The mayhem of New Delhi disappears behind large walls as security guards greet us with "Namaste" and usher the car into the stillness of the Aman, New Delhi's enclosed complex. It's an imposing, L-shaped structure of beige stone, which is more business hotel than holiday resort - it's the first Aman in such an urban location. Once inside, silence reins, broken only by the echo of feet against stone as we are taken through security under the gaze of a stone elephant, its grey shape surrounded by the bright orange of marigold garlands. Glass-panelled doors lead to a muted lobby, where the concierge whisks us upstairs, explaining that check-in and all other transactions are done en-suite to ensure maximum privacy and comfort. The theory worked.
Built atop the old grounds of the government-owned Lodhi Hotel, the new, two-hectare contemporary structure is in the southwest of the city, just south of the Delhi Golf Course. A normally 15-minute ride to Connaught Place and other central attractions such as Defense Colony has become laborious as construction for the Commonwealth Games in October has made Delhi's streets impassable. There's not much by way of walking around the neighbourhood in this area; best to take a taxi or an automatic rickshaw (all now powered by liquified natural gas or LNG, locals will point out), to your destination.
From the private rooms in the hair salon to the latticed jaali gates covering the outer walls, exclusivity reins. There's no loud bustle of visitors in the main lobby or tourists languishing about the halls - it feels more like a gated community going about its business of escaping from the hustle of the city. Guests are amiable, with foreign businessmen seemingly with their families, and tourists making up the bulk of visitors when I stayed. The three-level Lodhi building attracts the most social gatherings, with each separate floor housing a Spanish-themed tapas bar, a cafe and a restaurant. A convivial after-hours crowd is known to keep the live band up and playing on the ground floor, while the adjacent cigar lounge offers a dark-panelled retreat for the smoking crowd. One senses that the pleasure of business, rather than the business of pleasure, is the mode of operation for most guests, who top off a day's business activity with a dip in the pool or a relaxing dinner.
Despite its sprawling layout, only 67 suites have been built, 28 of which are residential; there are also 31 standard rooms. Both suites and rooms in the hotel's multi-storey accommodation wing feature private plunge pools. We stayed in a three-bedroom Lodhi Pool Suite, which is kitted out with rotating plasma TVs and Wi-fi, as well as luxury touches such as a suede daybed attached to the plunge pool. The specially-made chuki-chuki, a mixture of nuts and jaggery, placed by the bed in the evenings, was also a nice touch.
From the concierge to the dining staff, exquisitely polite and well-informed staff were available at all times. Henry Gray, the Aman's manager, is a friendly Scot who can often be seen leading guests around or offering advice to passers-by. Genial managers head up the recreational and spa facilities, making the ground floor seem more like a cosy community rather than a commercial enterprise. The room service was a bit slow, but porters, concierge and waiting staff were all highly efficient.
In addition to the tapas bar et al in the Lodhi building, the Aman is an all-day restaurant that offers everything from south Indian food to American pancakes to kaiseki, French and Japanese fusion cuisine. Breakfast costs from US$10 to $20 (Dh37 to Dh73), and consists of freshly-squeezed juices such as pomegranate and sweet lime, and international fare such as freshly baked croissants and pakoras. Adjacent to the restaurant is Aman Lounge, which puts on a decadent afternoon tea spread ($11; Dh40) perfect for long conversations or to accompany a good book.
The airy spaciousness of the grounds and the rooms, which offer a true avenue of escapism for one wishing to get away from the city. The sprawling health spa lends itself to this agenda: massage rooms combine a lounge area, a bath, bathroom and access to an adjacent hammam that one can spend an entire day in. The massages themselves combine a form of deep tissue, Thai and reiki massage that is a great stress-reliever, from $124 (Dh456) for a 90-minute treatment. Mine left me feeling pleasantly buzzed. The small touches that strive to make the resort feel like a home are charming; the specially commissioned statues and art as well as the basins of water filled with marigolds make the hotel feel more like a grandiose villa.
The dark wood panelling, which can be oppressive, and make it hard to find light switches in the day light. The minimalist design can also be something of a nuisance when wanting to access things quickly. The rooms still need a pragmatic touch: there were no electrical sockets in our living room and the lights function on a complicated matrix system. Also, the more plebeian among us would've perhaps enjoyed a few snacks in the mini-bar alongside all of the designer water bottles.
An amazing getaway if you want to escape the crush of the city and surround yourself with luxury, but not the ideal location for those who wish to feel the beating pulse of frantic New Delhi.
A double room costs from $660 (Dh2,424) including taxes, up to $2,880 (Dh10,579) for a three-bedroom Lodhi Pool Suite. Aman New Delhi, Lodhi Road. www.amanresorts.com (0091 11 4363 3333)