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Despite the mushrooming of modern buildings and Dubai-style satellite cities teeming with skyscrapers, Delhi continues to retain its old charm. The city of ancient civilizations and sultanates that became the seat of British rule has fascinated historians and poets for centuries. Remnants of its past grandeur and heritage continue to shine diamond-like within the squalor and chaos of the modern metropolis. From Humayun’s Tomb to Qutub Minar, to the walled city and Lutyens’ Delhi, the juxtaposition of the old and the new is what gives Delhi its unique character. KS Rajendran, professor, National School of Drama and director of plays set in the Mughal era says, “I always tell everyone that history is geography in Delhi. Every street that you walk on you will see a tomb, a relic or something that takes you back to its past. That’s the charm of exploring Delhi.”
But Delhi isn’t just about medieval mausoleums and crumbling fort walls. New cafés and malls might open every other day in the national capital, but older meeting places dating back to the Raj continue to draw a loyal clientele. On the eve of Republic Day, let’s rediscover the city as it once was.
Founded in 1932, Regal cinema has preserved its charming old interiors. It boasts of a grand staircase, sepia-toned posters and box style seating for groups of six people — a feature scarcely seen in newer cinemas.
Why you must visit: The ambience may seem old fashioned to those used to multiplexes, but that’s part of the charm. Besides, no multiplex can offer a glimpse of both Mughal and Victorian architecture.
Historic anecdote: India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and British India’s last Governor General Lord Mountbatten have both visited the hall.
Pocket Pinch: Rs 50 -Rs 120 for tickets
Where: Ground Floor, Regal Building, Connaught Place
Date With The Past
For anyone interested in the country’s historic past, the National Museum, set up in 1949, is one of the most obvious places to visit. The museum currently stocks about two lakh items. The institution was inaugurated at Rashtrapati Bhavan by the last Governor General of India, C Rajagopalachari. Nehru laid the foundation stone at its current location in 1955.
Why you must visit: The museum covers more than 5,000 years of cultural history not just of India, but of the world.
Historic anecdote: The idea to set up the museum in Delhi came from a successful exhibition of Indian artifacts at the Royal Academy in London in 1947.
Entry fee: Rs 10 for Indian citizens.
Where: National Museum, Janpath
Parathey Wali Gali in old Delhi is one of the most ancient food streets of the country, with the first paratha shops being set up here as early as in 1870. Though only a handful of shops now remain, the street continues to be on the must-visit list of foreign tourists who enjoy the numerous varieties of parathas served on pattals and knock back kulhars of frothy milk.
Why you must visit: For close to 300 years, the place has been serving delicious food. Since these excellent eating places refuse to be co-opted by the dial-a-meal culture, foodies have no option but to make the trip.
Historic anecdote: Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Babu Jagjivan Ram and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit all visited the lane for parathas.
Pocket Pinch: Parathas cost between Rs 15-35
Where: Parathey Wali Gali, Chandni Chowk
Khaas Food, Aam Prices
Karim’s dates back to the era of the last Mughal emperor, the tragic Bahadur Shah Zafar. Set up by the khaansamas to royalty, the restaurant was at its peak during the 1940s.
Why you must visit: During the presidentship of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Karim’s often delivered food to Rastrapati Bhavan
Historic anecdote: In 1911, soon after the British shifted the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, Karim’s set up shop to attract those visiting the city for King George V’s Delhi Durbar.
Pocket Pinch: Rs 800 (approx) for a meal for two
Where: Karim’s Hotel, Gali Kababiyan, Jama Masjid
Mithai Fit For The Mughals
Fascinating stories swirl around the legendary mithai shop, Ghantewala, established in 1790. Legend has it that Mughal emperor Shah Alam named the shop as it was situated near a school bell. Another story talks about how kings would stop their elephants near the shop to treat themselves to sweets.
Why you must visit: Unlike any modern confectioner, this place resolutely avoids frills and fancies.
Historic anecdote: Mughal emperors and modern political leaders like Morarji Desai have visited Ghantewala. During the Emergency, the shop was shut down as good quality besan or gram flour was unavailable.
Pocket Pinch: The famous Sohan Halwa is Rs 598/kg, most mithais Rs 498/kg
Where: 1862-A, Chandni Chowk
Established in 1957, Indian Coffee House isn’t quite as old as the republic of India, but it still harks back to a gentler era. A must-visit for its nostalgic air, sip on steaming beverages and nibble on toast served by turbaned waiters.
Why you must visit: It’s been included in the 25 Authentic Asian Experiences list by the Time magazine.
Historic anecdote: Freedom fighters and political leaders often gathered here to discuss important political developments.
Pocket Pinch: If nothing else, the prices on the menu card will definitely take you back in time. In the age of exorbitant macchiatos and Irish coffees, the Indian Coffee House still serves coffee for Rs 15. A cutlet will set you back by Rs 13!
Where: Mohan Singh Place, Connaught Place
Bring To Book | The oldest library in Delhi, Hardayal Municipal Library, was established in 1862, as part of an exclusive reading club for Europeans, it was later opened to Indians. With a collection of about 1.5 lakh books, it also stocks about 6,000 rare books that are at least a century old. Where: Old Delhi Railway Station, Gandhi Maidan, Chandni Chowk
Musically Yours | The music shop A Godin and Co was originally established in Quetta in 1900, the first city branch was opened at Kashmere Gate in 1940, and was later shifted to its current location. The shop sells sitars, harmoniums and tablas. It has been visited by Elton John and Pandit Ravi Shankar. Where: Regal Building, Parliament Street
Read More: Rediscover and explore Delhi for free