Category Archives: India

Mumbai: An unlikely addition to your bucket list

A lot of people come to Mumbai to find a job, make a life or fulfil a dream. But do a lot of people aspire to travel here? Does Mumbai inspire the same kind of awe that Cherrapunji or Spiti Valley do? Probably not, but it’s definitely deserving of a different kind of awe. Because quite simply, there’s no other city like Mumbai. No other place comes with the kind of chaos, tolerance, haste and multitude that this city does. As a tourist, you might balk at the impossible fullness of Mumbai’s trains and the stench of its seedier areas. But peel back the layers and you’ll also find inspiration in its seafront and stories, its history and heart.

The sea

Marine Drive in the rains
Marine Drive at dusk

The Arabian Sea snakes along Mumbai’s coastline, endowing the city with many scenic seaside spots. The queen among them has to be the iconic Marine Drive, immortalised in numerous films, songs and literature. Be it in the wee hours of the morning when the promenade is full of joggers and dog walkers or at the mysterious time of dusk, when the sea shimmers in hues of pink, saffron and indigo, Marine Drive is ceaselessly lovely. If you keep walking along the promenade, you’ll reach Nariman Point, where you can sit in quiet contemplation. Bandra’s Bandstand and Carter Road offer much scope for romancing the sea as well. You can climb down the steps and make your away across slightly slippery rocks to get up close and personal with the waves (unsafe during high tide). If you’re driving, the route along the Bandra Worli Sea Link will leave you awed. You can also get a good view of the entire sea link from Bandra Fort. The beaches at Juhu, Versova and Mahim (Dadar) are also among our favourite slices of Mumbai’s shoreline.

The architecture

CST station, Mumbai lit up in the night
CST station at night

Time has stood still in the arches and domes of South Mumbai’s stately edifices, with a little help from restoration work. The sheer magnificence and detailing of CST station, the erstwhile Victoria Terminus is enough to put the city on your bucket list. For a small fee, you can explore the inner chambers of the station complex and enjoy bird’s eye views of the city. Other heritage buildings in the area include The Times of India building and David Sassoon Library. The entire walkway on either side of D. N. Road feels like a journey through Mumbai’s colonial era. The Gateway of India monument is a short ride away from CST station and an epitome of architectural excellence. From the ferry point, you can enjoy boat rides on the sea and even go up to Alibag or Elephanta Island. The CSMVS and Bhau Daji Lad museums are also treasure troves of fascinating history.

The gardens

Maharashtra Nature Park
Maharashtra Nature Park

We love discovering little havens of natural beauty even in concrete jungles. While Aarey Colony may be under threat due to the imminent metro line, the gardens at Malabar Hill, Powai and Maharashtra Nature Park in Dharavi are still available for a welcome break from urban life. We wish Mumbai had its own version of Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens or London’s Hyde Park but the charming Hiranandani Garden at Powai with little fish ponds, lakes and stone sculpures is a pleasure to visit. And if you like bird-watching and studying bees and butterflies, Maharashtra Nature Park, overlooking the mangroves of Mithi River is a must-visit. We’ve also spent many cheerful evenings at Kamala Nehru Park and The Hanging Gardens at Malabar Hill.

The shrines

Mount Mary Church, Bandra, Mumbai
Mount Mary Church

Mumbai was, is and will always be a wonderful amalgamation of different cultures, communities, tongues and faiths. One of the best ways to get a sense of the city’s culture is to visit its picturesque temples, churches and mosques. The Haji Ali Dargah situated off the coast of Worli is one of the oldest and best known shrines in the city. Mount Mary Church in Bandra is another well-known landmark, especially during Christmas and the annual Bandra Fair. The seaside Mahalakshmi Temple and ISKCON Temple in Juhu are worth visiting for their beautiful architecture and spiritual significance. We also love exploring little known churches in the by-lanes of South Mumbai.

Need to know

Things to do in Mumbai - history, architecture

Eat: Streets take on a special significance in the Maximum City, for that’s where its residents come to shop, and that’s where they come for a flavourful bite. Mumbai’s street food specialities include vada pav, a kind of potato burger, pav bhaji, which is a gravy eaten with buttered Indian buns and various kinds of ‘chaat’ such as bhel, pani puri, sev puri, ragda pattice and dahi puri. If you’re worried about hygiene, try these at small-sized restaurants such as Som at Chowpatty.

