Exploring the capitals eclectic

Delhi’s onion-layered history is mirrored deliciously in its diverse and dynamic cuisine. Cosmopolitan Delhi-ites crave fine food like plants crave sunshine, and the city’s food scene trots the globe. From tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants to fine dining and quirky cafes, this really is a city with something to please everyone. Here are some eateries in the Indian capital that reflect its eclectic personality.

 

Cafe culture with a twist at Cafe Lota

The leafy cul-de-sac beside the Crafts Museum at Pragati Maidan has been reinvented as an indoor-outdoor eatery, and a calm retreat from the city crush. A huge hit with Delhi’s arty set, Cafe Lota (Crafts Museum, Gate No 2, Bhairon Marg) charms with an innovative menu of regional Indian flavours and surprise twists on traditional favourites. Reserving ahead will allow faster access to some of the capital’s tastiest food. Otherwise, you may have a long wait for your crunchy palak patta chaat (spicy spinach salad), apple cinnamon jalebi, or filtered coffee.

 

Continental creations at Le Bistro Du Parc

When Delhi-ites crave European flavours, they head to Le Bistro Du Parc (lebistroduparc.com) in Defence Colony. Capturing just the right Parisian mood, this little piece of La Belle France serves fine French fare, with a live jazz  soundtrack on Wednesdays and Fridays. Tucked into a tree-lined corner of Moolchand Flyover Market, it’s a great, pocket-friendly alternative to the pricey European restaurants in Delhi’s five-star hotels. Oh, and did we mention the food is outstanding?

 

Old city wonders at Lakhori

In earshot of the muezzin’s call from the iconic Jama Masjid, Lakhori (havelidharampura.com/lakhori), is cosily housed inside Haveli Dharampura, a handsomely restored 200-year-old traditional mansion that doubles as an upscale hotel. Hidden away in an atmospheric alley, you’ll find all the street-food that you wistfully passed by as you walked the streets of Old Delhi, served up as high-tea most afternoons. Weekends are reserved for a spot of Mughal-mania, with a heady mix of kebabs, curries, and classical Kathak dances.

 

Fruit flavours at Jain Coffee House

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it neighbourhood haunt for over half a century, the Jain Coffee House is an Old Delhi institution. Inside, an archaic coffee machine coughs, hisses, and streams coffee into Styrofoam cups for a quick pick-me-up, but most are here for the seasonal fruit sandwiches. Imagine soft white bread slathered with fresh butter, jam or marmalade, and topped with cottage cheese and fresh fruit – mango, pineapple, sapodilla, apple, grapes, pomegranate – serving up a burst of flavours and textures.

How to Find Entertaining kids

The trick to family travel in Delhi is escaping the crowds. Try crossing Connaught Place, amid careering traffic, in the heat, whilst gripping the arms of several toddlers, and you might find yourself racing back to the cloistered sanctuary of your hotel room. Relax in the calm confines of a Mughal garden however, and you might see the city in a very different light.

 

A good hotel is worth its weight in Mr Men books

Getting the best out of Delhi with kids in tow requires a certain amount of forward planning. Rather than staying in the busiest districts, life will be infinitely less stressful if you choose one of the quieter corners of South Delhi, where guesthouses and hotels offer a bit more room to breathe. Some even have enclosed gardens. As an added bonus, most of these hotels are also close to Delhi’s surburban district ‘markets’  upscale retail complexes with shops, restaurants and supermarkets selling familiar European and American imports (breakfast cereals, wet-wipes and the like), plus, in many cases, decent kids’ playgrounds. Perhaps the most ideal base for families is the Lutyens Guesthouse, with parrot-filled grounds, sprawling lawns and a swimming pool.

However, if you prefer to stay in the centre, this has the advantage that you’re only a short, entertaining rickshaw hop from many of the sights and places to eat. Palace Heights on Connaught Place is a boutique hotel with a good restaurant and a cosy feel, while at the cheaper end of the scale, Bloom Rooms on Arakashan Road, close to New Delhi train station, is centred around a large sofa filled courtyard, with light, bright rooms, and an on-site pizza restaurant. If you fancy a real escape from the city, Tikli Bottom is ideal, wonderfully set amidst the Aravali hills, with plenty of space, farm animals and a swimming pool.

