INDIA – There is nothing quite like India – a kaleidoscope of colour and (managed) chaos, and all this with an election going on. That is really the point – the largest democracy in the world and seeing how it works. Much is admirable, much is miraculous and all is fascinating. We went from the snows of the Himalayas to the high temperatures of Delhi and saw many extraordinary things along the way.
The Golden Temple at Amritsar.
Highlights included the Golden Temple at Amritsar at Baisakhi, the festival to mark the start of the wheat harvest. The shimmering water reflected both the beauty of the buildings and the thousands of people all peacefully drawing spiritual strength from their visit. The practical miracle is seeing how these numbers are fed (for free), with hordes of volunteers chopping, baking and cooking – in India there is order where elsewhere there would be bad-tempered queue jumping.
The Viceregal Lodge, the summer residence of the British Viceroy during the Raj.
Then there was Shimla, with its 360° views to snow-capped mountains, and the glories of the Viceregal Lodge (Scots Baronial architecture and marvellous flowers) from where, for six months of the year, the Brits ran the country, pre-telephones, pre-emails and, presumably, via pigeons and mules. The roads are still what might be termed “slow,” and the mountain railway even slower, but it is scenic heaven.
The lobby of the Oberoi's Cecil hotel in Shimla.
So is the Oberoi’s Cecil hotel, with which I have fallen totally in love, for its incomparable service, charm and comfort. There is another reason, I must confess – their barman makes the greatest Whisky Sours ever encountered, and that he gave me the recipe makes the Cecil my favourite hotel in the world. Here is how you do it:
60 ml Johnny Walker Red Label
a dash of egg white
30 ml lemon juice
30 ml sugar syrup
3-4 drops Angostura bitters (to garnish)
Put the whisky, lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white in a cocktail shaker with 3 ice-cubes and shake well for 2 minutes
Pour into a whisky glass and garnish with Angostura bitters
Finally, we returned to Delhi, in all its heat and dust. We spent an entire morning in the National Museum, crammed full of breathtaking treasures, lingering longest with the Rajasthani and Pahari miniature paintings and early flying celestial sculptures. The only way to finish the day on a high after this was a visit to the roof pool and dinner at The Imperial’s Spice Route restaurant, accompanied by the excellent Indian red wine, Sula’s Dindori Reserve Shiraz, which would certainly give many Northern Rhônes a run for their money. It made a change from lassi.
The Imperial Hotel's Spice Route restaurant in Delhi.
After going off the habitual, wine-producing track, I am always asked, “What do you first drink when you are back?” when, understandably, we dump the suitcases and go to the cellar. This time we downed a marvellous Spanish Albariño, Pazo Señorans’ selection from the 2005 vintage, matured on its lees for more than 30 months – if you have not tried this, you do not know what Albariño can do. Then we proceeded to that supervenetian wine, Masi’s Campofiorin 2009, all cherries, berries and softness, with its brilliant grape-drying process that still only leaves you with 13% alcohol. Feeling not quite replete (well, we had been out of port for twelve days), we found a half bottle of 1999 Château Lafleur, with delightful fragrance and elegance proving the point that this was a Pomerol year.
Normal service will be resumed shortly.