Shop: Colaba Causeway has been our saviour since college days for its selection of pocket-friendly, yet trendy clothing, shoes, bags and accessories. Linking Road at Bandra is another option if you’re in the suburbs. But if you’re looking for speciality or bulk items, Crawford Market is your best bet. Here, you’ll find everything from cooking chocolate to decoration items and party masks.

Stay: There are several hotels in Mumbai to suit every budget, as well as homestays and guesthouses. The city is home to several luxurious five star hotels such as ITC Maratha near the airport and ITC Grand Central at Parel. These luxury collection hotels offer fascinating glimpses into Mumbai’s Maratha past and British colonisation and special weekend offers for staycations.

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The curative power of friends and a good breakfast

Somehow, pancakes and eggs do a much better job of soothing ruffled feathers than pasta or biryani

If you really love someone, meet them over breakfast (and that includes yourself). Don’t be weighed down by the carbohydrates of a heavy lunch or the illusory high of drinks at dinner. Allow good conversation, a sunny table and honeyed pancakes to infuse freshness into your life and spirit. And a nice double espresso can do wonders to bring you back to the pleasant present. You smile, you laugh and you learn to live in joy for the rest of the day.

I’ve had some of the best breakfasts in my home city – Mumbai. Be it brun maska and mawa cake at an Irani café or croissants and coconut crepes at a French one, the city has always filled my belly with good food and my soul with utter contentment. My best friends are also my favourite breakfast buddies. Over forkfuls of syrupy waffles and inappropriately large bites of basil and mozzarella sandwich, we nudge each other to offer up our dreams, secrets and pet philosophies. And they add their own unique flavour to the dishes.

Sometimes, I breakfast with a pen and book instead. We’ll bond over hot chocolate and talk to each other in verses, with nothing to interrupt us save a twittering bird or an interesting song. Books are just like people in that they both get consumed into your own self, altering you ever so slightly. And with both, you learn a different nuance every time you do a reading.

Whether your preferred breakfast company is of the breathing or the bound kind, here are twelve cafes and restaurants in Mumbai that won’t disappoint. Each one has a special place in my memories and all have borne witness to minor mutations in my view of life.

  1. St. Xavier’s canteen: Chocolate croissants, illicit affairs and struggling to fit in

But after a while, I simply stopped struggling. I wasn’t ready yet, to stop being a child and start being a ‘cool’ teenager and that was all right. I spent my days reading, writing, studying French and learning HTML, while my peers found boyfriends, bunked classes and auditioned for plays. I learnt that it is possible to be content doing things that are different from the norm.

P.S.: I don’t know if they still serve soft, warm croissants oozing with dark chocolate sauce. But back in 2005-06, they were legendary. And they only cost 15 rupees!

  1. Cha Bar, Oxford Bookstore: Exotic teas and the reassuring fragrance of books

Cafes in bookstores are one of the best inventions of our time (assuming they didn’t exist until the 20th century). You find a table, a book finds you and good tea keeps watch while you’re wrapped up in each other. Cha Bar was my first introduction to gourmet tea (I was pursuing my graduation then). One sip of their Kashmiri Kahwa could make me feel as elite as the crisp sari-clad artist at the next table.

Honorary mentions: Markiv’s Café for coffee and croissants, 210 Degrees for decadent pastries

  1. Gaylord Café: Kona coffee and wrought iron chairs

All I have are happy memories of this outdoor café, attached to one of the oldest restaurants of the area (Churchgate). Good friends, new friends, books, pens and solitude – I’ve brought them all to this place and they’ve all left happier and more caffeinated. My only grouse is that they’ve discontinued the fluffy whole wheat muffins.

Must try: Chocolate tart, tea cakes and muffins

  1. Food for Thought, Kitab Khana: Dark chocolate, apple tea and flavoured cupcakes

I finished reading the lion’s share of ‘Sophie’s World’, a fictionalised guide to philosophy, at this café in a bookstore. Whatever the temperature outside, I could never get enough of their perfectly sweet and tart apple tea. And their hot chocolate was as dark and murky as the mysterious portions in my book. Also, delicious as sin.

