111 Places in New Delhi that you must not miss - Sharon Fernandes - ebook

111 Places in New Delhi that you must not miss ebook

Sharon Fernandes

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Now the political and cultural mecca controlling the pulse of India, the vibrant metropolis of New Delhi has been ruled by many powerful empires and seduced many powerful rulers over the centuries. With a history that stretches back to ancient times, there are stories and memories embedded in every crevice and corner of the city. This unusual guidebook invites readers on an adventure beyond the well-mapped and best-known landmarks to explore New Delhi's most hidden pleasures and unravel its most shrouded mysteries. Walk the byzantine lanes of Old Delhi, offer alcohol to a god, savor a biryani made by the emperors' cooks, meet the sitar maker to the Beatles, visit India's oldest toy shop, and gaze upon the abandoned statue of a legendary queen. From tales of perfumers, emperors, and quaint local characters to bustling streets, legend-filled ruins, and ever-changing landscapes, discover the true essence of one of the most fascinating and evolving cities on the planet.

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111 Places in New Delhi That You Must Not Miss

Sharon Fernandes

emons: Verlag

Imprint

© Emons Verlag GmbH // 2016 All rights reserved Text: Sharon Fernandes © der Fotografien: Tarunima Sen © Photographs: Tarunima Sen, except: Ahinsa Sthal (place 3), photo courtesy of Alamy; Delhi Metro Museum (place 25), photo courtesy of “Art in the Metro,” an initiative by the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, in collaboration with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation; and Yamuna Biodiversity Park (place 110), photo courtesy of Yamuna Biodiversity Park. © Cover icon: iStockphoto.com/Anegada Design: Emons Verlag Maps based on data by Openstreetmap, © Openstreet Map-participants, ODbL ISBN 978-3-96041-027-0 eBook of the original print edition published by Emons Verlag

Did you enjoy it? Do you want more? Join us in uncovering new places around the world on: www.111places.com

Table of contents

Foreword

1_A Godin & Co. | Official piano tuners to Lord Mountbatten

2_Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana’s Tomb | The plundered tomb that still shines

