About Mariellen Ward
Mariellen Ward is a freelance travel writer whose personal style is informed by a background in journalism, a dedication to yoga and a passion for sharing the beauty of India's culture and wisdom with the world. She has traveled for about a year altogether in India and publishes an India travel blog, Breathedreamgo.com. Mariellen also writes for magazines and newspapers.
Latest Posts by Mariellen Ward
Visiting the Ottawa Valley to find my Irish roots
This year, 2013, as Ireland celebrates The Gathering (a year of festivities to welcome back the Irish Diaspora), I am retracing my family’s history. I’m starting here in Canada now, and in September I will be visiting Ireland to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors and join the Whelan clan gathering. But my first step is a road trip to the Ottawa Valley, where wave upon wave of Irish immigrants settled in Canada in the 19th century, including my relatives. My first post in this series is The journey from Ireland … and back again.
Growing up Irish
When I was growing up in the populous southern part of Ontario, my grandmother, Nana, lived with us. Nana was my mother’s mother, and she was born Monica (Mona) Whelan in a northern Ontario town largely populated by Irish miners. Nana is the reason I am a storyteller, and she is my strongest link to my Irish ancestors. It’s her family name, Whelan, that I am primarily tracing.
Nana grew up in a northern Ontario town called Haileybury, among other Irish immigrants. She was a fifth generation Canadian, but Irish, through and through: and all of her Canadian ancestors were of Irish descent. Almost all were either from the Ottawa Valley, or from Ireland itself. Naturally, I heard a lot of stories from her about her growing-up-years – about summers on Round Lake; and losing her beloved sister, Elizabeth, to pneumonia when she was only 17; and the great Haileybury fire of 1922.
I always felt there was something very Irish about Nana, though she never actually set foot in the country. She mythologized life events, used colourful expressions – “there’s going to be wigs on the green!” – and insisted on an exacting routine for making tea. I loved sitting with her in her living room (she lived in a “granny flat” attached to our house) and listening to her stories and nursery rhymes. No doubt my love of story was born on her knee. Nana died in 1975, when she was 67 years old. In the early 1990s, a distant relative gave my mom a family history of the Whelans in Canada. It is that history I am using to trace my family roots.
Back to the rugged land
My first family roots road trip, coming up soon in April, is to tour the Ottawa Valley in search of several early Whelan homesteads. The first stop on my road trip will be to stay overnight at my sister’s place in the Haliburton Highlands, a land of rolling hills strafed with ancient rock faces, stubby pine forests and hidden lakes. My sister, Victoria Ward, is a professional artist and writer. She paints stories of the rugged central Ontario countryside and the 100-year-old log cabin she lives in with her artist husband Gary Blundell. It’s fascinating to me that my sister decided to move back to the land and live so close to where our Irish-Canadian ancestors toiled. Victoria’s work and her blog can be found at Hotspur Studio.
Victoria and I will drive through the remote and sparsely inhabited areas of eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley. Our first stop will be the hamlet of Brudenell in Renfrew County to find the Whelan homestead and the grave marker of my first Irish ancestor to immigrate to Canada, Clara Carty Whelan (1785-1868). Brudenell had its hey-day back in the late 19th century when it was home to three active hotels and was the “most notorious ‘sin-bucket’ along the Opeongo” colonization road, but it’s now a ghost town.
Clara Carty Whelan lived in Brudenell and is buried in the local pioneer cemetery. I wrote about her in my previous post, The journey from Ireland … and back again. She married John Whelan (1758-1833), who is buried in Corkery, Ontario – our next stop.
From Brudenell, we will continue to drive south and east towards Corkery, a rural community in West Carleton-March, in the city of Ottawa. Corkery was founded by approximately 100 Irish families from County Cork who emigrated from Ireland in the early 19th century as part of the first wave of “Peter Robinson settlers.”
My ancestor Hannah Roche and her family arrived on one of the first Peter Robinson ships, “The Hebe,” in 1823. In 1833 she married Peter Whelan, and gave birth to my great-great grandfather John Whelan in 1836.