Tip: Have the cupcakes, priced at just Rs. 50 each (as of 2016)

  1. Suzette’s Creperie: Feeling French, watching people and passing time

I’ve been to two of their outlets. The one at Bandra has al fresco seating, which I love. The one at Nariman Point is smaller and stuffier, but dear to my heart for it has often helped me play the waiting game. Owned by a French woman named Suzette (but of course), the crepes here are perfection – both sweet and savoury varieties. I’ve met some forgettable people in those days (early working days) but perhaps the café remembers.

Honorary mention: Candies at Bandra (the one at Pali Hill), for its ample space and salad buffet

  1. Starbucks, Fort: Space, solitude and freedom

The only problem is their beverages are too light and lukewarm. On the plus side, the food is scrumptious – special mention to the chocolate muffin and paneer sandwich. This is the largest Starbucks I’ve seen and the area upstairs assures undisturbed privacy, not to mention an interesting view of the people downstairs. The best part is you can sit for hours without ordering anything new – perfect for getting work done. I’ve had some great business meetings at this Starbucks as well – I guess it’s lucky for me.

Honorary mention: The sea-facing Costa Coffee at Carter Road, Bandra offers breezy climes and a relaxing view

  1. Kyani & Co: Snobbish Irani café with humble pricing

You could eat and drink at this iconic Irani café for as low as 50 rupees but the waiters would have you believe otherwise. Be prepared for dismissive (bordering on rude) service and waiters who vanish before you’ve even finished speaking. But the mawa cakes, custard, tarts, puffs and tea make up for all of it. It’s strange but Kyani is special to me through a friend, who has enjoyed many lonesome breakfasts here and shared their accounts with me.

  1. Grandmama’s Café: A happy place where you’ll never go hungry

If ever you feel like the clouds in your life are obscuring all the rainbows, head to Grandmama’s Café. There are three outlets in the city (as of today) and all of them sport cheery interiors that are full of light. The menu is choc-a-bloc with waffles, pancakes, salads, eggs, sandwiches and pastries. Take a bite of their vanilla pancake, served with cinnamon fruit compote, vanilla ice-cream and maple syrup and contemplate the joy of existence. I was at their Dadar outlet with a friend yesterday and I can still hear the music – classic oldies played at just the right volume.

  1. The Nutcracker: Eggy goodness in a kitschy café

There isn’t much space here, so find a table quickly and order as much as you can stomach. Everything here is uber tasty and often heavy, so make this a brunch rather than breakfast. I travelled for over an hour to make it here for breakfast on a Sunday morning, but it was worth it, for the curative powers of friends and a good breakfast.

  1. Khar Social: Heaven in a tray, and drinks if you’d like them too

I have only a small number of close friends, so every other café/restaurant on this list reminds me of the same person. Memories of cheery conversations rush back, but I can remember exact experiences and weather details. Happiness isn’t all that easy to forget. By day, the Socials (there are several) are bright and lively breakfast joints. By night, they are bars that attract a youngish crowd.

I loved: Kiran’s Big Apple breakfast with pancakes, Oreos, fries, scrambled eggs and toast, all for Rs 280

  1. Annapurna Restaurant, Matunga: Give in to all your dosa idli fantasies

It’s tough to pick a favourite in a locality that’s dotted with authentic Udupi restaurants but Annapurna is special, for this is where my parents and I shared plates of perfectly prepared idli sambhar, uttapam and pineapple sheera after a hectic day of wedding shopping. I’m a Tam-Brahm with regular access to South Indian delicacies but I still don’t tire of tucking into Mysore masala dosas at restaurants. I think it’s all about the coconut chutney for me.

Honorary mention: Ram Ashraya, near the station

  1. Aaswad, Dadar: Quintessential Marathi fare in an artsy, air-conditioned ambience

I love a good Maharashtrian breakfast and Dadar is the best place in the city to get it. A few years ago, an acquaintance and I went searching for the famous Aaswad. It was unimaginably crowded, and after a 15 minute wait, we managed to get a table. “Be quick,” the waiter’s eyes seemed to signify. Poha, sabudana upma, missal pav and kothimbir vadi – this restaurant spins magic with everything on the menu. And you get to look at local art while you eat.

Go, meet a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Treat them to waffles and fresh juice. And enjoy the way their face breaks into a smile.

