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The Oberoi Maidens Delhi, India

Unruly Delhi and the hurly-burly of the twenty-first century are left behind as guests ascend the marble staircase onto a long front porch which conjures up old India hands settled into their gin and tonics. Now, enclosed to capture the air-conditioning, the porch has, a bit sadly, morphed into a wide corridor for the Cavalry Bar and Curzon Restaurant. Doric columns, stained-glass windows and flowers sent up from the Oberoi's own farm embellish the lobby.

The Garden Terrace, past the rear of the lobby, is a small informal restaurant with indoor and terrace seating. The day starts with a hybrid Indian-Brit breakfast buffet with everything from curried potatoes to British bangers. Casual ' la carte dining continues through dinner.

Shabby-chic grounds begin on the far side of the restaurant's tropical terrace. Here one can listen to birds, rest under trees, sunbathe by the classic kidney-shaped pool or even play tennis. It is a treasure for restoring one's equilibrium between charges made into Delhi's challenging, fascinating chaos.

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Maidens' 56 rooms have high ceilings, lots of space and voluminous baths. Most have separate sitting rooms. Originally designed to escape India's heat, they have only small windows and many face onto the now-enclosed second story porch, giving them a rather dark, viewless and dowdy character. The hotel is next in line for an elegant Oberoi makeover. The restoration will, no doubt, retain her charm but not her current charmingly-affordable rates.

When the Oberoi Group took over Maidens in 1943, M. S. Oberoi liked it so well, he moved his family and offices here and some of the offices remain. The Oberoi's prestigious hotel and culinary school is also located on the property. Guests in residence when the culinary students prepare their themed'last month Chinese, next month Indian'practice banquets are in for a particular treat. The students don't run Maidens, of course, but all of the staff is imbued with the Oberoi style of service being taught here. It can be summed up in the first sentence of the pocket card each staff person carries, "We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.

The dowager Maidens is still well-attended, even though she's a maiden no more.