My city: Delhi

It will take the traveller more than one trip to capture all the different aspects of this vast metropolis, writes Vinay Menon. There are very few cities in India where the paradoxes are so stark and yet so exciting. Home to the Indian government and over 11 million citizens, Delhi is a curious mix of ancient history, third-world bureaucracy and unconcealed urbanism.

by World Business
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

A traveller who misses out on any one of these aspects is accused of not having seen the 'real' Delhi. And yet trying to capture all of this in a single trip is a feat few manage to achieve, so vast is the city, so varied its culture, so different its experiences.

One of the first places I discovered years ago was the Delhi Haat, in south Delhi. It's a traditional marketplace (or haat) where artisans from across India display their handicrafts alongside foodstalls serving the cuisine of all 28 states. It's cheap, affordable and one of the most marvellous microcosmic representations of the diversity that India has to offer.

Waves of conquerors have littered the city with colonial citadels, such as Mehrauli, Siri Fort and Tuqlaqabad, so don't be surprised if you find yourself driving along the main arterial road only to be confronted with an 800-year old fort. But one of my favourite haunts is the ethereal Lodhi Garden - a lush 100-acre patch of green acclaimed as the "best urban oasis in Asia" by Time magazine. The garden (above) is a popular haunt among Delhi's rich and powerful for morning walks, and it's not uncommon to find senior cabinet ministers and bureaucrats briskly marching up and down the joggers' path, accompanied by armed bodyguards huffing behind.

The garden is at its best between the months of October and March, when the weather is beautiful. In summer, especially between May and August, you can, quite literally, poach an egg on the pavement as the mercury consistently hovers above 42deg C.

Delhi boasts some top-notch luxury hotels. My favourites are the Maurya Sheraton, the Taj Palace and the Imperial (room rates vary between $180 and $550). They are all located in New Delhi, an urban area within the metropolis where most central government offices are located. The Taj Palace and the Maurya are also close to Gurgaon, a satellite town on the southern outskirts of the city that's home to practically all the major multinational firms.

The Maurya has one of the best restaurants for north Indian cuisine, the Bukhara. Former US president Bill Clinton is one its biggest fans and has frequented the restaurant so many times that it now has a table (no 64) named after him. They even serve a special platter of kebabs called the 'Clinton Platter'. Alternately, try the Spice Route at the Imperial.

Voted one of the best restaurants in the world by Conde Nast Traveller, the restaurant serves up dishes that reflect the journey of spices from the Malabar Coast to Malaysia.

However, if you are not easily intimidated by teeming crowds, it's well worth taking a journey through the labyrinthine lanes of Old Delhi to the Jama Masjid, a 17th century mosque that's one of the largest in the country. Ask anyone for Karim's, a tiny restaurant that's a far cry from the opulence of five-star luxury but serves up some of the best food in the city. The chefs claim to be direct descendants of the royal cooks who served the Mughal emperors.

Public transport in Delhi has been a source of woe for years, especially since a journey by bus or auto-rickshaw tends to border more on the adventurous than the practical. For corporate travellers, the best way to get around is by the new metro or taxi - fares range between Rs120-Rs300 ($3-$6) for most journeys. Alternatively, hiring a luxury car for the day would set you back roughly Rs2,000-Rs5,000, chauffeur included.

If you are headed toward Delhi, my advice would be to travel light - you will return with a suitcase full of memories.

Vinay Menon has been a journalist in New Delhi for six years. He is currently at the Said Business School, University of Oxford, UK.

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