BEYOND THE OBVIOUS
Off-beat things to do in Delhi
by Debashree Chatterjee
Dotted with ancient monuments, sprawling gardens, magnificent forts and buzzing bazaars (markets), Delhi is stuffed with history and heritage. One can keep discovering it beyond layers and with every layer there is a new surprise, and this is what makes her different. Though, the must-visit places in this city of Mughal grandeur and colonial classiness are mesmerising, but what if you have “been there, done that”… seen them all. Don’t worry. Delhi has an incredible lot to offer. A tourist’s hot-spot and a traveller’s paradise, things to see, do and experience in Delhi are never-ending and can be truly varied, depending on one’s interests and budget. If you want to dig deeper into the local experiences, the city (I love from the head, heart and stomach) has to offer, here is my basket of “unique 10” for you. I have divided the list under a few categories, depending on activities and interests. Hoping you visit and fall in love too with the elegant, quirky, vibrant, crazy enchantress named Delhi, and remember her aura, sound and smell long after you have returned home.
Listen, watch and enjoy…
LISTEN TO SUFI DEVOTIONAL SONGS AT NIZAMUDDIN DARGAH
Experience the magic of music at Nizamuddin Dargah, the resting place of one of the world’s most famous Sufi saints, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. The soulful sound of qawwalis (Sufi devotional songs) and traditional music instruments fills the courtyard with peace and tranquility. The centuries-old songs and poetry transport you to a different world, and for a couple of hours the hectic city outside the four walls of the dargah (shrine) seems to vanish in thin air. A tip: Do dress conservatively and bring a stole/scarf with you to cover your head (though it’s not a must).
Address: Boali Gate Rd, Nizamuddin, Nizammudin West Slum, Nizamuddin West
Qawwali Timings: 5pm to 9.30pm
LIGHT & SOUND SHOW AT PURANA QILA
The 16th century Purana Qila (Old Fort) is one of the oldest in Delhi, standing tall in the middle of the buzzing city. The site has been continuously inhabited for 2,500 years, and it won’t be an exaggeration to say that every stone and brick there breathe history. The light and sound show, introduced in 2011 and named Ishq-e-Dilli (For the Love of Delhi or Romancing Delhi), takes you on a journey showing the history of Delhi through the rise and fall of its 10 cities, starting from 11th century to the present. It is detailed, colourful, informative and interesting enough to keep your eyes glued to it for the entire duration of the show. For timings and language please check the website, as they change with seasons. So, pack a stole and mosquito repellent, and let the show begin…
Address: Mathura Road, Pragati Maidan
Timings: 7pm — 8 (Hindi show); 8.30pm—9.30pm (English show); Fridays are off
Entrance: 100 INR
Nearest Metro Station: Pragati Maidan
A day at a museum…
SULABH INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF TOILETS
If you are traveller, you must have visited many museums across the globe. But have you ever come across a museum dedicated to toilet? The Sulabh International Museum in Delhi is that unique place which is sure to make your “I have world knowledge on sanitation” dream come true. According to Time magazine, the museum is among the “10 museums around the world that are anything but mundane”. Established in 1992, it tells the history of types of toilets across the world, their many designs, and also shows the evolution of the sewage system since 2500 BC. Though, not the only toilet museum of the world, still, I consider it one of the weirdest and most offbeat places to visit in Delhi.
Address: Sulabh Bhawan, Mahavir Enclave, Palam Dabri Marg
Timings: Monday-Saturday: 8am to 8pm, Sunday: 10am to 5pm
Nearest Metro Station: Dashrath Puri
SHANKAR’S INTERNATIONAL DOLLS MUSEUM
A dreamland for children, the museum houses more than 6,000 dolls from 85 countries. The India exhibit comprises 500 dolls dressed in costumes worn from all over the country. Though not a huge doll fan myself, still, I went to the museum out of sheer curiosity, eager to know just how many dolls can there be. And I have to admit that I was impressed by the extensive collection, giving insight into the different dressing styles and varied attire designs of the many countries and continents of the world.
