WHEN IN DELHI…

After the peace and quiet of Paro valley you’ll be excused for suffering a culture shock when you land in Delhi. It is a city boiling with multitudes and swarming with diversity – race, religion, creed and kind. It is also a city that accosts you immediately. Once you hit its streets the people are everywhere and in your face too.

“Hello! Taxi?” you might be asked eagerly.

“Excuse me! Need hotel?”

“Need comb sir, toothpaste? Hanky? How about mirrior?”

“Sir, I give best deal.” The hawkers, they’re everywhere. Still the rewards are many. On a recent trip, I quickly abandoned my baggage trolley, flung my backpack across my shoulders and set off resolutely to explore the capital of the world’s largest democracy, constructed over seven known ancient cities.

Delhi’s proud and historic Mughal heritage is evident in its storied architecture and cuisine, while echoes of its British Raj elegance are still visible in the city’s magnificent squares and tree-lined avenues.

The first thing you hear is a jumble of vernaculars, besides Hindi and, of course, this being India, English. The regional inflections you’ll encounter on the streets on any given day might include Punjabi and Urdu.

The city can also embody the best of the old and the new. Visitors can easily spend half the day immersed in the ancient attractions of the glorious Lal Quila (Red Fort), the Jama Masjid and the medieval bazaars of Old Delhi, and the other half reviving themselves over frothy cappuccinos or icy cocktails at any one of the city’s swanky cafés and bars.

For shoppers, the city is choc-a-bloc with sprawling malls, all new, boasting the latest in global brands. Or head over to bargain at the famed flea markets of Janpath and Sarojini Nagar, two old bargain open markets where you can pick up almost anything under the sun.

Delhi’s proud & historic Mughal heritage is evident in its storied architecture and cuisine, while echoes of its British Raj elegance are still visible in the city’s magnificent squares.

Bazaars Galore

Many other shopping centers across the city offer an insight into the breadth of India’s rich artistic heritage. Connaught Place, Karol Bagh and Chandni Chowk are where you’ll want to start. Emporia representing every state in the nation can be seen at the famous Baba Kharak Singh Marg, near Parliament Street. If you’re tired of bargaining, the prices at Baba Kharak Singh Marg are fair too (set by the government to lubricate tourism and regional handicrafts), and all conveniently housed under one roof.

For those beguiled by ethnic chic, there is the Central Cottage Emporium in Jawahar Bhavan at Janpath, a visit worth every paisa. Look for deals on everything from furniture and textiles to traditional Indian shoes to small gift items and souvenirs. Similarly, the Crafts Museum at Mathura road offers some great bargains on items like shawls, pottery and paintings.

Hauz Khas is your destination for a bit of haute couture. The juxtaposition of its ancient buildings with contemporary shops and restaurants leaves strong impressions. It is a neighborhood teeming with Islamic history, although it is now known more for its rejuvenation from ancient neighborhood to modern, with designer labels vying for space with authentic traditional jewelry and intricate and innovative handmade creations. Haus Khas is also known for its many galleries, a small lake/tank an ancient Islamic seminary, a mosque and a tomb dating back to the 13th Century. The name Hauz Khas is derived from the words water tank/lake or the royal lake.

For the antique hound, Sundar Nagar is the place to be while Chandni Chowk offers cheaper alternatives of the same. If you’re into serious bling, walk over to Dariba Kalan, a narrow street dealing in gold and silver and fine handspun saris, typical of the living bazaars of India.

Karol Bagh is yet another famous shopping complex in the city, great for ingenious Indian clothes, footwear and accessories. If you have a wedding in mind (of the superlative Indian kind) then check out their jewelry and bridal-wear. If you’re the “cool and casual” type, Janpath with its rows of shops, Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar offer a plethora of opportunities. This is also where you’d want to buy gifts and handicrafts at the best prices anywhere.

Back at Connaught Place, check out the underground shopping tunnels at Palika Bazar. This is a literal “hole in the ground” that has everything, including annoying touts and solicitors. But don’t lose your cool; they only want to do business. When transactions get too steamy, simply excuse your self politely and firmly and remerge from the shopping tube for some fresh air!

If bargaining isn’t exactly your thing and you’re loaded with money, hire a cab for the entire day (Nu 1,000) and head straight for Gurgaon. For that is where you might want to be.

If you’re looking for brand names, there’s no better place for those than in India these days. And in India, there is likely no better place than the satellite town of Gurgaon, where the term globalization is no longer a theoretical term but a daily reality. It bombards your senses from advertisement billboards, radio and television, evidence of the recent surge of foreign collaborations in consumer goods with India. With extremely steep prices abroad, foreigners visiting India can pick up international brands at significantly lower prices. Beware! You might be tempted to buy more than what you need.

Delhi Music afficionados will dig the Music Shop at Khan Market, Rhythm Corner at South Extension, Blues in Defence Colony and Sheilma and Pyramids in Palika Bazar. India is a musical country and Delhi has a thing for it. CDs and DVDs are cheap and the audio quality is good. However, if it is the latest gadgets and software that you’re looking for, Nehru Place is where you should be.

Finally, when you’re all tired out from the shopping, trudge over to Dilli Haat for a delicious dinner of bamboo shoots and chicken over rice – a specialty of the north eastern state of Nagaland. But wait, even here there’s one last opportunity for me to pick up a much-needed Kashmiri rug for my cold room in Thimphu! And, here’s a tip just for the Bhutanese travelers: a wide variety of silk Tego materials are available at the INA Market across street.

After all the commercial exploring for this piece, I distinctly began to crave a sense of quiet, which is no small matter in the bustling heart of this city, because finding respite from it all can be challenging.

But fortunately I know just such a place—the Lotus Temple.

Surrounded by lush gardens and fountains this interesting landmark— literally in the shape of a lotus—is a monument to the Baha’i faith, which eschews all idolatry. The temple interior is refreshingly free of the visual clutter associated with most religious buildings. The temple also provides an opportunity to learn firsthand about this interesting religion based on the pacifistic teachings of Baha’u’llah, who believed that god is neither male nor female and transcends gender.

As the day ends and darkness descends, the magic of artificial lighting slowly turns the “lotus” translucent. I sit and watch this tranquil building dedicated to a faith based on simplicity and, one by one, the many little things that have jangled my nerves all day begin to subside. A cool breeze brings me back to my senses, reminding me that Delhi can, despite everything, also be peaceful and quiet.

 

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