3_Ahinsa Sthal | A place of peaceful existence

4_Ashokan Rock Edict | Delhi’s original edict

5_Atgah Khan’s Tomb | A token of an emperor’s love

6_The Attic | A secret cultural club

7_Azadpur Mandi | Asia’s largest wholesale vegetable market

8_Babu Shahi Bawarchi | A dinner fit for emperors

9_Bagh-e-Bedil | In memory of a great Persian poet

10_Begumpur Mosque | Delhi’s second-largest mosque

11_Bhairon Mandir | Offer alcohol to the gods

12_Bijai Mandal | A hall of a thousand pillars

13_The Carpet Cellar | The rug kingdom

14_Chausanth Khamba | The magic of 64 pillars

15_Chillah Sharif Hazrat Nizamuddin | A divine retreat

16_Coronation Durbar Park | A graveyard of British-era statues

17_Dar-e-Shikoh Library | A Mughal prince’s library

18_Daryaganj Book Market | Where the streets are paved with books

19_Dastkar Nature Bazaar | The alternative Dilli Haat

20_Delhi 6 | The royal sport of pigeon handling

21_Delhi Blue Pottery Trust | The birthplace of Indian studio pottery

22_Delhi College of Art | Finding Queen Victoria

23_Delhi Eye | India’s largest Ferris wheel

24_Delhi Ivory Palace | An embroidery museum in a 300-year-old shop

25_Delhi Metro Museum | South Asia’s first modern metro museum

26_Delhi Police Headquarters | The country’s tallest mural

27_Delhi’s Barsatis | The penthouse charm

28_Delite Theatre | Delhi’s best cinema experience

29_Devi Art Foundation | Breathing life into contemporary Indian art

30_Devi Prasad Sadan Dhobi Ghat | A dhobi ghat in the centre of the city

31_Dhoomimal Art Gallery | The cradle of Delhi’s contemporary art scene

32_Embassy of Belgium | One of the 20th century’s 1,000 best buildings

33_Feroz Shah Kotla Fort | Meet the affable letter-reading djinns

34_Flagstaff Tower | A safe haven

35_Gadodia Market | The centre of Asia’s spice trade

36_Garhi Artists Studios | An artists’ residence in a hunting lodge

37_Ghazipur Phool Mandi | A riot of flowers

38_Ghaziuddin’s Madrasa | Asia’s oldest educational institution

39_Gulabsingh Johrimal | The emperor’s perfumers

40_Hanuman Mandir | Red henna and black tattoos

41_Hardayal Library | Delhi’s oldest public library

42_Hauz Khas Village | Head to the party town

43_Hauz-i-Shamsi | The haunt of a winged horse

44_Haveli Khazanchi | A secret tunnel for the emperor’s treasures

45_Heritage Transport Museum | India’s first transport museum

46_Hijron ka Khanqah | A spiritual retreat for kinnars

47_India Gate | The tale of an empty canopy

48_Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts | A grove, in memoriam

49_Iroha Bakery | Taste of Tokyo in Gurgaon

50_Isa Khan’s Tomb | India’s oldest sunken garden

51_Ishq-e-Dilli | India’s first mapped architectural projection show

52_Jahanara Begum’s Tomb | The Empress of Princesses

53_Jain Studio | Hand-painted custom Bollywood art

54_Jantar Mantar | The lane of protests

55_Jhandewalan Hanuman Statue | Delhi metro’s poster boy

56_Khoj Studios | An alternative space for artists

57_Kumhar Gram | The largest pottery colony in India

58_Kuremal Mohanlal Kulfiwala | The cool fruit stuffed with ice cream

59_Lal Kuan Bazaar | Where kites get their wings

60_The Lanes of Shahpur Jat | An open-air street-art gallery

61_Lawns of Rajpath | The trees of the empire

62_Lodhi Gardens | One man’s trash can, another man’s canvas

63_Lothian Cemetery | The oldest Christian cemetery in Delhi

64_Madras Coffee House | A vintage hangout for the city’s intellectuals

65_Mandi House & Jor Bagh Metro Stations | Public art on the go

66_Maulana Azad’s Mausoleum | In remembrance of a leader

67_Metcalfe’s Folly | An Englishman’s point of view

68_Mirza Ghalib’s Haveli | A poet’s home

69_Mizo Diner | Hip-hop and graffiti meet Mizo grub

70_Museum of Everyday Art | Celebrating the ordinary

71_Nai Ka Maqbara | The mystery of the barber’s tomb

72_National Zoological Park | A lone ancient milestone

73_Nau Ghara | A bejewelled temple and nine havelis

74_New Delhi Railway Station Flyover | Neon nights in Delhi

75_New Gramophone House | Delhi’s vinyl institution

76_Nigambodh Ghat | The river that once flowed clear

77_Northern Railways Headquarters | The home of a white Mughal

78_Old Famous Jalebi Wala | Will the real jalebi please stand up?

79_Parikrama | Delhi’s only revolving restaurant

80_Parthasarathy Rocks at JNU | Delhi’s highest natural point

81_Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki’s Dargah | The last Mughal emperor’s unfulfilled wish