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Delhi in 48 hours

Cover the lion’s share of New Delhi’s architectural marvels, garden paradises and culinary secrets over an exciting weekend.

If you find yourself in India’s regal capital city for just 48 hours, fret not. While you may not be able to explore every single landmark of Delhi, you can get more than just a taste of its atmospheric Mughal-era monuments and stately government headquarters.

Day 1

Parliament, Ministries & President’s House

Rashtrapati Bhavan

The Sansad Marg area, bordering the Southern Ridge Forest is a beautiful quiet neighbourhood full of manicured gardens and palatial political abodes manned by tight security. Citizens are free to stroll across the area and gawk at the magnificent Rashtrapati Bhavan, which serves as the President’s house, the Parliament of India and the Defence and Home Ministries, fronted by lovely fountains that serve as a great backdrop for photos. Yes, you can pose for pictures as long as you don’t cross the barricades. One thing to note is that vehicles cannot be parked in this area so it’s better to park elsewhere and come to Sansad Marg on foot, or keep driving around for a good view.

India Gate

India Gate

As you drive along Rajpath Marg, you’ll see the famous arch of India Gate slowly coming into view, until you’re at its very doorstep. The war memorial pays homage to the 82000 soldiers of the Indian Army who died between 1914 and 1921 during the First World War. Their names are inscribed on one side of the arch. Around the main arch, you’ll also find clusters of bright flowers, gardens, a fountain and minaret. Beneath India Gate is the Amar Jawan Jyoti, or the Flame of the Immortal Soldier, which has served as India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since 1971.

Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun's Tomb

This is one of the most beautiful monuments in Delhi and deserves a detailed exploration. The stunning main structure may remind you of the Taj Mahal but here, the marble is interspersed with red stone and the turrets have azure tips. The tomb is housed inside this structure and there are various chambers and doorways that demand examination. Remember to look up, for the domed ceiling is surrounded by intricate latticed windows. There are many other tombs housed inside lovely structures in the Humayun’s Tomb garden complex. The octagonal Isa Khan Tomb enclosure predates Humayun’s Tomb by 20 years and is incredibly detailed as well.

Agrasen ki Baoli

Agrasen ki Baoli

This historical stepwell on Hailey Road has 108 steps and is made of red sandstone. Possibly named after the wealthy Agrawal community, the protected monument offers a stunning view from above. If you’re the adventurous kind, you may undertake the journey to its far-off depths, where bat nests and the dank smell typical of underground places await you. You can circle the stepwell at every level, admiring the inner arches.

Red Fort

Red Fort

End your first day in Delhi with a visit to the iconic Red Fort and perhaps a sound and light show at dusk. The fort complex is vast (over 250 acres) with over a dozen important structures that are often far apart, so be prepared for a lot of walking. You’ll often see eagles circling over the tall red sandstone towers, while happy tourists walk beneath the curved arches. Not all the structures inside the complex are red; some are pure white with grey patches due to age. On the pillars, you’ll often see Islamic style floral motifs. Don’t miss the Freedom-Struggle Museum, which lets you walk back in time to India’s fight for independence.

Akshardham Temple

Akshardham Temple
Courtesy: Pixabay

In case you decide not to go for any sound and light show (there’s a good one at Purana Qila as well), you can drive to the outskirts of Delhi to visit the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, the largest Hindu temple in the world. The opulence and perfection of this temple complex cannot possibly be described in words. Walking around its pools that reflect the surrounding towers is a sublime experience. For a fee, one can enjoy a cultural boat ride, watch the Sahaj Anand water show, visit the three exhibitions and the sunken lotus garden. Photography is prohibited.

Day 2

Qutub Minar

Qutub Minar

The sprawling Qutub Complex, a captivating melange of ruins, gardens, tombs and temples houses the Qutub Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world. You’ll have to walk quite a distance to get the entire minaret in your frame! Seen from up close, the minaret has various inscriptions in Arabic and Nagari characters, which tell the story of its origin. Other landmarks in the Qutub Complex include the Alai Darwaza, Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosquem, Tomb of Iltutmish, Ala-ud-din khalji Tomb and Alai Minar.

