Delhi is a melting pot. The seat of power for a parade of empires, it is cosmopolitan, captivating, rich in red sandstone buildings and home to 17 million people, its enthralling madness most obvious when you take to the road. You’ll see children piled high on motorbikes while women perch sidesaddle, hard hats, pith helmets or absolutely nothing at all their only protection. Lanes mean little and auto-rickshaws dominate, yet despite the mayhem, drivers seem to know exactly where they’re going and how to avoid fellow commuters. It is the functioning, hypnotic definition of organised chaos. Add to this a cacophony of horns, not blared in anger but to remind others of one’s presence. Our driver, noticing that we wore the worried expressions of the uninitiated, simply laughed, “you can drive without brakes in India but you can’t drive without a horn.”
Delhi is indeed a chaotic, thriving, electrifying, maddening mesmeric world of its own; a city unlike any other. While you may sense that you immediately belong - becoming one of the many - there is so much you will struggle to comprehend. There will be moments when it all feels too much, when your mind yearns for calm, but then you’ll see something that takes your breath away. Delhi is wonderful, unparalleled - but having a place to escape to, a hideaway that celebrates this city, and India, as the multifaceted, passionate destination that it is, is a glorious thing too. Arriving in India for the first time and in need of an introduction and an oasis (one with a social and environmental conscience) I looked to ITC hotels.
I’d presumed lunch would be a messy affair, having shunned cutlery and donned a bib, but mess seemed utterly irrelevant as I scooped delicious dal Bukhara onto metre-long naan, licking my fingers and relishing every aromatic morsel that had been simmering over charcoal for more than 20 hours. It was no surprise that this dish is so revered, enjoyed by world leaders and celebrities alike - savouring it at the same table as Roger Federer only added to my epicurean fantasy.
I was in Bukhara at ITC Maurya (New Delhi), just one of ITC hotel’s award-winning restaurants, each a unique celebration of India’s distinctive cuisine. From the rugged north-western food of Bukhara to the southern fare of ITC Maratha’s (Mumbai) Dashkin and the slow cooking traditions of Dum Pukht, ITC chefs are proud of their food, knowledgeable of regional ingredients and even claim specific fortes - one a tandoor coal aficionado, another possessing a secret masala recipe hidden even from his co-workers. With chocolate boutiques full of treats inspired by natural elements and afternoon teas where the cakes are pure culinary genius, all tastes are catered for. Dine here and you’ll travel the country, the fare robbing you of words and sating even the most discerning of gourmands. What I wouldn’t do for another dal Bukhara now …
ITC hotels redefine hospitality, not only by showcasing Indian cuisine but by delivering luxury in an environmental and socially responsible manner. The use of renewable energy, water conservation, employment of differently-abled workers and empowerment of rural communities are just some of the initiatives implemented. Equally mindful of cultural heritage, the hotels are also galleries for local art; the kaleidoscopic Chagall-esque mural that sweeps across the lounge’s ceiling by Krishen Khanna in ITC Maurya is particularly stunning. In each hotel the art collections (for they do act as galleries) and colour palettes shift, inspired in part by the land and local tradition; the overall design simultaneously modern (open and spacious with an eye for the luxurious) and shaped by the architecture of generations past.
Travellers are truly guests at ITC hotels, their needs met in every way. If spa time is called for, Kaya Kalp, bedecked in hand-painted pomegranates (a symbol of new life), offers traditional Indian wellness - the massages leaving the mind quieted and the body renewed. And, understanding the importance of sleep, eye masks and pillow scents are left by every bed, in-room dining menus have slumber-inducing options and the bedding is luxurious. The perfect way to end the day. And a rather perfect introduction to a brilliantly indefinable country.
To learn more about the ITC collection, click here.