 

Family feasts in Delhi

When travelling, the default position for many parents is to stick to the familiar, and Delhi has no shortage of fastfood chains and restaurants serving the comforting tastes of home. However, Delhi is also a great place to branch out and delve into the local cuisine. Kids with moderately adventurous palates will find South Indian culinary heaven at Saravana Bhavan, with branches on P-Block in Connaught Place, and at 46 Janpath. As well as healthy veg staples like rice and dhal, another easy dish for children is the dosa, a huge, crisp rice pancake, which can be eaten plain, or more ambitiously with a spicy potato and onion filling and tangy sambar dipping sauce and coconut chutney. Other great south Indian restaurants include Swagath and Sagar Ratna, with branches all over the city.

Modern megacity in India

A gargantuan, pulsating metropolis that reinvents itself every time you blink, Mumbai is India’s most modern and most happening city. The best entertainment spots, the liveliest cultural melting pots, the yummiest meals at the most trendy cafés or the latest designer threads gracing the most beautiful people – Mumbai is where you’ll find them. Indeed, the city is getting a make-over unlike anything India has seen before, with more than 15 ‘supertalls’ – trade slang for skyscrapers over 300m – under construction in the northern suburbs.

Many travellers limit themselves to the historic neighbourhoods of south Mumbai and miss out on Mumbai’s modern cutting edge. Here’s a look at some of the sights and activities that help you to get under the cosmopolitan skin of India’s ‘Maximum City’.

 

Shop like a fashionista

Rising from the ashes of what was once a colonial cotton mill, High Street Phoenix (highstreetphoenix.com; 462 Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel West) is Mumbai’s top destination for shopaholics, particularly those with a weakness for premium designer labels. Appealing to Mumbai’s icons of film, fashion and finance, this luxury shopping complex – the largest of its kind in the city – houses top global brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Jimmy Choo and Gucci. If you have any red carpet events coming up, this is the place to get kitted out in the latest catwalk chic. Refreshingly, High Street Phoenix also has a generous smattering of home-grown haute couture labels such as Rohit Bal (rohitbal.com) and Anita Dongre (andindia.com), whose gorgeous ethnic dresses and modern-medieval ensembles find their way onto the sales racks after being showcased at the Mumbai and Delhi fashion weeks.

 

Where India goes organic!

There are more cafés in Bandra than there are houses, or so locals like to claim. And to be fair, this posh neighbourhood in central Mumbai does indeed boast some of India’s best delis, coffee shops, snack bars, breakfast joints and tearooms, serving a divine range of espresso-based pick-me-ups and organic comestibles in cool and laid-back interiors. The trendiest name on this circuit is The Birdsong (Off Hill Rd, Bandra West), where life-affirming organic healthfood comes to your table in imaginative and tasty avatars, such as organic khichda (like kedgeree version 2.0) and vitamin-rich quinoa salad.  Then there’s Yoga House (yogahouse.in; Sherly Rajan Rd), which supplements its yoga classes with wholesome vegan and vegetarian food, including famous salads, multigrain bread and hash browns with spinach and mozzarella. To pamper your sweet tooth, swing by Theobroma (Link Square Mall, Linking Rd), a satellite branch of the famous south Mumbai confectioner, for the best walnut brownies and vanilla cinnamon custard tarts in town.

Love to pack our bags and travel the world

I traveled to Vienna and Salzburg right before Christmas in 2010 and it was the most magical Christmas experience of my life. It had snowed heavily right before our plane landed, so the whole country was covered in a soft blanket of white – a perfect backdrop for its numerous bustling Christmas markets, where we drank a fair amount of gluhwein and ate too many holiday sweets. This American also had her very first run-in with the European-style St Nicholas and his more threatening counterpart Krampus; both happened to be walking down the streets of Salzburg like old chums, and I had to consult a local pretzel maker to figure out who Santa’s terrifying monster pal was.

I traveled to Vienna and Salzburg right before Christmas in 2010 and it was the most magical Christmas experience of my life. It had snowed heavily right before our plane landed, so the whole country was covered in a soft blanket of white – a perfect backdrop for its numerous bustling Christmas markets, where we drank a fair amount of gluhwein and ate too many holiday sweets. This American also had her very first run-in with the European-style St Nicholas and his more threatening counterpart Krampus; both happened to be walking down the streets of Salzburg like old chums, and I had to consult a local pretzel maker to figure out who Santa’s terrifying monster pal was.

