City Sightseeing – Heritage Tour 2008
A tour of the 21st century Delhi.
[Picture and text by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Delhi is more than tombs and domes. So, instead of guiding readers to those been-there-seen-that touristy sites — Qutub Minar, Safdarjang Tomb and other phalana danka — The Delhi Walla designs his own heritage highway that respects the past and celebrates the present.
Priya cinema complex
In the beginning, there was no PVR. Only Priya. That’s why our tour bus starts from here. Basant Lok, aka Priya complex, is a hangout of historical proportions. India’s first McDonald’s was opened here — many, many years ago — in 1996 AD. It is also the site of India’s first TGIF. That, too, had opened the same year. Eleven years earlier, Ajit Vikram Singh had opened Fact & Fiction, the city’s best independently owned bookstore. It has such an eclectic collection that even those who actively despise books might find much to browse through and hence delay our tour.
Hauz Khas Village
There was every possibility that this antiquated 13th century rural hamlet would have remained quiet, sleepy and ignored. Who wants to see a reservoir built centuries ago by some ancient ruler, even if his name was Allauddin Khilji?
Enter Bina Ramani, Delhi’s original society queen, the first Indian designer to be featured on the cover of Vogue. In 1988 AD, Ramani set up Twice Upon A Time — her second boutique — at the Village. It laid the foundation of the great Hauz Khas civilisation. Every who’s who in town worth her eyeliner was drawn towards the village. The New York Times correspondent Barbara Crosette called it “the national capital of ethnic chic”. Today, Hauz Khas is a mecca for buying antique reproductions. The bus will stop for an hour. Enough time to empty your wallets.
Bukhara, Maurya Sheraton
Lunch stop. You will be served with the famous Clinton platter, the exact menu (sikandari raan, murgh tandoori, barrah kabab, murgh malai, seekh kabab, dal bukhara, raita) that Bill Clinton ordered during his state trip to India in 2000 AD. Chelsea Platter for veggies.
This is Delhi’s best-kept secret. No, we aren’t talking of Mr Safdarjung, who had no business to be buried in Delhi. The guy was the nawab of Oudh, after all.
Let’s discourse on the life and times of the real badshah. They say that Shah Rukh Khan’s mamujaan had his canteen here. We don’t have confirmation, but many say that the place was called Khatir. When SRK became famous, the canteen walls were said to be covered with posters of his Pepsi ad. Alas, Delhi doesn’t care for its heritage. While Safdarjung’s tomb continues to stand, the great canteen has vanished.
In the times past, there was a village called Khairpur here. In 2004 AD, Time magazine called it Asia’s Best Urban Oasis.
Originally known as Lady Willingdon Park, this Garden of Eden is an ideal place to share intimate moments with your ladylove. If you are an unlucky loner, console yourself by gazing at the ‘scenery’. After all, this place is a slap on the face of those who target India as a ‘coldbed’ of sexual repression.
See romantic declarations (Rakesh loves Manju) etched on trees or enjoy guilty glimpses of couples smooching and groping each other’s body parts behind the bushes. The bus will only stop for 20 minutes. Hurry.
The heritage tour comes full circle and now we are driving through Delhi’s most mourned-over ruins. In 2006 AD, the dreaded sealing drive had led to the closure of various fashion stores here. In one fell swoop, the world of the Capital’s elite came crashing down. However, save your tears. Delhi is a city that has been built, destroyed, rebuilt, re-destroyed and rebuilt again. Those stores will rise from the ashes. The well-dressed will have something to wear again.