a home with soul
Stanley Moss finds Shanti Home a
genuine experience, where he can feel the soul of India
photographed by the author
WHEN HOTELS IN FRANCE
ARE awarded stars to indicate their quality, the guest welcomewhat
the French call lacceuilfigures greatly in the
final evaluation. If this were the test in India, Shanti Home, a
boutique hotel set in a residential quarter in West Delhi, would
easily get the top rating of five stars.
Operated by former hospitality professionals
who understand what intrepid wanderers crave the most, this mid-range
property is a warm outpost, both traditional and real, away from
the horrors of the road. It is one where your visit begins with
a sincere welcome which sets the tone for the entire stay.
Here the weary traveller discovers everything
good about the bed and breakfast model, enhanced with 24-hour room
service and a cosy spa. You quickly find comforting human touches
you would never get at an Oberoi property where you could easily
pay five times the money every night and never feel the soul of
India. But dont expect that weird, opportunistic, sucking-up
behaviour the big chains seem to always provide with their high-cost
lodgings. Vagabonds suffering from the malady called Monolithic
Hotel Fatigue will find that Shanti Home offers true relief.
What are some of the differences?
Its smaller, only 17 rooms, so few in number
they dont even bother with numbers, using names drawn from
Indian culture and geography. You're only obliged to remember which
of the four levels your room is, and punch the appropriate elevator
button. This also means the staff to guest ratio of 1 to 1·5
insures attentive service and security. Its comfortable, modern,
clean and spacious, an excellent value at US$125175
The rooftop terrace restaurant features home
cooking. Chef Adil Khan faithfully recreates his mothers traditional
recipes with the utmost affection and accuracy. His range of breads
are a brilliant discovery, always perfect. While the kitchen offers
western-style dishes, theres such a beautiful variety of traditional
fare it could keep your palate busy for a long time. Stay with the
Indian food, and graze the menu.
The décor is authentic, interesting, eclectic,
varied, much of it custom-made for the hotel. Here is a hotel which
values local craft, and has drawn its décor from every corner
of the Indian subcontinent. Its all in the details, like an
authentic elephants headpiece or stills from Bollywood classics,
unique ceramics and wood carvings or an armoire made from an antique
Theres a no-tipping policy, so service
people wont hang around after an interaction, palm upraised.
If you are so moved to tip, tips are shared by all at Shanti Homeyou
simply discreetly put what you want into one of two ceramic duck
banks, which can be found at reception or at the restaurant. If
you want to tip, owner Rajat Verma says, Feed the duck.
There are no televisions, except for a big plasma
screen in the second-floor theatre. This escape from the oppressive
and omnipresent media makes the hotel environment all the more peaceful.
A property for readers, not watchers. But there are also loaner
laptops in the public spaces, and free wifi throughout the property
so one does not feel digitally isolated.
Its located in West Delhi, and why would
anyone choose a property there? For openers its quiet. Your
correspondent stayed in a perfectly acceptable chrome-and-marble
business hotel in East of Kalish for about $25 a night more. It
fronted the metro construction site, meaning constant traffic noise
and dust. Had to ask for a room on the back side of the property.
All the rooms at Shanti Home are tranquil. And
West Delhi isnt Siberia, just the opposite from what the travel
agents want you to believe. The hotel sits only 20 minutes from
the airport, and 40 minutes by car from downtown. The Uttam Nagar
metro station lies 300 m from Shanti Home, and it will get you all
the way to Connaught Place without any fumes or horns or potholes
or beggars in about 20 minutes, no hassles about the driver parking
and waiting. This is both a sustainable act, not to mention a great
convenience, especially at a maximum fare of Rs. 14, about US
35¢ each way.
The Delhi metro is modern, clean, efficient and
cheap. Unlike the chi-chi competitors, Shanti Home provides a metro
map in your welcome packageand on the back of the sheet are
helpful Hindi phrases, something not ordinarily seen at other hotels
The hotel can issue you a loaner mobile phone
for your use while in town. This means you will never get lost,
or be too far from an instant consultantconcierge. Simply
hit the autodial and you may reach the ever-reliable Pooja at the
front desk. She can negotiate anything.
Lets be perfectly clear: Shanti Home isnt
a luxury property. But it has all the trappings: en suite baths,
abundant hot water, big towels, great ayurvedic soaps, a nice restaurant,
efficient room service, and management can arrange anything from
a day at the Taj Mahal to a motorcycle tour of the south. Its
certainly secure, and caters mostly to leisure travellers. The hotel
doesnt advertise in flashy glam publications, building its
healthy repeat business by word of mouth. If you like the aloof
and antiseptic style of super-high-end hospitality, and rubbing
shoulders with entitled tourists traveling with excess attitude,
then go elsewhere.
But the little pleasures and human touches of
this lovely property are the secret surprises: you might stumble
upon a sitar lesson in progress in the second floor lounge, or spontaneously
join a yoga class. Or simply relax up on the terrace poised on a
soft cushion and sip one of Chef Khans deletable mango lhassis
as the breezes pick up and the sky turns ruby to orange to saffron,
to the strains of a night raga. It is then that you will know you
have arrived in the true India.
New Delhi 100 058
Tel 91 11 4157-3366
Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.
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