National Rail Museum

National Rail Museum

A one of its kind museum of trains and everything related to them, the Rail Museum is a wonderland for children and adults who are fascinated by vintage engines. You can walk among displays of actual steam locomotives built by different companies with placards displaying the details of their mechanics and lifespan. There is also a musical fountain, indoor museum and cafeteria at the museum. The interactive indoor museum is excellently built, featuring many games and quizzes that encourage you to explore India’s fascinating rail history.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

At first sight, Jantar Mantar looks like a collection of interestingly shaped structures that seem to be oddly spiritual in nature. But it’s actually a set of 18th century observatories constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh II, a keen lover of astronomy. There are four main yantras, housed within six structures. Back in the day (around 1724 AD), these instruments gave quiet precise readings and enabled Jai Singh II to prepare a revised set of astronomical tables.

Lodi Gardens

Lodi Gardens

This impossibly vast garden and monument complex replete with storybook lakes, architectural marvels, lush foliage and rich biodiversity will truly charm your soul. While locals come here to walk, play, perform yoga, feed the swans or engage in bird-watching and photography, the tourist in you will be drawn to the three-domed Bara Gumbad Mosque full of Arabesque stucco decorations and paintings. Then there are the tombs of Muhammad Shah and Sikander Lodi, after whom the gardens are named. Watching the sun set beyond the Sheesh Gumbad is an ethereal experience.

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple Delhi

End your two-day tour of Delhi with a visit to the lotus-shaped Baha’i Temple, a place of worship with no affinity to any one religion. 27 free-standing marble-clad ‘petals’ were arranged in triads to form nine sides and construct the temple. The temple complex is spread across 26 acres and includes nine pools and serene gardens. Though it’s not open to visitors at night, the temple looks arresting from the outside when it’s lit up.

Fact file

Stay: Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon and Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport are convenient options for touring Delhi as they offer top-notch five star facilities, city tours in luxury cars and classy accommodation with excellent views. Both hotels have in-house spas where skilled masseurs can bring solace to your tired feet after a hectic day of sight-seeing.

Eat: Bella Italia, a cheerful Italian restaurant with woody interiors and kitschy wall art is a great option for lunch or dinner. Wildfire at Gurgaon is a part of the international chain of gourmet Brazilian restaurants and a must-visit for meat lovers. Enjoy a quick lunch buffet at Vito or Café G and evening drinks at Hangar, an aviation-themed bar in Delhi and Connexions, a 24 hour bar in Gurgaon.

Shop: A trip to Delhi is incomplete without a visit to Delhi Haat, famous for its collection of Punjabi juttis, jewellery, dress material and other artefacts.

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Delhi in 48 hours

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Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon: Artful excellence

It’s proving particularly difficult for me to write about Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon. Frankly, the hotel has SO many redeeming qualities that I really don’t know where to begin. Should I start by describing its arty, renovated avatar with cutting edge interiors, a revolving art exhibition and a calming fountain outside the all-day restaurant that comes alive with mesmerising colours in the night? Or perhaps, I should introduce you to its legacy of winning awards every single year and the fact that it is the flagship hotel of the Intercontinental Hotels Group in South Asia, owing to its consistent excellence. But I guess I’ve already plunged into my review of Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon. It’s one of the best five star hotels I’ve stayed at, not just in India but the entire world. But rather than focusing on my experience, let’s assume that you’re the lucky one visiting Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon. Want to know how it all plays out? Read on, and don’t forget to share and comment!

View from my room at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
The view from your room, at night

You walk in.

You’ve probably driven down from the airport (which is only 30min away), or been chauffeured in a luxury Toyota Camri by the hotel. Either way, you don’t fail to smile when you encounter Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon. There’s a plush purple couch next to the reception (perfect for photos!), lots of grey and purple seating and smooth marble flooring. Tall wooden pillars balance the interiors with a touch of warmth. Beyond the transparent walls, you see water cascading over lovely green hexagonal structures, interspersed by miniature palm trees. It’s always nice to see flashes of green, even inside a hotel. Presently, the concierge tells you your room is ready. You quickly finish your iced welcome drink and proceed to the elevator.

Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
The hotel, as seen from the outside

You take in your room.

