[The following is a guest post by Lalit Chadha, Director at MCI Group for New Delhi, India]
New Delhi, the capital city of the world’s largest democracy, is a city state functioning much like Washington, DC. Being landlocked, it could never aspire to the cosmopolitan status of say a Mumbai, London or New York until the early 2000s. Today, Delhi is the world’s second largest metropolitan area with an estimated 22 million inhabitants.
Presumably for many meeting planners, it may be their first brush with this city of extremes. The following post attempts to present this vibrant city’s essence by drawing comparisons on a few chosen parameters with other world cities that might be more familiar to the reader.
History round every block
Delhi houses three UNESCO World Heritage monuments, each belonging to different eras separated by a few hundred years. With around 1,500 monuments of which 130 are under the direct maintenance of the Archaeological Survey of India (Read: worth preserving and of national importance) and a 2000-year recorded history, Delhi boasts of a past comparable to other well recognized historical cities like Rome or Athens.
Qutub Minar is a 12th century minaret that rises 72 metres and is arguably Delhi’s most well known symbol. Amidst manicured lawns, the architectural feat attract tourists, foreign and locals by the droves.
The Qutub colonnade, an array of winding streets around the monument, today has high fashion houses and up market eating places. Olive Bar & Kitchen is one such place that offers amazing views of the Qutub. It is very likely that dinners organized in its all white interiors with pebbled walkways and a peepul tree in the central open air atrium with views of the flood lit Qutub are an experience that visitors will hold right amongst the top three of their time in Delhi.
Delhi’s strategic geographic location in the context of India is akin to the place the heart occupies in a human body and perhaps this helped it develop as a major trading centre over the centuries (a stop on the famed silk route as well). Recorded history has mention of many travellers from the West and the East gracing its rulers’ Durbars.
On the banks of one of India’s mighty rivers, Yamuna, Delhi provided the perfect location being inside enough to be a major city to be the seat of effecting administrative controls over the vast land mass and close enough to the volatile outpost towns along India’s Western frontiers, the preferred route of most invaders into the subcontinent (until the advent of ships that could sail open seas).
Incidentally Delhi, pronounced and spelt as Dil-li in the local Hindi national language, means ‘of the heart’, Dil being Heart in Hindi!
Delhi has retained and regained many of its past glories of being a shopper’s paradise. Like its eastern contemporaries, Hong Kong or Shanghai, Delhi offers it all: affordable street shopping, makeshift bazaars that spring up every weekday in residential localities; the ever popular open-air markets including some of Asia’s and arguably the world’s biggest, selling everything imaginable under the sun; and the new breed of chic malls in South Delhi and Gurgaon, housing major international brands from Zara to Dior.
Hauz Khas Village is a story of creativity, quite literally. A sleepy urban village quarters in a quaint corner with some affluent South Delhi residential colonies as neighbours, was transformed, some say overnight, into a mecca of high fashion. Delhi’s answer to New York’s 5th Avenue, Hauz Khas Village has a unique charm all its own. During the day, it is frequented by art lovers, shoppers of hand crafted goods, designer labels, frequenters to laid back cafes, travel and book stores. Come night and it transforms itself into a mecca of food lovers with some restaurants offering amazing views of vast open spaces and greens around a lake front and a 14th century citadel ramparts.
The closest any city comes to Delhi in terms of richness and variety of street food, is Bangkok. Everywhere you look, there is something actually cooking! One wonders, if it’s the heady street flavours that lend them their irresistible taste. From Indianized Chinese, to South Indian, to legendary Indian snacks like the Samosa and Jalebi, Delhi is a street food lover’s paradise. Arguably, the Chaat is its most famous street food, preferred by people of all ages, a tad bit spicy (is made to order so no worries!) it’s a mix of tangy, saucy, sweet, sour and every imaginable taste rolled into one. A real potpourri that perhaps is a metaphor of life around it!
For the connoisseur in you, celebrated restaurants include top end fine dining spots like The Orient Express at the Taj Palace Hotel & Convention Centre (featured among the World’s Top 50 Hotel Restaurants ), and Bukhara at the next door at ITC Maurya, a member of Starwood Luxury Collection. Italian, Chinese, Pan Asian are most popular international cuisines besides of course the very different and highly developed cuisines from all parts of India.
Paris, Milan, New York, Tokyo. Ask the fashion fraternity in these cities who have been involved with India about one city that reigns supreme over the fashion scene in India and the answer will undoubtedly be Delhi. Contrary to popular belief, it is not Mumbai, which is the center of the world’s largest Film industry, aka Bollywood). Delhi, meanwhile, hosts multiple Fashion Weeks, trade events and high-end boutiques.
Some of the widely recognized Indian designers who showcase regularly on the international stage and call Delhi home include Ritu Kumar, Tarun Tahiliani, Ritu Beri, Manish Arora and Suneet Varma, to name a few.
