Winter surprises of Delhi

Every season gives us a different reason to love Delhi. Whether its fog on a winter morning or the soft glow of the afternoon, Delhi wraps you intimately in a warm embrace.

The Indian capital is at its best during winter. Be it the lovely blossoms that welcome you at every nook and corner of the city or the misty fog that embraces you in its haze or the exuberant social vibe that you just cannot miss being a part of, Delhi’s winter is simply a delight.

CULTURE BINGEING AT MANDI HOUSE

Just as the floss silk trees burst into pink blossoms, Delhi’s cultural scene comes alive during winter. People make their way to the cultural epicentre of Mandi House area with its eclectic mix of National School of Drama, Triveni Kala Sangam, Rabindra Bhawan, Kamani Auditorium and Shri Ram Centre that offer a range of performing arts like dance, music and theatre. Walk around the roundabout soaking in the vibe as aspiring actors discuss nuances of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard over steaming cups of tea at the roadside stalls. The evening comes to a perfect end as you walk in the misty night to the Bengali Market for some mouth-watering fare of chole bhaturey, gajar ka halwa and gajak.

DELHI WAR CEMETERY

Away from the din of Ring Road beyond the entanglement of clover Dhaula Kuan and metro lines, you enter the urban oasis of Delhi Cantonment. Cantonment areas across India have this special vibe where air seems to whisper among the colonial-style buildings. An imposing sandstone entrance brings you to the Delhi War Cemetery run by UK’s Commonwealth War Graves. Among the impeccably manicured lawns lie the remains of soldiers who laid their lives in the two World Wars fighting for British Commonwealth. Walking among the rows of tombstones etched with heart-wrenching epithets of young men, you realise the futility of war and the hurt that it wreaks. The peaceful surroundings amidst flowers is hopefully providing some balm to the anguished souls.

MEHRAULI ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

In the shadow of Qutb Minar, a sprawling wooded park encapsulates Delhi’s history from Lalkot – Delhi’s First City – to the Slave Dynasty who made Mehrauli, Delhi’s Second City, to Lodhis, Mughals and to the British times. Choose a sunny afternoon to walk through the trails of Mehrauli Archaeological Park and discover gems like Balban’s Tomb, India’s first building with true arches. Step into the exquisite Jamali Kamali Tomb and get dazzled by its jewel-box-like interiors. Look down four levels of Delhi’s prettiest stepwell Rajon ki Baoli. Climb up the stairs from the boathouse to Dilkusha, East India Company’s Thomas Metcalfe’s monsoon residence built out of a Mughal tomb. Just ahead Qutb Minar rises – a sight only seen by taking the path less travelled.

THE LUTYENS’ DELHI

New Delhi is prettiest during winter. To appreciate the beauty of perhaps the most stunning urban enclave in the country, take a drive in Lutyens’ Delhi – Delhi’s Eighth City – starting from India Gate as you make your way through the tree-lined boulevards with sprawling bungalows in the power-centre of the country. Stop on the way to be delighted by the roundabouts that have burst into a riot of colours as flowers of all shape and colours bloom. From Teen Murti turn towards Diplomatic Enclave housing the world’s embassies and High Commissions. A picnic on the grass lawns of Shanti Path or Nehru Park is highly recommended under sunny blue skies.

NATIONAL GANDHI MUSEUM

While busloads of tourists make their way to Gandhiji’s samadhi, Rajghat, just across the road lies the National Gandhi Museum that is largely overlooked. Walk through the grounds where Sabarmati Ashram has been recreated and peer into Hriday Kunj where Gandhiji lived his simple life. Inside the museum building traverse the incredible journey of the man who gave up his life to give us freedom. His presence is everywhere – pick up the phones in the lobby and listen to him speak, look with awe at the walking stick he used during the epic Dandi March. The poignant Martyrdom Gallery has Gandhiji’s bloodstained clothes from his assassination day.