82_Rai Lala Chunnamal’s Haveli | The largest haveli in Old Delhi

83_Rajon ki Baoli | The prettiest and largest stepwell

84_Razia Sultan’s Tomb | The shambles of Delhi’s first female ruler

85_Reserve Bank of India | Delhi’s first public art installation

86_Rikhi Ram Musical Instruments | Sitar maker to the Beatles

87_Roshanara Bagh | The pleasure garden of a banished princess

88_The Sari School | The fall, drape, and pleat of an ancient garment

89_Satpula | A bridge across history

90_The Second-Largest Flag in India | Standing tall in the heart of Delhi

91_Sharma Farms | A farm of antique furniture

92_Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts | The brutalist trail

93_Southex Books and Prints | Antique books, maps, prints, and photographs

94_St. John’s Church | A Mughal façade, a cross, and a temple spire

95_St. Martin’s Garrison Church | The soldiers’ church

96_St. Xavier’s School | Previously the Cecil Hotel

97_State Bank of India | The erstwhile palace of a nautch girl

98_Subz Burj | A 15th-century traffic circle

99_Sufi Inayat Khan Music Academy | The universal mystic’s song

100_Sujan Singh Park | Delhi’s most exclusive address

101_Sultan Garhi’s Mausoleum | The country’s first Islamic tomb

102_Sunder Nursery | The birthplace of Delhi’s tree-lined avenues

103_Swantantra Senani Smarak | The country’s most haunted place

104_Tihar Food Court | A restaurant run by prison inmates

105_The Treat | A Rajesh Khanna fan’s dedication

106_Triveni Terrace Café | An intellectual’s haunt

107_Urdu Bazaar | The katibs of Urdu market

108_Urdu Park | The Delhi Wrestling Federation hangout

109_Yadgar-e-Zauq | The rescued tomb of the king of poets

110_Yamuna Biodiversity Park | A man-made miracle of nature

111_Yogmaya Temple | The only surviving pre-Sultanate temple

Gallery

Maps

Foreword

Delhi, “the city of cities,” is also a city of storytellers. Its blue signboards, sandstone monuments, and even its trees have enthralling tales to share – tales of the past and the present. From Ibn Batuta and Khushwant Singh to Amir Khusro and William Dalrymple, for anyone attempting to write about Delhi, the shadows of literary giants loom large. Yet it is these very shadows that guide you through this city that has been shaped by grand sultanates and ambitious colonialists.

Each neighbourhood – old and new – bears a unique personality that leaves a life-long impression on the beholder. The winding lanes of old Chandni Chowk transform into a maze in vacation scrapbooks. The creaky rhythm of cycle-rickshaw pedals becomes a soundtrack for your travel stories. The sprawling gardens and avenues of Luytens’ Delhi evolve into nostalgic bookmarks

Delhi, as an experience, is greater than the sum of its parts. For me, Delhi represents India, in all its unwieldiness, its contradictions, and its diversity. I have tried to capture this mixed bag of feelings that Delhi evokes with the 111 colourful and esoteric places included in these pages. There is the Delhi of Sufis, the Delhi of Emperors, the “modern” Delhi, and of course, the “foodie” Delhi. This collection of little-known places forms the ethos of a sprawling city filled with undiscovered locales, crumbling edifices, and a culture where the cliché “melting pot” truly applies.

The moment I thought I had unravelled a bit of Delhi, it led me further into a world where princesses wrote poems, Sufis performed miracles, poets lay forgotten in their graves, and tombs were reborn as traffic circles. This is my Delhi. And now it is yours too.

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1_A Godin & Co.

Official piano tuners to Lord Mountbatten

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The gleaming white baby-grand piano, enjoying pride of place in the centre of this shop, draws in casual strollers even if they have no intention of buying an instrument. The knowledgeable staff members at A Godin & Co., accustomed to gawkers, are indulgent, and humour curious walk-ins. There’s an air of aloofness among the huddle of the shiny black pianos that have a dedicated section at the back of the shop. It is as if they know that they lounge in a hallowed musical space. Even the street gets quieter as one nears this landmark. For this is no ordinary music store. Its legacy goes back to 1900 in Quetta, Pakistan.

As with most of the oldest business concerns in Delhi, the Partition of 1947 was a turning point for A Godin. After Independence, the shop saw a rise in the popularity of classical Indian instruments among its patrons. So, while the haughty pianos maintain their distance, the front of the store features sitars and tablas, sharing a harmonious space with violins and saxophones. The refurbished, modern-looking store receives a lot of interest in pianos nowadays, however, probably more than the days when English civil servants rented pianos for a monthly fee.

Info

Address 1, Regal Building, Parliament Street, Tel +91 11 2336 2809 | Public Transport Patel Chowk Metro Station (Yellow Line) | Hours Mon–Sat 11am–7pm| Tip Watch a matinee at the Regal, one of Delhi’s oldest cinema houses. With sepia photographs of film stars lining the walls, and a grand staircase that leads to the balcony seating, the Regal’s atmosphere is a throwback to the black-and-white movie era.

A Godin & Co. has been housed in the Regal Building since the 1950s. A certificate proclaiming the store as the tuners to Lord Mountbatten is hung hidden from view on a wall in the inner section. There is no attempt to highlight this illustrious customer. Celiano Godin, founder of the store, has had musical greats like Elton John, Ravi Shankar, and Brian Silas walk in through these doors over the years.

As a young budding musician stops in and heads for a piano, notes of popular artist Sam Smith’s Stay With Me fill the room. These are far removed from the classical strains heard in the store during days of the Raj; but though the notes may have changed, the music plays on at A Godin & Co.

