A Rabha hut for farmers, weavers and sericulturists, made of bamboo to withstand the heavy rains of Assam. A circular Banni hut from Gujarat, made with sun-dried bricks and thatched with local weeds as a protection against hot desert winds. A stone masonry Kulu hut with slate roof tiles — just right for the terrain in Himachal Pradesh. A Toda hut custom-made for the Todas, a buffalo-rearing tribe of the Niligiris.
Real estate in Delhi is big business, but if you want to see how the real India lives, step into a charming village complex in Pragati Maidan's Crafts Museum. Spread over four acres are 15 village hutments that bring alive bucolic life in the heart of the busy city.
Set up in 1972, the complex spans village dwellings, courtyards and shrines from Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Nagaland, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. All the structures are exact replicas of village hutments, made with regional construction material by village masons, artisans, thatchers and carpenters.
One of the most fascinating structures in the complex is the Konyak ‘Murung’ or a traditional men's house of north Nagaland's Konyak tribe. Made of wood and bamboo, it has multiple purposes: a dormitory for unmarried men, a defence outpost, a storehouse, and an institution that schools boys for life in the community. Then, there’s the Adi-Gallong hut from Arunachal that rests on stilts. Built with cane and bamboo, it is remarkable for a verandah that runs along its circumference.
The best thing about the sprawling complex is that it is a largely undiscovered gem of the city - one of the few places you can hear yourself think without being interrupted by noisy revelers. Leave Delhi behind as you walk across the huts, courtyards and shrines. The call of the muezzin from a nearby mosque will punctuate the silence, completing the experience.
On your walk, you may at most run into an odd couple making most of the anonymity and the empty spaces, a group of NRIs and foreign tourists on a Dilli darshan, and pie dogs that have marked out their territories outside the huts.
“It’s great walking around here, uninterrupted on sunny December afternoons,” says Deepa Sharma, an amateur photographer, who homes into the huts on idle Sunday afternoons with her Nikon.
Agrees Rukmini Singh, a London-based banker, who discovered the low-lying complex while escaping the crushing crowds at the recent Auto Expo, “This place may not be as big a draw as the Auto Expo - but that's the best part about it.”
The world's a global village, they say. But walk through this village complex, and you will wonder which village you would choose to live in - the Naga or the Nicobarese?