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
The Himalayas, a man-eating tiger hunter, remnants of the Raj and, oh, those idyllic villages
THE LEGEND OF a man-eating tiger hunter, the world’s highest mountain range and a charming holiday hill station are just some of the attractions of lovely Kumaon. A mountainous region in Uttarakhand, North India, I visited Kumaon in March for the first time. I wrote about my stay at Kosi Valley Retreat with Walk to Himalayas here. From Kosi Valley, I spent a night at a spectacular Junoon in the Hills, a gorgeous Airbnb property with a stunning sunrise view. And then about four days at Abbotsford House (see below). I loved Kumaon as much as I expected to, perhaps more. Here are my top 5 reasons to visit Kumaon now.
Jim Corbett successfully hunted the man-eating tigers of Kumaon
#5: The Jim Corbett legend at home
I felt I was with him, stalking man-eating tigers and leopards through the jungles of North India. I spent nights with him, balanced on a tree branch or hiding in a machan, to catch site of the killer by moonlight. From the first book I picked up by Jim Corbett — Man-Eaters of Kumaon — I was hooked, riveted by his story-telling abilities and also by his legend.
Along with being a renowned hunter and best-selling author, Jim Corbett was an early conservationist. One day, after many years of hunting that included killing 33 man-eaters, he put down his rifle and picked up a camera, and from that day forward, he never shot another animal. In fact, he spent the rest of his days writing, lecturing and teaching about the importance of preserving and protecting the natural environment.
As a long-time fan, Jim Corbett was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Kumaon. I wanted to see the places he wrote about so lovingly in his books. For, Kumaon was not only Corbett’s hunting ground, it was his home. He was born in 1875 in Nainital, and lived there until he moved out of India, to Kenya, in 1947 at the time of independence.
Living room of Gurney House showing Jim Corbett’s trophies
While in Nainital, I visited Gurney House, where he lived for many years. The “new” owners have kept things almost as they were, and the place is a kind of living shrine. His trophies, fishing rods, books and furniture are still in the house, which has a ramshackle feeling. Unfortunately, the owners seem to be letting the grounds and outer buildings go to wrack-and-ruin, which is a shame. Jim Corbett is a legend and deserves better. I would love to see the house preserved and turned into a museum. Still, worth the visit, a pilgrimage site for hard-core fans.
The drive, entrance and lunch tables at Abbotsford House, Nainital
#4: Abbotsford House: Raj-era perfection
When I arrived at Abbotsford House in Nainital, the manager showed me to my room — a large, Victoria-era chamber with a vaulted ceiling, fireplace and a circular sitting room — and I let out a little gasp. I had walked into a childhood fantasy. One of my favourite movies was The Little Princess with Shirley Temple playing an orphan in Victorian London. Her kindly old neighbour had an Indian valet, Ram Dass — played by Caesar Romero with turban and parrot — who secretly furnishes her barren room with quilts, a fire, a silk dressing gown and delicious breakfast.
Waking up in this grand room, I did indeed feel like a princess. My hostess, Janhavi Prasada, told me that my room had been her grandmother’s, whose habit it was to recite Gayatri Mantra every morning. The essence of this elegant lady’s piety seems still to linger in the nostalgia-infused room.
My circular, pink sitting room at Abbotsford House
Built in 1876 as the summer home for a British official, Abbotsford House is classic Nainital: A genuine Raj-era home, on the edge of town, with a wide, well-manicured lawn and commanding view of the valley, mountains and forests. The main house is decorated and furnished in a traditional style, with wooden furniture, large portraits and antiquarian books and artifacts. The present owners, Janhavi’s family, the Prasadas — whose ancestors bought the house in 1903 — have made many improvements and additions, including a new wing, The Wordsworth Cottage.
The house is not the only thing classic about Abbotsford. So is the service. Janhavi made sure that every detail was perfect, from our multi-course lunches on the lawn to turn down service (which included a hot water bottle). As well as accommodation, they also offer activities, such as cycling, hiking, sailing, gold and bird watching. Staying at Abbotsford is a great way to experience the Nainital buffet: outdoor activity, history and holiday fun.
Breakfast on the lawn at Abbotsford House, Nainital
#3: Nainital: The jewel of Kumaon
Nainital is a Victorian-era tourist town in the lower Himalayas with nostalgia and the atmosphere of family holidays in the air. The rambling town rings a jewel-tone lake hemmed in by steep hillsides stacked with houses, hotels and schools.
During the British Raj, Nainital was a hill station, a getaway for people broiling on the plains in Delhi. But it’s much older than that, of course, and has ancient mythological connotations, for the word “nain” refers to the left eye of Shakti. When Lord Shiva was carrying the corpse of Shakti, it is said that her left eye fell here, and to this day there is a Naini Devi Temple at one end of the lake.
Janhavi, owner of Abbotsford House, where I was staying, gave me a personal, guided tour of Nainital. Driving the narrow, winding roads was an experience in terror, punctuated by moments of good fellowship and scenic views. I was lucky to be there in March, when the weather was good and the hordes of tourists hadn’t yet arrived. Yet, the roads were still crammed.
On Lake Nainital in Kumaon
Janhavi’s connections and long-time residence status opened many doors for me in Nainital. She drove me to Gurney House, home of Jim Corbett, and because of her, we were allowed in for a tour. While Janhavi played golf, I toured the Scottish-baronial Raj Bhawan and walked the rolling hills of the thickly forested golf course, stopping at a Grecian-style pavilion to take in the sweeping view, and again to drink tea served by a chai-walla.
