It struck me first when I spent a week in London late last year: there were so many fun things you could do in that city without spending a penny. There were all those amazing parks you could walk or jog through, or simply picnic in. And if you chose St James Park for your constitutional and timed your visit well, you could take in the colourful spectacle of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. If you felt like watching a bit of performance art, you could stroll through Covent Garden.
I guess that’s the thing about the great cities of the world. There is so much on offer that you can enjoy yourself without spending any money at all. Which is why, this year, I have decided to start an occasional series: the top ten fun things you can do for free in the great cities of the world. And where better to begin than in the national capital.
So, here’s my list of fun, free things to do in Delhi. Do feel free to write in with your own suggestions:
* Take a walk through Lodi Gardens. You could always power your way through on the jogging track that runs along the periphery, but I recommend a leisurely stroll through the 90-acre park. Take in the glories of the trees, foliage and flowers. And stop to explore some stunning monuments which date back to the 15th century. There are tombs of the rulers of Lodi dynasty, an old mosque, and two domes that are perfect examples of the architecture of the period.
* Pay homage to Gandhiji at Raj Ghat: This is a mandatory stop for every dignitary visiting India. But there’s no reason why ordinary mortals like you and me can’t enjoy the serenity of the samadhi of the Mahatma. If you have the time, you can stop by at the memorials to Pandit Nehru (Shanti Van), Indira Gandhi (Shakti Sthal) and Rajiv Gandhi (Veer Bhumi) as well.
* Marvel at the Jama Masjid: Built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656, this adjoins that other great Mughal wonder, the Red Fort, in old Delhi. But you don’t have to pay an entry fee to gaze at the splendid mosque, with its three domes and two towering minarets, but it will cost you if you want to climb one of the minarets and enjoy the breathtaking view below. And yes, photography costs extra, so if you don’t want to stump up, leave your camera and smartphone behind.
* Sample the delights of Chandni Chowk: A short walk from Jama Masjid is this bustling market that epitomises the best of old Delhi. This has the best of street food, old-style perfumeries, textile shops, silversmiths, jewellers and more. So long as you exercise self-control and restrain yourself to window-shopping, this jaunt won’t cost you a rupee.
* Feast your eyes on Akshardham: Built on a grand scale with intricately-carved sandstone and marble, this temple of the Swaminarayan sect is both a visual delight and an oasis of peace in the middle of a bustling metropolis. There is no charge for visiting the temple or enjoying the grounds, but there is a fee should you want to catch one of the exhibitions or perform a special puja.
* Wander through the Hauz Khas Complex: You can start off at Deer Park, a wild expanse of greenery that is named after the deer that frequent it. Then, walk through the newly-gentrified Hauz Khas Village, with its plethora of designer shops and quirky restaurants, until you reach the historical tank (hauz) for which the area is named. Its banks are dotted with historical monuments dating back to the 13th century Delhi Sultanate (Khilji) period, which are an absolute joy to explore.
* Breathe in the wonder that is the Baha’i temple: Shaped like a lotus (a flower that has holy connotations in many religions), this is one of the seven major Baha’i temples in the world. An architectural triumph, this is open to people of all religious denominations, who are free to worship here in their own way (but no musical instruments can be played on the premises).
* Soak in the history of the Sikh faith: You could start with Sis Ganj Sahib in old Delhi, a historical Sikh temple, marking the place where the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, was beheaded in 1675 on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb because he refused to embrace Islam. Also worth exploring is Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, near Connaught Place, which is associated with the eighth guru, Har Krishan, whose central lake (Sarovar) is credited with having healing properties.
* Make a tryst with history at Teen Murti Bhavan: This used to be Pandit Nehru’s residence when he was Prime Minister of India and his private quarters have been preserved just as they were while he was alive. You can see his book-lined study where he would spend his evenings, his spartan bedroom with the single bed on which he breathed his last, and then go through the rest of the museum dedicated to his life and work.
* Hang out at the Capital’s favourite hangout: If you want the quintessential Delhi experience, you can’t do better than Khan Market. Set up by refugees who came to Delhi after the Partition, this has effortlessly transitioned from a typical neighbourhood market to a trendy shopping area, teeming with restaurants, cafés, designer boutiques and the odd store selling fruit and veg. Explore for free, but be prepared to spend big if something takes your fancy.
From HT Brunch, January 10, 2016
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