Beautiful, circular and walker-friendly, the British-built Connaught Place (CP) is a colonial-era relic with a vibrant kaleidoscopic character. At different times of the day, it is business-like (noon), romantic (evening) and mischievous (night). The high-vaulted corridors and solid-white pillars of the Inner Circle and Outer Circle add to the charm.
Over the years, individually-owned landmark shops have given way to retail chain showrooms and fast-food outlets. Single screen theatres have been renovated into multiplexes. Photo studios have rolled down shutters. Discos have closed. Old laidback restaurants are history.
Take the Metro to Rajiv Chowk, CP’s underground metro terminus, and come up into Central Park. Once home to people on the fringes of Delhi’s society (prostitutes, drug addicts et cetera), it was revamped in 2006 and become as sanitised as a middle-class suburb. In the evening, romantic couples lounge on grassy slopes and families sit in circles.
Under the ground
Walk into Palika Bazaar, Delhi’s first underground air-conditioned market. Known for selling pirated DVDs and fake branded wear, it must purely be visited for curiosity. The park above its parking area, however, is like the ‘old’ Central Park. Enclosed by the surrounding CP skyline, lovers exchange vows, ear-cleaners look for customers, eunuchs ask for money and lonely men cruise for emergency love.
CP’s business soul
Stroll through the Inner Circle. Lined with showrooms and restaurants, the corridors are crowded with 20-somethings plugged to their iPods, shoppers munching on bhelpuri, office-goers gossiping on smoking breaks and flute sellers playing the flute. For lunch, try chicken strogonoff at the old-world Embassy Restaurant (D-11). Check out the latest bestsellers at The New Book Depot (18-B) run by a slightly eccentric but adorable man whose father bought the store from a French couple. The adjacent Galgotia Book Shop (17-B) has has some interesting old finds stacked in its dusty shelves.
Antique box office
Even if you are not into Bollywood, get a film ticket to the Regal, New Delhi’s first cinema hall, circa 1932. It hosted the Indian premiere of Gone With the Wind in 1940. Today, its grand staircase and historical scope (it was frequented by Prime Minister Nehru) compensates for its otherwise rundown look.
Situated at the desolate end of the Regal Cinema building is the legendary piano shop, A Godin & Co (1, Regal). The windows are decked with hanging sitars; harmoniums lie arranged on tables and guitars adorn the wall. But it’s the pianos — grand and upright — that make the atmosphere. Sprawled over half the showroom, their regal splendour, teakwood dignity and old-world charm suffuse the shop with an elegance that is becoming rare in CP.
Spruce up your wardrobe at Janpath, the flea market across the road from Regal. Apart from t-shirts, skirts, kurtas, leggings, harem pants, and jodhpur, it sells accessories like rings, necklaces, anklets and earrings. There is also a second-hand bookshop, which stocks occasional wonders.
A late evening walk around CP’s Outer Circle will reveal its inner life. The electric bulbs of highrises such as Statesman House and LIC Building twinkle behind a haze of smoke. The glow of streetlights blends in with the moonlight. Inside showrooms, the attendants handle the day’s last customers. Behind the glass panels of sandwich outlets and cafes, solitary souls feed on french fries.
At bus stops, the homebound day-jobbers stand with their lunch boxes and leather bags. Outside the Metro stop, tormented lovers count minutes to the farewell hour. Elsewhere, the doped beggars huddle together to smoke more hashish. The anaemic street children sell colourful balloons. The foreign tourists walk with their eyes glued to their Lonely Planets. The dimly-lit @Live Bar (K-12), in the Outer Circle, however, strikes the right mood with live music at night.