An insider’s guide to Delhi
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
I came to Delhi quite late. I’m a Bombayite by birth, and lived much of my adult life there. When my daughter, Maia, moved to the UK for university, I went too; I’d always promised her I would follow her if she chose that part of the world.
Then on 26 November, 2008, Maia called to tell me that hell was being unleashed in Bombay. That day [of the terrorist attacks] changed everything. So in March 2009, I left England, moved to Delhi and started to build back my business.
London is my favourite city in the world. Bombay is home. Delhi, I would say, I appreciate. I had always admired it in passing; in the ’70s, I would travel through on my way to Kashmir or Nepal – the old hippie trail. I always had friends here, and the Delhi girls seemed to like the Bombay guys a bit more.
I wake up early here, and take the dogs for a fast walk. I might go to Sundar Nagar, the National Zoological Park, or Sunder Nursery, just below it, where the monuments have all been restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. It hosts a Sunday farmers’ market called Earth Collective; there’s good coffee and a fantastic food truck, Zaika-e-Nizamuddin, which is run by women from the Nizamuddin basti [slum]. They feed the local children for free, but have this business on the side. I’ll chat with them and pick up a delicious biryani. Anyone who likes that would also enjoy the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. This is a Sikh temple that, inside, has the largest community kitchen in Delhi; it never closes, and feeds tens of thousands of people a day. My travel company, Banyan Tours, introduced it 25 years ago as a guest experience, and people leave moved and inspired.
There are a few bars and restaurants I frequent regularly. One is the rooftop bar at The Oberoi hotel, Cirrus 9. It’s great for an early-evening drink; you get an unbeatable view over the city, a reminder of how green Delhi is. Afterwards we’ll walk over to Humayun’s Tomb at sunset. If we have guests staying at The Imperial hotel, I might meet them for a drink at the bar, 1911, which is old‑world and quite good fun.
Manish Mehrotra’s Indian Accent is fine dining in a sleek space, and everyone always wants to go. But I like taking people to Jamun; it has young proprietors, young chefs, and a fantastic take on regional Indian food: a bit of Bombay, a bit of Kerala. It’s in the Lodhi Colony neighbourhood, which is a great area to wander around: residential, with some shops and markets, all brought to life by interesting graffiti. There’s a sushi place called Guppy that’s very good, and Café Dali, a new-ish Italian that I like.
A lot of people who come through Delhi are looking to buy a pashmina. I believe Sanduq is one of the absolute best. The owners are two Kashmiri brothers who support a women’s artisan-weaving collective in their home state, and the workmanship is unparalleled. Close by is Sundar Nagar, which is huge. It has a good market and excellent street food. And I buy my jasmine tea buds at the Asia Tea House there.
I’ve been collecting Indian tribal art for 30 years, and I think it is as interesting as the aboriginal art of Australia – the next best thing. Unique Art Gallery represents artists from all around India; I’ve bought a lot over the years here. I also buy from Tunty Chauhan, who owns Threshold Gallery; his stable of emerging artists always impresses me.
I spend about two hours each way getting to my office in Gurgaon from home, but Delhi is in fact a great city for walks. The Mehrauli Archaeological Park is beautiful, full of monuments; you turn any bend in the path, and there’s something to see. It’s what I love more than anything else about Delhi: the city’s many green spaces. I sometimes like to photograph everyday scenes when I’m out walking. By now people are used to me pointing my camera at them. I smile at everyone, which helps.