If you ask any Indian about Delhi, you get a medley of images; some historical, some political, some weather-wise, some geographical. So numerous, and so at-odds are these images that, in the end, there’s only one word that truly fits Delhi: Extreme. The temperature swings through a gap of nearly 50 degrees between summer and winter; there’s architecture here originating from 300 BCE as well as 2000 CE; and the modes of transport also seem to bridge scarcely believable inequities. So there seems to be a tinge of validity when someone alien to the city wonders “Why would anyone want to live here?”
As paradoxical as it may seem, most long-term inhabitants of any city, leave alone Delhi, are incapable of answering this. In part, the reason is that, over time, they have shifted the city to an irrelevant background against which their life plays out. For me, seeing Delhi inside out as well as outside in (more the latter, fortunately) has tempered my love for this city to a nuanced passion that answers stringently: because Delhi is life. Not lively, not vivacious, but life in toto. Most cities that I have had the privilege to live in seem to hum along one note, at best three. Delhi, to me, has been the entire sargam, a raag rendered with equal stress on all seven notes.
And indeed, seven is the definitive number for Delhi. The historian points to New Delhi being the eighth city, which gives the city seven historical, past lives to recall; seven is also the number of Members Delhi contributes to the Lok Sabha (Lower House) of the Indian Parliament. So how best can one spend seven days in Delhi? For starters, there’s always the “old” Delhi of Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk, with an emphasis on old because it is comparatively not as old as, say, Mehrauli, or Tughlaqabad. Still it is, to borrow the phrase, a living bridge, a gentle pointing finger at the subtle interlink between Delhi’s past and present. A day spent here must invariably start in Chawri Bazaar, especially in the winters and unless it’s a Sunday. Here, you can breakfast on fruit sandwiches (Jain Coffee Shop) or, in winters, on the much-acclaimed Daulat ki Chaat. Then you walk through the old-style market towards either Jama Masjid and, beyond that, the Red Fort, or through the by-lanes into Ballimaran, and Chandni Chowk. Both these directions promise a microcosm of exploration and understanding of a still-extant lifestyle that’s at once both “old” and new.
If that first day made you want to swear off crowds forever, fear not, Delhi offers the perfect antidote as well. Pack a picnic lunch, or order one from the hotels in any of Saket’s plush malls, and head off to the nearby Tughlaqabad-Adilabad Fort Complex, on the Mehrauli-Badarpur Road. These vast, sprawling ruins will find you climbing up and down turrets and tunnels that were built just over 700 years ago. Hike through the ruins and the wild growth to the outer ramparts and be dazzled by the expansive vistas of South Delhi. The ruins extend on both sides of the main road, and the awestruck explorer can proverbially forget bhook-pyaas (hunger and thirst). Hence the picnic lunch, which you can enjoy in the well-maintained gardens within Adilabad. In case you forgot to carry lunch, fear not. Alaknanda Market is a 10-min ride away, and offers some interesting, if not fine-dining, options.
Your third day in Delhi is aimed at bolstering the just-achieved balance. You can begin the day at Khan Market, where there are both street food options as well as fine-dining. Breakfast options might seem thin, but be sure to be surprised. From Khan Market, you can walk it down to Purana Qila (Old Fort), by which means you will also spot the ruins on your left before you cross the busy Mathura Road. These date back to Mughal times, whereas the Purana Qila has ruins largely from the Mughal period but the site itself dates back to a far older period. Helpfully, there is a museum inside the Qila complex which details the multi-hued history of Delhi with maps and artifacts. The presence of numerous “lovebirds” might be a distraction, but there is plenty of magnificent architecture to ogle at. For those with time, the Zoo next door is an added attraction, but if you happen to get hungry, you can proceed a short distance south to the Sunder Nagar Market, where you will find dining options on par with Khan Market to round off your day.
(to be continued)
This post is by Bucketeer Raghu , who is, among other things, a scribbler-at-large and full-time foodie. A published poet, Raghu loves traveling, no matter what the reason or season.
Delhi, Sikkim, Kolkata….do you have them on your bucketlist? Write to email@example.com. Share your wish list, food trail in Old Delhi, Done! Learn Bengali cooking? Done; view Kangchenjunga ? Done! …..Just anything and we’ll design a vacation for you, just as you would like. We are also available on +919496 344333.