Am I going crazy, or is that lamp shaking? he asked, eyes narrowing before growing wide with alarm. “It might help to put your beer down,” I answered dryly, without actually looking at the lamp. But my friend wasn’t drunk. The lamp really was shaking, and it wouldn’t stop. If we’d looked out of the window immediately, we would have also seen the water in the swimming pool tremble. If we’d run for some sort of cover, we would have ensured our safety. But instead, we each did what we were clearly hardwired to do: I whipped out my phone to check Twitter for earthquake alerts, and my friend crouched hilariously behind a chair in an awkward fetal position. Twitter told me that the epicentre was Nepal, and this one looked bad. The notifications were nonstop, we started both making and receiving calls to and from friends and family to check if everyone we knew was okay. When we switched on the TV, it stopped being funny very fast — Nepal was falling to pieces.
I had checked in to The Claridges the previous day for a weekend getaway. Seeing as I live in Delhi, what I was “getting away” from was… um, my house. And meals that insisted on revolving around allegedly different gourds (except they all taste the same; people must immediately stop pretending there’s a difference between tinda and lauki). I’d been wanting to take some sort of vacation for a few weeks now, but between work and friends getting married and other friends demanding baby showers, it kept getting pushed to “next week”. I was out of patience. I had to get out and take that break. Yes, it was too late to plan anything solid, and as character-building as solo driving trips can be, I wasn’t in the mood for Neemrana, my old faithful.
Shouldn’t I at least have had the good sense to check into a hotel that wasn’t smack in the city centre? Perhaps. Then again, thanks to its unimposing structure, this one ducks behind leafy trees and draws its guests into a surprisingly quiet embrace. If you didn’t already know it was there, you wouldn’t even notice it.
The Claridges is one of the capital’s oldest hotels. Sitting quiet and pretty in the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi since 1952, this hotel has become both a historical and cultural landmark. Over the decades, it has of course weathered enough aesthetic changes now to be called a contemporary hotel, but it’s held on fiercely to its almost iconic old world charm. Having always lived in Delhi, the hotel has a piece of my young heart; I remember Claridges most vividly for its vodka bar, Aura, where my friends and I would always end up on a Friday or Saturday night, back when Friday and Saturday nights were serious business, with a fallout that would only wipe you out for half a Sunday, not the next three weeks. And for the famous paan shop outside, with the equally famous Panditji, who packs a mean meetha paan, and offers an endless variety of other concoctions within the tightly bound betel leaf triangles that fly out of his shop so fast, it makes you laugh. I also remember The Claridges for Sevilla, which I’d visited with a friend when it had just opened and was the “it place” to be; we were “just friends” but the damn place was so romantic that it got really awkward till the sangria kicked in. A Parsi family I know in Delhi doesn’t know how to celebrate any of their special occasions without a cake from Ye Olde Bakery, the hotel’s patisserie. My point is, if you’ve lived in Delhi long enough, you have at least a couple of attachments to the place.
But if I wanted a “break from it all”, shouldn’t I at least have had the good sense to check into a hotel that wasn’t smack in the city centre? Perhaps. Then again, thanks to its unimposing structure, this one ducks behind leafy trees and draws its guests into a surprisingly quiet embrace. If you didn’t already know it was there, you wouldn’t even notice it. So it worked just fine.
I was assigned one of the more recently refurbished rooms of the hotel on the first floor. No points for any kind of view, but it was close to the swimming pool, and to be honest, all I really ever want from any hotel room is an amazing bed, and they’ve got that one down just right. There’s something about a hotel bed that makes me weak in the knees — cold, crisp, white sheets wrapped tightly across a mattress that feels like quicksand for the first few seconds after you get in and your face has found an endless row of fluffy pillows… bliss! The other thing about checking in to a hotel is the room service. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just finished a meal, nobody says no to room service. One big, fat lasagna later, it was time for a power nap.
A friend was joining me for dinner at Sevilla, the hotel’s award-winning restaurant known for its Spanish tapas and Mediterranean influences, but most of all, its beautiful setting. Between being able to squeeze the Qutab Minar into immediate view, and the luxury of candlelit tables in the middle of Lodi Gardens, it isn’t magnificently difficult to find a sweet spot for lovers in the capital, but they’re always welcome. They offer indoor seating at Sevilla, but I highly recommend walking past those areas, onto the cobbled pathway and glass floors with streams running underneath, to get to one of the many private beachy cabanas outdoors. Helping you settle in is the sommelier, usually eager to help you pair your food and wine (they’ve got a really cute and extensive wine cellar), but we were told to stick with the house special sangria if we were going to be trying a little bit of everything on the menu. Wood fired pizza, tapas and paella… they’re all famous here, but considering we’d sampled a dozen different tapas already, we didn’t think we’d actually have the space for the paella. When it came to the table, however, its fragrance challenged us to say no; and in retrospect, I am happy to report that we failed. As the stars spilled out, sticking themselves firmly onto a darkening sky, so did the stories, and it was no surprise that what was meant to be a “quick” dinner turned into an evening of many chatty hours, the last of which were spent in the sprawling front lawns when Sevilla had had enough of us.
The morning after saw me rush from bed to spa, where I was already late for my appointment, running past the beaming, friendly staff you see everywhere. You’ll notice immediately that the spa is not the most lavish or particularly generous in terms of size, but it’s tough to find a good massage in this city for some reason (I’ve tried and tried), and at least you’re in more than capable hands here. A couple of sudden snores and 90 minutes of knot-kneading later, I returned to my room to draw a bath and stretch my Sunday out as long as I could. But that’s when the lamp started shaking, our hearts started breaking, and some worlds were changed forever.