If you’re smart, you’ve asked for a seventh floor room, which is right at the top of the hotel. You walk down a narrow carpeted corridor, open the door, and breathe in sharply at the loveliness of the room. A large double bed with fluffy pillows and beautiful maroon cushions, wooden boarded flooring, wide flat screen television, ecru couch, writing desk and French windows that extend across the entire wall are laid out before you. The curtains are remote-controlled, you note. You watch them swish back slowly at the press of a button. The view outside is breath-taking, Gurgaon’s crisscrossing flyovers and skyscrapers in the distance and closer home, a long blue pool, surrounded by umbrellas and deck chairs closer home.

Room at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
Your digs for the night!

Table lamps on either side of the bed swathe the room in a mellow golden glow, while a floral painting at the back helps settle your mind. On the table, you spot some fruit, cookies, chocolates and almonds with a welcome note. You almost missed that, didn’t you? You peek into the tea and coffee chest and there are several gourmet varieties such as hibiscus, chamomile, lemon Darjeeling and masala tea waiting to be tried. The bathroom has its own story to tell. A sweet bathtub promises to soothe you after a day of hectic sightseeing and a bundle of Biotique toiletries lie beside the washbasin. But it is the remote-controlled Toto toilet that captures your attention the most. There are buttons to umm, clean and dry your rear and many pressure options. This is luxury on a whole new level, you think. Now it’s time to drop your bags and lie down on that bed with some soft music. There’s even a speaker that you can connect your phone or music player to.

You look around at the hotel.

Swimming pool at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
You’re going to enjoy swimming here

Eventually, you do wake up. And you want to know what the rest of this place looks like. You take the elevator and go to the ground floor, where the doorman greets you with a ‘good morning ma’am’. You smile back and start walking aimlessly, stopping at whatever catches your fancy. A lot of things do. Connexions, the 24 hour bar looks really interesting from the outside, with its multiple level seating, wide bar top and Glenlivet display. Further ahead, you take a left and encounter a series of paintings propped on easels. You enquire about them later and realise that they can be bought too. You take the elevator to go to the first level and survey the pool, spa and gym. The pool is temperature controlled but most of the foreign guests are simply sunbathing on the deck chairs. Unlike those in most hotels, the gym appears to be extremely busy. You duck out quickly, so as not to disturb the members. The manager tells you that it’s open 24 hours a day and has around 80 members. Body Zone, the spa, has an enticing menu of therapies and you decide to give in to temptation later. There’s also a nice lounge with computers and charging ports for club members.

Fountain at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
The fountain at night

You sample the buffet at Café G.

All the walking around has made you really hungry and it’s time for a spot of luncheon, as the British would say. Café G is really one of the warmest restaurants you’ve seen, full of cheery, knowledgeable staff, a variety of counters ranging from ‘make your own salad’ to Indian, Japanese, Thai and of course, desserts in an attractive glass cabinet. The seating space is divided into two areas, the first being closer to the band currently performing while the upper level is cosier and offers more intimacy. Guests also have the option of sitting outdoors for the cool and breezy weather (or smoking alongside your meal). There are cushiony sofas as well as chairs and you obviously choose a chair – well because you don’t like to recline when you eat! The chef says their teppanyaki noodles are really special so you place an order for the vegetarian version. In the meanwhile, you pick up some sushi and pile on steamed rice and yellow Thai curry onto your plate.

Cafe G at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
Cafe G

You sit outside, watching the fountain while you eat. The server comes around every now and then, plying you with healthful juices, cappuccino and whatnot. Eventually, the noodles arrive and they’re as delicious as promised. The Thai curry is authentic, spicier than the Indianised versions restaurants here normally dish up. And you’d have had a second helping of sushi if you didn’t need to reserve space for dessert. You try the chocolate mousse in a jar (rich, smooth and truly divine) and a slice of red velvet cake (fluffy and light). They put you in the mood for a good, long siesta!

Teppanyaki noodles at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
Teppanyaki noodles

You indulge in a spa.

You make an appointment for a 60 minute brightening and whitening facial (around Rs 5500 with taxes) after perusing the list of facials, massages and salon treatments that are available at the spa. The petite therapist asks you to lie down on a bed in a dimly lit room. There’s light music and as you vaguely feel her cleansing, scrubbing, steaming, massaging, exfoliating and coating your face in a pack, you tune out and enter a kind of relaxed stupor. The best parts are when she cleans your face with a warm towel. You decide to try that out when you’re home. You have no idea how an entire hour passes under her able hands. At the end, she asks you to wash your face thoroughly and towel. A sparkly new face gazes back at you in the mirror. You walk away with a spring in your step.