From there we drove into town, walked the mall, and had a drink at the Boat House Club before going out for a spin on the lake in a sailboat. The Boat House Club is open to members only, a classic remnant of the Raj era. Renovations left the heavily wooded bar intact, complete with club emblems and uniformed waiters. Finally, we walked over to the Naini Devi Temple, and I soaked up the peaceful, lake-side atmosphere amid swirls of incense and the sound of temple bells. By the end, I felt I had experienced ancient, old and new Nainital all at the same time.
View from above of a Kumaon village in Kosi Valley
#2: Village life in Kumaon
Walking down a mountain at twilight in Kumaon. Snow peaks in the distance, an owl sitting on a branch above, we come across a small forest temple, an expression of simple sanctity in a natural setting. My guides, Shivraj and Kundan from Walk to Himalayas, remain quiet as golden light sifts through the branches. All I can hear are bird songs among the branches and the crunch of pine needles beneath my feet.
In a Kumaoni village
Soon we reach a scattering of wooden two-storey houses. They are each painted different colours — deep forest green, ochre yellow, sky blue — and have views out across the Kosi Valley. The hillsides and fields, level with the river below, are a study in pastoral beauty, all greens and golds. This is a village in Kumaon, and there are many like it, running one into another, with no clear boundary between them.
At the first house we reach, a stable houses a couple of placid cows, and a girl waves at us as huge dragonflies fill the twilight air, lending the scene a fairy tale quality. Further along, we are invited for tea by the women of the house, and meet a spry 85-year-old named Parvati.
A village walk in Kumaon is lovely thing. The villages I walked through were clean, welcoming and, though rustic, had an air of prosperity and contentment. The people were very friendly and seemed to have enough.
My idyllic moments in Kumaon were of course those of a visitor and it’s very easy to romanticize these scenes. Lack of resources and opportunities often beset villages in India. While in Kumaon, I noticed several women’s cooperatives and other programs. My hosts Walk to Himalayas support a local school and Mahila Haat, which provides skill training and fair trade advocacy for local women.
View of Kumaon Himalayas, with Nanda Devi to the right
#1: The mighty Himalayan peaks
Can anything compare to seeing the soaring white peaks of the Himalayas, silhouetted against a clear blue sky?
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the Himalayas. I spent a red-letter birthday watching the sunrise splash colour across the great white face of Kanchendzonga, the world’s third highest peak, from Tiger Hill in Darjeeling. Flying from Kathmandu to Bhutan, I looked down on Mount Everest. And driving the dizzying roads up, up, up into Kumaon, I was giddy with excitement about seeing Nanda Devi, the tallest and most myth-shrouded peak in Kumaon at 7,816 metres.
And sure enough, we rounded one corner, and there they were, the white peaks of the Kumaoni Himalayas with beautiful Nanda Devi standing prominently among the mighty massifs.
View of Himalayas from Raniket, Kumaon
The Himalaya group is of course one of the world’s great mountain ranges, with nine of the top 10 highest peaks on earth. It traverses a distance of 2,500 kilometres and separates the Indian subcontinent from China and the Tibetan plateau. In Uttarakhand alone, there are at least 10 peaks that are over 7,000 metres high.
Whether for spiritual, sight-seeing, trekking or mountain-climbing reasons, the Himalayas of Kumaon are one of the best reasons to visit this lovely region.
NOTE: I was a guest of Walk to Himalayas and Abbotsford House in Kumaon.
Sunrise from Junoon in the Hills
Photo Credit of Tiger: Rana & Sugandhi via Compfight cc
HIKING SLOWLY UP the steep gravel path to the top of Smith Rock, Oregon, I remembered the lesson I had learned just two days before while climbing Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington State. I was worried there, too, about being able to make it to the top.
On Mount St. Helens, one of our guides, Mountain Steward Ron Benton, taught me the resting step. It’s a step that mountain climbers use. You allow your front leg to bend, and take most of your weight onto your back leg for a second. Then you step forward with your back leg and rest it, slightly bent, for a second, with the weight on your back leg.
I admit, it takes Zen-like patience to walk this way, but once you get your groove — and coordinating it with yogic breathing really helps — it works like a charm. It takes less energy and conserves your strength for long, tough climbs. If you do it right, you never lose your breath.
This is the step I used to hike along Misery Ridge (yes, it really is called Misery Ridge!) to the top of Smith Rock in Oregon with my Corning Gorilla Glass 4 team while we were in “tough drop” territory on Smith Rock.
Smith Rock, Oregon is climber’s paradise
Peregrine falcon flies above Smith Rock
A river runs through Smith Rock
Smith Rock is the birthplace of sport climbing. More than 500,000 climbers visit Smith Rock each year to scale the vertical climbs. These are hard, unforgiving — and very beautiful surfaces. The towers rise like cathedrals from the desert floor.
There are several thousand climbs in Smith Rock Park. More than a thousand are bolted routes. There are also miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Along your trip through the canyon, you might see golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver.
I was proud of myself for making it to the top of Smith Rock on the hiking trail. I can’t even imagine climbing up. We stood on the summit to survey the sweeping view of the Cascade Mountains in the distance and watched in awe as Peregrine Falcons swooped and dived together in pairs, above us. And we were just as awestruck by the climbers — especially the acrobats dangling 350 feet above the ground on Monkey Face! Monkey Face is one of the toughest free routes in the world, called Just Do It (rated 5.14c).
At the top of Smith Rock watching the climbers on Monkey Face
Smith Rock is one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon and well worth visiting even if you’re not a climber. There are plenty of hiking trails, camping options, horseback riding … and a nearby town is called Madras.