After these stops, Victoria and I will spend two fun days in Ottawa, discovering the Irish history of our nation’s capital. We will check out Irish pubs like the Heart and Crown, stop by Ottawa’s first English-speaking Catholic parish, St. Patrick’s Basilica, and perhaps link up with one of Ottawa’s Irish historical or cultural societies and visit a museum or two.
Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Shivkumar Sharma wow audience at Toronto concert
There was a moment during the recent Toronto concert by Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Shivkumar Sharma when the music, the audience, the entire atmosphere of the concert hall came together in a crescendo of movement, joy, vibration; when all barriers blurred and dissolved; and when the spiritual truth of oneness was achieved. And this, I think, was the point. For as great as the music was last night — and this was two legendary masters, at the top of their game, playing to an adoring audience — I found Pandit Shivkumar’s words just as inspiring.
The concert started a bit late, Pandit Shivkumar explained, because they were held up all day in Quebec City due to fog. In fact, it looked as if they wouldn’t make it to Toronto at all. “But we are here because of your love,” he said, with a profound simplicity that made the truth of his words ring clear. Later, before he introduced the last raga, Raga Pahadi, he said there is confusion about who is playing, who is making the music; and it is arrogant if the musicians think it is they. He said that he and Zakir Hussain are mediums, and it is,”by His grace that we play.”
It was an astoundingly humble statement from a great musician, and the spiritual truth of both his words and the music of the maestros came together during the rousing crescendo to Raga Pahadi. Personally, I forgot myself, forgot who I was, where I was, as I watched these greats move together in incredible harmony, playing off each other, creating complex rhythms and synchronized dynamics that almost belie belief. In my entire life, I have never seen anything like the lightning sure movement of Zakir Hussain’s hands as he beat an intoxicating rhythm from the tabla. It was a great night, and I felt lucky to be there. Check out this video I found on YouTube to get a sense of the music and the musicians:
11th annual Asian Music Series
The concert, at the Weston Recital Hall of the Toronto Centre for the Arts, was presented by Small World Music. It was the opening concert for the 11th annual Asian Music Series, which runs from March 28 to June 1. The evening opened with words from the Consul General of India Mrs. Preeti Saran, who is always an inspiring speaker.
The series was very lucky to get started with these two performers. According to the playbill: Pandit Shivkumar Sharma is the world’s greatest player of the santoor — a stringed instrument that is played by striking the strings with a pair of curved hammers. Ustad Zakir Hussain is a classical tabla virtuoso of the highest order, whose intuition and masterful improvisational dexterity have established him as an international phenomenon. He won a grammy award in 1992 and has recorded with artists such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, George Harrison and Van Morrison.
There are a lot more great players lined up, including:
- Vishwa Mohan Bhatt with Subhen Chatterjee: April 19 at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church
- Rajeev Taranath: May 4 at Maja Prentice Theatre
- Ramneek Singh: May 12 at Maja Prentice Theatre
So be sure to check out the program and try and catch one of these uplifting shows. Small World Music Society has presented close to 500 culturally diverse concerts and workshops in Toronto since it started in 1997. They support local artists and have featured performers from Mali to Mongolia and from Brazil to Bulgaria.
What is Raga Music?
To learn more about the Indian classical style of music called raga (pronounced raag), watch this informative video. One of the many things that characterize a raga, and differentiate it from western classical music, is the improvisational nature of the performances. Achieving the colour, or feeling, of the music is more important than following a score. The way rhythms and melodies are structured and composed is also very, very different than western music. For a newbie, it can take some careful listening to appreciate the sophistication, complexity and nuance of this music. But when you let this music in … it is completely intoxicating.
Holi in India: Everything you need to know about The Festival of Colour
IT’S NOT INDIA’S biggest festival, but it’s the most colourful — and probably the one most beloved by foreigners. Many people have “experience Holi in India” on their bucket lists, and for good reason. How often do adults get to throw coloured powder at each, and squirt each other with water guns filled with coloured water? And … for those who are more adventurous than me … there is the bhang lassi, too. Holi does not happen on a fixed date each year; it takes place on the day after the full moon in March. This year it was held on March 27. I’ve been in India three times for Holi, and my experience is that it’s a holiday best celebrated with family and friends, especially if you are a female and a foreigner. Here’s my top 5 tips for playing Holi safely.