Nearby

The Attic (0.006 mi)

Hanuman Mandir (0.137 mi)

Madras Coffee House (0.155 mi)

Dhoomimal Art Gallery (0.224 mi)

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2_Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana’s Tomb

The plundered tomb that still shines

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Better known as Khankhana by locals, the tomb that stands in plain sight is among the most overlooked monuments in Delhi. Few know the story of Abdur Rahim, fewer still of its existence in the shadow of the grand Humayun’s Tomb complex, nearby.

This gentle giant of a monument, with vestiges of water channels and pools, stands proud on a square platform covering arched cells. The sandstone structure, once a glorious landmark, was stripped of its marble slabs and other ornamentals, which were used to build Safdarjung’s tomb. Delicate floral and geometrical carvings and the remnants of a magnificent peacock struggle to survive among its defaced walls.

Info

Address Mathura Road, Nizamuddin West | Public Transport JLN Stadium Metro Station (Violet Line) | Hours Daily, sunrise to sunset. Admission fee: Rs 100 for foreign tourists.| Tip Tee off at the Delhi Golf Club (Dr Zakir Hussain Marg, Lodhi Colony) with peacocks that monitor your swing. Not a golfer? Then sip a martini or a cup of tea, or discover the hidden monuments on the courses. You will need a member to accompany you.

The story of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana (1556–1627) has been lost to time. A respected general commanding a huge army in the court of Akbar, Abdur Rahim is remembered more for his poetry than his military career. His keen interest in astrology and linguistics, as well as his understanding of warfare, led Akbar to entrust his son Jahangir’s tutelage to him. In a twist of fate, Abdur Rahim’s two sons were killed by Jahangir, and left to rot at the infamous Khooni Darwaza, when they opposed Jahangir’s ascension to the throne of Delhi. Bereft of family, wealth, and power towards the end of his days, Abdur Rahim died a broken man.

Though little is known of the man who wrote them, his dohas (Hindi couplets) live on. One of his popular dohas reflects upon the wisdom and heart of a great man: “When I set out to look for evil, I found no one wicked. When I searched my own heart, I found there was none as evil as I.”

Once an inspiration for the Taj Mahal, Khan-i-Khana’s tomb is a peaceful oasis adjacent to a busy thoroughfare. As motor vehicles zip by, it still offers a poetic vista – a reminder of the time when poet Tulsidas and Abdur Rahim spoke to each other in couplets.

Nearby

Nai Ka Maqbara (0 mi)

Chillah Sharif Hazrat Nizamuddin (0.155 mi)

Subz Burj (0.174 mi)

Isa Khan’s Tomb (0.28 mi)

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3_Ahinsa Sthal

A place of peaceful existence

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This tiny, well-manicured, and lush park calls out to the world-weary to come soothe their souls for a while. At the centre of the park a 14-foot-tall Lord Mahavira statue, installed by Jain worshippers in the mid-1980s, affords a panoramic view from its pedestal. Stray visitors mostly chance upon the statue while visiting the Qutb Minar.

Few are aware of the historic significance of the statue of the last tirthankar (pure soul) of Jainism. The first battle of Tarain (1192) was a significant battle in Delhi’s history. It was the first time Muhammad Ghauri attacked what was then the territory of Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan. Ghauri was defeated, but when he returned with a larger army a year later, he prevailed and executed the Rajput king. After vanquishing several kingdoms and rulers, he returned to Afghanistan, leaving his slave-commander Muhammed Aibak in charge. Aibak, a devout Muslim, destroyed several temples in the Mehrauli area. It is believed that they were stripped to construct the Quwwat-ul-Islam, the country’s earliest mosque. As Mughal power diminished, people demanded that the mosque be felled. But the Jains, adhering to their tenets of non-violence, built the Ahinsa Sthal. Seated in Padmasana pose on a lotus flower, Mahavira overlooks Mehrauli, with its profusion of structures belonging to different religions.

Info

Address Mehrauli Bypass, Mehrauli | Public Transport Saket Metro Station (Yellow Line) | Hours Tue–Sun 11am–9pm| Tip Qila Rai Pithora (Qila Rai Pithora, Sainik Farm), which also incorporates the Lal Kot, is a 12th-century fort from where the Tomar Rajputs, Prithviraj Chauhan, and the slave dynasties ruled Delhi. The bastions and gateways still remain and a statue of Prithviraj Chauhan in the Qila Rai complex is a reminder of the first city of Delhi.

