Love at first night
Water therapy ... every room has a plunge pool at Aman New Delhi.
Amanda Hooton finds a pool of her own amid the chaos of Delhi.
I do not usually fall in love with hotels. Certainly not with large hotels, in major cities, that are part of international chains. But when I got to the Aman New Delhi, my defences were down.
I'd already spent a week in India and I was in a state of Stendhal-syndrome shock from the saturated colours, the extraordinary sounds, the (adjectives fail me) smells. Not to mention the fact that, in the days immediately before my Aman arrival, I'd experienced a cancelled flight, an overnight train journey, 12 power cuts in the village I was visiting and a flash flood.
I thought I'd taken it pretty calmly: no tantrums, no tears, only a few Munch-like screams as the lights went out and the village internet crashed yet again. But then I arrived at the Aman – a great square monolith, smooth and serenely geometric.
A welcoming committee of several people had gathered (not so unusual in India) but (very unusually) nobody seemed to expect me to do anything: no passport production, no elaborate explanations required of how I had booked the room, absolutely definitely, with Mr Rohit, where is Mr Rohit, if only Mr Rohit would appear we could sort everything out immediately but, alas, Mr Rohit is not here, he will come later, perhaps in several hours. I am simply ushered through the cool, quiet lobby, eased into an elevator and delivered to my room.
I walk through the dressing room, the bathroom, the bedroom, all in shades of grey, beige and brown, like stones from a riverbed. I step on to the terrace, where the light filters through the jali screens and on to the mirror-like surface of my private plunge pool. And at this moment, I'm ashamed to say, I fall in love.
New Delhi is Aman's third resort in India and 22nd in the world. It's been fully operational only since last month and while its city location has prompted some unique features – it's the only Aman with plunge pools in every room – it maintains the company's commitment to quiet, luxurious escapes. Lying in my plunge pool, I drink chilled champagne, delivered by a handsome man in white kurta pyjamas (my floor butler, Akil, as it turns out) and read a few pages of William Dalrymple's seminal City of Djinns, thoughtfully provided on a bedside table. Then I spend an hour dreamily trying the different armchairs, mirrors and lighting options in my vast, suite-like room. I run my hands over the artisan rugs and the soft leather furniture and the pure cotton sheets. Then I pull myself together and set about putting my new love to the test.
Aman resorts pride themselves on their immaculate service, so I take them at their word. I ask Akil to get four blank cassette tapes for me, plus a new SIM card for my mobile phone that will work in India, plus many, many Indian rupees: all jobs that had proved, strange as it may sound to those who've never attempted small administrative tasks in India, impossible the week before. Akil smiles like a subcontinental Jeeves and vanishes.
Within two hours he has returned with the tapes, a SIM card (and a man from a mobile network to show me how to work it, sign me up and give me credit) and thousands and thousands of perfectly crisp rupee notes. The notes, in particular, are amazing: Indian money has usually been handled so much it's the colour of dust and the texture of suede. Perhaps the Aman mints its own currency, I think. After watching the sunset on my terrace while sipping a pomegranate cocktail garnished with silver leaf, I'm prepared to believe anything.
After this, I pretty much give up on the testing. I have a massage at the spa centre, performed by a tiny therapist with hands of velvet steel. I sample two of the three fantastic restaurants. I talk to the Aman's British general manager, Antony Treston, who is charming and tells me he's been considering getting a falcon to stop Delhi's pigeons pooing on the hotel buildings. “Though I'm slightly worried about the moment the falcon actually strikes the pigeon," he says. "Imagine if there were children watching.”
Treston is responsible for the fleet of customised Ambassadors – the native car of India, cute as a VW Beetle and almost as iconic – that serves the hotel's guests.
I take one of these cars on a customised hotel tour to the flower markets and ancient monuments of Delhi. Another handsome employee accompanies me, pointing out picturesque ruins and flower sellers, their marigolds and jasmine heaped in waist-high piles on the red dirt. Both these flowers fill the Aman: the marigold petals in marble bowls big enough to bathe in, the jasmine in urns by the silver-leaf clad elevators.
After the tour, as we drive smoothly through the insane Delhi traffic, the Ambassador bouncing gently over the potholes, I realise the true secret of the Aman New Delhi. It can make the rest of the world disappear. And when the rest of the world is as intense and insistent as India, that's a feat even more amazing than love. It's a miracle.
Amanda Hooton stayed courtesy of Aman New Delhi.
Singapore Airlines has a fare to Delhi for about $1300, with an aircraft change in Singapore. Malaysia Airlines charges $1310, changing aircraft in Kuala Lumpur. It is possible to fly into Delhi and out of another city such as Mumbai or Kathmandu. (Fares are low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney, including tax.) Australians require a visa. Vaccinations are recommended, so talk to your doctor.
Rooms at the Aman New Delhi range from a standard room with plunge pool for $US550 ($600) a night to a Lodhi three-bedroom pool suite for $US2200 a night. The 2.4-hectare resort has a 50-metre pool, tennis and squash courts, a Pilates studio and a gym, all with professional instruction. Airport transfers are available — and advisable. Phone +91 11 4363 3333, see amanresorts.com.