Painted Hills: Walking on an Artist’s Palette
We turned off the highway at an unremarkable place in eastern Oregon. Along a secondary road we drove, for only a short time, before the first one came into view. It rose organically up from the desert-like earth, eternity crystallized in time. Smooth, shorn of all foliage and other distractions, our first Painted Hill was streaked with colour — pale red, ochre yellow, tawny brown — like a seventies ashtray turned upside down.
It was a surreal moment to see Oregon become a living painting. Not just the delicately hued claystone hills, but the entire area is awash in gentle colours: pale mauve flowers, carpets of moss green, golden grasses. The Painted Hills are one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, and they are indeed a wondrous sight to behold.
These rolling hills are captures of time, millions of years of history preserved in living colour. Interpretive signboards explain how the various colour layers came to be preserved.
The colours of the Painted Hills constantly change. After light rains, the hills darken greatly from their normal colour. Add sunlight, time of day, cloud shadows, and the colours of the hills change constantly.
The Painted Hills really do look like this!
The Painted Hills are one of three units that comprise the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, an area of about 3,000 acres. When you’re in the middle, they spread gracefully out in every direction, as far as the eye can see. The John Day Fossil Beds represent a record of time spanning most of the Age of Mammals, from 54 to 6 million years ago. The red hill before you is about 33 million years old.
A Trek Through the Painted Hills
The Painted Hills are carefully maintained and protected, and you’re not allowed to walk on them — rightly so. However, the park has set up viewing stations and a wonderfully constructed boardwalk through a crop of startlingly red hills. Small, unobtrusive signboards are positioned to offer information about the view. Here’s a taste of what you will experience if you walk through the Painted Hills.
The red bands, formed in a warmer wetter climate, are more frequent near the bottom of the hills. Over time, these increasingly give way to yellow soils that formed in drier times.
Along the trail through the Painted Hills. Look back along the trail. Differences in weathering and mineral content of the hills, the blue lake, and the varied greens of plants produce a striking show of colour. It’s like walking on the giant palette of a painter.
A walk through the Painted Hills. The trail is like a border between worlds. The earth behind you was formed about 40 million years ago, in a warm world of near-tropical, jungle-like forests. Before you, the colourful reds and golds of the hills represent a world with seasonality, 33 million years ago.
Further along the trail through the Painted Hills
Of all the wonders of Oregon I experienced on the tour, the Painted Hills was one of my favourites. Not only did I love the beauty of the region — and trying to capture all the colours — I also loved the serenity. A photo can evoke a sense of place, but not always the extent of the feeling or atmosphere. I felt a very deep sense of peace, calm and timelessness at the Painted Hills, and I really didn’t want to leave. However, adventure beckoned and on we went.
A view of the Painted Hills
The Painted Hills are a wonder of Oregon
Note: I was hosted by Corning Incorporated for this experience using a Samsung Galaxy S6 phone with Corning Gorilla Glass 4.
Photo courtesy of Dave Bouskill, ThePlanetD.com
Last year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared June 21 to be International Yoga Day at the United Nations General Assembly and 177 nations supported the resolution. Modi said, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness within yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”
WHEN I STARTED TO attend yoga classes in Toronto more than 20 years ago, I couldn’t bend my back. I remember trying in vain to do basic poses, like “downward dog,” but it was when I attempted cobra, a back bend, that I knew I was in trouble. I could not lift myself more than a few inches off the floor, while everyone around me were floating up in graceful arcs.
So, in the beginning, my yoga practise was almost purely physical. I went to a chiropractor for treatments and attended yoga class diligently, led by a tiny, exuberant Scottish man swathed in white, a member of the 3HO Kundalini organization. Eventually, my spine started to bend and I became much more flexible.
That was my introduction to yoga, an art-and-science that I had long wanted to do, and finally did. From then to now, my yoga practise has ebbed-and-flowed, but my commitment and interest has never really wavered. Over time, my practise deepened, and went through various phases, as I became more and more interested in the entirety of yoga — and not just the physical postures, the asanas.
Following the sudden death of my mother (1998), breaking up with my fiance (2001) and the death of my father (2004), I found myself in an intractable depression. It was yoga that helped get me out of it. Breathing and moving. By this time I was practising at Yoga Space in Toronto with a dynamic, caring and magical Flow Yoga teacher named Bibi.
Photo courtesy of Christine Lynes
Breathing & Dreaming of India
Already in my 40s, I decided it was time to finally start living my dreams. My first dream was to become a certified yoga teacher. I was the oldest and least flexible person in my yoga teacher training class, and I was one of the first to complete the program and graduate. It was during yoga teacher training that I had a powerful, cathartic experience (perhaps a kundalini experience) and suddenly felt compelled to go to India.
After 11 months of planning and saving, I flew to India on December 4, 2005 for six months of travel and yoga study / practise. By going to India, I manifested a life-long dream. (And in India, I started writing from my heart. Another life-long dream.)
You are the universe looking at itself. Dr. Pankaj Seth
Studying yoga in India was eye-opening to say the least. I realized that though I was deeply involved in yoga in Canada, I was swimming in a pond. In India, I discovered the ocean. The yoga ocean is a vast repository of wisdom and experience. And it’s (mostly) not about being flexible. Yoga is so much more than what is generally presented or understood in the west; it is so much more than a system of exercises. It is way to self-realization, to peace, to increased consciousness and connection. In India, while studying yoga, my mind opened up to ideas I never imagined.
What is Yoga? by Dr Pankaj Seth
In the context of the Indian civilization Yoga is a path to Moksha, or Self realization.
Moksha is itself one of the four aims of life, along with Dharma/Virtue, Artha/Prosperity and Kama/Enjoyment.