Incidentally, this was the site where British resident Thomas Metcalfe’s summer home, Battery House, stood. His idea of a house by the ocean was definitely a misplaced notion in a landlocked city, with Metcalfe’s Folly (see p. XX) visible in the distance. Now, stone apsaras (celestial maidens) mischievously peep out of the thick foliage, musicians play silent tunes, and poems pepper the walls with wisdom. One line reads, “I shall not be too proud nor shall I be angry towards anyone.” Behind the Mahavira statue, the colour of the sky is a glorious gold, stained by the setting sun.

Nearby

Metcalfe’s Folly (0.211 mi)

Hauz-i-Shamsi (0.385 mi)

Rajon ki Baoli (0.404 mi)

St. John’s Church (0.503 mi)

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4_Ashokan Rock Edict

Delhi’s original edict

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This is the story of a bloody war that changed the course of history. The carnage of the battle of Kalinga (256 bc) left more than 100,000 dead on the battlefield and forcibly evicted 150,000 others. As a victor surveying his winnings, Emperor Ashoka, one of history’s greatest conquerors, saw monks trying to bring solace to the dying. It was an experience that transformed him; he gave up his imperialist ambitions and embraced Buddhism.

Ashoka’s adoption of the Buddhist religion brought peace to his kingdom, which stretched across the Indian subcontinent. Desirous of sharing his newfound spiritual and religious wisdom with his populace, he inscribed his learning, teachings, and messages on rocks. These 36 edicts, written in Prakrit using the Brahmi script, were installed throughout India. Of these, three are now in Delhi. Two of these are pillar edicts, and were transported from the cities of Meerut and Ambala by Feroz Shah Tughluq. One of them can be seen outside Hindu Rao Hospital, and the other is at Ferozshah Kotla Fort.

Info

Address Srinivaspuri, near the ISKCON temple, Raja Dhir Sain Marg | Public Transport Kalkaji Mandir Metro Station (Violet Line) | Hours Daily, sunrise to sunset| Tip The Lotus Temple (Lotus Temple Rd, Shambhu Dayal Bagh, Bahapur), a lotus-shaped architectural marvel propagating the Baha’i faith, is close to the edict.

The only edict original to Delhi is located close to the Kalkaji Temple, in South Delhi. Discovered in 1966 by a building contractor, it was examined by archaeologists and found to be similar to 13 other rock edicts. This one is considered the 14th engraving. Sitting on a grassy hillock, protected by an unsightly concrete and metal cage, the rock inscriptions are faint. The only visitors are Buddhists from around the world, who tie prayer flags to the cage (which is sometimes opened for a curious individual). Children fly kites at this pit stop on the ancient trade route. It is also said that the rock was installed at the site of an old temple.

His message of striving for dhamma (the right path) is clear in intent and perhaps lives on in spirit in an urban colony that has the ISKCON temple, Kalkaji temple, and Buddha Vihar, all nearby.

Nearby

Garhi Artists Studios (0.59 mi)

The Sari School (2.007 mi)

Southex Books and Prints (2.305 mi)

Subz Burj (2.343 mi)

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5_Atgah Khan’s Tomb

A token of an emperor’s love

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Lost in the urban sprawl of Nizamuddin, the tomb of Emperor Akbar’s foster father, Atgah Khan, is a respectful token of love built in 1566–67. The white marble and deep red sandstone weave a tale of political aspiration and crude jealousy into the tombs of Atgah Khan and Adham Khan. In death they remain bonded by the hatred that led to their ends.

A farmer’s son, Shamsuddin Muhammad started out as a soldier and rose through the ranks. His wife Jiji Angah was chosen as one of Akbar’s wet nurses. He helped Emperor Humayun escape Sher Shah Suri and was a trusted court member. In recognition of his service, Humayun bestowed upon him the title Atgah, meaning “foster father”; and after Humayun’s death, Atgah Khan became the orphaned boy-emperor Akbar’s advisor in administrative, army, and personal matters. When Atgah Khan was appointed wakil (prime minister), a jealous Adham Khan (son of another wet nurse) murdered him in the Diwan-i-Khas. Akbar, in turn, had Adham Khan thrown from a terrace, not once but twice, as punishment – a doubly tortuous death indeed.