You want a drink.

Drinks at Connexions, the bar at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
Drinks and something to munch on

Finally, it’s that time of the day when you can rightfully walk into a bar and ask for a stiff one, on the rocks. Connexions has a live performance on every other night and you just got lucky. You could sit at the lower level for a good view of the cricket match on TV, perch on a bar stool or proceed to the upper level for swankier seating. You can get anything you want here but whiskies are their speciality – they have 108 varieties! So you get yourself a good glass of scotch and watch the evening melt into the night.

You’re ready for dinner.

Wildfire restaurant at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
The view from your table

Are you now? Then it’s time to experience the inimitable churrasco (Brazilian barbeque) experience at Wildfire, part of the international chain of gourmet Brazilian and Italian restaurants. The rich brown and gold interiors lend a dramatic flair to this restaurant, in keeping with the flamboyant style of serving the barbeques. Soup and salad is available at a buffet counter and you enjoy a bowl of excellent potato and leek soup while you await the barbeque. The server comes to your table with your choice of meat, fruit or vegetable on a sizzling skewer from which you pick your portion with a pair of tongs. The food is fresh, succulent and flavourful. For vegetarians, the choice is between cheesy broccoli, fresh mushrooms and honeyed pineapple, which also makes for a great dessert. Wildfire has an enviable wine list as wine goes best with the Brazilian treats they serve. You decide to try the Ti Amo Prosecco and polish off an entire bottle with the meal.

On your way to your room, you catch a glimpse of the banquet hall decked up for someone’s wedding. It’s nothing short of a dream come true.

Banquet hall at Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon
Banquet hall

Ready to book?

Have I enticed you enough with the artful excellence of Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon? If you’re heading to that part of India, you simply must experience their hospitality. And if not, schedule a trip in spring (March) and soak in the splendour of the National Capital Region (NCR) with Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon’s full day city tours. Click here to book your stay.

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Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport: Review

On my third visit to India’s regal capital city, I had the good fortune of staying at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport, a four star hotel popular among frequent business travellers. While the spacious rooms and stellar service make this hotel an obvious choice for those wishing to stay near the airport, what truly impressed me was the quality of their Lea Spa and Salon; Hangar, the innovative aviation-themed bar and the gourmet fare on offer at Bella Italia, their Italian restaurant.

Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
The reception area

The neighbourhood

Aero City is only 3 km away from Indira Gandhi International Airport and we reached Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport in less than ten minutes. The locality is choc-a-bloc with airport hotels and you’ll see a lot of foreigners walking around. Since it’s away from the hustle and bustle of the main city, it’s perfectly safe to go for a stroll and admire the paintings adorning many of the walls.

A lavish pool-view room

The swanky reception area with its installation featuring the monuments of Delhi (see featured image) and the supine stone head on a couch raised my expectations. My room on the second floor definitely lived up to them. There was no verandah or bath tub, but there was a lovely couch, huge television, writing desk, a three-way shower for ultimate pampering, toiletries from my favourite brand Biotique and a marvellous view of the swimming pool below.

Rooms at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
My room on the second floor

Best of all, a platter of strawberries dipped in chocolate, hand-made chocolates, cookies and a basket of assorted fruits awaited my attention. The mini bar was stocked with tons of snacks, soft drinks and beer. I enjoyed a good night’s sleep in my room after a wonderful Balinese massage (more about that later) and dinner at Vito, the all-day restaurant. And in the morning, Delhi revealed itself to me in all its soft, foggy splendour. Spring is really the best time to be in the city of Mughals.

Pool view room at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
The view from my room in the wee hours of the morning

All-day dining at Vito

Vito is the bright and cheerful all-day dining option at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport. Located behind the reception area, it has both a buffet and an la carte menu for lunch and dinner. The variety is not very extensive but you can always ask the chef to prepare anything you like. I loved the sweet corn soup (pictured below) and the masala papad rolls served in shot glasses filled with chutney. Since the hotel hosts several Japanese guests, there is a Ramen and sauteed vegetables section as well both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Vito restaurant, Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
Papad, served with a twist

I enjoyed my breakfast at Vito much more (it’s anyway my favourite meal of the day). There’s an attractive pastry counter for those who love their croissants and muffins and an array of Indian options as well. I liked the idlis, poha and masala dosa. There are also fresh juices, cold coffee and flavoured yoghurt on offer. My advice – ask for a tall mug of cappuccino, find a table facing the outdoors and plan your day ahead. The hotel arranged an excellent eight-hour city tour for me in a comfortable Innova.

