A Day in Delhi

is not enough..
The sun is shining in Delhi.. gently, as it does on special days. Not quite the ‘kachhi-dhoop’ (nascent, raw sunshine) of winter but more the beckoning of a nubile spring. The breeze raising barely a whisper against the skin, but a whisper that brings one closer. The skies glow in their shades of blue, a shade more sophisticated than the blingy days ahead. The gardens, I know will be alive with colour, the roads speckled in shade. What does one do on a day like this here other than embrace it?

Some of us started early and caught the mist off the Gurgaon Faridabad road on their cycles, swooping down at the pace of their hearbeats. Others traversed the ridge, the low peaks taking them down paths that few care to dwell on.. they often meet at the heart of Delhi – India Gate. The C-Hexagon calls them all, though few know that the immediate area around the actual India Gate permanently has a ban on large gatherings. This is where Delhi gathers when India wins the World Cup or just has great weather…

Food is what Delhi does best and starting with a morning bread pakora and chai in the Buddha Jayanti Park is a pleasant way to begin. Or then there is the little gali near Gol Dak Khaana.. or even the one behind Khan Market. Delhi’s foodies never have to look far, there is excellence around every corner. For the more posh there is idli-appam-kaapi at Sarvana Bhavan on Janpath that starts at 8am, but there is a queue within half an hour. My personal favourite of course is a delightful walk in Lodi Gardens where you try hard not to eavesdrop on delectable gossip about people everybody knows followed by a crisp if spartan breakfast at the IIC. For those who are quite not morning persons, there is of course the famous Delhi brunch.. be warned that brunch here does not quite start at the same time as most places in the world.. your guests are likely to turn up after 1pm.. and of course you either go to the Yum Yum Tree (proper prosecco and sangria) or the Olive, made famous by its consultants and bankers with their trophy dates (To be fair to them, they are delightful and get it just right).

Start the day at Humanyun’s tomb, newly restored and resolve to come back to Nizamuddin in the evening for the evening. Wonder whether Chandni Chowk, Red Fort and the food around the Jama Masjid might be nicer.. and if you can, do attempt the walk from the Humayun’s Tomb to the Red Fort. It could have been lovely along the river, and my grandparents used to walk the distance from Lodi road to Khari Baoli and Chandni chowk every weekend via the edge of the beautiful Delhi University (Civil Lines) and Kashmiri Gate – sadly, only the cognoscenti can navigate these with comfort now. Old Delhi was built along the river, and the Yamuna still defines its boundaries if not borders. A generation later, this may be the grand central waterway as of many European towns.

The city wakes up around eleven.. most shops will not open till about noon, so as we leisurely contemplate our day the wallet finds reprieve till the evening.. who shops in the afternoon anyway? Yes, mall rats do, but then we shall leave them to their devices and look up at the sky and ponder the graces of this old lady. A walk around Lutyens Delhi? A visit to the Mughal Gardens?

New Delhi is built as a series of concentric circles, the centre being Connaught Circus – now renamed. At the centre a raised lawn that covers the seediest market I am told (we used to buy our jeans there decades ago), ringed by the inner circle, the outer circle.. and much later the ring road and the outer ring road. The latter two aren’t quite circular.  The State emporia (one for every state showcase Indian art and textiles better than others, but the shops in the grand new white building have amazing treasures. Across the road,  I would not miss a darshan and walk along the Hanuman Mandir with its bright bangle market that has every colour and pattern to brighten up your wrists and bring music to your day. A smelly lane leads you to the back of the Janpath Lane market where the street market for clothes has brought every teen in town into its loyal fold. My personal favourites are the massive jumbled mountains of clothes that are turned upside down ever so often with the rhythmic cries of the sellers..the wittiest blokes in town. Walk through, buy junk jewellery from the tiny stalls, or just watch. The more formal market feels crumbly now, but has Delhi’s best cold coffee, make-up, shoes, and music. Don’t forget to stop by the circular book stall run by the blind. Janpath has just begun.. and you are hardpressed to decide whether you want to turn right towards the tibetan, kashmiri, leather and clothes shops(you won’t find better high street bronzes anywhere else) that lead you onto the Cottage Emporium (as much a museum as a shop), or to turn left towards more delights and the centre of the market. Turning left takes to towards exploring connaught place as it wakes up, its little gems hidden behind the noveau hoardings of harsh new brands. And thence towards the Bangla Saheb Gurudwara with its clean cool marble and delicious halwa parshad. Opposite that is Delhi’s biggest Cathedral, grand in its beauty and steeped in history. I prefer the church at Sardhana near Meerut, but this is a traditional Catholic base that comes alive every Christmas.

Turning left along Janpath would take you to cultural Delhi. A detour along the Jantar Mantar where marvelling at the hardiness of those sitting in dharna should not detract from  the architectural marvel that epitomised the science of eighteenth century India. Not far is the beautiful Agrasen ki Baoli.. a three layered stepwell that stored water for the harsh summer months. Sticking to Janpath (the path of the people) allow the long cool road to lead you to grandeur.  It will lead you past the hurly burly and the metro construction (resist the temptation to duck into the Imperial, Delhi’s most beautiful hotel) to the wide road called Rajpath. Just before you reach Rajpath, you will see the National Museum. Filled with treasures from across the centuries, just the sculptures in the small garden outside are enough to take one’s breath away. A short walk to Rajpath from there is the King’s road that has the India Gate at one end and the Rashtrapati Bhavan (president’s palace) on either end. Ignore them, or stop to wander a bit, but do carry on across the giant roundabout to the National Gallery of Modern Art. I have never been able to decide whether I want to spend more time in its gardens or in its lovely halls. Old the collections might be, but they are breathtaking in their range. I often spend more time in its shops picking up reprints of rare paintings or miniatures.

When in Delhi, food can never be far.. if you have chosen to go towards the Cathedral, a short walk (or ride, nobody walks in Delhi) will take you to Gol Market where you get the best chhole Bhature in the world. Oh, and Lassi.. and gulab jamun.. and..rasmalai.. the paapdi chat is to die for.. and there is kaleva next door. Stop, stop eating now! Walk it off as you go towards the theatre district near Mandi house, catch a play, or two. Come out into the gloaming or the glowing street lights reflected off dark roads and head straight for Pandara road. More food, true.. but have you had better butter chicken anywhere in the world? (Did I forget to talk about Sundar Nagar? Another time then) (Oh, and Delhi Haat – there is always something new.. a place to wander and discover)

For those of us more discerning folks who went into the art gallery, walk down a bit (metaphorically speaking – do take some wheels, Delhi is big) along the gorgeous houses of Prithviraj Road towards Khan Market – the one place that has it all, including Khan Chacha and my favourite chocolate shop.  Alternatively Hauz Khas market has that and some more..lovely restaurants, a strange lake (Hauz means water tank) and quirky shops. It is the market behind Aurobindo market that now has the decrepit look of a disorderly dowager princess. Ignore the temptations of Green Park market, it is merely everyday kitsch unless you like that sort of thing, though it does have the nicest music and movie shops that are still not parts of a grand chain. Hauz Khas is a maze, and if you have been here a few weeks offers the additional delights of running into everyone you know..again if that rocks your boat.

For a true Delhi person, and those of you who are will find yourself nodding now, a late night past the tiles can only end in one place. The Anda parantha waala. Don’t make me tell you where it is, or how can we tell the haves from the have nots? Or maybe this is just nostalgia for what has been.

I wrote all of this.. and then this post said it so much better.. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/india/130819/20-reasons-love-delhi

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