City Hangout – The Monsoon Bucket List, Around Town
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
As Delhi prepares to welcome another monsoon, here are places in the city where you can feel the season most intensely. Happy rains.
Carry along a thermos of piping-hot adrak chai to this temple-like pavilion in central Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan rally ground. This is the rostrum from where leaders of post-independence India such as Indira Gandhi and Jai Prakash Narayan delivered iconic speeches to the nation. In 1963, singer Lata Mangeshkar mourned the humiliating debacle of the war with China by singing Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon, which famously moved prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to tears in public. In fact, he had got the pavilion built in 1961 for Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit. She stood there before the thousands of us Indians who had packed the ground to get a glimpse of the sovereign. The Maidan stays open to all and anybody can go up to the pavilion. In the rainy afternoon, it is beautiful to watch the downpour slamming into the vast grounds while you are safely dry under the pavilion’s roof, enjoying a cup of tea.
Romeo is incomplete without Juliet, Agra without Taj Mahal and rainy day without the pakoris. And no place in rainy Delhi is more ideally suited to celebrate this union than the Khandani Pakodiwalla, a little eatery on the Ring Road-Sarojini Nagar intersection. These guys have been frying pakodis daily since 1962, come monsoon or drought. Here you have the luxury to pick from about a dozen varieties. Leave the uncommon versions (lotus root for example) for other seasons, and just binge on the classics: aloo, pyaz, and hari mirchi. The shack is often milling with people, and one is obliged to snack standing on the roadside. Don’t complain. It’s fun to hold umbrella in one hand, and the too-hot-tohandle pakori in the other.
The Shiv Mandir in Central Delhi’s Jor Bagh stands atop a small hill. It’s always quiet and serene here, so teeming with birds and squirrels that you half-fancy yourself to have escaped from the city altogether. The staircase leading to the temple gets beautifully atmospheric at this time of the year, with every step overrun with wild grass. The two Peepal trees in the temple compound ably keep the visitor unwet during heavy rains but an unexpected breeze sometimes violently shakes the branches spraying you with water. It’s a spine-tingling thrill.
Pick a table in the so-called ‘ladies and families’ section of the Indian Coffee House in Connaught Place. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t a lady. Nobody objects. This is a long-corridor like space with one side lined with glass windows through which you can leisurely see the rain pattering down on the coffee house’s sprawling terrace. Come with a novel, and spend hours over coffee—it’s too watery, but so cheap.
Board the Blue Line of the Delhi Metro. More specifically, shuttle between Indraprastha and Yamuna Bank metro stations. Look out of the window as the train runs over the Yamuna. You shall witness a rare phenomenon. This is the only time in the year when our city’s principal water body actually looks wide enough to be termed a river and not a drain.
Perched atop a hillock, Adam Khan’s tomb in south Delhi’s Mehrauli is dark and depressing, to tell the truth. But the view you get of the historic neighbourhood is magnificently panoramic. Especially of the celebrated Qutub Minar, the tower standing proud in the downpour, like the last soldier alive in the battlefield. The mithai shop just down the stairs adds its bit to the experience. The cook is always busy churning out fresh rounds of deep-fried jalebis. Consume the super-crisp inside the tomb while watching the rain.
You may also consider driving to Gurgaon’s South Point Mall when it is raining very hard. Unlike most such shopping complexes where distracting showrooms greedily fills up every available spot, this one keeps one side free of commerce, with wall-sized glass windows facing the big wide world outside. Walk to the first floor, lean against a giant glass pane and watch the sleek coaches of the Rapid Metro chugging its way through the misty monsoon. It’s like being a tourist in Singapore on a rainy day.
And now the list’s final destination. There’s no ignoring it. Delhi’s monsoon experience is incomplete if you don’t expose yourself to a drizzle in the Indian Gate grounds. Buy a bhutta, get a balloon, lie on the grass, click a selfie, enjoy a boat ride, and laugh at fellow revelers getting wet.
Rainy day wanderings