In a world riddled with cheap emulation masquerading as originality, the Lutyens Bungalow, located in the genteel, residential old centre of New Delhi, is the real thing.
Also called the Nath Bungalow, this hidden gem – a rare moment when that expression is genuinely and warmly deserved – oozes class and distinction.
Designed in 1935 by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the classic British architect responsible for designing much of this grand old city, is so much more than simply a place to lay your head.
It’s not, by any means, a traditional ‘hotel’, boutique or otherwise. Entering the property from Prithviraj Road, a wide boulevard that stretches right up to the majesty of India Gate, doglegging left to the gilded domes of the nation’s parliament, the bungalow charms immediately.
Its owner, Shukla, whose father opened the building up to paying guests in 1958 to pay rising land rents, is friendliness personified, aided by a quiet demeanour and sharp, shrewd eyes.
Guests, passing the gatehouse and a cottage terracotta business owned and run by Shukla’s daughter, enter a property whose quiet, mystical sense of individuality and propriety, seems to have disappeared in much of the world.
Lets start with the lawn, the centerpiece of the property. One’s eyes are drawn here immediately. In a place as chaotic and frenetic as India’s capital city, grass, clipped and manicured and without those petty “Keep Off!”signs – is at a premium.
Here is a real, full, English-style lawn (following Lutyens’ intention and design), leading from the house to a row of beautiful-kept contiguous chalet rooms, each with its own bathroom. Solitude is found here, along with proper modern conveniences, including (essential in India’s sweltering high summer) air conditioning and, added in the last year, modernised-but-classy bathrooms complete with power-showers.
As the shadows lengthen, guests are encouraged to mingle around the trestle tables that dot the main outside dining area (it rains little here on India’s high plains, even in the monsoon season, below the giant thornless acacia that plays home to a happy family of green parrots and, at dusk, the cackling ravens that also inhabit nearby Lodi Park.
Dinner is a communal affair, cooked in the well-appointed kitchen, a place that brings to mind an ancestral Victorian mansion – an aim, again, clearly at the front of Lutyens’ precise-but-playful mind.
Guests meet, huddle, banter, exchange life stories. More than a few enduring friendships have begun here, as well as a brace of marriages. In the world of hotel-based travelling, where days can pass without meaningful discourse, the communalism and social sharing found here is a prize above all others.
There are treats, and delights, galore. A generous library encourages visitors to dawdle; at the back of the property, for those drained by the harry-and-hustle of Connaught Place’s shops and restaurants, sits – a godsend in summer – a modestly-sized swimming pool.
Ancient clocks sit on the high walls in the lounge, and in the winter months, as the cold sets in, dusting Delhi with an occasional dose of light snow, guests gather around one of the fires in the main rooms to share stories.
But the most endearing, and enduring, attraction is that at no level does the bungalow feel like a hotel. This, to the discerning visitor, matters. Hotels, even those that pamper the guest while charming the socks off their feet, are divisive places. Walls establish space but also distance between guests. Food is consumed in individual portions, often delivered to the travel-weary seeking silence and solitude.
Lutyens grants the latter but with the option of enjoying social interaction. This is a place that offers comfort but which is not, to its credit, a motherlode of opulence and, in the often misplaced modern sense of the word, “luxury”.
A superior double room is, at between Rupees 5,000-7,000 (£65-£90), depending on the season, a veritable bargain. Wireless Internet access is free (rare for Indian guest houses or hotels), as is the healthy fare served up for dinner, and in the fruity early-morning buffet. Given a day’s notice, Shukla can organise a pick-up from Delhi’s spruced-up airport for less than a tenner.
Sat outside, nattering with fellow guests, enjoying a Kingfisher beer or a chilled soda from the American-made Frigidaire, as the night lengthens and the smells of honeysuckle and Frangipani drift across the garden, coating and heightening the senses, there are few better places to be. This is a place that offers value for money, comfort, friendship, and – best of all – the luxury of feeling your soul fill with harmony and grace.
39, Prithviraj Road, New Delhi – 110003, India
For reservations and more information visit www.lutyensbungalow.co.in