New Delhi’s original power hotel, the Imperial opened in 1936. It was here, rather than Connaught Place (headquarters of the British Raj), that Pandit Nehru, Mahatama Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and Lord Mountbatten met to discuss the partition of India and creation of Pakistan. Though renovation has lent a bit of a corporate vibe to the high-ceilinged marble hallways, the hotel still oozes nostalgia. A vast, museum-worthy collection of life-size oil portraits features princely rulers, statuary, tapestries, old photographs, and artifacts including British and Indian military and polo regalia. Rooms come in Victorian, Indian heritage, and art deco decors. The centerpiece of the green, palm-studded lawn is a huge, beautifully tiled swimming pool where solicitous turbaned, red uniformed staff deliver ice-cold drinks to sunbathers in New Delhi’s stultifying heat.
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A Tibetan market right next door to the hotel sells Himalayan crafts, and the hotel is a five-minute walk down the Janpath to Connaught Place, the heart of colonial New Delhi and still a shopping hub for Indian cottage industries such as silver jewelry, cotton clothes, wood carving, painting, and sculpture. Taxis and hotel drivers are readily available for sightseeing, but the hotel is also convenient to the city’s brand new metro system, inaugurated in 2014. From the Janpath station you can reach Daryaganj in the old walled city, the Delhi Gate World War I memorial, Emperor Shah Jahan’s Red Fort, and the 17th-century Jama Masjid, still one of the largest mosques in Asia. The metro is clean, if crowded, and each train includes a ladies-only car.
Need to Know
Rooms: 133 rooms. From $137. Check-in: 2 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Internationally celebrated for its regional Indian and Asian cuisine (Malabar Coast, Kerala Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam), Spice Route is a work of art in its own right, with walls, ceiling, and pillars hand-painted in flower dyes with scenes of gods, dancers, elephants, and other folk motifs by artists brought in from a Kerala temple. Among eight other eateries, NOSTALGIA at the 1911 Brasserie serves classic Western European cuisine while Daniell’s Tavern showcases the dishes encountered by 18th-century engravers Thomas and William Daniell on their grand tour of the British Empire’s Indian domains. Spa and gym details: There is a gym with squash courts, spa, and outdoor pool.
Who’s it best for: Orientalists and nostalgia buffs who want to be within walking distance of the colonial-era city center and don’t mind an older, conservative crowd. Our favorite rooms: The 3,000-square-foot Imperial suite has original oil portraits of Indian princes and a bathroom fit for a raja with Jacuzzi steam bath and sauna. All rooms have marble baths and Fragonard toiletries. The Grand Heritage rooms come with king-size beds and oriental carpets; Art Deco rooms have the most comfortably stuffed chairs and sofas. For art lovers: Ask for a tour of the hotel’s collection of 17th- through early 20th-century paintings of India by British artists including Thomas and William Daniell, William Simpson, William Hodges, John Zollony, James Ferguson, J.B. Fraser, Emily Eden, and Charles D’Oyly.