One of the oldest living cities in the world, Delhi offers hundreds of weekend pursuits on any given Sunday. You can see movies, eat out, attend concerts, go drinking, watch plays – but all that costs money.
So we decided to put together a list of things you can do, or rather, a list of experiences you can have (and in the process, explore and rediscover your city) which are absolutely free! You've probably passed many of these places or heard about them, but you've never bothered to actually check them out.
The Brunch team fanned out across the city and found out where you can go rock climbing, which monuments and museums don't charge an entry fee, the old libraries tucked away in Shahjahanabad where you don't need a membership, how you can see artists at work, all the parks and gardens where you can soak in the sun – and much, much more. (Of course, nothing beats just walking through the city).
What you will need
We're sure we've left out many more unusual free activities so feel free to tell us more. Meanwhile, read on and pick your favourite Free Sunday pursuit!
One of the most enjoyable ways to discover Delhi in the winter is on foot. Whichever way you turn in the Capital – a city that ranks right up there with Cairo or Rome – you collide into history. Thanks to the Metro, you can get off at any station you want and start walking. You won't be disappointed. And it doesn't cost a thing.
Gateway to History
We took a walk around Kashmere Gate, which is teeming with decaying, historical structures. But that is just one of the hundreds of walking trails you can do. There’s more to Kashmere Gate than the old Bus Adda it had become synonymous with over the years, as we discovered during the three-hour walk from Ritz Cinema to the St Stephen’s cricket ground. Come walk with us…
Kashmere Gate was one of the 14 gates of the city of Shahjahanabad, the erstwhile capital that Shahjahan built, around 1649. If you head out of the station and begin walking in the direction of the Red Fort, Ritz cinema will be to your left.
Across the road are the remains of the broken city wall of Shahjahanbad and the Kashmere Gate monument. When the Britishers first began settling in Delhi in 1803, they reinforced the city's walls and set up their residential estates in the area, which once housed the Mughal nobility. The gate next gained attention during the 1857 rebellion. The British used it to prevent the revolutionaries from entering the city. It was the scene of an important assault by the British Army on the morning of September 14, 1857, when the bridge and the left leaf of the Gate were destroyed, starting the assault on the rebels to end the siege of Delhi. After 1857, the British moved to Civil Lines, and Kashmere Gate became the happening commercial hub of Delhi, a reputation it lost in 1931, when New Delhi came into being.
When we visit the monument, a Wagon R is plonked in the middle of the approach. Polite enquiries from hangers-on sunning themselves about the whereabouts of the owner prove futile. But then, these are early days of the Aam Aadmi car and sarkar, one is reminded. Much water has flown down the Yamuna since Shahjahan, patron of arts and other things khaas, called the shots.
Across the road is the refurbished Ritz, one of the oldest single-screen cinemas in Delhi. A few years ago, owing to dwindling patronage, it had to shut shop. But in 2012, the cinema bounced back to life, and celluloid.
A Club in decay
A few hundred metres ahead of Kashmere Gate, on Boulevard Road, is a crumbling heritage building that houses the Bengali Club, which played host to Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1932 after he performed his dance drama Valmiki Pratibha at Qudasia Gardens.
"The club also invites cultural luminaries to the Kashmere Gate Durga Puja, the oldest in the city. Sitarist Ravi Shankar even performed at the old Hindu College auditorium at our invitation, in 1952,” says club president Som Prakash Mitra. Today, the club, which once had a collection of more than 6,000 Bengali journals and books, is in disarray.
"At one point, Kashmere Gate was a unique part of the ethos of Mughal colonial Delhi,” says conservation architect Ratish Nanda. Old-timers recall that Carlton Café and Khyber Restaurant, once throbbing with life, have fallen by the wayside. And the old Stephen’s College today houses the office of the chief electoral officer of the Capital.
But if there’s one heritage building that can claim to have defied the ravages of time in the area, it has to be the St James Church. Built by Colonel James Skinner in 1835 to fulfil a vow he made as he lay wounded, the church’s history and neo-classical architecture attract university students. “On Sundays, our prayers begin at 9am,” says Lyra Paul, assistant to Rev Mohit Hitter, the priest-in-charge. Colonel Skinner died in December 1841. The graves of the Skinner family have insignia in Persian, the language the aristocracy preferred in that time.
Once you’ve had your fill of history, walk towards the St Stephen’s playground, where you might find an energetic game of cricket in full swing. The more things change, the more they remain the same: Like cricket and….Kashmere Gate.