Soup at Vito, Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
The sweet corn soup was a definite winner

Balinese massage at Lea Spa & Salon

The highlight of my stay at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport was without a doubt, the hour long Balinese massage session (Rs 3500) at Lea Spa & Salon, followed by a luxuriant sauna, shower and Jacuzzi. My masseur Malli Mahato was very adept with her technique and use of pressure. Prior to the session, I filled a form stating my areas of concern (such as neck, shoulders or back) and the desired pressure (gentle or strong). The massage room was dimly lit with faint, relaxing music. Malli asked me at regular intervals if everything was as per my preference.

Lea Spa & Salon, Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
A couples massage room

It was a full body massage with adequate attention to every part, including the face and scalp. The oil was a little difficult to wash off but the steam helped. Lying in the Jacuzzi tub relaxed me completely and I felt like a whole new person when I’d toweled and changed back into my clothes. I was offered some refreshing green tea after the spa, along with a bottle of water. The best time for this spa session is before dinner, so you can soak in its benefits over a restful night’s sleep.

Hangar, the aviation-themed bar

Hangar, the bar at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
The bar is open in the evening

A good bar needs character and Hangar has oodles of it. You can spend hours examining the real airplane parts on display on the walls and the tables. Almost like a mini-museum, the bar has a large amount of seating space with many attractive nooks and couches and even a large smoking area with its own television set and seating. The service is quick and there’s a decent food menu for small bites so if you’re not too hungry, you could just end the day at Hangar and skip dinner. The music includes the latest English hits and dress code is smart casuals (not too many turn up in shorts and t-shirt).

Hangar bar at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
Real airplane parts on display, including the infamous black box

Gourmet food at Bella Italia

While Vito is multi-cuisine, Bella Italia is a dedicated Italian restaurant with top-notch salads, pizzas and pastas on the menu. The wooden interiors feel very welcoming and the kitschy wall art depict various facets of Italian culture. There is a lot of colour here and interesting touches to the interiors, including brick-patterned walls and mosaic tiled flooring. We noticed an upstairs seating area as well but it didn’t seem to be operational.

Bella Italia restaurant at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
Stunning interiors

Coming to the food, we ordered a salad, pizza, dessert and cocktails. The server recommended the salad over a portion of garlic bread, and I’m glad we complied. Misticanza was a delightful concoction of romaine lettuce, rocket leaves, frisee lettuce with cherry tomatoes, ample goats’ cheese, walnut, creamy avocado and balsamic dressing. The walnut provided crunch and the avocado and cheese practically melted in my mouth. We were provided a complimentary portion of bread and dip, which was so tasty we couldn’t help finishing it all.

Pizza at Bella Italia, Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
A close look at my pizza

The pizza list isn’t extensive but everything is beyond perfection. We had the Campagna, a vegetarian pizza topped with red pepper, red onion, mozzarella, goats’ cheese, tomatoes, rocket leaves, pine nuts and a sweet balsamic glaze. I’m fond of pizzas that have sweet overtones and the pine nuts were a unique addition. My sparkly Bella Bellini, a delicious combination of Prosecco, peach puree and peach Schnapps kept me company while I worked my way through the food. I didn’t have much room for dessert, which is why the ‘dessert shots‘ were a lifesaver. For Rs 300, you can have any two shots. I had an orange cheesecake shot and a caramel chocolate mousse shot and both were exceptional.

Bella Italia restaurant at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
As seen from the upper level

Good to know

The hotel also has a fully-equipped fitness centre with a great view of the pool and peppy music. If you have children along, you’ll be happy to know that kids under 12 stay and eat for free at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport. With a banquet hall that can accommodate 450 people and a total of 265 rooms, the hotel is also a great MICE and wedding venue. For added luxury, check into one of the 13 suites at the hotel. Rooms start at around Rs 7000 per night and for bookings, you can head over here.

Fitness centre at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport
Fitness centre

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Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport: Review