The Four Aims of Life
The Purusharthas, or ‘The four aims of Life’ is the over arching organizational scheme in Indic thought. There are teachings and texts for each of the four aims, such as the the Arthashastra, a voluminous text on statecraft and worldly wisdom, the Kama Sutra, Dharmashastras like the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, and Mokshasashtras like the Yoga Sutra. Depending on aptitude, individuals may be strongly inclined towards one or more of the aims at different times in their lives. Individuality is key here as not all humans will take the same path, and this makes for the great diversity seen in India within the worldly and spiritual spheres.
The theme of Yoga and self-realization is found in the earliest Indic texts, the Vedas and Upanishads and this becomes codified as the Yoga Sutra about 2,000 years ago, giving a well defined path and practices. Other, related paths were also developed and codified over this time, like Buddhism, Jainism, and later Tantra.
In the Bhagavad Gita different types of Yoga are mentioned, such as Karma Yoga (service), Bhakti Yoga (devotion) and Janana Yoga (knowledge), once again giving individuals a choice according to their aptitude.
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali contains an eight-fold path, beginning with ethical considerations for the aspirant, and describes a stepwise praxis leading to meditation. This text does not list postures other than the seated meditation pose and the mention of postures familiar today occurs in later Yoga texts as an assistance to the practise of meditation.
The Limits of Thought
The Yoga Sutra begins with “The aim of Yoga is to still and thereby transcend thought.”
The Mundaka Upanishad, centuries before the Yoga Sutra gives a very good understanding of why this would be stated in saying “Self knowledge is of two kinds, historical and timeless. And thought cannot reach the timeless.” Therefore, Yoga/Meditation.
Thought in trying to derive ultimate self-knowledge seeks through constructing cause-effect chains the absolute beginning of the world, of which the individual is a part. Without knowing how it all began one’s self knowledge remains partial. But thought cannot reach what it frames as the first cause, its attempts being similar to chasing the horizon and which can never be reached. Therefore the transcending of thought is desired because it is too limited an approach to self-knowledge.
In this regard, the physicist David Bohm once asked, “If thought is only part of the whole, can it ever contain the whole?”
Shiva, God of Yoga, in Rishikesh, India
In the Yoga tradition consciousness is understood as the deepest aspect of reality, on which all sensory and cognitive phenomena depend, including the body. If consciousness were merely an historically arisen attribute of matter then the exploration of consciousness could not lead to an ultimate knowledge as the Yoga tradition asserts.
The Yoga tradition is opposed to the philosophy of Materialism, and Theism, both of which do take seriously the idea of ‘the first cause,’ the former mathematizing it as ‘the big bang’ and the latter anthropomorphizing as ‘God.’ The idea of God found in traditional Western theology, as the Creator apart from its creation does not exist in the Indian approach. In fact, the text ‘Yoga Vasistha’ says “If this God is truly the ordainer of everything in this world, of what meaning is any action?” Due to this, there is nowadays academic criticism of using the words ‘Religion’ and ‘God’ in talking about what in India is called ‘Dharma.’ Dharma is not the same as Religion.
Two kinds of knowledge
Dharmic epistemology sees two kinds of knowledge, Gyana and Vigyana. Vigyana is akin to Science, the method of measurement, thought and since it relies upon causality but invariably gets stuck at the ‘first cause’ it is understood as useful but limited.
While Vigyana is divided or dualistic knowledge, Gyana is non-dual knowledge, transcendent of measurement and thought and this is the goal of meditation in Yoga.
It is easy to see that thought encounters immeasurability when it reaches for the first cause. The Upanishads say that three things are beyond measure, Atma/Self, Jnana/Consciousness and Brahman/Totality. These are all beyond measure because they are not external objects, they are all self. One cannot step outside of oneself, nor awareness, nor the totality. Knowledge of what is beyond measure can only be in the form of self-knowledge.
Meditative states if deep enough, give rise to a visionary self knowledge that Yoga points to, and the Chandodya Upanishad speaks of as “Tat Tvam Asi,” meaning “This is you.” You are the universe looking at itself.
Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano located in Skamania County, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is 96 miles south of Seattle, Washington, and 50 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon.
NEAR THE TOP of Mount St. Helens, where the 1980 volcanic eruption blew the top of the mountain off 35 years ago today, the barren rocky landscape was streaked with rivers of hard, black basalt lava flows, and cloaked in thick grey clouds. It was eerie, very calm and there were no visible signs of life.
You could easily mistake this for a devastated region. The May 18, 1980 eruption was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States. Fifty seven people were killed, 250 homes, 47 bridges and many miles of railways and highways were destroyed. But if you saw only death and destruction, you would be missing the real story of Mount St. Helens.
The power of the Mt St. Helens volcanic eruption. Photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S6
The Mt St. Helens hike was a tough and extraordinary experience. Photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S6
I discovered two important things on that mountain, both due to the caring attention and knowledge of our passionate and dedicated guides.
From all of the guides, and especially John Bishop, a botany professor from the University of Washington, I learned to see the new life that is taking root on the mountainside. With his help, I saw tiny plants clinging to the ground, lupins, willow, Indian paintbrush. I saw a lark, a few insects, several waterfalls.
A cairn marks the trail on Mt St Helens. Photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S6
I also saw cairns of rock, made by other hikers. And although the day was overcast and cloudy, the sun shone through just for a moment and I saw the shining turquoise-grey waters of Spirit Lake.
I stopped for a moment, alone, and absorbed the incredible quiet. I suddenly felt the landscape pulsating with life, and began to sense the sacredness of this mountain and this region of the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
Though the volcanic eruption was massively destructive, wiping out the entire ecosystem of the mountain, the Mount St Helens story is not about death and destruction: it’s about transformation and rebirth.