Top tips for Holi
1. Find a family or group of people to play Holi with; don’t go out into the street by yourself in India’s metros.
I’ve celebrated Holi three times in India. Twice I was with my Indian family at a private club in Delhi; and once I was with my Indian yoga teacher at an ashram in Rishikesh. I found these were the perfect venues for safely experiencing Holi. I got to get drenched with colour, have fun, eat loads of sweets, and not worry about getting attacked by out-of-control boys and men. (Which can happen: I’ve heard lots of stories about foreign women walking out into the street during Holi and finding themselves targeted by males who were using the festival as an excuse for groping.)
2. Cover your skin with oil and wear clothes you can throw away.
The first time I played Holi in Delhi, no one told me you should oil your skin first and I had a hot pink face for a week! That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is much better for your skin if you cover it in some kind of oil (I used almond oil) so that you can wash the colour off easily. Clothes are a complete right-off. It’s fun to wear something white that you don’t want anymore, so then you can really see the colour!
3. North India does it better
Holi is much more exuberantly celebrated in North India, and many towns and cities claim to have the “best” Holi atmosphere, but I would probably try Mathura/Vrindavan; or Jaisalmer, Udaipur or Jaipur in Rajasthan.
4. Go very easy on the bhang lassi.
Okay, I’m not writing from experience because my Indian family did a really good job of dissuading me from trying it. Bhang lassi is a very powerful intoxicant, disguised as a sweet, delicious drink. If you know what it’s made from, you will know why I was surprised that it was being served at the very upscale private club in Delhi where I celebrated Holi. Naturally, I had to try it, but I only had a few sips. I heard too many stories about aunties ending up in hospitals. Bhang lassi is one of the reasons it’s not safe for women to wander in public on Holi in India — lots of people are seriously intoxicated.
5. Learn about the significance of Holi.
Holi does not seem to have a singular significance, the way Diwali does for example. It’s a celebration of spring, of unity and brotherhood and — like many festivals in India — of the triumph of good over evil. There are of course mythological stories attached to Holi. The most popular one is that Krishna applied colour to Radha’s cheek. And as these sweethearts represent harmony in love, it’s a charming image and connotation.
Hope you have as much fun as these people — I took this video at a private club in Delhi during Holi celebrations three years ago.
Photo Credit: Dave Bouskill, PicturethePlanet.com
One night, many years ago, I dreamt I moved to Japan. I had just moved in with my boyfriend in Toronto and we were buying furniture and decorating. After that dream, I bought black lacquer bedroom furniture and Japanese prints for the walls. Then, he was offered a job in Japan. We flew to Tokyo on Valentine’s Day, on Singapore Airlines and when the beautifully attired air hostess offered me Johnnie Walker Blue Label, I thought she was mistaken about the colour of the label.
On Valentine’s Day, I landed at Narita International Airport to begin my new life. My life in Japan. I had never been to Japan before, never been to Asia before, when I agreed to move there. Tokyo was my first Asian megalopolis. The population of the greater Tokyo area including Yokohama equals Canada.
Our first home in Tokyo was a compact suite in a chic hotel in Ginza, the world’s most expensive real estate. I met Oliver Stone in the lobby, and heard that Annette Benning and Warren Beatty were staying there. We ate at the Japanese restaurant only once, as guests of the manager, because it was alarmingly expensive. But I still remember that meal, the exquisite morsels of seafood, the rarefied atmosphere.
Every time I set foot out the door, I felt like I walked into the path of a wind machine. Crowds of people, densely packed buildings, one business on top of another like urban tetris, plus all the unknowns of a strange and foreign culture.
Just prowling the Ginza alone. Several massive department stores line the main thoroughfare, and in the basement food halls I bought fresh tofu out of buckets and fish fresh from the sea. At lunch, I did a circuit of every restaurant that had a “set menu” — a bento box containing tempura, rice, pickles and fish, either cooked or raw in the form of sushi or sashimi — usually at a fraction of the cost of an evening meal.
Soon we started looking for an apartment. Our real estate agent was a Canadian from Parkdale in Toronto who took us to see about a dozen massive apartments with ball-room sized living rooms. This in a densely packed city of tiny apartments and houses. But we were not diplomats and didn’t need to entertain. So he took us to about a dozen smaller apartments with views out the windows of busy streets and multi-layered highways and I felt boxed in, breathless.
