If anyone wants a study in contrasts, they should hop on a plane and come to India. Nowhere is this contrast more vivid than in that old bastion of power and history – Delhi. As soon as you step foot into the city, your senses are assailed by a flurry of new sights, smells and sounds. Something as simple as a taxi ride can be a window to new worlds. You may travel through broad, smooth highways, sailing past gleaming high-rises, swanky malls and bungalows with gates so high, you wonder what they enclose. Or you may be stuck in a narrow lane with humans, animals, vehicles, and hawkers jostling for non-existent space, making you wonder how you’ll ever get through. But get through you will!
The glitz and the grit, the privilege and the poverty, the old and the new – Delhi straddles both worlds with ease. But whether you are in Old Delhi (the historic capital of the Mughal empire) or New Delhi (the present-day capital of India), scratch the surface and you encounter the beauty and the charm in its art, architecture, culture and most importantly, its people.
Take an early morning stroll in New Delhi and let the grandeur of its historic buildings take your breath away. Walk down Rajpath (literally the Royal Path) and you are greeted by the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential House), the seat of India’s political power on one end, and the India Gate (etched with the names of the Indian soldiers who died in World War I), the symbol of India’s valor on the other.
Stroll the grounds, or rest your legs and let the silence envelope you, a quiet and calm that is so rare to find in India.
Turn your head around as the silence is broken by the gleeful shouts of intrepid children on skates!
Too much peace and quiet? Move over to Old Delhi where the old politico, who has the road cleared for his cavalcade, gives way to the enterprising young individual, who believes in making his own path.
Immerse yourself in the crowded alleys, where you’ll get some serious practice with your dodging skills, and the colorful markets, where you can practice another more enjoyable skill – bargaining.
And when you start to feel overwhelmed, leave it all behind as you walk into the Jama Masjid, standing as an oasis of calm. As the largest mosque in India, capable of holding 25,000 people in its courtyard, you won’t be cramped for space. Close your eyes for a minute, breathe in and open them to see the pigeons rise up on the breath of your prayer.
Hungry yet? The only thing you need to decide is what you are in the mood for. Is it contemporary or traditional or fusion? Do you want to eat it seated in plush surroundings or standing on the roadside? If you have the stomach for it (and thankfully, I do), Old Delhi offers some of the best food with whole streets dedicated and aptly named (take for instance, Paranthe Wali Gali, literally the lane of fried bread). From wholly vegetarian areas to those dedicated to the carnivore to shops guaranteed to give you a sugar-high, these lanes have it all.
Dive in. Love it or hate it, I promise you won’t come out unaffected!
P.S. Wondering about the title? It’s the name of a Bollywood movie, which though I did not like completely, has some stunning visuals of Delhi.
P.P.S. The sweets in the previous picture (clockwise, from l-to-r) are called kheer, halwa and in the vessel, almost large enough to be my bathtub, is gulab jamun. Look out for a recipe of kheer and its variations in my next post.