Delhi may not compete for World honours with other cities like Stockholm, Copenhagen and Singapore in this area, but Delhi’s green cover increased over a period of 10 years from 2% to 20% of its total geographical area, a 10-fold increase.
A dedicated government with a feisty 75-year old Lady Chief Minister voted at the helm for the past three terms is credited for the transformation. Today, Delhi is the only world city whose 100% public transport fleet run on environmentally friendly Compressed Natural Gas. Delhi’s metro rail system is amongst the newest and most advanced in the world, ferrying 2.3 million people everyday.
The Ridge also referred to as Delhi’s lungs is a 19 K acre reserved forest in the heart of the capital. Delhi offers verdant open spaces, countless public parks in the neighbourhoods and a clear air to its inhabitants. The Lodi Gardens is Delhi’s answer to New York’s Central Park. At 90 acres, it’s much smaller but it has a character all its own that builds on you as you get to know it better. It has large trees, lakes, bridges and ruins of 15th and 16th century tombs of the Lodi dynasty that once ruled from Delhi.
The political nerve centre
A phoenix rising from the ashes, Delhi is a classic case of a coveted prize maiden, eternally falling and rising, plundered and being fought for! Like Alexandria, Istanbul or Jerusalem, it has had many suitors through its documented 1,800-year existence. From the Hindu Chieftans to early Islamic nomadic tribes, to the invading Mongols, everyone has succumbed to her charms and tried to make her their own.
New Delhi as we know today is its central district and its prettiest part. Founded in 1931 as a showcase of the might of the Empire, it bears striking resemblances to its creator’s seat of power, London. Colonial-style bungalows line wide roads rimmed with trees drooping with local indigenous fruit, the tangy flavoured, purple Jamun. Some of the best examples of modern day architecture include the President’s House, a 100-room palatial building with four acres of magnificent gardens. There’s also the India Gate, a World War II memorial, and Connaught Place, the pulsating heart of the heart of India, which lend Delhi a flavour rivalled only with other major capital cities like Washington DC.
The Imperial Hotel in the heart of the city is living testimony to the colonial past of the country and perhaps a befitting example of the grandeur of the brightest jewel in the British empire that India was with Delhi as its capital. Its ballroom can accommodate 300 people and with its wooden flooring, thick velvet maroon curtains, long stemmed ceiling fans and grand staircases has old world charm written all over it. An enviable collection of paintings from the erstwhile British era depicting scenes of war, some original photographs dating back a 100 years, dot its grand corridors that spell glamour all along. Little wonder that Dior chose The Imperial for its first Delhi store!
Delhi means business
The world’s 8th largest airport, commissioned in 2010, ranked #2 worldwide with 40 million annual passengers. With more than 60 international airlines and daily direct connections to multiple cities in the U.S., Delhi is today India’s most used entry point. It is well connected with international hubs like Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong, while offering excellent connections to major gateway cities in Europe like Frankfurt, Brussels, London and Paris.
The suburb of Gurgaon registered the highest recorded growth in real estate anywhere in the world. And many major Fortune 500 companies and MNCs are headquartered in Delhi, like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Mercedes Benz and BMW. Delhi undoubtedly is the largest consumer market of one of the world’s largest consumer markets. This one reason alone makes it an important destination on the radar of every large Corporation and Association for events.
Delhi tops other Indian cities in ICCA rankings of hosting international association meetings. It is also a favoured stop for incentive itineraries, being equidistant with the two major cultural centres of Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur.
International hotel names like IHG, Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and Accor have embraced Delhi. Additionally, the upcoming Aero City and hotel district within minutes of the International Terminal T3 will add an additional 7,000 rooms of inventory to the city. Recently commissioned convention hotels include the 480-room Kempinski Hotel, the 493-room JW Marriott and the 488-room Hyatt Gurgaon. The Greater Noida Expo Centre offers 380,000 sf of space.
Best time to plan a meeting will be between October and March. January is the coldest month when temperatures drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. April and September can also be considered and would offer value for money. The moderately wet season is between July – September.
Glossary for Hindi words
Babu: a term widely used to refer Government Clerks
Durbar: Courts (of the Emperor)
Gurgaon: a suburb of Delhi fast emerging as an economic hotspot of the World
Hauz Khas: the royal baths
Jalebi: a sweetmeat made of deep fried batter soaked in a sugary syrup
Lodi: a dynasty that ruled most parts of Northern India from Delhi in the 15th and 16th centuries AD
Minar: a minaret
Mughal: the dynasty that ruled most of modern day India from Delhi from the 17th to 19th century AD
Jamun: the indigenous fruit of Delhi
Peepul: a large tree that has religious significance in Hinduism
Samosa: deep fried popular snack item with stuffed potato