Then he took us to a new building in Nishi Azabu, across from a Buddhist cemetery. It had two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, a big-enough living room and all the windows faced the cemetery greenery. I loved it, though whenever I smelled smoke, I quickly closed all the windows. Buddhists in Japan cremate their dead.
I loved my ultra-modern, light-filled apartment with computerized toilets, heated floors and a space-age control panel in the front hall, but when I think of my time in Japan, I don’t think of me in the apartment. I think of me:
- riding the subway or the bus,
- exploring Tokyo,
- taking Japanese lessons,
- eating in small restaurants that specialized in just one type of Japanese food,
- trying to shop at the Daimuru Peacock, the Japanese grocery store near the apartment.
I learned to cook a Japanese meal, I mastered a few phrases, I grew bold riding buses all over central Tokyo, I made friends with several other ex-pat Canadians and made one very large and important discovery about myself: I thrived on culture shock. I saw how it affected some westerners, mostly Americans for some reason, who closed themselves in and stuck to a routine that revolved around the Tokyo American Club. But I discovered I loved being an ex-pat, and immersing myself in the culture as much as I could.
In the spring, I travelled alone to Kyoto during hanami, when the sakura (cherry) trees are in bloom. I stayed in a 300-year-old ryokan (Japanese inn) and slept on the matted ground. In the morning, a woman in a kimono left her slippers at the door and padded in, kneeled down, and rolled up my futon. At dinner, she brought in a small, low table and kneeled while she served me tiny morsels of delicious vegetarian food, a specialty of Kyoto. I ate alone, looking at the traditional Japanese garden, feeling I had been dropped into the essence of the culture.
In Kyoto, I saw Geisha on their way to appointments, experienced the Japanese tea ceremony and toured as many temples as I could in two days. I took the bullet train home to Tokyo, passed Fuji-san (Mount Fuji) on the way, and felt proud of myself for a successfully negotiated solo adventure.
Every day in Tokyo was an adventure; every time I left the house I learned something new, saw something new, tried something new. I used a squat toilet for the first time in a tiny washroom in a small park on the way to the ex-pat grocery stores; I went to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant; I saw a Shinto wedding at a Tokyo temple; I ate fugu (blowfish), which is highly poisonous if it’s not cut right, and afterwards my lips went numb.
After a few months, it began to dawn on me that while Tokyo was a big, modern city with a subway system, cars, elevators, hotels — it was not a western city. Here was my mistake: Tokyo was modern, yes; but western, no.
Here was my mistake: Tokyo was modern, yes; but western, no.
Bank machines closed soon after the banks closed. Beer, underwear, flowers and many other items were sold in vending machines. Streets had no names, and buildings no postal addresses, as I knew them. Social etiquette was strict, detailed and confusing. After while, I realized that I didn’t understand the culture at all and I started reading books like Ruth Benedict’s famous The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
Little by little, the mysteries of Japan’s culture began to unfold, like the sakura blossoms in spring. Spending almost an entire year there, going through the seasons and the festivals, traveling and living, all helped my understanding and appreciation. But, in the end, I’m not sure I was really the wiser. Japan will always be a fascinating and exciting place to me, but ultimately inexplicable.
All that was years ago. But this video, by Japan Tourism, brought it all back to me, and made me miss Tokyo; made me remember how much I missed the city after I moved back to Toronto; and made me want to return and re-experience my year in Japan.
Memories of London town and the English countryside in spring
It’s about this time of year, early spring, that I always think of travel to England. I haven’t been there in years, but I travelled several times to England at about this time of year in the past. The first time I stepped foot in London, on a balmy, overcast day in the spring of 1987, I felt at home. Though I had never been to Europe before, there was something familiar about London. Maybe it was all those English movies and books I’ve consumed, or perhaps something in the blood, the collective memory of my family. Whatever the reason, I am writing this post as a love letter to England in the spring.
Oh, to be in England, Now that April’s there – Robert Browning
My grandfather, Charles Samuel Ward, was born and brought up in inner city London. He came from a poor family that was thrown into destitution when his father died in a hackney accident. My great-grandmother was faced with the agonizing decision to “give away” two of her children, and my grandfather was sent to Canada when he was only about 12 years old. He never went back to England; never saw his family again.