Info

Address Near Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, Nizamuddin Basti | Public Transport Jangpura Metro Station (Violet Line) or Pragati Maidan Metro Station (Blue Line) | Hours Daily, sunrise to sunset| Tip Ghalib’s, a famous restaurant in the lanes of Nizamuddin, is known for its melt-in-your-mouth kebabs.

Under Akbar’s instructions, Mirza Aziz Kotah, Atgah Khan’s son, undertook the construction of his father’s tomb. In every tiled wall and latticed stone of the tomb, there is a tribute to the man who stood by the side of the boy-emperor. The tomb showcases a combination of different Mughal styles, such as pietra dura work, calligraphy, and medallions.

Like many Mughal monuments, Atgah Khan’s tomb served as a refuge to the displaced during the Partition. Surrounded by brick houses, the tomb, located in a courtyard with a small metal gate, remains hidden from sight. The wooden door to the tomb is locked to prevent it from misuse. A pavilion and a once-beautiful mihrab (wall that indicates the direction of Mecca), with delicate tile work, serve as a backyard to the families living in the complex.

Nearby

Jahanara Begum’s Tomb (0 mi)

Sufi Inayat Khan Music Academy (0 mi)

Chausanth Khamba (0.075 mi)

Isa Khan’s Tomb (0.273 mi)

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To the beginning of the chapter

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6_The Attic

A secret cultural club

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On a quiet section of Parliament Street, flanked by a clothing store and a dry cleaner and two flights up a wooden staircase, is the Attic. It was once a personal museum of sorts, host to private exhibits of inherited heirlooms, textiles, art, and jewellery. It spun off from these beginnings into an organic performance and gallery space that throws up surprises every so often. Even though it is right in the heart of Delhi’s first colonial-era shopping mall, Connaught Place, it remains a little-known secret of the city.

What the Attic lacks in size, it makes up for in heart. Divided into three sections, the 1,000-square-foot wood-panelled space is warm and welcoming, with a relaxed vibe. A large window in the cloakroom-cum-reception area frames the tiny vestibule, which features bookshelves, a few stacked chairs, and a casual mountain of floor cushions. A versatile, well-lit larger gallery with stark white walls follows. Cleverly, this also works as a space to seat an audience. Further ahead is “the stage,” with mud walls; separated from the main room by only a curtain, it is an intimate theatrical setting for both the audience and the talent.

Info

Address 36 Regal Building, Parliament Street, Connaught Place, www.theatticdelhi.org, [email protected] | Public Transport Rajiv Chowk Metro Station (Blue & Yellow Lines) | Hours Event based| Tip The Shop (10 Regal Building), just down the road, is a delightful boutique that offers handcrafted textiles, and products that are ethnically influenced but contemporary in style.

“Expect the unexpected” certainly applies here. The Attic showcases an eclectic range of talent and topics. One day there could be a mindful eating workshop, another day a solo theatre performance, a music recital, a themed poetry reading, a film screening, a photography exhibit, an Italian cooking class, or an alternative telling of Alice in Wonderland in Urdu. During one visit, an artist was rehearsing for an upcoming event at a small pulpit, which brought to mind a certain Shakespearean drama involving a balcony. A democratic space, it hosts young artists, old poets, classical dancers, filmmakers, environmentalists, and open-mic amateurs. It’s a unique creative “space for the living arts” where the spectators and performers are all part of the drama.

Nearby

A Godin & Co. (0.006 mi)

Hanuman Mandir (0.13 mi)

Madras Coffee House (0.149 mi)

Dhoomimal Art Gallery (0.211 mi)

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To the beginning of the chapter

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7_Azadpur Mandi

Asia’s largest wholesale vegetable market

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Nowhere is the change of seasons more evident than at the Azadpur Mandi, located just off the Grand Trunk Road. Seasonal vegetables and fruits weighing thousands of kilograms find their way to the Azadpur Subzi Mandi (vegetable market) that’s been here since 1977. The place is filled with colour, sounds, and scents – sometimes pleasant and sometimes plain rotten. Porters lug nylon, net, and jute sacks of potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, pumpkins, oranges, apples, watermelons, and other produce that you might never have seen before. Traders are happy to jump in and tell you more about how the special pumpkins come in from West Bengal, and at times even share a basic recipe to get you started.

