India’s capital is renowned for its bustling markets, colonial and Mughal architecture and the culture shock it gives travellers who fly into Delhi as their first stop in a trip around India. Rachael Lindsay, travelling alone, hopped on a flight to Delhi to check out a heritage hotel there, the Haveli Hauz Khas…
As a woman travelling solo, I think it is fair to say that I was a little nervous about Delhi. Tales of travellers being scammed filled my mind as I took the flight over. But, as contradictions are what India is all about, I was also excited about discovering some ancient sites and learning more about the art-filled guesthouse I would be staying at, the Haveli Hauz Khas.
This little guesthouse, with only five rooms, is owned by an ex-army officer and his wife, and run day-to-day by their very helpful and knowledgeable son. It is based in Hauz Khas, a creative area of South Delhi full of designer boutiques and trendy restaurants along its tiny cobbled streets. This area is much calmer and quieter than the infamously bustling Old Delhi or the traveller-haunt of Pahaganj. And thus, a nicer way to ease into the madness and mayhem of India.
I touch down in the capital and feel immediately reassured when I see my driver waiting for me and we chat about India for the entire half-hour journey to the hotel. Although it might seem like a small thing, a bad taxi experience can make for an awful first impression of India and as I arrive late in the evening, I feel both safe and informed with a ride arranged by the hotel.
After several hours of travel, I sleep like a baby in my huge bed in my ‘Hampi’ room. The design and decor of each room is inspired by a different place in India, and, for my room, the inspiration is the Hampi caves in Karnataka, a UNESCO site which was once the capital of the Vijayanagar empire. Other options are the stunning Banni room, based on the Banni handicraft region in Gujarat, with vibrant oranges and pinks, or the Neem room, based on the flowering trees of India, with stunning views onto the greenery below.
With soft blues, pretty Indian embroidery and a huge bathroom with walk-in shower and marble fittings, I feel very pampered in the Hampi room. I am immediately drawn to the black and white photographs on my wall, all of which were taken by the owners and feature different beauty spots throughout India. The art and photography continues into the living space, filled with antiques, wall hangings and rather fascinating lamp holders.
When I wake, I am treated to a lavish breakfast of fresh mango and papaya, fruit juice, tea and stuffed parathas. A traditional Indian breakfast or snack food, parathas are a sort of savoury pancake stuffed with potato, and are usually eaten with yoghurt and spicy lime pickle. I indulge in three before heading out into the capital, and they are all hot, crispy and delicious.
As it is only a short metro ride from the guesthouse, I spend the morning exploring the splendour of Qutub Minar with its tallest minaret in the world made from bricks. It is renowned as one of the masterpieces of Indo-Muslim art and is the perfect compliment to my heritage hotel experience. The afternoon is devoted to Humayun’s Tomb with its Persian artistry and symmetrical gardens.
A long day of sightseeing leaves me hungry, but luckily the hotel is in Hauz Khas, where fantastic food options abound. I opt for Hauz Khas Social and enjoy spicy lentil curry with naan overlooking the Deer Park lake. The next morning I get on with some work at the Kunzum Travel Cafe which has a great policy of donation-payment for unlimited coffee and snacks. The Hauz Khas complex itself is more than worth a stroll, with its medieval madrassa, tombs, mosque and giant lake. It is also a great place to go for a jog – although the heat meant this was out of the question for me!
Back at the guesthouse, I discover that the owners have written several books and are working on a new one, focussed on the diverse architectural styles of India. I flick through the stunning colour photos of each book, and spot various objets d’art and photos which appear around the hotel too. The family’s enthusiasm for Indian heritage and history is infectious and it really whets my appetite for the weeks of travel throughout India I have ahead.
I would recommend Hauz Khas as one of the safest and most hassle-free areas of the city for solo female travellers and families, and the Haveli Hauz Khas as the ideal haven of comfort and peace in this area. The staff are incredibly polite and helpful, and are there at the beck and call of guests, something which can be difficult to find in India. Yet the hospitality is not intrusive and feels a world away from the hassle and intensity you can find in some Delhi streets. You can of course grab the metro to launch into this side of Delhi if you so wish, then be back in time for tea and a nap at the guesthouse.
Safety and comfort are not traded in for authenticity, however, as this guesthouse has all the charm of a family home along with with art, history and heritage finds gathered from all over India. It is the very best way to start your travels in India; you get lots and lots of culture, without so much of the shock.
Rooms at the Haveli Hauz Khas start at £49 per room per night on single occupancy. For more information visit: havelihauzkhas.com.