By the time I went to London, my grandfather had long since passed away, and I had no painful memories to keep me from having a grand old time. And I did. I loved London — one of the world’s great walking cities. I stayed with friends near Chelsea, who were busy during the day, so I spent most of my time wandering in the city, tracking down iconic sites that held significance for me because of my strong ties to English culture.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been? I’ve been to London to see the Queen.
It’s embarrassing to relate, but when I was a child living near Toronto, Canada, I went on a school trip one blustery, grey day to the Toronto Island by ferry. I was so immersed in English culture, I actually thought we were crossing the choppy waters of the English Channel! Doctor Doolittle, Oliver Twist, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan — these were the companions of my youthful imagination. And even as an adult, English authors like Somerset Maugham, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh and Rudyard Kipling were always among my favourites.
Looking for signs of Victorian London
So, in London finally as a young adult, I went a bit crazy looking for my imaginary version of Victorian London, and things with literary or personal associations, like:
- The Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens
- The streets of the old City — to look for scenes reminiscent of all those Charles Dickens books I read
- The British Museum’s pristine Reading Room and the priceless manuscripts in the British Library
- Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey where Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Lord Byron and other literary mortals are immortalized
- The steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, where the “Bird Lady” in Mary Poppins fed the birds: one of the most heart-rendering and evocative scenes of Victorian London ever (along with that scene in The Little Princess with Shirley Temple, when she finds her wounded father, the war hero, and meets Queen Victoria — I get teary just thinking about it)
In England’s pleasant pastures
But I also left London, to visit the green and pleasant pastures of the English countryside. London is fun, and full of history and associations that I treasure, but the countryside is pastoral, peaceful and lushly green. I toured a charming corner of the south-west, in Hampshire. I loved driving along narrow country roads, stopping to look at grand homes like Longleat House and Beaulieu and other imposing structures like Salisbury Cathedral and of course the mystical and enigmatic Stonehenge.
If I were to go back to London today, I would make time for pleasures of a different sort. Though I have no concrete plans for London at the moment (I will be in Ireland in September however, so let’s see), I am already starting to keep an eye out for small boutique hotels, upcoming art exhibits and of course London spa days. I might even look at hotel spa breaks in the UK – that way, I could combine immersing myself in England’s green and pleasant countryside with some much-need pampering.
Tea time: Best places for tea in London
But one of the top things on my mind for a trip to London is tea. I love tea.
New Delhi is a city close to my heart as I have spent so much time there. It is of course a massive metropolis, bustling with many people, many sub-cultures, many moods. I was intrigued by these photos by photographer Jagdev Singh, who has captured some of the many faces and places of Delhi, and asked him to do a guest photo essay. The effect of his photos is striking, no? Enjoy.
About Jagdev Singh
A post graduate in management with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, Jagdev Singh is a freelance photographer living in New Delhi, India. He loves to capture the moments and moods from people’s daily life.
While extolling the virtues of Emirates on social media, I noticed a lot of other travel bloggers felt the same way I do about Emirates Airlines. So I grabbed some screen shots and tapped a few leading bloggers for interviews. After all, travel bloggers are basically professional travelers, and that means they know a good airline when they see one, too.
Jodi Ettenberg is a former lawyer currently eating her way around the world. She quit her job in 2008 to found Legal Nomads and has been writing about food, travel and culture ever since.
Jodi was enthusiastic when I asked her about her experiences with Emirates. She said she had flown Emirates “recently from the U.K. to Dubai, with a nine-hour layover and then a flight onward to Vietnam. Recent flights were smooth with new planes. VERY happy to see that I can plug my laptop in the seats and meal voucher at the Dubai airport was much appreciated.
“As a celiac, mealtimes are often stressful since gluten makes me very ill. The gluten-free meals on the flight were fresh and healthy, and I was surprised to also receive a GF option for the breakfast meal before landing: usually airlines skimp out on this meal and only provide GF meals for the main meal service.”
I’m celiac too, and was also impressed with the offerings for non-wheat-eaters. But, overall, would Jodi recommend Emirates to others?