This is not one of those markets that have an intense burst of activity in the early morning hours and then fall into a sleepy lull for the rest of the day. Truckloads of produce arrive morning, noon, and night; the bidding and dealing of auctions are constant in this market that never sleeps. There’s even a timetable for when kacchi sabziya (raw vegetables), fruits, and hardier vegetables like potatoes and onions arrive.

Info

Address Adarsh Nagar New Sabji Mandi, Azadpur | Public Transport Adarsh Nagar Metro Station (Yellow Line) | Hours All day| Tip On the walls of the Delhi Cold Storage building next to the Azadpur Mosque, Axel Void’s riveting graffiti, which is part of a series called Mediocre, stops people in their tracks. A dark wall with a single candle burning beside a fruit platter and a knife with the Hindi word Zindagi (“Life”) inscribed on it is fitting for the market that provides sustenance to this city of cities.

In the chaos and arcane appearance of the mandi, billions of rupees exchange hands. Even the deals follow old methods of hidden handshakes and under-the-kerchief pacts – although these take time to spot, since technology is changing customs.

Around 15,000 tonnes of exotic, local, and rare produce pass through the nondescript, makeshift stalls of the massive mandi, spread over 75 acres. Every corner offers delightful sights. A load of lemons is weighed in one stall, crates of peaches are delivered elsewhere, and an assortment of green herbs is arranged in baskets at another stand – the vibrant market revels in its connection with the farmers and the land, a refreshing experience for city slickers who are used to Saran-wrapped, sterile produce picked from supermarket shelves.

Nearby

Coronation Durbar Park (1.541 mi)

Roshanara Bagh (2.597 mi)

Flagstaff Tower (2.753 mi)

Yamuna Biodiversity Park (3.362 mi)

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8_Babu Shahi Bawarchi

A dinner fit for emperors

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In Delhi, biryani is more than just seasoned rice with meat or vegetables. It is an obsession. Everyone has a personal favourite, and the choice of ingredients, duration of cooking, material of the vessel, type of fire, and even the use of a ladle (or not) become bones of contention. Seemingly pleasant people are immediately divided into conflicting factions. If there is one biryani that brings a ceasefire to many a well-informed table, it is Babu Shahi Bawarchi’s biryani.

This consensus-generating delicacy comes from a small, open-air restaurant with deep cultural roots. There couldn’t be a more surreal spot for a meal. Set in the courtyard of the Hazrat Matka Shah Baba shrine, the eatery is surrounded by trees. The branches of these trees – which reach for the sky, where the divine meets earthly desires and wishes – are bedecked with earthen pots, offerings of gratitude made by believers at the shrine, in exchange for wishes granted. The call of the muezzin creates an ideal atmosphere for the stories that swirl along with the fragrance of rose petals, incense, and the perfect biryani.

Info

Address Shop No 5, Dargah Matka Peer, Mathura Road, Pragati Maidan, opposite NSI Club, Tel +91 11 23371454 | Public Transport Pragati Maidan Metro Station (Blue Line) | Hours Daily 9am–9pm| Tip The National Handicrafts & Handlooms Museum (Bhairon Marg, Pragati Maidan, Tue–Sun 9.30am–5pm) showcases rural and tribal arts, culture, textiles, and architecture in an immense space.

Annu bhai (a masculine endearment), the owner of this small eatery, can trace his lineage to the head chef in the kitchens of Emperor Shahjahan. The stories of emperors rewarding their courtiers with biryani from this family’s kitchen aren’t volunteered as easily by Annu bhai as they used to be by his father, the late Babu Khan. The rudimentary setting of bare benches, a metal table, and the presence of the shrine above may deter a lot of Delhiites from dining here. However, they show their love for the place by ordering kilos of this limited menu over the phone.

Only true gourmands and pilgrims venture to this nondescript eatery. Perhaps that is the reason why it remains a secret of the “inner circle” of Delhi.

Nearby

Bagh-e-Bedil (0.062 mi)

Bhairon Mandir (0.329 mi)

Ishq-e-Dilli (0.36 mi)

Delhi College of Art (0.621 mi)

To the online map

To the beginning of the chapter

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9_Bagh-e-Bedil