Delhi is an acquired taste, a dense and sprawling metropolis defined as much by its traffic as by its Hindu shrines and imperial monuments. The language of the car horn prevails (challenged only by the patois of recumbent cows in the middle of the road), and the city's more sybaritic offerings are often hidden in the jumble of twisting Mogul alleyways. The place to stay is the magnificent Imperial hotel ($400? $3,000; theimperialindia.com), in the center of town. It's a cultural expedition in its own right and a stylish base from which to explore the city's five essential stops.
A shawl is the first thing on most Delhi shoppers' lists, and to the amateur eye they're all lovely. But caveat emptor: Fakes abound. Khub Chand Sawhney, whose Kashmir Shawl Emporium is in the Janpath market, knows his cashmere like few others. His selection is stunning, with the finest pieces secured in drawers, which the staff unlocks only after they know you're a serious buyer. So make friends and be patient. An exquisite pashmina with double-sided embroidery sells for $3,000; a lesser-quality?but no less authentic?shawl runs around $300. At 94 M. M. Janpath; 91-11/2332-1783.
The Shop for Saris
All the classic fabrics are at Khadi?hand-spun cotton, silk, and wool made into saris, scarves, tunics. The Ayurvedic soaps and tonics come from ashrams across India. Ask for help?the best stuff takes some digging. $ At 24 Regal Bldg., Connaught Pl.; 91-11/2336-2231.
Astrology is as important in Indian culture now as it was 3,000 years ago. Ma Prem Usha is one of the country's best-known tarot readers, using astrology, numerology, symbology, and the occult to reveal her insights. Usha, who conducts hour-long sessions at the Maurya Sheraton, has a long international waiting list, so book in advance. $70. At Diplomatic enclave, Sardar Patel Marg; 91-11/2611-2233.
The first thing you'll notice about Sagar is that most of the guests are Indian. This is überauthentic South Indian fare: spicy and soupy vegetarian, served with rice. The wide range of dal, curried vegetables, and pachadi (a yogurt dish) comes with tamarind, coconut, and mango chutneys?each representing a traditional flavor, color, and aroma. $ Dinner, $10. At 18 Defence Colony Market; 91-11/2433-3440.
Touch of the Gods
Many Western Ayurvedic massages are just Swedish rubdowns beside a scented candle. The Tejas Spa at the Taj Mahal hotel offers the real thing: For $95, you get a consult with an Ayurvedic doctor and a massage by a duo (recalling the four hands of Dhanwantari, the god of Ayurvedic medicine). At 1 Mansingh Rd.; 91-11/2302-6162.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.
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