“I do not provide reviews on my site for airlines, but readers often write me to ask for my recommendations. Having booked my flights on Emirates myself (i.e. it was not an incentivized booking, but one I undertook for my own plans), and really enjoying my flights, I have no qualms recommending them enthusiastically. The ability to accrue JetBlue miles is a huge bonus that other airlines in the region do not offer.”
Cole and Adela, of Four Jandals are New Zealand’s leading adventure travel blogging couple. They have been travelling together and wearing out their jandals (Kiwi slang for flip-flops) since 2009.
Cole and Adele told me they have flown with Emirates several times. “I love flying with Emirates because their service is world-class,” they said. “No matter what time the flight, the airline staff are always in a great mood and very welcoming. Even after a 36-hour flight from London to Auckland when I was feeling exhausted they managed to cheer me up.
“The food on Emirates is always fresh and delicious. My last flight I even pre-booked a vegetarian option and it came out before the main service. Great option if you like a bit more time to eat your meal!
“Emirates is always our first choice to fly with because they have great flights between New Zealand and Europe. Plus their economy seats are comfortable and large enough to get out my laptop so that I can catch up on writing and photo editing on the flight.”
Lillie Around the World
Lillie is a teacher from Boston who travels whenever she gets the chance and blogs at Lillie Around the World. In 2009, she circumnavigated the globe, and has been to China, Southeast Asia, India, Europe, Ghana and Belize. Lillie also coordinates the Boston chapter of Meet, Plan, Go career-break travel conferences and meetups.
On her blog she wrote: “Off through the glistening airport to my Emirates Air flight! Listen: if you EVER have the chance to fly Emirates, take it. It is posh to the posh, posh, posh, posh!
‘This is a very empty flight,’ said the gorgeous stewardess with her jaunty red cap, ‘so if you want, stretch out over those ten seats there!’
With that she handed me my entertainment booklet: (200 movies, audiobooks, and albums to choose from, plus fifty videogames, with a simple click of my personal handset).
She also gave me my menu: Pan Fried Red Snapper or Roast Chicken with Mexican Sauce, with Apricot Crumble for dessert. It was a heavenly seven hours.”
Anthony, The Travel Tart
Anthony runs The Travel Tart where he writes about the funny, offbeat and weird aspects of world travel today. I asked him in all seriousness how often he had flown Emirates and what he thought.
Here’s what Anthony said — and catch the video he made, below, of his Business Class seat: “Just flew Emirates once, a short 15-hour journey to Dubai from Brisbane, Australia and return. The overall Emirates experience was great. I flew both Economy and Business class and thought they were right up there in terms of comfort levels and services. The food in both classes was excellent and was probably some of the best I’ve had on a plane for a long time. The massaging seats in business class were pretty cool! I was also told that the lighting used helps reduce the effects of jetlag. The Business Class lounge in Dubai was more like a restaurant with the crazy variety of food available.”
Emma’s Travel Tales
Emma Gray is a travel addict who shares her stories, tips and advice from around the world on her travel blog Emma’s Travel Tales.
Emma said, “I flew Emirates long haul from Glasgow, Scotland all the way to Perth, Australia with a short layover in Dubai. I was so impressed with the level of service provided by the cabin crew, nothing was too much trouble for them. From the moment I arrived on board they made me feel truly welcome and at ease. They gave the impression they truly cared about their passengers comfort during the flight and were happy to help with anything. It’s a far cry from some other airlines where cabin crew just seem to want to get the flight over as quickly as possible! I’d love to fly Emirates again in future.”
Where Sidewalks End
Ian Ord is a veteran world explorer, sharing his off-beaten-path discoveries and adventures on his travel blog Where Sidewalks End.
“I’ve only flown Emirates once so far, but it definitely won’t be my last. It was a flight from Toronto, to Cochin, India via Dubai. The first thing I noticed was the modern and very comfortable seating in economy class, with decent pitch (leg room). It was refreshing for a long set of flights, such as that! With very well equipped seating, including a power source to keep my laptop charged throughout the flight, and a variety of movies to keep me entertained, when I wasn’t fast asleep. Additionally, the food was above par! I ate plenty of delicious Indian inspired dishes, which was a great prep for my final destination, and just added to the excitement. The staff was very friendly and professional, which was just the icing on the cake. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them again!
