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Finding Dilli

It is the love for our shehar that unites us all. In this special issue, we celebrate some of the lesser-known reasons that make Delhi such a capital city. We discover a slice of our beloved city that's not often served to those who do not seek.

brunch Updated: Jan 11, 2015 13:49 IST
Hindustan Times

(Illustration by Jayanto Banerjee)

(Click on the arrows to read the story)

#1 Go for a private traditional music baithak#2 Follow the scent of the other Sufi
#3 All you have to do is speakeasy#4 Taste this no so usual 'chaat'
#5 Take away flavours of old delhi#6 Go the whole hog on a silver platter
#7 Listen to a mushaira on a spring evening#8 Visit the after world of hijras
#9 Weave words the Dastangoi way#10 Explore the lesser known baolis
#11 Book a day or two for bookshopping#12 Walk through time and tombs
#13 Trail the paintings on the walls

The making of the cover story

Delhi. A city with many histories, many cultures. A city that has spawned a million talents. A city that we know like the back of our hands. Or so we thought.

We set out to explore the city beyond its obvious (but wonderful) attractions. We found some secrets: curious places hidden in plain sight and things to do that few know about. And so, after weeks of walking all over the Capital asking for directions on the way, we’ve put together an eclectic list of quintessentially Delhi experiences in our beloved shehar.

As for the cover, we knew we had to shoot it at Agrasen Ki Baoli, the architectural wonder surrounded by the high rises of Connaught Place. This hidden step-well – believed to have been built during the time of the Mahabharat by Raja Agrasen, and then rebuilt in the 14th century – is one of Delhi’s better-known "secrets". Rather, was. It’s now famous because it’s where Aamir Khan lived in PK.

We invited people who reflected the spirit of the city. It had to be those who called Delhi home, or those who had claimed it as their own. It had to be the Dilliwallahs we’re proud of:

"The one place that I really find interesting is the Rajon Ki Baoli in Mehrauli, which you enter from the Jamali Kamali tomb. It’s fabulous, but not many people go there. It would be great if it was developed as a performance space. The dance festival Ananya, that Sahej does every year at Purana Quila, is also very interesting because it is set against the backdrop of the fort."

-Theatre director Feisal Alkazi, whose family has had a pioneering influence on the nascent post-Independence theatre scene in Delhi. He has carried the baton forward with his Ruchika Theatre Group for over 40 years now.

"I love to have tea in one of the tiny galis off Kinari Bazaar in Old Delhi. Another special place there is Gali Kazanchi in Dariba Kalan. At its far end is what remains of Haveli Kazanchi, where Shah Jahan’s accountants lived! There’s a tunnel too, connecting the haveli to the Red Fort, along which, presumably, imperial fortunes were conveyed."

-Expat writer Pamela Timms whose blog (Eat and Dust) and book (Korma, Kheer & Kismet) explore the wonderful food of Old Delhi.

"Dzükou Tribal Kitchen (Hauz Khas) and Gharua Exaj (Lajpat Nagar-4) are two North East eateries, which are hidden gems. The first serves homestyle Naga food with home-brewed rice beer; the latter has Assamese food, with some good vegetarian dishes like aloo pitika (mashed potatoes) and fried brinjal."

The formidable photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew, who won a World Press Photo award at the age of 19, and whose work has been featured in several international publications.

"So many cultural events in the city are still little-known outside the respective circles. The Urs festival, held on February 5 at the Dargah of Inayat Khan, is a lovely multi-faith offering of music, dance and poetry. And Shadaj, a music heritage society, has been organising baithaks (previously in people’s homes, now at the Mantra Amaltas hotel in Friends Colony) for 15 years now."

Sonam Kalra, the voice and brain behind the Sufi Gospel Project that blends traditional gospel music and hymns with Sufi poetry.

"The shrines of the great Sufi saints Hazrat Amir Khusro and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, though well-known, are still my favourite places to visit when I’m in the city. Also, there are so many open air concerts at great settings happening all year round that not many people know about.

-Ayaan Ali Khan of the classical musician brother duo Amaan and Ayaan, sons of the great Amjad Ali Khan, who play the sarod

"People find it surprising to see me sitting in a quiet corner of a small little cafe, reading a book on my own. Places like Summer Café in Hauz Khas Village and Café Turtle in Khan Market with its little bookstore downstairs are perfect hideouts, a world apart from the hustle and bustle around them. I also like the speakeasy PCO for the simple reason that not many people know about it."

-Amaan Ali Khan, sarod player

"I love the lovely green trails in Mehrauli Archaeological Park, where I go for walks sometimes. Another such place is the Asola Sanctuary, near Tughlaqabad. Beside a nature trail, the sanctuary also has a few freshwater lakes. They’re so pristine and the green cover here too is amazing!"

-Chess player Tania Sachdev who holds the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster.

It was quite something, to spend a cold Monday morning with musicians, a writer, a photographer, a sportsperson and a theatre personality who, for their part, were so very excited to be part of what makes this city ‘Delhi’.

Also read: The 2015 bucket list for Mumbaikars

From HT Brunch, January 11, 2015

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First Published: Jan 10, 2015 19:24 IST