I first visited India more than 10 years ago, when I spent the summer interning for a local women's rights organisation. I was so excited when I got my placement, I'd been fascinated by the country for years and it was at the very top of my list of places to visit. I was sure I'd love it. Three months later I stepped on a plane feeling defeated and knowing I wouldn't be returning any time soon. India had hit me like a tonne of bricks. It felt chaotic, overwhelming and illogical. My nerves were worn and I was overcome by the cultural differences I'd faced. I was defeated.
Fast forward to last year, and one of Mike's mates mentioned that he'd recently got back from visiting these amazing islands I'd never heard of before. The Andaman Islands. He told us that these chilled out islands had beautiful beaches, great food and cheap beer. On the hunt for inspiration for my first holiday in 18 months I was sold. Of course there was a catch, The Andaman Islands are in India and to reach them we'd need to travel via the mainland, but it was too late, the beach was all I could think about and that felt like pretty good motivation to overcome my decade old issues. I am so glad I did, we had an absolutely amazing time, and I can't wait to share all the details over the next few weeks!
There are no direct flights to the Andaman Islands from the UK, so a stop over on the mainland is a must. We opted to fly into Delhi and spend a few days exploring the city, as well as taking a day trip down to Agra so we could experience the Taj Mahal.
Delhi is an assault on the senses. Shrouded in smog, it's chaotic, messy and noisy The streets feel like a film set, you half expect Daniel Craig to dive out of an ally as Bond on a covert mission, it's overwhelming, stepping out of our hotel people clamoured for our attention, there are requests, offers, questions and with no idea who to trust we're on edge and uneasy. My past experience means I anticipated this, but Mike was knocked by culture shock, India is a special type of crazy.
Delhi is also huge, and at times can feel difficult to navigate. Because we didn't have a lot of time to get our bearings we decided to book a tour that would take in all the sights. We booked a half day walking tour through Viatour.com, although it turned out to be nearly a whole day and with a lot less walking than expected (slightly disappointing, I'd been craving some proper movement!) we did get to see a lot of the city, including some corners we wouldn't have thought to seek out ourselves like a Hindu Temple where we paid respect to Ganesh, which was a lovely experience, the spice market and a traditional flower market with some of the most beautiful smelling roses. As well as the less obvious sights we were also taken to some more iconic ones - The Red Fort, India Gate and the beautiful Lotus Temple. One word to the wise however, don't go on a tour on a Monday, lots of things are closed and can only be admired from the outside!
The second big experience we had in Delhi was a stay at The Imperial, a whole world away from the bustle we'd been exploring. We decided when we booked our trip that we wanted to spend the last night of our holiday somewhere really special, and the Imperial had been mentioned to us by a few different people. One of the most iconic hotels in the city, it is steeped in history and at times feels like it's in a different dimension (you do need to suspend your sense of reality a little when you step through those gates). To get the full experience we arrived early and spent the day exploring the grounds (sadly the pool was out of action), enjoying high tea with an India twist in the stunning Atrium and drinking our way around the hotel's various bars (excellent cocktails) before collapsing into one of the nicest beds I've ever slept in. I threatened to never leave. It was magical, and the perfect way to end our trip.
This really was a flying visit, and I know there's lots we didn't get to experience, but we really enjoyed our stay in Delhi, and I've shared a few of our favourite finds below.
Joyti Mahal - a charming little hotel in the chaotic district of Pahar Ganj, this place is pretty basic but it's clean and tidy and close to the Delhi Metro, which makes getting around the city a lot easier! There's also a good restaurant on the rooftop where you can get a beer.
The Imperial - the most beautiful luxury hotel that feels worlds away from the chaos of Delhi. If staying isn't an option try and visit for afternoon tea or drinks, just to have a nose around (although you may never want to leave).
The Embassy Restaurant - an oasis just off the bustling Connaught Place this place does delicious cheese pakoras and channa dhal. Not the cheapest, but good if you need a time out.
Unplugged Courtyard - again, just off Connaught Place this is where you find the Delhi Hipsters (well, there and Starbucks). There are cocktails, interesting fusion dishes (although you don't really go for the food) and DJs. We spent a couple of evenings hanging out here and really loved the atmosphere.
Fab India - I was introduced to Fab India on my first trip to Delhi and it's my go to for beautiful homeware and clothes. We picked up gorgeous block print bed linen, inlaid coasters and linen shirts for Mike, as well as gifts for family and friends. It isn't the cheapest place (although it is cheaper in country than online), and there's no haggling, but I prefer its understated designs to the more garish stuff you'll find on the tourist trail.
The Bookshop at The Imperial - this little den is packed with interesting and unusual books about India, and a good place to pick up some travel inspiration. The staff are knowledgable and always happy to make a creative suggestion if you're not sure what you're after.