(by Aasheesh Sharma)
Museums As Unusual
A subtle, yet powerful, ‘Truth Is God’ is inscribed at the entrance of the National Gandhi Museum. Begin with the photo gallery that has about 300 rare pictures of the Mahatma, from his childhood till his death.
Each picture is a revelation – him in his youth, a rare photograph with Tagore, many more with Nehru. On the second floor you actually hear his recorded voice. And finally, you get to the part that takes you on his last journey.
A chill runs down your spine when you read the minute-by-minute account of what transpired that day just before he was shot, and when you see the pictures. And just when you think it’s over – Gandhi’s blood-stained dhoti and shawl (which have been preserved) establish that tragic day. I touch my cheeks and realise I am crying. And that’s the moment the Mahatma truly came alive in my life.
(by Parul Khanna)
The Crafts Museum in Pragati Maidan is a rare museum that showcases living crafts from across the country. Right from the 17th century to now, you can see the trajectory of the way our gods were perceived. One statue has a woman sitting on Ganesha’s lap; another statue has Nandi in front with a Shivling as the backdrop. There's a gallery with artefacts of the Bhuta cult of coastal Karnataka – the sculptures look like enormous reptiles.
The museum is a treat also because of its green and serene environment. You could spend your Sunday simply taking in the sun, picking up crafts from the shop and tasting the tea at Café Lota (but that will cost money!)
For those who have an eye for aesthetics, it’s a great idea to walk through the textiles gallery. For lovers of the printed word, there’s a library, with more than 12,000 books and journals, apart from unpublished monographs.
(by Parul Khanna)
The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets traces the evolution of toilets from 1145 AD to modern times.
Among the funnier loos on display is a replica of the Rumble Throne of French king Louis the XIV, which had a commode built under it. Also eye-catching is a commode in the shape of a sofa, on which ladies in the 1700s sat while catching up on gossip over a game of cards. No wonder the museum made it to the list of the Top 10 ‘Weird and Unusual’ museums in the world last year!
(by Veenu Singh)
State of the Art
You can't separate art from the artist. The struggle, the techniques, the back stories, have added to the legend of famous artists. So, spending a Sunday at Lalit Kala Akademi’s regional office in the heritage site of Garhi Village makes sense.
Once you manage to find your way through the maze of noisy cars, cattle and rickshaws on a tiny road close to Lady Shri Ram College, you enter (through a stone gate) into the secret world of artists: Painters working on canvasses, sculptors carving in stone or wood, potters at the furnace. You might also see graphic artists taking a break from their work and enjoying the sun. Established in 1976, Garhi Village was supposed to meet the needs of practising artists – equipment, basic raw materials, infrastructure and space – so that they could carry forward their artistic adventures. "Most of the established artists in India were at one point of time here," says Rajan Fulari, in-charge, printmaking and painting, looking up while scanning a submission. The park in the centre is speckled with artworks – bronze, stone, metal sculptures put out to dry.
Art connoisseurs can check out works of new artists or chat with them, they will be happy to show you their work. Sculptor Bhupender Panwar took us on a walk-through of his very interesting work, and let us in on his technique. A Sunday, artfully spent.
Art of the street
The Kathputli Colony near Shadipur Depot could pass off as any other basti in the city. But enter its narrow gullies, and you'll see that it's a goldmine of talent: 1,500 street magicians and performers, puppeteers, dancers, wood-carvers and jugglers, who represent India all over the world, live here.
Curator and founder-chairman of the Asian Heritage Foundation, Rajeev Sethi, founded the Bhule Bisre Kalakaar Cooperative Society, to protect dying art forms. This is where they live.
Eager children are ready to guide you to whichever artist you want to meet. Go there because it’s a one-of-its-kind artist colony in Delhi. Dilip Bhaat, the secretary of the society, has a workshop, where puppets are made. You can also meet puppeteer Puran Bhaat, who, sitting on his little roof, will regale you with fun stories. "People here put up a show after dark, when they are happy and high," he jokes.
(by Parul Khanna)
|Lose yourself in books|
|Delhi is full of libraries. There are historic libraries, modern digitised ones in international cultural centres and smaller ones in clubs and neighbourhoods. But most are closed on Sundays. The few that are open are only for members. |
A blink-and-miss door right next to the Haldiram’s in Chandni Chowk leads to the Marwari library. After you climb up the steep staircase, you’re greeted by a big board that tells you that this library is nearly 100 years old (it was set up in 1915) and that it played a role in the freedom movement (Gandhiji and other nationalist leaders held secret meetings here).
