City Season – Proust’s Monsoon, Around Town
Rainy day delights.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A little tap on the window-pane, as though something had struck it, followed by a plentiful light falling sound, as of grains of sand being sprinkled from a window overhead, gradually spreading, intensifying, acquiring a regular rhythm, becoming fluid, sonorous, musical, immeasurable, universal: it was the rain.
These were the words of Marcel Proust, taken from his novel In Search of Lost Time. The French author never came to Delhi and so never experienced our city’s monsoon. But his description above seems like as if he had witnessed our rainy season’s first shower while sitting by a window-side table at The Imperial, Connaught Place.
The Delhi Walla suggests places in the city where you can feel the monsoon season as intensely as Monsieur Proust.
Dine at Parikrama, the revolving restaurant at the top of Antriksh Bhawan — 240 feet above Connaught Place. The window views of all sides of the rain-soaked city are worth the dismal food and the dumpy interiors.
Bring along masala chai, keema samosas and inappropriate novels to Metcalfe’s Folly, a British-era hexagonal structure in south Delhi’s Mehrauli Archaeological Complex (south Delhi). Situated atop a grassy mound, it looks to the Qutub Minar and other historical curiosities. When the rain starts, you remain dry under the stone canopy.
Book a window-side table at the breakfast room in north Delhi’s Oberoi Maidens Hotel. If it’s merely an overcast sky, sit outside in the garden. Ask for tea and pastries.
Go to the 14th century Hauz Khas monument complex in the south. With interlinked chambers and balconies, the ruins offer an unhindered view of Deer Park and the Hauz Khas lake. Hear the squawking of ducks and the cry of peacocks. While in the locality, have the pricey tea and cakes at Elma’s Bakery. Or try the Bhutanese cuisine at the Yeti: The Himalayan Kitchen restaurant. Its balcony (for smokers) looks on to the lake. Once upon a time in Hauz Khas Village I loved to dig into smoked pork with roasted bamboo shoots in Dzukoü, a Naga speciality restaurant, but it shut down. Situated on the third and fourth floors, it overlooked the fountains of the lake. Whether it were raining or not, the restaurant remained deliciously breezy.
Take a ride in DTC bus No. 620, which starts from Shivaji Stadium and ends in Hauz Khas. The bus passes through the best parts of Delhi, which look dream-like in the rain. Sit by the window as you go past the Connaught Place Outer Circle, Jantar Mantar, India Gate Circle, Teen Murti roundabout, Shantipath, the National Rail Museum and the hill-top Malai Mandir.
The fried pakodas are the classic rainy season finger food. Drop by at Khandani Pakodiwalla at the Ring Road-Sarojini Nagar intersection, near the Bhikaji Cama flyover. They sell 11 varieties, including cauliflower, lotus root, spinach, potato, green chilli, onion, paneer and bread. Have it with their biting mint chutney. Eat in your car or outside the shack, next to the cooks who keep frying the fritters from 9am-9pm, daily of course.
In the north, Majnu Ka Teela has a secret. Most Delhiites look on it as the place where you get the most authentic momos. Not many know that this Tibetan refugee settlement overlooks the Yamuna on one side. The stretch is behind a lane of cafés. Go there and enjoy the river flowing tantalizingly close.
The breezy Tea Terrace at the Triveni Art Gallery at Mandi House in central Delhi serves good food, along with a view of the adjacent amphitheatre. Nibble on their delicate shami kebabs (which are surprisingly, and happily, not so oily) as the spray of shower wets your sleeves. Make sure to have the delicious carrot walnut cake. The good thing is that the service is extremely slow, so you get more time to enjoy the rainy day experience. (But check if they haven’t yet again closed down for one more renovation!)
The Teen Murti Bhavan museum was Jawaharlal Nehru’s official residence. As the overcast sky turns dark, climb the museum’s stately stairs, walk past the coffee-coloured wooden shelves filled with old books and look into the drawing rooms and bedrooms of our first prime minister. All the time, you can see the rain falling outside the giant windows. The gardens, both at the front and the back, teem with peacocks at this time of the year. If it is merely drizzling, sit on a bench outside, or have chai (tea) at Teen Murti’s lovely canteen—a thick cover of trees shields the courtyard from the showers. Look out for peacocks. They might slip under your table.
Go to Indian Coffee House on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Connaught Place, if it is not raining hard. Sit on the terrace for an unconventional view of Connaught Place: back alleys, dope addicts and lots of monkeys. Ask for a cucumber sandwich and steaming hot tea.
Walking in the narrow streets of Shahjahanabad, or Old Delhi, is not easy during the monsoon. But you can always go and sit in the balcony of Haji Hotel in Matia Mahal bazaar. Mira Nair shot a few scenes of her film, A Reluctant Fundamentalist, at this venue. The balcony offers a spectacular view of Jama Masjid. If you talk politely, the owner, an extremely refined gentleman, will offer you tea and fresh hot biscuits from a wood-fired bakery nearby.
Go to Urs Mahal, next to Mirza Ghalib’s tomb in Nizamuddin Basti. It is an assembly hall edged with lovely stone pillars where you can read a book and watch the showers out in the open courtyard. Also go to the dargah of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. It is an intense feeling to look at the dark clouds closing in over the sacred dome.
If you don’t mind getting wet in the rain, head to the India Gate maidan. Eat bhutta (corn), have ice cream, buy a balloon, lie on the grass, or take a boat ride.
Drive to Khan Market when it’s raining very hard. Take a dry seat at L’Opera patisserie, order tea and madeline and wait for the rain to subside. Or go around 5 pm to either of the bookshops there: Bahrisons Booksellers or Faqir Chand & Company. If you pretend to look suitably distressed, they will offer you free chai.
Delhi’s monsoon delights