LIVE LIKE A MAHARAJA, Visiting India During Off-Season
By Adrien Field
“Atithi Devo Bhava” is a Sanskrit verse from the Upanishads which translates to “The guest is equivalent to God.” Indians take this message to heart, and exhibit incredible hospitality to visitors.
Visiting India off-season, defined as the summer months between May and September can mean deeply discounted fares on everything from hotels to airfare. Be prepared, however, for extreme temperatures: certain places like Delhi and Jaipur will be unbearably hot. But you can beat the heat by traveling to the North and South of the country, discovering India from top to bottom.
When the mercury in the thermometer is pushing 110 degrees Fahrenheit shortly after sunrise in the summer months, you won’t want to spend much time venturing out. Delhi itself is not the most attractive city for the casual tourist, but it is an excellent perch from which to begin your journey in India.
Situated at the top point of the “Golden Triangle” Delhi completes the tourist triumvirate comprising Agra (the home of the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur, the famous Pink City. Each are a few hours drive away from the capital, depending on variables like passing cow traffic and the fearlessness of your driver.
Within Delhi, there are several places worth visiting: The Lodhi Gardens are home to 15th century ruins spread over 90 serene park acres. There are treasures to be found among the markets of Hauz Khas Village, Lajpat Nagar and Dilli Haat.
Spotlight on Leela Palace
Delhi is a hectic city, full of pollution and noise. For the first time visitor, it can be overwhelming from the moment you step outside Indira Gandhi Airport. The Leela Palace takes away all the stress — you might even forget you’ve spent the better part of twenty-four hours in the air as you step into a BMW or Rolls Royce from its private fleet of cars available for airport transfers.
Opened in 2011, The Leela Palace has set a new standard for luxury in India’s capital. Boasting the largest standard guest sized rooms in Delhi, the Leela offers exceptional world class service and comfort, combining top-notch modern amenities and classical Indian heritage. With its architecture and art inspired by the Mughal dynasty of India’s past, the property will make the guest feel like a modern day Maharaja as you walk down its carpeted corridors scented with fresh floral arrangements.
With four distinct and award winning restaurants, one need not leave the grounds to let the taste buds travel. Megu offers Japanese cuisine with an extensive sake list, Jamavar serves North Indian dishes, The Qube is the spot for continental food and a fantastic breakfast served buffet style. Finally the marquee restaurant is the New York import Le Cirque. Chef Diego Martinelli has come with fifteen years of culinary excellence honed at Four Seasons outposts worldwide. His addition as head chef has infused the menu with inventive dishes — the lucky patrons only need to sit back and let him create a tailored dining experience not soon forgotten.
If you’re feeling frazzled after a day of exploring the city, the Leela is a welcome respite for the senses. Indulge in a spa treatment at the 12,000 square foot ESPA or simply watch the city below from the rooftop infinity pool.
This southern state known in India as “God’s own country” is a veritable Garden of Eden. With unsullied coastlines that stretch for 370 miles and nearly year-round perfect temperatures, it’s a vacationer’s paradise. Unlike the well-established Goa to the north, Kovalam is a lesser-known destination and therefore quieter — you won’t find much of a party scene here, just incredibly lush, tranquil settings to explore. The flight from Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram is four and a half hours and then Kovalam is a short thirty-minute drive.
Backwater sailing is a unique attraction in Kerala and excursions can last for days should you desire to rent a houseboat. Lighthouse Beach is worth a visit for its sandy beaches and boardwalk lined with fresh, inexpensive seafood and tourist shops.
Spotlight on Taj
The Vivanta by Taj is the premiere luxury property in Kovalam. The 10-acre property sits above the bay tucked into a lush hill. The property’s 59 cottages with elephant grass thatched rooftops are located on the hill providing a relaxing atmosphere with ample privacy. Standard rooms are spacious, offering either a garden or sea view, and villas with private lap pools are also available. There is no question of not finding shanti, or peace, in this tropical oasis.
Spend all day down by the beach, lounge by the outdoor pool, or even play a round of golf on the 9-hole putting green. The Jiva Spa offers Ayurvedic treatments that can both relax the outer body and awaken the inner senses. Three dining options are available on-site, including Indian, seafood and continental options.
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
In order to beat the summertime heat of India, you’ll have to travel North into the mountains as the locals do. Shimla once was the summer capital of British India, when the ruling class decamped sweltering Delhi to the Himalayas for cool temperatures. It remains a unique attraction full of history and natural landscapes of unimaginable beauty.
Located 240 miles from Delhi, the best way to reach Shimla is by first flying into Chandigarh then taking a taxi for the remaining four hour passage through winding mountain roads. In this case, the journey really is nearly as great as the destination: at each hold-your-breath, hair-raising turn, the Himalayan views reveal themselves with increasing splendor.
Spotlight on The Oberoi Cecil
The Himalayan foothills of Northern India are full of resort hill stations, but few are as iconic or luxurious as The Oberoi Cecil in Shimla. Set in the foothills of the majestic Himalayas at 2,200 meters above sea level, The Oberoi Cecil is a charming heritage hotel located at the quiet end of Shimla’s famous mall. The restoration of the hotel to its original glory marks the return of gracious living, a tradition exemplified by The Oberoi Cecil since the days of the British Raj. A haven of luxury and comfort, each guest room at The Oberoi Cecil is a reflection of the hotel’s Colonial heritage.
English teas, fine dining at night, log fires, a heated indoor swimming pool, impeccable and personalized service and panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain range, are some highlights of the hotel.
Should you desire to leave your cozy environs, adventure awaits in every direction and the hotel is happy to arrange transportation. A hot sulfur spring is located a two hour’s drive away. Nearby Kufri offers skiing (in the winter months) and yak rides.