devised by Edwin Lutyens in the 1920s. New Delhi was built with wide, tree-lined streets and imposing parliamentary buildings. As the city straggles into suburbs, you'll also find the remains of other, older, capitals such as Dhillika and Purana Qila.
Indira Gandhi airport is 23km south-west of New Delhi. The quickest way into town is by taxi - book and pre-pay for the 30-minute journey (around 700 rupees/£8) at the taxi booth in the arrivals hall. Alternatively, coaches depart regularly from the airport, take around 40 minutes and cost about Rs100/£1.20. There is a tourist information stand at the airport, but the biggest tourist office is at Baba Kharak Singh Marg in New Delhi (00 91 11 2336 5358; delhitourism.nic.in; open daily 7am-9pm) (1).
Most international flights arrive and depart in the early hours, so if you are in town only for a couple of days, spend a night near the airport on your way in or out of the city. The clean and comfortable Shanti Palace (2) at A-67 Mahipalpur Extension, National Highway 8 (00 91 11 2678 1271; www.shantipalace.com) is about 10 minutes' drive from the airport. Work should soon be completed on a new wing containing a Japanese restaurant and pool. Doubles cost around Rs3,300 (£39), with breakfast. At Connaught Circus in the centre of New Delhi you'll find a number of mid-priced hotels, most of which
offer clean-ish accommodation and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. The marble-clad Marina (3) at G Block, Connaught Circus (00 91 11 2332 4658) also has an in-house travel agent and, somewhat eccentrically, a franchise dentist. Doubles cost around Rs3,500 (£42) with breakfast. Luxury options include The Imperial Hotel (4) at 1 Janpath (00 91 11 2334 1234; www.theimperialindia.com), a gracious colonial edifice with a touch of Art Deco. Doubles start at $281 (£156) with breakfast and airport transfers.
TAKE A VIEW
With no hills and few tall buildings to speak of, Delhi offers little in the way of views. But for the sheer fun of it, climb up the city's tallest structure, Jantar Mantar (5), on Sandad Marg near Connaught Place (open daily 6am-sunset, entrance Rs100/£1.20). This observatory was built in the 18th century, its huge instruments made out of bricks and mortar. You won't see much from the top of the giant sundial, but it provides a perspective over New Delhi.
TAKE A RIDE
Hire one of Delhi's ubiquitous Hindustan Ambassador taxis and make a trip to India Gate (6), a stately First World War memorial. From there, gaze up Rajpath (Kingsway) to Rashtrapati Bhawan, the president's residence, which is flanked by the Secretariat offices (7). These magnificent buildings were the work of Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, who incorporated Moghul-style domes into their Classical designs.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Connaught Circus is awash with places offering cheap food. Café Masala (8) at number 12 A Block offers great value. Here you pay for your meal by weight: murg adraki, ginger-flavoured chicken curry, costs Rs30 (36p) per 100g.
Most tourists head for Dilli Haat (9) on Sri Aurobindo Marg (open daily 10am-6pm; 00 91 11 2467 8817). Modelled on a traditional village market, itsstalls sell handicrafts from all over the country. For a real Delhi institution, though, make for the Central Cottage Industries Emporium (10) at Jawahar Vyapar Bhawan, Janpath (00 91 11 2332 6790; www.cottageemporiumindia.com), where you can buy anything from marble table-tops and pashminas to pens and handmade paper daily from 10am-7pm. Across the road is Janpath market where you can haggle with vendors over cotton shirts, beautiful chess sets and leather goods (you'll find the best deals for the latter in the Palika Bazar at the northern end of Janpath).
Delhi's greatest attraction is the Red Fort (11) on the eastern edge of Old Delhi. The fort was built between 1638 and 1648 by emperor Shah Jahan, who was simultaneously constructing the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife. It opens 6am-sunset daily except Mondays, admission Rs100 (£1.20). Its gates and red sandstone walls are wonderfully impressive. The interior is less so since the fort was used as a barracks by the British, but you can still wander through the gardens and visit halls and palaces that showcase Moghul power at its height.
For urban edge visit the bar at The Park Hotel (12) at 15 Parliament Street (00 91 11 2374 3000; www.theparkhotels.com), which was designed by Conran & Partners and features leather tub chairs and dramatic lighting.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Designed to look like a truckers' café, and indeed featuring the side of a truck as a wall decoration, the Dhaba restaurant at Hotel Claridges (13) at 12 Aurangzeb Road (00 91 11 2301 0211; www.claridges.com) is a perennial favourite among the chattering classes of Delhi. The menu features butter chicken (Rs350/£4.20) and paneer with spinach (Rs250/£3).
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
The Anglican Cathedral Church of the Redemption (14) on North Avenue (00 91 11 2309 4229) is a splendid colonial building designed by Henry Medd in 1927. Sunday services take place at 8am in English, 9.30am in Tamil and 11am in Hindi.
OUT TO BRUNCH
The Yellow Brick Road Café at the Taj Ambassador Hotel (15) at Sujan Singh Park, Cornwallis Road (00 91 11 2463 2600; www.tajhotels.com) offers all-day dining, with a menu featuring New York pancake breakfasts (Rs250/£3) and "Chutney Mary" Railway Cutlets (Rs275/£3.30).
A WALK IN THE PARK
Lodi Gardens (16) on Lodi Colony (open daily 6am-8pm, admission free) is a peaceful green space landscaped around 15th-century tombs and filled with green parakeets, hoopoes and mynah birds.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
Humayan's Tomb (17) on Mathura Road (open daily 6am-sunset, entrance Rs250/£3) is Delhi's most glorious monument. Humayan was the second Moghul emperor and his mausoleum was built by his senior widow, Haji Begum, in the 1560s. This stunning red sandstone edifice was the blueprint for the Taj Mahal.Reuse content