 

Four’s a crowd on a honeymoon in Thailand

I went to stay with my friend in Bangkok last December, and over Christmas we decided to head down to Phuket for a couple of days. Checking Facebook upon arrival, we realised that some friends of ours were in town at the same time – on honeymoon. After a day drinking Singhas on the beach, we decided to surprise them by crashing their first Christmas dinner as a married couple at Baan Rim Pa. Looking back, I imagine they didn’t much appreciate us joining them at probably the most romantic restaurant in Thailand. Still, it’s not every Christmas you get to spend catching up with friends on the other side of the world.

February for wildlife and nature TIPS & ARTICLES

For land-lovers, snow leopards and huge vistas of ice await in India; underwater explorers can swim with whale sharks in the balmy waters of the Philippines; and there’s a special treat for spotters who can bear witness, not only to spectacular birdlife in Japan, but to the spectacle of millions of monarch butterflies taking flight in Mexico.

 

Head to Ladakh, India, for snow leopards and ice trekking

Brrrrrrr! It’s not warm in the Himalayan heights of northwest Indiaright now (days around 21°F; -6°C). But it’s worth braving the cold for a couple of very special experiences. Wildlife fans should head for Hemis National Park, home to a 400-year-old monastery, and one of the few places on the planet where the elusive snow leopard isn’t quite so elusive. During winter mating season – which peaks in February – the high-dwelling big cats descend to the valleys here to find mates, making them easier to spot. Alternatively, trekkers can check out the Chadar. This challenging winter hike starts near Leh, and uses the frozen Zanskar River as its path – walking on this icy meander is the only way to access the highland villages at this time. February is when the ice is at its most stable; the temperature is biting, but the snow-cloaked mountains spectacular.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Leh. Hemis is 6 miles (10 km) south, where guided treks in the Tarbuns Valley may yield leopards. The Chadar hike starts in Chilling, 40 miles (65 km) from Leh, and takes six days.
  • Need to know: Leh is at 11,483ft (3500m) so stay well-hydrated to help altitude acclimatisation.
  • Other months: Nov-Mar – cold, snowy (Jan-Feb: Chadar possible); Apr-May & Oct – quiet, cool; Jun-Sep – best for regular trekking.

Perfect wedding day

With these top ten budget-friendly getaways you can count your pennies without compromising on all the once-in-a-lifetime experiences, dynamic culture and delicious cuisine you could want for your first adventure as newlyweds.

 

Morocco

Arabian exoticism, fragrant spices – and lovely low prices. Morocco’s hard to beat for bargain romance. Marrakesh, Fez and Essaouira offer time-warp medinas chock-full of character and cheap cafes. Eschew your sense of direction to get lost in the maze-like souqs – the shopping possibilities are plentiful, with everything from carpets to babouches to be snapped up. Converted riads (traditional courtyard houses) offer accommodation with oodles of atmosphere; some are pricey but many are astonishingly reasonable, enabling palace-like stays on a pauper’s budget.

 

India

Long-favoured by the impecunious, India has become more expensive – but, mostly, it’s still amazingly cheap. For instance, opulent Palace On Wheels trains might be dear, but even budget ’mooners can afford first-class on India Rail – a Delhi-Udaipur overnighter costs around US$20 second-class, and only US$10 more in first-class sleeper.

 

Vietnam

You could get by for less than US$10 a day in Vietnam and still eat like a king – it’s street-food heaven. Make sure to sample the city’s signature dishes: beef pho, bun cha (barbecued pork with rice noodles) and chow a bánh mì (baguette) as you wander. A mid-range trip won’t break the bank either, but will buy more characterful guesthouses, a better Halong Bay cruise and memorable experiences (a cookery class, a cycle around Hoi An) with change left for a beach stay on beautiful Phu Quoc Island.

 

Portugal

Portugal is liberating. The little anxieties – is that cafe too posh for us? Can we afford another coffee? – don’t exist here. Even in fancier establishments, espressos usually cost less than US$1, beers no more than US$2. You find yourself ordering a second pastel de nata (divine Portuguese custard tart) – well, why not? There are cute casas and converted farmhouses oozing charm for under US$100 a night, too.

Safari alternatives for nature lovers

From tracking down tigers to watching wrestling dinosaurs (okay, not quite – but close), here are a handful of alternative ways for travellers to admire the unparalleled spectacle of the natural world.

