Author: KERRYN BURGESS
Photography: GRAHAM CROUCH
Designer Fleur Wood's success is based on delicate, feminine garments in ethereal fabrics. Wearing her designs, women never perspire; they glow. So it's a little incongruous to hear Wood describe a recent trip to Delhi at the height of summer, when temperatures regularly topped 42 degrees. "I never stopped sweating," she says. "I was pregnant, red-faced, sweltering and sweaty."
Chilling out in her studio in Surry Hills, Sydney, just weeks after returning from the city that is gearing up to host the Commonwealth Games, Wood looks cool and relaxed. Despite the obvious discomforts associated with her most recent trip, she is perpetually passionate about the country she visits regularly on business. "I love India. I am a truly dedicated India fan. The clichés of India are clichés for a reason, and that is that they are true: India is a love or hate place. If you love it, you have to surrender yourself to it. You can't fight it, you have to go with the flow of it, you have to embrace it. There is a magic to it and an aliveness to it that I've never found anywhere else."
The complex embroidery and painstaking bead-work that characterise Wood's style are the main reasons for her frequent visits to Delhi, where this work is carried out by practised seamstresses. "India is obviously very famous for its art and craft traditions," she says. "That's something I love about India: they really are embracing their culture and there are a lot of workshops and charities set up to look after women who are working in their homes and keeping the tradition of the craft alive, making sure they're being fairly compensated and paid for their work. I love the fact that you see very wealthy people wearing the traditionally embroidered sari and the salwar kameez. If you go to a wealthy Indian's home you will see Indian fabrics and Indian textiles and Indian embroideries and Indian paintings on the walls."
Wood first travelled to the subcontinent as a 22-year-old backpacker. "It was totally overwhelming and I was totally lost. I actually couldn't wait to get out of Delhi and it took me three days to work out how to buy a train ticket to Jaipur. I hadn't travelled a huge amount." Now an experienced India-phile, she's keen to share her insider knowledge of the city with other travellers.
Old Delhi is one of her favourite haunts. "You've got Chandni Chowk, the main artery, and then you have all these different bazaars, very narrow alleyways that have been there for hundreds of years. The architecture is just extraordinary. Most of it is decayed and falling apart, but life here really does exist as it has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years. It's great to get a guide, or there are bicycle rickshaws, and you can hire them for half a day and they will take you on a tour."
The newer part of the city has its attractions too, being home to Wood's favourite city hotel, the Aman New Delhi, as well as to a host of cool boutiques and restaurants. "One of the things I love about India is that it's one of those countries where they really love foreigners. I mean, it's always hard when you're near really touristy places because you do get harassed, but people are endlessly curious about you and I've always felt incredibly welcome and incredibly safe in those situations.
"I've become used to walking into any temple, any gurdwara, any
mosque, and I've never ever had anything but a welcoming reception.
But often visitors are worried about not knowing the right thing to
do. For example, before you go into a gurdwara, which is a Sikh
temple, you have to wash your hands and wash your feet and it's all
very confusing. If you stand there looking slightly confused,
though, someone will always come up to you and gesture for you to
do this, do that, and take you through it. I've had people point to
things and give me sign language for what I need to do and it's
"In the years I've been travelling to Delhi, the city has changed hugely. One of the biggest changes has been the pollution. The city converted all its buses and tuk-tuks over to green gas, which has made a huge difference. For years and years I'd been coming to Delhi and never once saw a blue sky, whereas now you regularly see a blue sky."
Wood enjoyed the sense of anticipation in Delhi pre-Games, a city normally driven by commerce and politics. "When we were there, they were going through all the angst Sydney went through pre-Olympics - 'We're not going to do it, we're not going to be ready in time.' There was lots of self-criticism in the media, exactly as there was in Sydney. But I have no doubt that they will pull it off. I have no doubt there will be a wonderful patriotism and a wonderful welcoming to foreigners within the city."
