New Delhi is the capital of India, just one of Delhi City’s eleven districts. Mostly tourists land in Delhi and travel directly on to the Taj Mahal, about four hours away. But there is so much to do and see in Delhi, it’s deservedly having a moment right now. I fly from London – about eight and a half hours – and having spent so much time here over the years, working with our wonderful studio team there, feel like I am coming home. I stay at the Oberoi Palace, where the staff are as wonderful as almost everyone else you meet in the city and the wonderful people I work with– warm, courteous and helpful.
New Delhi, the administrative capital and seat of government, was laid out by British architect Edwin Lutyens (he began the design in 1912), with wide, grand avenues, a central marketplace and of course, the massive, magnificent Viceroy’s House, set in 4,000 acres. It was finally finished in 1929, and since 1950 and India’s independence from the British Empire, has been known as the President’s Palace, or “Rashtrapati”.
Edwin Lutyens, one of 13 children, whose mother Mary was from Cork, was usually called Ned. (The newest grand hotel in East London, in a building he designed, is called The Ned). Ned had a reputation as a wonderful party guest (and counted among his Irish friends doctor and writer Oliver St John Gogarty and painter William Orpen. I adore that he had his own word for fun: “vivreations” .
Lutyens’s war memorial garden at Islandbridge in Dublin is famous of course. He also remodelled the 16th-century castle on Lambay Island, off the coast of north County Dublin, once owned by the Barings Bank family. He designed a “cottage” in Co Galway, to which the director of the White Star Line retreated after the sinking of the Titanic, and also Heywood House in Co Laois, whose gardens he designed with legendary British gardener Gertrude Jekyll. So as I move around New Delhi, and see his work everywhere, I think of these interesting Irish connections.
In New Delhi, excellent restaurants and boutique hotels are opening and an interesting creative scene is emerging. Museums and monuments reflect the melting pot of cultures and religions from India’s past. The amazing Humayun’s Tomb, a Unesco World Heritage Site, built in 1570 for a Mughal emperor, took my breath away – it’s said to have inspired the Taj Mahal. Gandhi Smitri, where Gandhi spent the final months of his life, and was assassinated in 1948, is now a small but fascinating house-museum. Delhi is full of markets selling carpets, saris and jewellery. But shopping in markets can be very stressful. At the government-backed Central Cottage Industries Emporium, prices are fixed and the traditional artisan product there is good quality (and the traders are less intrusive!)
The trendiest neighbourhood in New Delhi right now is Hauz Khas, where the artists and creatives who are resident there have had a hand in setting up bars, music venues and cafes. The elegance of the Oberoi might be more in my line but it’s fun to see this side of the city – and a buzzing creative scene. After all, it’s the marriage of traditional skills and a fashion forward attitude which will ensure the survival of India’s exceptional artisan industries. And that makes me very happy indeed.