 

Looking for tigers in northern India

Tiger numbers have crept up in recent years according to official statistics from the Indian government: in 2016, India was estimated to be home to 2500 of them – 70 percent of the global population. But in a country this vast, it’s still hard to see one.

With accredited naturalists working as guides, Himalayan Footsteps (himalayanfootsteps.com) offers a 13-day trip taking in the Bandhavgarh and Kanha national parks. Sightings are by no means guaranteed, although it’s said the best time of year to see tigers is between February and April, so it’s smart to plan ahead. If you don’t spot one, you’ll stand a better chance of seeing sloth bears, jackals and grey mongoose. Bandhavgarh is also home to 250 species of birds, so make sure you pack your binoculars.

 

Birdwatching in Peru’s Islas Ballestas

Don’t listen to anyone who dismisses Peru’s Islas Ballestas as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’; these uninhabited islands might not have inspired Darwin when HMS Beagle passed this way in the 1830s, but they are home to a huge seabird colony, as well as sea lions and fur seals.

Due to the fragile nature of the islands, visitors can’t make landfall, but boats can be chartered along with dedicated guides from nearby Paracas. Peruvian pelicans and Humboldt penguins vie for real estate on these rocky outcrops, sea lions howl above the din of crashing waves, while blue-footed boobies, related to the gannet, dive-bomb the surrounding waters in a desperate search for fish.

March for wildlife and nature

Visit thundering waterfalls in South America or spot kaleidoscopic birdlife in the Caribbean; try your luck tracking Shere Khan through the Indian jungle; or coo over baby Pandas and admire the spring blossoms in China.

 

Spot dazzling birdlife and watch nesting sea turtles in Trinidad and Tobago

This emerald isle afloat off the coast of South America is everything you’d expect from a Caribbean paradise – palm-fringed beaches, relaxed pace of life, sunshine – and plenty you might not expect. Rather than big cruise ships and package tourists, little Tobago attracts nature-lovers, snorkelers and divers.

March has the fine weather you’d want on a beach holiday, but also brings nesting sea turtles – green, leatherback and hawksbill – who return to the patches of sand from which they hatched to lay their own eggs. Watch – with care – as the lumbering females haul themselves ashore, or join monitoring and conservation programs to help these threatened beauties. Sprawling across the eastern end of the island, Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve is bustling with birdlife – more than 200 species call the island home, including dazzling hummingbirds – and spectacular snorkelling can be enjoyed at various points around the coast.

  • Trip plan: Tobago’s international airport is at its far western tip, and most beaches and resorts are along the southwest coast, though the natural attractions lie at the opposite (eastern) end of the island.
  • Need to know: All three species of sea turtle found on and around Tobago are in trouble – hawksbill turtles are critically endangered. Be careful not to harm or disturb nesting turtles.
  • Other months: Jan-May – warm, dry; Jun-Dec – heavy but usually short downpours.

 

Gawp at Brazil’s mighty Iguazú Falls in full flow

A spectacle with a split personality – is it Iguazú or Iguaçu? – these hundreds of mighty cataracts arcing nearly 2 miles (3 km) thunder 269 ft (82m) down into a gorge dividing southern Brazil from a slender finger of Argentina. While January and February are hottest and most humid, they also bring most visitors from those two countries. By March, crowds have thinned, the weather is becoming more temperate and less damp, but the falls are still dramatically powerful.

This isn’t a point, shoot and leave kind of spot: the falls are surrounded by luxuriant rainforest, a national park with several excellent (and easy) walking trails bustling with wildlife and providing various views of the cataracts, most famously the Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat), into which half the flow plunges.

  • Trip planner: Beyond the falls themselves, there’s plenty to see on both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the national park, and a trip south alongside the Paraná River reveals the fascinating remains of 18th-century Jesuit missions. Cross the river to visit Paraguay and complete a week-long tri-country adventure.
  • Need to know: There are international airports on both the Argentine and Brazilian sides of the falls.
  • Other months: Jan-Feb – busiest, prices high; Mar-May & Sep-Oct – driest; Jun-Aug & Nov-Feb – wet.

The best free things to do in India

This lotus-shaped temple was conceived and created by architect Furiburz Sabha in the suburbs of South Delhi, close to the burgeoning commercial district of Nehru Place.  In step with the tenets of the Bahai religion, the house of worship is open to all and everyone is invited to worship according to their own customs. Reflected in nine encircling pools, the gleaming marble structure is set in expansive gardens that teem with visitors, yet it retains a peaceful air of prayer and contemplation. Dusk finds the monument painted in surreal colours by floodlights as the sun sinks over the cityscape.