"When the Mughals came across the Himalaya from Iran and Iraq and invaded India, they made Delhi their capital, so the city is full of Mughal sites. They ran their empire from the Red Fort, which is in the same architectural style as the Taj Mahal - nowhere near as beautiful as the Taj Mahal, but very impressive." Eastern edge of Old Delhi
"The father of modern India is revered in India, and you can still see Gandhi's picture everywhere. I love the Gandhi museum. It's not flash and it's not what you would perhaps imagine; it's very simple. It's the site where Gandhi was assassinated. Sad, humble and beautiful." Birla House, 5 Tees January Marg, New Delhi, + 91 11 2301 2843
"On a Sunday afternoon India Gate is Delhi's answer to Sydney's Hyde Park or Botanical Gardens. A lot of Delhiites and families go there, and there are paddleboats for hire. There used to be balloon-wallahs, chai-wallahs, popcorn-wallahs and people with carts selling trinkets and trifles, but apparently they've been made to leave for the Commonwealth Games. I loved the spectacle, the colour and the craziness, and I hope they'll be back." Rajpath, New Delhi
"If you want to escape the hustle and bustle and the harassment you can experience on the street, Lodi Gardens is a lovely place to go to relax and just sit quietly." Lodi Rd, Lodi Estate, New Delhi
"Nizam-ud-din Dargah is a shrine to one of the most famous Sufis, Sufism being a mystical order of Islam. You can go at any time, but on Thursday nights they have Qawwali - it's a form of devotional music - with singing. If you're lucky there'll be whirling dervishes. Women need to wear a head scarf, and men can buy head coverings just outside the temple. Then you go in and sit down and listen to the music with everybody. It's such a spectacle, yet it's an everyday-type occurrence." Lala Lajput Rai Path, near Lodi Rd, Nizamuddin West, South Delhi
Gurdwara Bangla Sahib
"Delhi has a big Sikh population, and Gurdwara Bangla Sahib is one of the main Sikh temples in the city. It's all marble, it's huge, and it's on a very busy main road (cars, horns, motorbikes, heat, beggars, chai-wallahs), so it's crazy and noisy, but inside, it's a very welcoming place. There's a little cubby in the wall where you take your shoes off and they give you a number and look after your shoes for you. In front of the gurdwara there are taps and a fountain where you wash your hands and your feet; your head has to be covered whether you're male or female. Then you walk up some stairs and enter the main hall. Feel free to chat: it's not about silence. There's music playing and they're always serving food. The little garden outside is pleasant if you want to go and have a wander. It's a very welcoming place." Corner of Ashok Rd and Baba Kharak Singh Marg, near Connaught Place, New Delhi
"On the streets throughout Delhi there are mini Hindu temples the size of a cupboard. Each temple is dedicated to one of the thousands of Hindu gods, and people stop by to make offerings. Religion here is completely intertwined with people's everyday lives."
"Kinari Bazaar is an alleyway that goes for ever and ever. It sells laces and beads and trims and trinkets and tinsel and bells and shells and any form of ornament or button you could ever want. I go there to buy tat for my god-daughters for arts and crafts, and I go there for work as well. It's a really great experience." Behind the Gurdwara Sis Ganj, off Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi
"The smell of the spice market is intoxicating. There are all kinds of herbs and spices I've never seen or heard of before, and you come away with chilli all the way down the back of your throat." Western end of Khari Baoli Rd, off Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi
"If you want a great experience, go to Santushti. It's like a shopping centre, an enclave, a compound, with all these little shops and stalls and you walk on pebbled pathways from one to the other. Come here for beautiful Indian-inspired things - homewares, textiles and jewellery, for example, all very exclusive and upmarket. There are no bargains." Race Course Rd, opposite Ashoka Hotel, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi
"Hauz Khas was traditionally an Indian village. In Australia, the equivalent would be Sydney's Crown Street in Surry Hills, or Melbourne's Smith Street in Collingwood: it started as a scummy little downmarket place, and then because the rent was cheap everybody started putting in cool shops and it became hip. There are some really cool antique stores and beautiful fashion designers here. One of my favourites is Ogaan, where a lot of Indian women buy their wedding saris. They might cost $10,000, but they're incredible works of art." Hauz Khas Village, South Delhi
"I'm a huge fan of Indian jewellery. Frazer and Haws is one of the oldest silver manufacturers in the country, and they used to supply to the British throne." Shop 11, Main Market, Lodi Colony, New Delhi, +91 11 2464 7818
Lajpat Nagar Market
