If the photo of the Delhi spice market wasn’t indicative enough, today’s Notes from the Field takes us on an adventure all the way to India. In fact, before we heard confirmation on our new post in Copenhagen, it looked like India was our likely destination so Dani’s interview on New Delhi struck a particular chord with me. I mean, who can’t be intrigued by a city described as “ancient, aristocratic and addicting”? Dani, from Hotpot DC gives us her take on life in New Delhi. In addition to her blog, Dani also keeps a portfolio of her gorgeous photography, specializing in a unique love of Delhi’s chai pourers – I hope a book of these photographs is in the works for soon!
Current Post: New Delhi, India
Three words to describe Delhi:
Ancient, aristocratic, addicting.
Best thing about Delhi: The vibrancy of this place. Delhi is a hard city—there is poverty, dirt and tragedy everywhere you look; and yet people here survive and thrive and love and laugh and create beauty in spite of so many things ceaselessly stacked against them. It’s hard not to fall in love with a place like Delhi.
The other thing about Delhi is that, whether you are a history buff, a shopaholic or neither, it’s impossible to spend more than a week here without enthusiastically picking up a history book or plunking down your credit card at one of the many unique boutiques and cooperative craft outlets here.
You have visitors in town for the weekend in Delhi, what does the weekend look like?
Saturday morning we’ll start early with a cycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi, and a bird’s eye view from the top of the Spice market. Afterwards we’ll take you to the old-school regal Imperial Hotel brunch for the ultimate in Delhi contrasts.
To beat the afternoon heat, I take guests shopping, either to the funky bohemian corridor in Haus Khaz or to the up and coming Shapur Jat market. At Shapur Jat, I always stop by Lila, an affordable artist-owned boutique stocked full of the softest, brightest, and most beautiful cotton clothing I’ve ever seen. For men, I suggest they tag along with my husband to Connaught Place to visit an old-fashioned bespoke tailor and get fitted for a custom suit.
As the sun goes down we’ll head over to Safdarjung’s Tomb. It’s my favorite site in the whole city, a quiet, dilapidated tomb that stands mostly empty save for amorous couples hiding in the tall grass and high school students playing hide-and-go seek up and down the15th century staircases.
Saturday night we’ll send our guests out for a posh Indian-fusion tasting menu at Indian Accent or Varq, two of the most widely acclaimed restaurants in the city.
Sunday we’ll go to Lodhi Gardens for an early morning walk through the ruins with the parakeets, peacocks and yogis for company.
For more awe-inspiring history, I like Qutab Minar or Humayun’s Tomb. On the way home we’ll stop at INA market to pick up vegetables for dinner as well as give our guests one last taste of “real Delhi.”
- Chole bhature and a thimble cup of steaming chai in old Delhi.
- Ayurvedic soaps and oils from the Khadi cooperative.
- Visiting all of the ancient history sites at either dawn or dusk when the light is the most magical.
- Also all of the beautiful textiles and kitschy pop-art home goods from India’s up and coming artists! I’m normally not much of a shopper but it’s hard not to become one living here.
There are many difficult things about life here (pollution, disease, traffic etc) but the most surprising of the difficulties to me is the schedule of daily life. Stores don’t open until 11 or 11:30am and traffic gets horrendous after 2pm. Few Indian restaurants will serve diners before 7 or 7:30pm. Anyone who has ever tried to run errands or go out to dinner with a toddler will recognize the challenges to this timetable.
Oh Delhi, it’s all an adventure, from grocery shopping to driving across town! But if you want to see “real” Delhi you have to spend some time in Old Delhi. I don’t think I know a more atmospheric place to wander.
When did you realize you were far from home?
When our son, then 1 year old, developed an ear infection at our departure gate at Dulles and screamed bloody murder for 7 hours until we reached Frankfurt—at which point we were only halfway to Delhi. Nothing feels longer than a transatlantic flight with a sick kid in your arms.
Painting the walls in subtle but sophisticated colors, rearranging the furniture and putting up artwork. These things are cheap, free, and/or easy on the shipping allowance and yet they make such a huge difference. The first thing people say when they come into our house is “this doesn’t look like government housing.”
Many people would also say a housekeeper and a regular pedicure are also important must-haves. Delhi’s dirt is legendary.
Fresh seafood, organic produce, clean air. After China and now India we have something of a “bid Scandinavia!” motto going on in our house right now.
- Skinny trousers or jeans (practical for keeping Delhi’s infamous dust off my hems and out of our house)
- An Ever Lane t-shirt or a well-tailored button down shirt
- A pretty scarf, a pair of earrings and my trusty Sanuk slip-ons—they keep my feet clean and dry in messy meat markets!
You’re having guests over on Saturday night, what’s on the menu?
We’re becoming a bit famous for our Korean bibimbap. Otherwise, for the vegetarians, I like to make cheese soufflés with salad greens from our garden and homemade fennel ice cream and flourless chocolate cake for dessert.
Dream post for next assignment? Why?
Anywhere with fresh seafood and clean air. It’s been awhile.
Can’t think of a thing.
Delhi is a special place—but one that also requires a bit of a special mindset. The best way to live fully and happily here is to seek out all of the amazing history and eccentricities to this place and treat everyday like an adventure. Then, when you need a break, seek out your own little “only in Delhi” pick-me-ups. For me that’s a morning of photography followed by an unexpectedly good croissant from the L’Opera bakery in Khan Market. Oh and scarves. Bless this country and its scarves.
What are three of your favorite posts on your own blog?