Life is returning to the region, though it is very different than what was here before. This is a story about the resilience of the human spirit, the cycles of nature and the transformative power of life.
A flower blooms on Mt St Helens, a sign of life. Photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S6
The other important thing I learned was about my own resilience. As I was huffing and puffing up the mountain, a lanky mountain steward named Ron, who was with us as a guide, gently taught me to walk with a resting step. He told me that all experienced climbers use this step: you take a second to rest your front leg, and let your weight land on your back leg.
I started to use this step, and coordinate it with yogic breathing. Soon, I fell into a meditative rhythm, and with Ron’s help and encouragement, I caught up to the fast hikers who were way ahead of us. And not only did I catch up, but I was neither sweaty nor out of breath.
At the end of the day, when we were back at the bottom of the mountain, we took the time to say a heartfelt goodbye to our guides, John Bishop, Amy Tanska, volunteer programs director of the Mt St Helens Institute, and volunteer guides Lindsay, Linda and Ron. He told me that he saw how I was transformed, and that after I found my rhythm, I radiated. Much like Mount St Helens, as new life blossoms on the formerly barren mountainsides.
Flowing water, moss and willow trees are signs of life on Mt St Helens. Photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S6
Thanks to Corning Incorporated for giving me the opportunity to be one of only about 200 people who have ever hiked up this particular side of Mount St Helens.
WINTER IN DELHI is sometimes affectionately called Dilli ki Sardi (after a very popular Bollywood song). Locals love the cooler temperatures and the excuse to get out the sweaters and indulge in rich, warming foods. Dishes like sarson ka saag, missi roti, masala chai and gajar ka halwa.
I’ve lived in Delhi on-and-off for 9 years, and spent the past winter in the city, which was recently named “Best Destination For Food/Drink in India” by Lonely Planet India magazine. I concur. Food all over India is great of course, and I especially love dosas in Kerala and Gujarati thali in Ahmedabad.
But Delhi has it all, both in quantity and quality. Here are some of my favourite dishes, street food, sweets, restaurants — plus a suggestion for getting all of this yummy food delivered to your door.
It may not be the definitive guide to Indian food in Delhi, but it is very comprehensive. It also indicates if there is a vegetarian version (V) and whether it’s gluten-free (GF). Enjoy. (Warning: do not read while hungry.)
The South Indian thali at Naivedyam in Hauz Khas
Top 5 favourite dishes of Delhi
- Butter Chicken. I don’t eat meat so I cannot attest to the awesomeness of Butter Chicken in Delhi, but everyone talks about it, so it must be true. Called Murgh Makhani in Hindi.
- Kebabs. Kebabs come in many flavours, some meat and some vegetarian. They are sold all over Delhi in fine restaurants and on street corners. The kebab stalls in Khan Market are inexpensive and well-loved. The best kebabs I’ve had were at Dum Pukht, a very high-end dining room at the gorgeous ITC Maurya Hotel. V
- Parathas. Alas, as someone who has to eat gluten-free, I can no longer enjoy thick, stuffed-bread Parathas. But I used to eat them, on my first few trips to India, so the memory lingers. Paranthe Wali Gali in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, is the place to go. V
- Sarson Ka Saag and Missi Roti. There are a lot of Punjabis in Delhi, and the rich, filling and delicious food from this culture is one of the main reasons Delhi’s cuisine is world famous. Sarson Ka Saag (made from mustard leaves) is probably the signature dish of Punjabi cuisine. Even if you have to eat gluten-free diet, like me, you can enjoy Missi Roti, which is made from gram flour (though wheat flour is sometimes mixed in, so you must ask). V, GF
TIP: When you see Bollywood stars running through fields of yellow flowers, that’s the mustard fields of Punjab.
Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in the mustard fields of Punjab
- Dal Makhani. There are many types of dal (lentils), but somehow Delhiites seem to prefer Dal Makhani, made from red kidney beans and whole black lentils. You can get Dal Makhani in dhabas, restaurants, homes and fine restaurants. Well, everywhere. At Bukhara, often cited as India’s best restaurant, they make a dish called Dal Bukhara, which is a lot like Dal Makahni, but only with black (urad) lentils. It’s considered by many to be the best dal in the world, and I can tell you, it is melt-in-the-mouth amazing. V
TIP: Here’s a recipe for Dal Bukhara. Good luck. The secret is in the very, very long cooking time.
Chole Bhatura, a favourite Delhi dish
Top 5 favourite street foods of Delhi
- Chole Bhatura. Spicy chole (chickpeas) and deep fried bread. This is Delhi food at its most calorific, filling, and sensation-exploding … not suitable for gluten-free diets, alas, unless you eat the chole with something else, like rice. V
- Dahi Papdi Chaat. One of my absolute favourite street foods, it’s sweet, tangy, light, filling … all good things. Wheat wafers, moong beans, potatoes, yogurt, chutney, spices and sauce are all layered together in a gooey mess. For those who avoid gluten, have it made without the papdi (wheat wafers). V, GF
- Gol Gappas. These are called Pani Puri in Mumbai, where these treats are equally popular. Little crisp, fried flour balls are filled with a mixture of flavoured water, tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas. No gluten-free option that I’m aware of. V
- Aloo Tikki. Another one of my favourites, very good for eating when the temperature drops in winter in Delhi. Spicy, pan-friend potato patties, served with chutney. V, GF
- Samosas. Everyone knows samosas, the stand-by Indian snack enjoyed all over Delhi and just about everywhere else on the planet. You can get meat or vegetarian versions, spicy or mild. V
TIP: Old Delhi’s street food is famously good, and sometimes famously unhygienic (have you see the film Delhi Belly?). You can get everything in many of the small, traditional restaurants and cafes of Delhi such as these places — which are just as delicious but much more hygienic: Natraj Dahi Wale Bhalla, Nathu Sweets, Anupama Sweets, Moti Mahal, Bengali Sweets, Haldirams, Evergreen.