It was desperation that drove me to Red Maple Bed & Breakfast in Delhi … but delight that kept me there! It is an ideal stay for solo female travelers in South Delhi.
I was staying with friends in Gurgaon, a huge, new suburban community south of Delhi, and the temperature kept dropping and dropping. One day, it hit a 50-year record low: high of 9 C. and low of 2 C. N
ow, you might be thinking, “She’s Canadian, what’s that to her?” And you’d be right: in my home city of Toronto, temperatures can drop to minus 25 C. in winter.
But we have insulated houses, indoor heating, hot showers, continuous power, and so many other things that make living in a cold climate bearable, and even cosy. No such luck in Delhi, where the houses are built to keep the heat out, and floors are usually made of marble.
In short, it was bone-chilling at my friend’s place, and also far from my favoured stopping grounds, South Delhi.
I like frequent stops at Barista or Cafe Coffee Day. I shop at Fabindia in Khan Market and go for ice cream treats at The Big Chill.
I meet my friends in Hauz Khas and get my mani-pedis done in Green Park. And, my idea of a perfect market is GK1 N-Block. So, I reached out to Harminder Saini at the Red Maple Bed & Breakfast to find out if he had availability, and when he said yes, piled all my suitcases in a taxi for the long ride from Gurgaon.
I knew about the Red Maple from Canadian friends of mine who stayed there, including Janice Waugh of Solo Traveler. But it wasn’t until I got there and met owner Harminder that I fully understood the name of this charming small hotel is in homage to Canada: red and white are the colours of the Canadian flag, and the maple leaf is one of our symbols, if you don’t know. Canada has inspired the Red Maple in other ways, too.
Harminder explained to me that he intentionally designed the small hotel so that the amenities are on par with the quality of creature comforts we are accustomed to in Canada. That means, powerful room heaters and full-pressure hot showers, lots of western food options on the menu, high-end furnishings, flat screen TVs, free WiFi, super comfortable beds, on-site laundry facilities, bottled water, air conditioning … and everything is spotlessly clean.
After arriving, I put the heater on and jumped in the shower and felt I was in heaven! I was truly warm for the first time in a week. And it just got better and better. Even though it’s a small guest house, with only eight rooms, they offer a full menu of both Indian and continental cuisine, and much of it is available 24/7. My room was spacious, with a balcony overlooking the street. Breakfast was ample, buffet-style, and you can meet other travellers while eating in the shared breakfast area on the main floor.
I also liked the location in South Extension, only a short walk from the busy market. Unfortunately, there is no metro stop (yet) in South Extension, but you can easily get to one in an autorickshaw. The market itself has lots of shops, including a large bookstore and some of the best shoe stores in Delhi, and a few restaurants and cafes. And the residential area that surrounds the market is nice enough to feel safe and funky enough to feel exotic. There are ancient tombs nearby, and lots of street action: shortly after checking in, I heard the unmistakeable sounds of a wedding outside and ran out with my camera.
To me, Red Maple Bed & Breakfast is the perfect option in Delhi, especially for solo female travellers. It’s safe, clean, well-run, well-located and has everything you need. Plus, you feel that you are staying in a real residential neighbourhood, with local people. It really is the best of both worlds: the comfort of Canada and the colour of India. Also, owner Harminder Saini has a wealth of knowledge about travel in Delhi and India and can help with bookings. As he has spent a lot of time in the west, including in Canada — one of his favourite countries — he understands foreign travellers, and is a great resource and contact to have in India.
As I usually stay with friends in Delhi, or as the guest of a five-star hotel like the fabulous ITC Maurya, I have not been able to personally recommend a mid-range option, until now. I’m very happy that I can now recommend the Red Maple without hesitation.
To contact Red Maple Bed & Breakfast
RED MAPLE BED & BREAKFAST
49, Amrit Nagar, South Extension Part-1, New Delhi, India 110 003
NOTE: I was a guest of Red Maple Bed & Breakfast for the duration of my stay, but that does not alter or affect my opinion. I am truly thrilled to be able to recommend this place to people who are wary of Delhi or don’t know where to stay or want to avoid Pahar Ganj.