Delhi Travel Guide
Delhi stuns and Delhi shatters. And then it puts you back together again. The city is an assault on the senses, but does that have to be a bad thing? If you’re feeling like it’s time to take a trip that takes you out of your comfort zone, India’s tumultuous and wondrous capital city might be just what the doctor ordered. For every fetid smell, there will be a beautiful one. For every blast of heat and cacophonous racket, there will be a moment of peace and wonder. Despite its headlong rush into the future, this ancient land remains family-centric and deeply conservative. As far as the gay scene goes, it can perhaps best be described as “budding.” Antiquated colonial-era anti-sodomy laws remain on the dusty books, but still, the community continues to grow, with annual gay pride parades, straight clubs that hold gay nights and a healthy underground scene mostly tapped into by social networks. Looking for the ultimate Delhi gay guide? Mr Hudson has got you covered.
The best hotels in Delhi
Let’s start this gay Delhi travel guide with a roundup of the best hotels in Delhi. The Leela Palace is simply put, perfect. Whereas other top-tier hotels overdo the whole “Raj era” thing to the point of kitsch, the Leela has mastered Indian grandeur with a light touch. The technology and service are impeccable, as is the location. (Insider tip: Book a Club floor and enjoy free cocktails, evening snacks and high teas. The extra cost pays for itself.) Have we mentioned it gets hot in Delhi? Most room options at The Lodhi come with private plunge pools, not to mention expansive balconies.
It’s still slim pickings when it comes to boutique hotels in Delhi. The Manor is a lovely four-star villa with landscaped gardens you’ll be thankful to return to after a day of sightseeing in hectic Delhi. Another economical choice is Haveli Hauz Khas. With just five bohemian styled rooms and homemade breakfast, this sweet little B&B is like staying at your auntie’s. An added bonus is its location in Delhi’s trendiest neighbourhood, buzzing with artists, coffee houses and music venues. If you’re a classic gent who prefers tradition over the shiny new thing, try the stately Maidens Hotel. The colonial façade is white, the lifts wood-panelled, and the garden inhabited by a pair of peacocks. This century-old property seethes Old World charm.
A Small Group Slum Tour done respectfully and responsibly will help you understand Delhi in a way that zipping around historic sights will not
Things to do in Delhi
Admit it. You’ve always wanted to dance in a Bollywood musical. The Delhi Dance Academy offers a two-hour foreigner-friendly workshop. Take home a souvenir video of you in full Bollywood regalia banging out some fierce Bhangra moves. Since there is not much in the way of gay clubs or neighbourhoods, a spa is one way to be amongst the like-minded. The Mykonos Spa is nothing special as far as the facility goes, but it is the most famous gay spa in the city. Some disparage it as poverty tourism, but a Small Group Slum Tour done respectfully and responsibly will help you understand Delhi in a way that zipping around its historic sights will not. A bulk of the fee for the three-hour walking tour goes back to the community. The groups are kept small and photography is prohibited so as not to be intrusive. Dilli Haat is a cool concept. It’s a pay-to-enter open-air bazaar set up by the government. Craftspeople from across India pay a nominal fee to showcase their wares to an international audience they would otherwise never have access to. Food stalls offer cuisine from all over the subcontinent. For all its magic, Delhi can take a bit of a toll on the mind and body. If you’re feeling overstimulated, reset at Kaya Kalp, The Spa in the ITC Maurya Hotel. Try the ancient Ayurvedic ritual experience.
Visit the site where one of the greatest men of the 20th century not only spent his final few days but where he was assassinated
Things to see in Delhi
The massive red sandstone structure known as the Red Fort dates back to the 1600s. Take time to aimlessly wander the UNESCO heritage site, former residence of the royal Mughal emperor. Take in the massive encircling walls, turrets, bastions, floral motifs and ornate stonework. With so much ancient to explore, it would be a mistake to overlook India’s contemporary art scene. Stop by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art whose magnificent collection showcases 20th-century painters as well as the up-and-coming generation. If you thought you knew what busy, hectic and overwhelming meant, you’ll be humbled by Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. The narrow lanes of one of the city’s oldest and busiest markets are crammed with street peddlers, vendors, street food and shops. It’s impossible to navigate, which is part of the fun (and madness). Don’t miss Khari Baoli, Asia’s largest spice market, where shops pile curries of every hue in pyramid shapes. This is what you came to India to see (and smell!) Before your trip, read Gandhi’s autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” to make your experience at the Gandhi Smriti museum even more meaningful. This is the site where one of the greatest men of the 20th century not only spent his final few days but where he was assassinated. His pocket watch, which came to a halt at 5:17 pm, the hour and minute of his death, is on display.