I say this every time and I’ll say this again, Delhi is way better than Mumbai in terms of food. Be it street food or fine dining. It is a fact and it’s coming from a Mumbaikar. Except the Gujarati chaat, which is better in Mumbai, Delhi can definitely be called the food capital for me as of now. – Ashrita, Caramel Wings
There’s nothing like a fresh, hot jalebi
Top 5 sweets of Delhi
- Gulab jamun. I always say these little milk dumplings are the reason I gained 15 pounds in India. V, GF
- Gajar ka halwa. Made from the red carrots of India, this dessert is best eaten fresh and warm. V, GF
- Kulfi. Punjabi ice cream. Need I say more? Yes, Pista Kulfi. The pistachio flavour, is a favourite of many. V, GF
- Jalebis. Many Delhiites would live and die for freshly made jalebis. Old Famous Jalebi Wala in Old Delhi is THE place to go. But as long as you are eating them right out of the hot oil, you’re good to go. V
- Rasmalai. Made from fresh cheese and sweet milky sauce, they are light and a little less sweet than many of India’s over-the-top desserts that give you an instant sugar high (and sometimes a headache). V, GF
Tandoori Jhinga at Bukhara. Photo courtesy Andrew Dobson.
Top 10 favourite restaurants in Delhi
- Bukhara. Often called India’s best restaurant. I’ve had the incredible privilege of eating there on several occasions, including the time I stayed at the ITC Maurya Hotel, where Bukhara is located. Most recently I enjoyed a feast with fellow Torontonian Andrew Dobson, which you can read about here.
TIP: Do not miss the Dal Bukara and Tandoori Jhinga (Shrimp).
- Sodabottleopenerwala. This is the new India — hip, fun, and creatively self-referencing. Located in trendy Khan Market, Sodabottleopenerwala is a post-modern take on Mumbai’s iconic Iranian cafes.
- Rajdhani. Going to Rajdhani is an experience. A small army of waiters swarm around your table, spooning never-ending servings of authentic vegetarian Gujarati and Rajasthani cuisine onto your thali (plate). V
- Andhra Bhavan. Eating lunch at this busy canteen in the heart of Delhi is an experience in well-ordered chaos. Political leaders jostle with civil servants and tourists to eat very affordable, very spicy traditional food from Andhra Pradesh. An insider favourite.
- Gulati Restaurant. Delhiites love to stop at a Pandara Road eatery on their way home from socializing, and Gulati’s is the top choice. Open since 1959, it is elegant in a non-fussy way, and serves consistently good north Indian cuisine including kebabs, biryanis and tandoori.
Spice Route, Imperial Hotel,
- Potbelly Rooftop Cafe. Like Sodabottleopenerwala, this place is a fresh, new concept in India, and is located in the newly trendy Shahpur Jat neighbourood of South Delhi. Not easy to find, but worth it. Small rooms with large views and a very good Bihari-inspired cuisine. Affordable, unique and fun.
- Naivedyam. My standby in Hauz Khas, it’s very affordable and will transport you to traditional South India. V
- Saravanna Bhavan. A chain of cheap ‘n cheerful South Indian eateries, there are several in Delhi (though I always eat at the one on Janpath). The food is consistently good, no matter how busy the restaurant is. V
- Spice Route. Voted one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world, this Imperial Hotel classic is also one of the most pricey in Delhi. I ate there once, and have never forgotten the food or the experience.
- Dakshin. It’s easy to get affordable South Indian food like dosas and idly’s, but just once, you should try gourmet South Indian food. That’s what this beautiful restaurant in the Sheraton New Delhi Hotel serves. It’s a journey through the cuisine of four South Indian states.
Unlimited vegetarian deliciousness at Rajdhani
Take out / take-away
Delhi is not only famous for food, it’s also famous for traffic. If you don’t feel like going out, Food Panda is a great service in Delhi (and 100 other cities in India) that will deliver food from many of the restaurants in Delhi for no extra charge.
Gulab Jamun: The main reason I gained weight in India
A SIGNIFICANT PERCENTAGE of Canada’s population is of Indian heritage, especially in Vancouver and Toronto. Restaurants, festivals, events, shops, cinemas and even entire neighbourhoods pay homage to India’s rich and colourful culture.
The Vij Empire Experience in Vancouver
Lucky Vancouver gets not one, not two, but three restaurants run by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala (if you include the food truck, Railway Express). While their flagship Vij’s is a must-do culinary experience in Vancouver — the Indian fusion cuisine is both unique and delicious — my vote for best restaurant in Canada is My Shanti.
Located in a plaza in suburban Surrey, about an hour south of Vancouver, My Shanti serves up an exuberant fanfare of inspired Indian cuisine. The menu is a virtual gastronomic tour of India, and the flavours alone will transport you to the subcontinent, never mind the Bollywoodesque sequins and sari-fabric hangings. I wrote about My Shanti in: Spicy, Wild and Spectacular: My week in Vancouver.
Bhangra beats in the heart of the city
What are the odds: Last summer I was staying at a hotel in downtown Vancouver and heard Bhangra music floating up from the square below. I went down to investigate and stumbled into the heart of the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration (VIBC), otherwise known as the City of Bhangra Festival. Bhangra is possibly the most joyous music on earth, so I found myself surrounded by a crowd of happy, foot-tapping people.
