City breaks by the BBC: Delhi
In the fourth of our series, Akanksha Saxena, researcher at the South Asia bureau, talks up trendy downtown villages, tuk-tuk rides and history at every turn.
Where's the bureau and what's the view?
The bureau is located in the heart of the capital in Hindustan Times House on Kasturba Gandhi Marg - a street named after Mahatma Gandhi's wife. The bureau is situated on one of the several arterial roads leading to the city centre, with a British-era shopping district called Connaught Place, or CP, on one side and the historic India Gate on the other.
The Georgian-style Connaught Place is buzzing with the headquarters of several top-notch Indian firms, banks and business houses. Beyond CP, the area mostly features a lot of concrete blocks. Bookshops, cafes and multi-cuisine restaurants are a stone's throw away, though, and the central park offers some much-needed green relief. One can head there in the evenings after work to relax, enjoy one of the regular cultural events happening in the park or just witness life passing by.
What should I see in Delhi?
There are plenty of places for one to see. Delhi is about how medieval and modern India coexists. You will feel surrounded by history, from pre-Mughal dynasty to Lutyens' Delhi. A thousand years are suddenly in front of you at every corner stone. Go to Qutub Minar (the tall minaret in red sandstone) in the far-south, or take a casual walk in the Lodhi Gardens. One can also go to the walled city built by Mughal emperor Shahjahan, losing and finding in the narrow lanes around Jama Masjid, Meena Bazaar to the Red Fort.
From India Gate, a straight road called Raj Path leads to the presidential estate, where the Parliament building is flanked by the North and South Block. These imposing structures are symbolic of the British legacy.
The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) houses the best of Indian modern and contemporary art. There are private galleries too, like the Devi Art gallery and Vadehera. India Habitat Centre or India International Centre are favourite destinations for international conferences and cultural events.
You shouldn't miss the urban villages of Delhi - Hauz Khas and Shahpur Jat. They are trendy, downtown areas similar to Covent Garden or Camden Town. They boast experimental cafes, clubs, galleries and designer couture that attract a young and hip crowd. Hauz Khas village has a lovely monument as its backdrop, with a vast manmade lake and deer park next to it.
Other great places for chai and conversation are the vast and sprawling green of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) or Delhi University. The JNU campus is located on a hill and one can try different Indian cuisines in its canteens, many subsidised for students.
What should I do in Delhi?
Besides sightseeing, Delhi has a food culture and one must surely do the Old Delhi food tour, where 150 year-old restaurants still serve some of the best examples of dishes from our culinary heritage. The sound and light shows at the Old Fort and Red Fort offer good evening entertainment. There are heritage walks or you can journey through the city on hop on hop off buses.
You can try draft beer at jazz bars in the evenings. Khan Market is a place for lazy brunches or catching up with friends as there are a variety of outlets catering to different taste buds, from sushi to sandesh (Indian sweet). Bohemian neighbourhoods, like Paharganj and Munirka, offer everything from sandwiches to sheesha!
If you are a book lover then visit the book market, which takes place every Sunday in Daryaganj in the old city. If you have patience, you can chance upon the rarest titles in the whole wide world at dirt-cheap rates. On Thursday evenings one should go to Nizamuddin Dargah - the mausoleum of sufi-saint Nizamuddin, then taste the fresh from the grill kebabs and listen to qawwali music into the wee hours of the morning.
In Hauz Khas village there is an electric drum circle - you can play your own tune. You can also relish gourmet food from any of the many cafes overlooking the lake. Quiet evening walks in the Lodhi Garden among relics of the past is also an experience far from the maddening crowd.
If you want souvenirs, try the exquisite Indian crafts from the flea markets, Janpath, Dilli Haat and Sarojini Nagar. Otherwise, there are numerous upscale malls. The shopping hubs of South Extension, Greater Kailash and Saket are a shopaholic's delight. There is so much that the city offers.
Where should I stay?
Any centrally located or embassy area hotels have options for luxury to business travellers. Tastefully done decors in Hauz Khas village havelis (private mansions) have emerged as new options. Other good B&B options are in Greater Kailash, Panchsheel Park. Budget accommodations are available near the New Delhi railway station at Paharganj.
What local delicacies should I eat or drink while I'm there?
Kebabs, biriyani, paranthas, roomali roti, various kind of lentils, thalis (or speciality) of different states of India.
What would be the best night out?
The best night out is actually a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra, but that is two hours away. In Delhi the best night out could be walking down from the President's House to India Gate, having ice cream and joining the festivity that goes on around there every evening. Then one should go for a sumptuous Indian meal or hit the nearest dance floor.
What's the best local secret?
Ignore anyone staring at you, learn some bargaining skills for the flea markets, try the tuk-tuk ride and don't travel alone at night. There is a 60-metre long and 15-metre wide historical step-well right behind the office called Agrasen Ki Baoli. Have a kulfi (Indian ice cream) there if you have half an hour to spare from work.