"Lajpat Nagar is like a commercial shopping mall in terms of the goods available, but it's a street. It's a place your average Delhiite would go any given Saturday to buy whatever they need. I love the Indian bracelets often worn by the lower-middle class. They'd form part of a girl's wedding dowry. I bought mine years ago and I never take them off. The jewellery sold here is solid gold and the designs are extraordinary. You buy it by weight." Between Veer Savarkar Marg and Feroze Gandhi Marg, Lajpat Nagar, South Delhi
"Janpath Lane is full of Rajasthani tribal women sitting on the street selling textiles, mirror embroideries, shell embroideries and all those typical traditional pieces. There are beautiful vintage pieces to be found, as well as cheap gifts. You feel sorry for the sellers because they appear to be poor women sitting on the side of the road. But I was buying a lot from one woman and I would often go back to her house. She had a driver pick me up in a nice Tarago and take me to her lovely five-bedroom house in the suburbs where her cook would make me a snack and bring me a cup of tea on a silver tray. So don't feel obliged in any way. Barter like crazy!" Janpath La, off Janpath Rd, Connaught Place, New Delhi
Sunder Nagar Market
"This is an antiques precinct - you have to bypass the repros to get to the good stuff. There are some lovely jewellery stores here. Padma Gems sells Indian-designed gold and silver jewellery, including pieces with a contemporary edge." Padma Gems, 9A Sunder Nagar Market, off Mathura Rd, New Delhi
"This is one of those restaurants that divides people. GT photographer Graham Crouch, who lives in Delhi, and my husband Nick Bryant, who lived there for three years, didn't necessarily agree with my decision to include it here. But Bill Clinton and Bill Gates are on my side. Anyone who's famous and visits Delhi will eat here - it's the most famous Indian restaurant in the city. There are people who argue that the food is not as good as it should be, but at Bukhara I ate one of the best dhals I've ever had." ITC Maurya, Diplomatic Enclave, Sardar Patel Marg, New Delhi, +91 11 2611 2233
"Most of the Indian upper-middle class can afford their own chef or their own cook, so they eat Indian at home. This means that when they go out, they want to eat Italian or Thai or Chinese - they don't eat at Indian restaurants. But Varq represents something new: a modern, hip take on Indian food. It's unusual here and it's had great write-ups." The Taj Mahal Hotel, 1 Mansingh Rd, New Delhi, +91 11 2302 6162
Olive Bar & Kitchen
"Why would you go to India to eat Italian food? Good question, but this restaurant is special: it's where my husband and I met. At the time, he was the South Asian correspondent for the BBC, based in Delhi. We were introduced by one of his friends from university. The ambience is gorgeous, and the food makes it one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Chef Saby [Sabyasachi Gorai] trained with Tetsuya Wakuda in Sydney. It's also great for people-watching as it's where the locals go when they're going out." One Style Mile, Kalka Das Marg, Mehrauli, South Delhi, +91 11 2957 4444
"Indian sweets are definitely something to indulge in and enjoy. I love the ras malai, which are cottage cheese balls in milk syrup with saffron and pistachio. In January, look for carrot halwa, which is made from carrots, almonds, sugar and milk cooked for a very long time. But not just any carrots. The ones used for halwa are bright red and they're in season only in winter. At Kanwarji's, it's trays and platters of every colour, and silver leaf on everything. It's heaven." 1972 Chandni Chowk, opposite Central Bank, Old Delhi, +91 11 2326 1318
"The 'Japani' samosas here are said to be the best in all of India. I think it's the freshness of the oil, the freshness of the vegetables and the amount of spice. I don't eat Indian food off the streets and I wouldn't recommend it to others, but this is not a food stall and the food turnover is really high." Shop 38/240, Diwan Hall Rd, opposite Moti Cinema, Lajput Rai Market, off Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi
THE FINE PRINT
Singapore Airlines flies from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth to Singapore, with twice-daily connections to Delhi. Return fares start at $1495. 13 10 11
Aman New Delhi
"Aman is a beautiful hotel, I think the best in the city. The rooms are extraordinary, the food is wonderful, the service is great and I like the Aman philosophy, so it's nice to find that in Delhi," says Wood. Aman New Delhi is Amanresorts' newest city property. Its design draws extensively on local materials: stone floors are softened by handmade rugs, and traditional screens adorn the exteriors. Every room has a private plunge pool. Doubles from $620. Lodi Rd, New Delhi, +91 11 4363 3333
Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games between 3 October and 14 October.
"Freedom at Midnight is one of my all-time favourite books. It explains the story of Partition, when the British left and India was divided between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It also tells the story of Gandhi and his relationships with Nehru and Mountbatten. It reads like a best-selling spy novel - you can't put it down."
Love Delhi: A Hand-book for the Luxury Vagabond by Fiona Caulfield is available from select bookshops and via www.lovetravelguides.com
Check out ninemsn Travel's Delhi dreaming slideshow.