Know the time when you are so overwhelmed with your work, that you slip up on keeping tabs on the holiday calendar? Well, I recently had a first-hand experience of the same when I realised that work was almost finished, and I had a long unplanned weekend ahead. Now, inspired by the uber-digital generation of the 21st century, I googled around for happening places which my pocket could accommodate. And, guess what, Delhi trumped the deck!
So, that’s how I got to visit the capital, and learned a few of its secrets. The city is not merely confined to the grand monuments which grace its soils, but offers a number of different and interesting activities for the inquisitive traveller to explore. Here I mention a few of these, which left me with lifelong experiences to share.
1. Art Though ART?
The city of New Delhi has been patron to a host of virtuoso artists over the course of its richly-flavoured history. Unsurprisingly, the capital city finds itself front-row seats to a cultural renaissance of sorts in the 21st century as well – if the boom in art galleries serves as any indication.
My first expedition was at the Delhi Art Gallery, located in the village town of Hauz Khas, which is perhaps a staple joint of – well, everyone. This 24-year old space is renowned to have one of the most exhaustive collections of Modern Indian art, and I found myself surrounded by over 35,000 unique marvels of ingenuity from Modernists to early British spectrums, along with leading painters of date.
The next stop was The Nature Morte, that has grown to become synonymous with contemporary art since its inception in 1997 by artist Peter Negy, with a distinct focus on concepts and installations. Based in central-south Delhi, the Gallery Nature Morte represents a host of cemented Indian artists today.
And last, but not the least, I came to Exhibit 320, which has its principal focus on experimental art and visual dialogue, and saw that the space is continually abuzz with a plethora of discourses, seminars and critiques from artists and aficionados even from far-flung destinations. It has evolved to become an eclectic breeding ground for artists and students alike, and aims to uncover a new generation of contemporary and experimental prodigies.
2. Heaven on A Platter
You ask me, half the wars in the history of the world could’ve ended over a cup of coffee. Wherever you come from, good food is a common denominator for happiness. And what place needs peace if not the capital city?
Peace be unto the Paranthawallas, who served Prime Minister Nehru and his family – along with countless noteworthy patrons after setting up shop in what is now known as the Paranthewalli Galli in the 1870s. The lane has since become a cherished haunt of celebrities and commonfolk alike. I sure hoped to run into one!
And should reputation permit, please do sink those magnificent teeth into the Matar Paneer Tikki at Lala Babu Chaat Bhandar, for street food is the name of the game here. Delhi’s chaat connoisseurs pride themselves on carving a niche out of everyday flavours and ingredients, with establishments such as the Bishan Swaroop Chaat Bhandar in Chandni Chowk, which earned its bones with just three items – a tradition which continues long after its birth in 1923.
Shri Balaji Chat Bhandar in Chandni Chowk takes the cake (or Gol Gappa if you will) as the most popular chatwallah in the now-iconic market. The Papdi Chaat, along with its Khasta Papdis comes highly recommended.
Got a sweet tooth? Gianni di Hatti near the Fatehpuri Mosque serves the quintessential Rabdi Faluda, alongside exotic ice-cream flavours like Lichi and even Bubblegum. Not to mention a litany of creamy fruit shakes and sundaes.
And while you’re at it – head over to the Ghantewalla at Chandni Chowk. This 200-year old appetizer haven bustles with a vibrant atmosphere and some truly delectable savouries – you’re not walking out before several mouthfuls of Badam Burfi and Pista Samosa with Halwa Papdi on the side, obviously.
Ghantawalla is, quite literally, an old hand at the game it’s playing – the in-house Dal Makhani and Reshmi Kabab remain yet to be contested, and the tea is a cup of heaven in this store-cum-drawing room.
3. High Already??
Damdama lake, Photo by Ekabhishek, CC BY-SA 3.0
Delhi NCR, with its glittering skies and towering monoliths, makes for a lifetime experience of wanderlust as one drifts across the skyline, scooped up in a hot air balloon – the latest addition to the city that has it all. The serene fathoms of the Damdama lake serve only to enliven the journey among the clouds. Wanderlust Travels and Rock Sport Adventures are two major names in the field, along with several others, all of which offer competitive prices usually between INR 9000-13000 per head for an hour of bird watching. At close range.
4. Happiness Is – A Bargain!
Upon seeing it, I realised that the Dilli Haat is that rare government initiative that actually worked – and how! It’s made its mark as the one-stop shop for a sublime desi experience, with an unrivaled horde of designer furniture, shawls, stoles, silverware and antiques on sale with a rotating cast of vendors. And yeah, there’s food.
Since the grand opening in 1994, Dilli Haat offers your fix of art and appetite under a single roof – the Uttar Pradesh stall is your go-to place for a plate of mouth-watering biryani for two, along with some dry pan and chatpatas next door. And don’t forget to hit up the Sikkim stall and indulge yourself with a bowl of thukpa – noodle soup with vegetables, egg and chicken served in a warm broth.
After satiating your appetite, you may venture to The Punjab stall, which has made a steady reputation for its phulkari work – a craft so delicate, it takes upto six months to perfect a single phulkari dupatta! Also, vendors offer conveniently bespole satchels and bags as well – so make sure you negotiate hard and have a general idea of what you need in mind. The Lucknow and South Indian stalls are a trip down the memory lane, housing a stupefying collection of Thanjavur-art inspired paintings with styles dating back to 1600 AD, and Chikan-work tunics and fabrics to weave into breathtaking summer dresses to your heart’s desire.
5. The Symphony of Faith
The Kena Upanishads spring to life in this humble but inspiring tale from ancient Indian scriptures at the Yagnapurush Kund, home to the Akshardham Light and Sound Show, New Delhi. It was mesmerizing to see the 27-foot tall bronze figurine of the Lord Neelkanth presiding over a 9-lotus pool, modeled after a sacred Hindu ritual arrangement for ceremonial invocations as innocent children incured the wrath of the Gods in this bewitching tale of devotion.
The Sahaj Anand water show is a lesson in philosophy, as well as a technological marvel made possible by the combined efforts of international veterans and venerable sadhus, aided by a symphony of actors working in concert to produce a truly one-of-a-kind moment in the history of religious tourism.
So, the next time you are in Delhi, don’t just limit yourself to the Qutb Minar or Jantar Mantar or Red Fort. Take a dig at these activities and uncage the wanderer inside you!
Rohit is an architect by profession, but lets the voyager spirit inside him take over now and then. He loves exploring new destinations and feasting on the local cuisines. His most cherished hobby is writing, and some of his amazing experiences can be found on transindiatravels.com