Address: 4, Nehru House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Road
Timings: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am – 6pm
Entrance: 17 INR
Nearest Metro Station: ITO
Visit and be a part of history at…
AGRASEN KI BAOLI (Hailey Road)
Located right off Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi and standing in the shadow of modern highrises, this site is an architectural gem. Easy to reach and small in area, this subterranean marvel hides in plain sight. Infamous for being haunted after sun-down, this centuries-old stepwell, with soaring arched walls, alcoves and ornate stone works, is a startling oasis in the middle of the hustle bustle of Delhi. Go down the stairs, walk along the arches, sit under the trees and of course take innumerable photos to make the memories last forever. The echo of the rustling trees, low-flying birds, dark shadows and the black water at the bottom is guaranteed to provide you with the right ambience.
Address: Hailey Road, KG Marg, near Diwanchand Imaging Centre
Timings: daily 9am to 5.30pm
Nearest Metro Station: Janpath
MIRZA GHALIB’S HAVELI (Ballimaran)
Located in a lane in Old Delhi, this 300-year-old Mughal-era mansion was the home to India’s one of the most celebrated and quoted Urdu poets, Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, known the world over as Mirza Ghalib. Now a heritage site and a museum, this not so out-of-the-ordinary building offers an insight into Ghalib’s lifestyle and also the architecture of the Mughals. The museum houses a life-size replica of the poet in a realistic setting, with a hookah, and various handwritten poems by him besides his books. Ghalib lived in this haveli (mansion), presented to him by an ardent admirer, from 1860 to 1869 after he came to Delhi from Agra, and it is while living here that he wrote his famous Urdu and Persian diwans (collection of poems) and ghazals. Located near Chawri Bazar Metro station, the haveli is open to all from 11 am till 6 pm on all days except Monday. Visit and explore this standing testimonial to a bygone era in Indian history. Also, read out his poems from the thought-provoking walls, brimming with love and romance.
Address: 2469, Gali Captain, Baradari, Balli Maran
Timings: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am to 6pm
Nearest Metro Station: Huda City Center
Eat, drink & try out…
KUNZUM TRAVEL CAFE (Hauz Khas Village)
One of the coolest cafes in the city, it is the perfect place to meet fellow wanderlusters and share travel stories, ideas and even make future travel plans. You can use the free WiFi, read from the well-stocked library or simply sit and chill without buying anything at all at this pocket-friendly hangout. And, in case you end up having coffee and biscuits, you can pay as you like. Moreover, regular workshops by travelers, writers and photographers make this café a perfect place to connect with like-minded people.
Address: T-49, GF, Hauz Khas Village
Timings: Tuesday-Sunday, 11.00am to 07.30pm
Nearest Metro Station: Hauz Khas
AUTHENTIC TIBETAN MEAL (Majnu Ka Tila)
Delhi’s very own “Little Tibet”, dotted with cafes, eateries, kiosks and stalls, has a charm like nowhere else in the city. A hub of Tibetan culture, monks in red robes, narrow but clean alleys and colourful prayer flags and architecture is a common sight here. But above everything else, it is the food that scores big. The colony is studded with cute little restaurants serving mouthwatering, authentic Tibetan delicacies. While you are at it, don’t forget to try out the spicy lhaphing, super soft tingmo and steamy momos among other treats.
Nearest Metro Station: Vidhan Sabha
Checkout & shop at…
ASIA’S LARGEST SPICE MARKET (Khari Baoli)
Doesn’t matter if you are a spice-lover or not, a cooking enthusiast or just a non-cooking foodoholic (like me), this aromatic and colourful world of spices is sure to take your breath away. The 17th century market in Old Delhi, with huge heaps and sacks of spices lying all around, is Asia’s largest wholesale spice bazaar. A tip: Keep a handkerchief handy to cover your nose in case the aroma gets too strong to handle. And, the market is super congested, so it might get a bit overwhelming to navigate the alleyways. However, keeping the concerns aside, it’s an experience to savour, for sure.
CHAMPA GALI (Saket)
Situated in Saidulajab, an urban village in south Delhi, Champa Gali is a bohemian lane lined with boutiques and cafes. Until the 1990s it was nothing but long stretches of agricultural fields, but now the picture is completely different. Known for its quirky shops, handmade craft items, delightful food, latest fashion and incredible coffee, this hidden gem has a lot to offer if you want to just stroll around and enjoy a relaxed day. An added charm is the green plants lining the lane, twinkling fairy-lights and colourful flags contrasting the dark wood-work. Plus, the laidback, easygoing feel of the place is nearly therapeutic.