It’s a small library, with sunlight streaming in through the windows. You can hear the hustle-bustle of Chandni Chowk, interrupted only by the crisp sound of newspaper pages being turned. You can spend all day reading, working or simply staring out of the window.
A tall shelf of the book catalogues sits in one corner. There are books in all categories: Shastra (religious texts), upanyas (novels), naatak (plays), kavita (poems), arthashastra (economics), jeevani (biographies)... most books are old, some older than the library itself and they’re in Hindi but there is a collection of English books too.
Suresh Kumar Singhania, president of the Marwari library, says, "We don’t concentrate on acquiring new books so much because we specialise in old books."
Of all the hidden gems in the dusty shelves on the second floor, don't miss the ladies’ magazines from the early 1900s – Saraswati, Chaand, Kalyan – all beautifully illustrated and filled with inspiring stories, some jokes and household "tips."
(by Saudamini Jain)
Go climb a rock
How can clambering over rocks, often hanging by the tips of your fingers, with a harsh sun beating down your back, be a remotely fun activity? Ask rock climbing enthusiasts who scale artificial walls in indoor gyms or natural rocks, in order to test their upper body strength, stamina, sense of balance and mental endurance. A city like ours, uniquely positioned between the Aravallis and blessed with a lush green cover, is perfect for such enthusiasts.
Even if you find yourself on the wrong side of fit, rock climbing could still be for you. With a little training in technique, safety measures, and a basic knowledge of the kind of rocks to climb, of course.
Now that we’ve established your status as the modern primitive – on the hunt for novel adventures – let’s tell you where you can do this for free. Qutub Minar supplies a charming setting for this park, called the ‘DDA Park MP Green Area’ on the Mehrauli-Badarpur road. A trail flanked by trees, steel bars and blue notices explaining the kind of exercises to perform on them leads to a clearing with a big rock with a minaret on top – named the Old Man – and two medium-sized rocks on the side. Famously called the Old Rocks of Lado Sarai, these make for some satisfying climbing even for a novice like me.
Though a group of little boys, who were keenly watching my odd gymnastics, gleefully shouted, “Aapse nahin hoga”, and cut me to size! But I could see that with some training and practice, these rocks with their neat cracks (helpful for positioning one’s feet while climbing) and moderate steepness could be a Sunday afternoon delight.
Apart from the Old Lado Sarai rocks, we discovered steeper rocks at the PBG Rocks, in Parade Grounds on the Mother Teresa Crescent Road, opposite Gyarah Murti in Central Delhi. But we found the entry restricted, perhaps because Republic Day is around the corner. Avid adventurers could check it out. We’ve heard it's a dream come true for rock climbers.
(by Yashica Dutt) The Ghalib trail
In one corner of this basti, as soon as you enter from the flyover side, is the burial site of one of the greatest ever Urdu poets – Mirza Ghalib. A marble enclosure houses Ghalib’s tomb (he wanted to be buried at Nizamuddin, as he was an ardent follower of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya). Restored in March 2010 by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, it also has a marble tablet with one of the many beautiful verses the poet wrote etched on it.
Next to the tomb is the three-storey Ghalib Academy, which was inaugurated in 1969 and seeks to perpetuate the memory of the poet. On the third floor of the academy is the Ghalib museum, with Ghalib’s letters and poems enclosed in glass cases and photographs on the walls.
However, as you go around the museum, you get the feeling that things have just been dumped together, without any explanatory notes. For instance, the glass enclosure that stores his letters doesn’t have information as to who the letters were for or who wrote to him etc. And there are no translations of the Urdu letters or documents.
As you move clockwise around the museum, you will see the ‘Ghalib’s Gourmet Delights’ enclosure that stores his favourite food items, such as mangoes, almonds, dal and shammi kebabs. It would have been nice if there was additional information – like the fact that Ghalib was crazy about mangoes (which you will know only if you read about him).
So though the museum is charming, you leave with the feeling that it could have been much better maintained.
Your next stop on the trail should be Ghalib’s haveli in Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, where he spent the last years of his life, from 1865 to 1869. (Get off at the Chandni Chowk Metro station and ask passers-by to guide you to Ballimaran). Now a heritage site, thanks to the persistent efforts of heritage activist Firoz Bakht Ahmed (he filed a PIL demanding the restoration of the haveli), it has a beautiful aangan with a glass ceiling and a life-sized painting of Ghalib. You can also see a replica of the game of chausar, which was Ghalib’s favourite.