Bhangra is folk music from the Punjab region of India, so that means you will see lots of turbans, kurtis (flowing tunics) salwar kameez (three piece “suits”) and food! This is the region that gave the world butter chicken, stuffed parathas, jalebis, kulfi, lassis, tandoori cooking and much more deliciousness, so be prepared to feast.
Little India in Toronto
Toronto is home to more than 7 lakh (that’s 700,000) Indo-Canadians. The original “Little India,” also called India Bazaar, is on Gerrard St. E. in the east end of the city. I visit on a regular basis to eat dosas at Udupi Palace, shop for blingy fashions and house wares and buy the latest hits on DVD. Read Top Spots in Toronto’s India Bazaar for my recommendations on where to eat and shop.
More films are made in “Bollywood” — Mumbai, formerly Bombay — than anywhere else in the world, and they find enthusiastic audiences in Canada. From Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premieres — featuring some of Bollywood’s top stars — to film festivals that celebrate Indian films, there’s a lot of masala films served up here in Canada, especially in Toronto.
Try the Indian International Film Festival Toronto (IIFFT) or the International Film Festival of South Asia, IIFSA (which includes the Punjab International Film Festival, PIFF). You will find yourself immersed in one of India’s favourite cultural pastimes: watching and talking about films. I have written many posts about Indian films in Canada, here’s a selected few:
- Indian cinema shines at TIFF
- The films of Satyajit Ray
- Bright Day at TIFF
- Interview with three Bollywood stars in Toronto
- Deepa Mehta directs Midnight’s Children
- Midnight’s Children: Magic at TIFF
Dancing with Hare Krishnas
You cannot get closer to a taste of India than by throwing yourself into the Festival of India, organized by the Toronto chapter of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Yes, these are the famous “Hare Krishnas” and they know how to throw a party. The Festival of India is an annual extravaganza that takes place each July in Toronto, starting with a parade down Yonge Street on Saturday and then ferrying over to the verdant Toronto Island for the rest of the weekend.
For more than 40 years, people have been flocking to this joyous festival for kirtan music, a free vegetarian feast, an Indian bazaar, cultural seminars and the Yoga Meltdown, Toronto’s largest outdoor, spiritual yoga festival.
Yoga North of Montreal
About an hour’s drive north of Montreal, the Laurentians are known for rolling hills, pastoral beauty, charming villages, and ski resorts. The picturesque region is also home to one of the most authentic slices of Indian culture you will find anywhere in Canada, the Sivananda Yoga Camp. Combining the best of both cultures — the beauty of Canada’s rugged wilderness and the ancient wisdom traditions of India — the Sivananda Yoga Camp offers visitors the opportunity to experience a sanctuary of peace.
Extensive grounds, vegetarian food, a Krishna temple, indoor yoga class rooms, outdoor yoga platforms, private or dormitory rooms, a swimming pool and a sauna are some of the amenities. They also offer workshops, special events and yoga teacher training.
DELHI IS A VAST, teeming megalopolis. It’s the capital of the world’s largest democracy, India, and one of the most historical cities on earth. Old Delhi is a warren of bazaars, New Delhi is a planned city on a grand scale, and suburbs like Gurgaon and Noida sprawl in every direction. Delhi is a city that is daunting to most visitors, and for good reason: it’s huge, traffic-clogged, noisy, polluted … and one of the most interesting and exciting cities you will ever visit.
Love it or hate it, Delhi is where many visitors to India land. Some see Delhi as a necessary evil, but others — like me — have learned to love the city. In my blog post Delhi Guide: My top tips, I pointed out that location really is everything. If you stay in Connaught Place, Pahar Ganj or Karol Bagh — where most of the budget hotels are — you are 14* times less likely to love Delhi than if you stay in a more salubrious area. Keep reading for my top choices for hotels in Delhi.
On the roof at The Rose in Hauz Khas Village
Hotels in Delhi
In a post I wrote about Delhi My top tips, I wrote: “My top Delhi tip is to stay away from the hustle and bustle. Stay instead in the leafy, upscale neighbourhoods of central New Delhi, South Delhi, or Mehrauli. Look for accommodation in home stays, guesthouses, or small boutique hotels. There are lots to choose from and more coming up every day.”
I took my own advice in Delhi over the past year and stayed in several accommodations located in South Delhi that I would recommend to anyone — and that includes solo female travelers.
I recommend searching these neighbourhoods: Hauz Khas, Green Park, Greater Kailash and Kailash Colony, Panchsheel, Lodhi, Jorbagh, Safdarjung Enclave, South Extension, Sunder Nagar, Malvya Nagar, Saket, Vasant Vihar, Vasant Kunj, Mehrauli, Defence Colony, Lajpat Nagar, New Friends Colony.
Back garden entrance to my lovely flat in South Delhi
FlipKey: A room of my own
Over the past nine years that I have been traveling to India, I have stayed with friends — a Punjabi family — in their home in South Delhi. But this year due to changing circumstances, I stayed in a number of different places, and in self-contained apartments.
“Find the perfect place to stay for your trip, and get great value along with the space, privacy and amenities of home.”
Loved making tea in my flat
Veg stand outside my Airbnb apartment in South Delhi
Airbnb: All the comforts of home
Airbnb is another great choice for booking unique accommodations with all the comforts of home. In Delhi there are more than 1,000 listings, from a room to an entire house (and lots more listings all over India, especially Goa).
On Airbnb, you can search using many different criteria, from a map to room type to price, and you can also check availability. You can contact the host, and check out their profiles, and make sure they are verified; and you can read reviews by other guests — which I highly recommend!
