Travel Diaries

Discovering the Light in Delhi

by Jackie Kai Ellis

I had heard that the light in India was of a different quality—more luminous, more golden, warmer. After a couple days of exploring Delhi, capturing its colorful chaos and lavish motifs, I now believe this to be true.

The Light at Leela Palace

There were many luminous moments in Delhi, and it began with a sincere welcome from The Leela Palace, where my friend travel photographer Joann Pai and I were adorned with garlands of fragrant jasmine and honored with a tilaka, a marking of sandalwood paste on the forehead the moment we stepped through their doors.

The Leela Palace Hotel, New Delhi The Leela Palace Hotel, New Delhi

A check-in from the comfort of our room after a late-evening arrival, the pleasant weight of the bathrobe, the airy dosas for breakfast—all these luxurious details were an example of the Indian hospitality which inspired Leela Palace. The founder, late Captain CP Krishnan Nair and his love, Leela, were so passionate about sharing this hospitality that they created Leela Palace in Mumbai in 1986 then expanded to ten locations across India.

As we walked through the grand foyer, clad in smooth stone, we were greeted by name and made to feel we were in the safest hands, in the home of attentive friends. The spaces were considered, from the rooftop pool overlooking the city and its sunsets to an intimate bar crafting custom cocktails. We were told that Leela herself had chosen each piece of furniture. There was such pride beaming from those relaying the story, it was that kind of bright smile that goes a long way.

Old Delhi Marigolds

Old Delhi

We hopscotched our way between the piles of deep pink roses and marigolds laid out on brightly colored cloths at the flower market, a tour that Leela Palace had organized. Street vendors selling chaat beside bags of petals awaiting celebrations (it was wedding season). Flowers gradually gave way to bright red carrots, baskets of fresh fenugreek and produce carried on heads of women dressed in a kaleidoscope of fabrics.

The vibrancy of Old Delhi was magic in itself. Just beyond, was a noisy network of “three-wheelers” and scooters needling their way through tiny alleys where statues of golden gods, bracelets, fabrics trimmed with golden thread and turmeric were being sold. Of course, the smells of samosas frying and chai simmering inspired a stop at Golden Horse Mehar Chand and Sons in order to pack our suitcases with tea and spices.

Taj Warmth

Apart from the wonderful award-winning restaurants (Varq being one that reimagines classic Indian cuisine with an impressive wine list) and the gorgeous works of art that studded the entire hotel, The Taj Mahal Hotel emanated exactly what it meant to create an experience, above and beyond just a beautiful hotel. They created warmth.

The Taj Mahal Hotel The Taj Mahal Hotel

The Taj family of hotels single-handedly helped to save a small community of textile-makers, believing so fully in preserving the art, they committed to buying the most stunning uniforms from these artisans. Though, in our case, they surprised us with comforts they had heard us mention in passing, organized last-minute tours for us in a different city. And when we found ourselves unwell, which at times happens while traveling, they came to the rescue and offered us a room in which to rest, without expecting a thing in return.

The Taj Mahal Hotel

Though I have had the fortunate opportunity to visit some of the world’s most beautiful hotels, even still, the warmth in India was truly of a different quality. It was vibrant, rich and very, very gracious.