A separate room houses a bust of the poet and pictures of the various houses he lived in during his lifetime. Speakers mounted on the walls are supposed to play Ghalib’s ghazals, but they haven’t been functional for a long time. "No amount of letters written to the authorities (the haveli comes under the Delhi government’s Art, Culture and Language department), seems to convince them to take any action to maintain the haveli," laments Bakht.
It’s only fitting then, that we close with these lyrical words: Hazaaron khwaishein aisi ki har khwaish pe dum nikle, bahut nikle mere armaan lekin phir bhi kam nikle.
by Shreya Sethuraman
The Ghalib trail
Back on campus
Get down at the Vishwavidyalaya Metro station if you want to feel the vibrant energy of the youth of India. Walk down the roads that Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and other celebrated alumni walked on. A cluster of 10 colleges around the station forms the North campus of Delhi University. The three original colleges that contributed to the founding of the University, St Stephen’s (1881), Hindu College (1899) and Ramjas College (1917), are all part of North campus.
Unfortunately, access to college premises is not open to the general public. Still, you can take a walk down the green belt, better known as the ridge. Originally, the remains of the ancient Aravalli Hills, today it’s a hotspot for wild monkeys and furtive couples looking for a clandestine outing. Walk up to the Flagstaff Tower, where many British families took shelter during the 1857 rebellion. It’s locked up now, so one can’t go up to the top of the tower. Further deep into the forest area is the Khooni Khan Lake. It has a deserted look with overgrown bushes and lots of monkeys. The lake got its name when its waters were believed to have turned red with the blood of the wounded and the dead from days of fighting during the rebellion. Today, it seems more like a personal swimming pool of the resident monkeys.
But you could walk through the ridge simply for a peaceful date with nature. If nothing else, it’ll do wonders to your lungs!
(by Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi) Go grass hopping
No Delhiite can escape the allure of India Gate and its lawns and must have spent at least one evening relaxing on the grass or simply enjoying an ice cream. But there is another good reason to visit India Gate. Right next to the war memorial, spread over 10 acres of land, is the Children’s Park.
Renovated in 2002, the park boasts of a musical fountain, a library (parents not allowed!) a mini aquarium and an amphitheatre. There are guards to keep an eye on the kids. Each tree has a board with its name on it.
Timings: 5am to 5.30pm. Children up to the age of 14 are allowed. Closest Metro station: Central Secretariat
Nehru Park, spread over 80 acres, is a favourite with many Delhiites. A designated track meant for walking ensures a good workout while its lush green areas are good for yoga, meditation or a leisurely nap in the sun. It also hosts the Music in the Park concerts where concerts of Hindustani classical music attract connoisseurs and commoners alike, free of cost.
Timings: 8am to 8pm. Closest Metro station: Race Course
If you are looking for a date with history, then Lodhi Gardens is a must-visit. It has four monuments under the care of ASI. These include Mohammed Shah’s Tomb, Sikander Lodhi’s Tomb, Sheesh Gumbad and Bara Gumbad, apart from relics of the 15th century Sayyed and Lodhi dynasties. Another good thing about the garden, can you believe it? Pizza delivery at the gate!
Location: Lodhi Road. Timings: 5.30am to 7pm. Closest Metro station: Jor Bagh
For children, the Deer Park near Hauz Khas has swings (though there aren’t too many of them), an enclosure with rabbits and guinea pigs and plenty of deer. For the fitness enthusiast, the park, maintained by the DDA, has basic equipment for neck, shoulder and back exercises, among others. There is a tomb from the Mughal era which is now maintained by the ASI. However, some areas of the park seem a little unkempt and littered.
Timings; 5.30 am-7pm. Closest metro station: Green Park
A visit to Connaught Place is incomplete without a stroll in Central Park with its pretty landscaping and a designated play area for kids. It also boasts a 350-seat amphitheatre for cultural activities.
Timings: 5.30am -7.30pm. Closest Metro station: Rajiv Chowk
If you love running, then the Jahanpanah City Forest Park in South Delhi’s Alakananda, with a 7-km track, is ideal for you. Its challenging slopes are a hit with marathon trainers. Past the greens, where laughter clubs meet at dawn, is a gigantic banyan tree circled by benches.
Timings: 5am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm. Closest Metro station: Govindpuri.
(by Veenu Singh)
Go grass hopping