A bar that is older than the nation of India itself, Patiala Peg embodies the British Raj style
Where to eat in Delhi
You probably didn’t come to India to eat Mediterranean food, but if you need a break from local cuisine’s vibrant flavours, the rustic Amour is one of the most romantic places in town. Stop off for a lunch break on the outdoor patio after shopping in the trendy Hauz Khas sector, considered “the national capital of ethnic chic.” A bar that is older than the nation of India itself, Patiala Peg embodies the British Raj style. Sink into a leather chair and sip a whiskey. Peruse the wooden walls for a history lesson; the bar’s collection of antique photographs from the Maharaja days of WWII is extraordinary. According to legend, the Patiala is where the agreement was made to divide India and Pakistan. Bukhara has been around forever and it’s where they brought Bill Clinton (and Hillary and Chelsea) when each of them was in town. Please do your best to ignore that as well as the overwrought 1970s decor and just enjoy the Tandoori, kebabs and oversized naan. They might be the best you ever have.
Dum Pukht, located in the same luxury hotel as Bukhara, is its opulent chandeliered alter ego. Dum Pukht specializes in slow cooking meats in a sealed pot, out of which emerges aromatic, complex and elegant dishes. Jamawar in the Leela Palace hotel delivers on its claim to offer a “royal Indian dining experience.” With a high ceiling, low lighting and an extensive wine list, the setting is romantic and the food noteworthy. For a more cutting edge take on Indian cuisine, the award-winning Varq applies experimental cooking techniques to street food staples. Similarly, the winner of a litany of restaurant awards, the inventive Indian Accent parlayed its success in Delhi to go on to open outlets in New York and London. Try the pork belly tikka, Punjabi lobhia (black-eyed peas) curry, smoked papad dish.
Gentlemen, please go clothes shopping in Delhi. We beg of you
Shopping in Delhi
Gentlemen, please go clothes shopping in Delhi. We beg of you. What other country has such a storied tradition of textile-making and block-printing that can produce unique handmade pieces that are also affordable? The opposite of fast fashion is Kardo, whose hand-woven fabrics are cut by hand and sewn by a single tailor who hand finishes them. The prints from the menswear brand Sprezz range from straightforward to downright fruity and we love them all. India’s top designers have outposts in the upscale shopping district of Mehrauli in southwest Delhi. Indian designer labels that make menswear include Falguni & Shane Peacock, Manish Malhotra, Anita Dongre, Tarun Tahiliani and Sabyasachi. If you’ve never felt like you had to have a leather trunk before or you’ll die it’s because you haven’t been to Nappa Dori. The leather accessories and luggage shop makes simple, utilitarian pieces that still have flair. Their Ikat satchel bags are heaven-sent. Also, you’re going to need one of their handmade steamer trunks to transport home all your loot. Since we should probably list one destination for shopping that isn’t fashion, here it is: Good Earth. Bring back lasting trip memories in the form of housewares, bedspreads, cushions and dining ware.
Because of the country’s conservative culture, the gay scene is Delhi is underdeveloped. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist
And now for Mr Hudson’s Delhi gay scene guide. Because of the country’s conservative culture, the gay scene is Delhi is underdeveloped. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The elite gay scene is under the radar, accessed only by friends and friends of friends. So, the best advice we can give is to start asking around before you go. Leverage your network and Facebook to find a friend with a gay friend in Delhi; this will be the key that unlocks a magical door that otherwise will likely remain closed to you. Also, try the Facebook pages of Delhi Gay Party and Delhi Gay Events & Parties for parties going on while you’re there. They’re often held at straight clubs on designated nights. Kitty Su, a nightclub at LaLiT hotel in Delhi is an all-inclusive gay hotspot where Mr Gay World India was crowned. The rooftop Q Café is Delhi’s first LGBTQ café and has given the city’s queer community a rainbow-coloured ray of hope that one day there will be scads of places like this in the capital. In the same building as the Mykonos spa, you can stop by any time of day. In the evenings, you might encounter a talk on queer issues or a drag show. Go at sunset and catch the lovely view at of the minaret tower of nearby Qutub Minar, a UNESCO Heritage site.
With locations in London, Dubai, Mykonos and São Paulo, the Toy Room is an option if you want to go dancing and check out Delhi’s straight nightlife scene. Another more upscale option is the China-themed Hong Kong Club in the Andaz Hotel. If the straight club scene is not your scene, consider an atmospheric heritage drinkery filled with Raj era ephemera like the 1911 Bar. The military buffs amongst you will enjoy the army regalia and medals on display while the rest of the civilians can just enjoy a classic cocktail or two (or three) and call it a night. In a town not known for its trendy cocktails, a cocktail bar getting a ton of buzz is Dear Donna. The high-energy place is where Delhi’s glitterati have been known to kick off their nights.
The Leela Palace
Photo: Jose Aragones
Photo: Ravi Sharma