The rooftop of my Airbnb apartment in South Delhi
You stay in a real person’s home, and if you connect with the person, you make a friend. Having a friend in a foreign city — especially a city like Delhi, that is so big and overwhelming — is worth its weight in gold.
My lovely living room at The Rose
The Rose: Perfect by any other name
The Rose is an inside secret and I am loathe to tell anyone about it … but I must as it deserves good business. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind place, in a superb location.
The Rose is a guest house with 12 rooms, designed by a French man with exquisite taste, and right smack inside trendy Hauz Khas Village. All of the rooms overlook the forest behind Hauz Khas Village, so you get to wake up to greenery, birds and the sound of a cricket bat as local children play in the forest.
Tastefully designed bedroom at The Rose
I stayed at The Rose for two blissful days at the end of my recent seventh-month trip to India. After all the running around, staying with friends, travelling, hustle and bustle of Delhi … I just needed some peace and quiet, some down time, some me time. And I got it at The Rose.
The rooftop of The Rose in Hauz Khas Village
There is something very light, feminine and intimate about The Rose. I’m not surprised it is a favourite of women and solo female travelers. There are four categories of room, all good, but different sizes. I had the second-highest category and I loved my suite. It had a large living room, a luxurious bathroom and a separate walk-in closet, which is basically unheard of in a guesthouse.
There’s also a charming ground-floor restaurant and of course, right when you walk out the door, you’re in Hauz Khas with all it’s charming, twisty lanes chock-a-block with bistros, bars and boutiques.
Common areas at Thikana are anything but common
Thikana: Delhi’s ideal guesthouse
I wrote about Thikana before, without doubt one of the leading guesthouses in Delhi, in every way. Beautifully decorated, well located, safe, clean and run by friendly, helpful and efficient people — what more could you ask for? Thikana is located in a very posh area — Gulmohar Park, near Hauz Khas and Green Park in South Delhi — and it’s lovely.
Thikana owners Sheetal and Atul are not only friendly and helpful, they have done a masterful job turning a large, elegant family home into a luxurious and comfortable guesthouse. There are many good reasons to stay here, but the best one is that you become part of the family.
The park across the street from my flat
The City’s Best Hotels
Delhi has more outstanding 5-star hotels than any city in India, and this is the place to splash out. Even if you take overnight trains, stay in small guest houses and rough it on the road, Delhi is the place to seek some comfort and luxury, if only for a night or two. These are some of my top choices for providing a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle. Your body and spirit will revive!
- ITC Maurya is where world leaders like Barack Obama stay when in Delhi, and Bukhara, one of the hotel’s restaurants, is regularly voted the best restaurant in India. Is that enough reason for you? I wrote about my stay at ITC Maurya in 24 hours in hotel heaven.
- Red Maple is a cross between a guest house and a small boutique hotel. It is very comfortable, with very high standards of cleanliness and amenities.
- The Imperial is a grand, old Raj-era hotel that has been completely refurbished, and gleams and shines like new. It’s location on Janpath near Connaught Place is ideal, and one of the hotel’s restaurants, Spice Route, is superb: it has been voted one of the world’s most beautiful restaurants. I always stop for tea at least once while in Delhi, to soak up the atmosphere.
- Claridges is a good, comfortable choice if you are on a stricter budget. It’s located in South Delhi, has expansive grounds and lots of amenities including good restaurants.
- The Park is centrally located and very sleek. Fun place for a night out.
- Hyatt Regency is another favourite, I love the pool and the expansive lobby.
- Taj Hotels and Oberoi are always good of course, you can’t go wrong. I especially like the Taj Mansingh, which is in central Delhi and is known for its elegant coffee shop.
SIDDHARTHA GAUTAMA was a prince in India more than 2,500 years ago. He lived in a city called Kapilavatthu in the foothills of the Himalayas and was a protected youth, never allowed to venture beyond the palace walls. But one day, curiosity drove him out, into the streets and the market, where he saw the realities of life: sickness, old age, death.
This was enough experience for him to realize he wanted to be free from suffering, and to help others find a way to be free, too. He left his family and became a wandering ascetic, looking for answers. Eventually he gained Nirvana, or enlightenment, under a Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, on the full moon of the month of Vaisakh.
This event is celebrated every year on Buddha Purnima.
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him. ~ Gautama Buddha
Today on Buddha Purnima, Breathedreamgo is celebrating this great spiritual leader with a photo essay from Andrew Adams. These photos were all taken during the Buddhist Conclave in September 2014, which was a three-day event held in India to highlight the Buddhist history of Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Varanasi.
Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India, opening ceremony.
The Buddhist Conclave 2014 opened with a spiritual ceremony under the Bodhgaya Tree, followed by an opening night ceremony with beautiful cultural performances. Lectures by political leaders, tourism industry professionals and Buddhist scholars followed the next day, along with a Tourism and Trade Fair. It was hosted by Bihar and Uttar Pradesh governments for increasing tourism between Buddhist countries.
About 120 delegates from 32 countries were escorted to various Buddhist historical sites including Bodhgaya temple, Sarnath, and a special evening aarti on the River Ganga in Varanasi.
All photos are by Andrew Adams Photography who is a Canadian photographer who excels at capturing “the magic moment”.
Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India, opening ceremony.
Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India, opening ceremony.
Monks at the Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India.
Monks at the Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India.
Monks at the Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India.
Contemplative monk at temple during the Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India.
Monks at the Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India.
Monk at the Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India.
Monk at the Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India.
Buddhist Conclave 2014 in India. The Ganga Aarti at Varanasi, India.