 

Soulful stirrings at the Nizamuddin Auliya shrine

You can step back seven centuries at the shrine of Delhi’s most beloved Sufi mystic. Every Thursday evening, singers fill the air with soulful qawwalis (spiritual songs) honouring both the Sufi mystic Hazrat Khwaja Syed Nizamuddin Auliya and his disciple, the poet Amir Khusrao, also buried here. A warren of narrow streets lined with hawkers, mendicant holy men and snack stands leads to the shrine, which is a riot of colours, fragrant with heady incense and sweet-smelling rose petals.  Irrespective of faith, gender, or age, the Nizamuddin Dargah is one of Delhi’s most emotive and stimulating spots.

 

Calm green spaces and crumbling mausoleums

The Lodi Gardens, formerly Lady Willingdon Park, are one of the city’s favourite green spaces, visited by neighbourhood residents for daily constitutionals, and a favourite spot for canoodling couples and picnicking families. Sitting pretty in the heart of New Delhi, these sprawling but well-tended acres are criss-crossed with tree-lined walking and jogging paths. Between the flowerbeds are crumbling medieval monuments – mosques, tombs, and ceremonial bridges harking back to vanished Afghan dynasties – lending the park a romantic demeanour; unsurprisingly, it’s a favourite spot for romantic selfies.

How to find craft brews in India

Bengaluru is a city that loves its pint. Ever since the British arrived here in the early 19th century the capital of Karnataka has enthusiastically embraced the culture of grabbing a drink at the end of the day. Today Bengaluru is chest-thumpingly proud of its drinking culture and home to a roaring craft beer scene with an ever growing number of microbreweries. Visit our pick of Bengaluru’s best bars and you’ll soon understand why.

The Bengaluru drinking scene spans the spectrum, from nostalgic holes-in-the-wall to chic cocktail lounges that could hold their own in Paris or New York. Keep a particular eye out for the city’s craft beers – local brewers create everything from wheat beers to pale ales and stout – and Bengaluru mixologists who add Indian herbs and spices to the standard cocktail palette. Here’s our pick of the best places in Bengaluru to wet your whistle after hours.

 

Daytime tipples at Noon Wines

The appeal of Noon Wines & Scottish Pub (No 17/21, Vasavi Complex, St Marks Road) lies in its nonchalance. This ‘hole in the wall’ outpost of colonial-era Bengaluru is open for only five hours in the day (12-5pm), but nostalgia seekers flock here for inexpensive wines and an agreeably short menu with simple potato wafers as a best seller. The Heritage wine is extra sweet and extra potent in nature, served in shot glass-sized wine glasses.

 

Cocktails like grandma used to mix

Take a map of Bengaluru and stick a pin in its heart and you’ll find yourself on the threshold of The Permit Room (thepermitroom.in), a welcome retreat from the hubbub of MG Road. Cosy interiors decked out in the iconography of South Indian slang make you feel like an insider immediately. The moody mixologist, inspired by his ajji (grandma), has reimagined hearty home cooking as well as the cocktail menu; for our rupee, Paati’s Magic Rasam curry, Highway Pandi Curry, and filter coffee-flavoured pot de crème are all decided winners.

 

Ten of the best at Arbor Brewing Company

Start your love affair with the brews of Bengaluru with a choice of ten in-house craft beers at this spacious, minimalist American-style microbrewery. The pub fare at Arbor Brewing Company is best enjoyed at long communal wooden tables, with low hanging lights running along the centre. Sip crispy Hefewiezens, confident stouts, German-style pilsners, Belgian fruit beers and pale ales with lingering bitterness to wash down amply portioned dishes with a US flavour.

 

Wheat beer that pulls in a crowd at Toit

Back in 2010, Toit Brewpub almost single-handedly salvaged Bangalore’s flagging pub scene with a sprawling wooden-floored brewery, providing space for close to 400 happy beer drinkers. Of the six house brews, the Bavarian-style Toit Weiss wheat beer trumps the competition any day of the week. Check out the curious logo, inspired by Pepé Le Pew (the skunk of Looney Tunes fame), with the motto ‘sending it since 2010’ (a local phrase for downing a drink).