MYSTICAL EVENINGS AT NIZAMUDDIN

Come Thursday evening and you are transported to the times of Tughlaqabad – Delhi’s Fourth City – when a Sufi saint stood up to a Sultan. Beyond Lodhi Gardens is the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. You make your way deep into the alleys of medieval Ghiyaspur steeped in history now called Nizamuddin Basti, which is fragrant with roses and sparkling with chadars. In the courtyard between the sanctum and Amir Khusrao’s Tomb, Nizami Brothers render full-throated qawwalis making the devotees go delirious in mystic trance.

LITTLE TIBET IN MAJNU KA TILLA

Scores of butter lamps flicker. Inside the temple, young monks dressed in flowing maroon sanghatis intone mantras. From the walls, Buddha smiles benignly. Rosy-faced kids chased by smiling mothers run through the courtyard. Just a few steps from the busy Outer Ring Road at Majnu Ka Tilla, you have stepped into a different world. The Tibetan Colony is Delhi’s own Dharamsala where Tibetans from Lhasa first settled. Experience Little Tibet’s vibe redolent of an innocent life left behind. Sample Tibetan food that gave Delhi its favourite snack, the momos!

PAHARGANJ – ON THE HIPPIE TRAIL

The tall neon sign boards, flanking both sides of the lane inside Ram Nagar, turn Paharganj into a seemingly Las Vegas strip. Walking distance from New Delhi Railway Station, Paharganj is a hub for hotels of all budgets catering to everyone from well-heeled to backpackers and overnight travellers. Paharganj, a haven for hippies in the seventies, burst into prominence after the psychedelic antics of modern-day Dev D in the eponymous movie. After finding a hotel room, stroll through the maze for clothes, international cuisines from sushi to hummus and hang out at libraries exchanging old books. Settle down with a beverage on the open terrace of Café Club India and let the unpretentious vibe of Paharganj wash over you.

GHALIB’S LAST GHAZAL

To beat stress, Delhiites take to shayari and ghazals. Zauq, Meer and Momin become household names. In Delhi’s Seventh City of Shahjahanabad, turn into Ballimaran beyond Sunheri Masjid. As you approach the haveli in Gali Qasim Jan, couplets waft in the chilly night. This is the house of Delhi’s most famous poet and its literary historian, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. Today, a part of the haveli has been restored exhibiting his books and hand written poems. Ghalib, the Delhiwalla dil se and synonymous with Delhi’s culture, died lamenting his unrequited love for Delhi.

Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal

BHULI BHATYARI MAHAL

Feroz Shah Tughlaq was the original builder of Delhi as he built Ferozabad – Delhi’s Fifth City, several mosques, a madrasa on the banks of Hauz Khas, brought Ashokan pillars from Ambala and Meerut and hunting lodges in the forest ridges of Delhi. As you get off the metro at Jhandewalan, walk past the huge Hanuman statue and then turn onto the street that rises into the ridge. Here, strange looking fortifications guard the Bhuli Bhatiyari, a supposedly haunted monument. Walk in the barren interiors and try not getting spooked as shadows of bare branches play tricks on the walls.

PURANA QILA

ISHQ-E-DILLI AT PURANA QILA

As the skies darken and the evening turns chilly, you make your way into Purana Qila. This is probably the site of Indraprastha, the mythological capital of Pandavas. On the left, the lone Sher Mandal stands silhouetted where Humayun tumbled to his death. Up ahead is the iconic Humayun Darwaza with its two canopies that form the backdrop of the most incredible Sound and Light show ‘Ishq-e-Dilli’. As the laser lights dance, songs and commentary take the viewer through Delhi’s 5000-year old fascinating history.

Delhi grows prettier and younger every year. Despite repeated invasions and sackings, Delhi has lived on with successive rulers building their own cities. On any winter morning as the soft sun turns the Ashoka Pillar golden at Feroze Shah Kotla, you fall in love once again with the city.

Text & Photos: Nirdesh Singh

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