City Hangout – DDA Park, Mathura Road
A discreet enclosure.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
These days, it is difficult to recommend a place outside home that offers physical distancing possibilities.
One comes close. But there are many buts about this place. It is thick with trees, but this green padding is too thin to screen off the traffic noise (Mathura Road is next door). It is very close to the touristy zoo, but tourists rarely visit it— even during the pre-corona era. It is packed with grassy slopes, graves, and even a small ruined monument, but the entire area is so small that you could cover it in ten minutes.
The forlorn signboard outside calls this place a Delhi Development Authority (DDA) Park. Inside – plenty of weedy bushes, but no flowers, and almost nobody at the moment, in this rainy afternoon. The grounds are covered with overgrown grass, but you soon notice a narrow path snaking through the terrain. This afternoon the trees skirting the pathway are shaking quite violently in the breeze, making the setting appear like a scene from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
Looking around, the whole area seems untamed, but it does not feel truly wild. Perhaps because of the continuous sound of honking cars speeding along the adjacent road.
Now, the most exciting thing here to be done is to ascend the hillock upon which lie three graves. You have to carefully climb upon the slippery rocks to reach the top. Up there, giant neem tree branches bend down on to the three whitewashed tombs, each draped with a colorful chadar. The graves are said to be of a Sufi mystic and his disciples; their identities is impossible to determine. In that, these graves are similar to many other resting places of forgotten mystics that litter the city. Along central Delhi’s roadsides, a number of such mounds are memorials to revered figures whose names have been lost to history. Of course, the roads came centuries after the graves, which must have once enjoyed the solitude that is still the privilege of these three.
The park is also home to a little ruin. Who built it? And why? And when? There’s no plaque around to offer even a hint.
The lack of information about the landmarks in this park is truly frustrating. But think of it like this—why do we need to strip the city of all its mysteries, to decode all its secrets, and break everything about it into chunks of information, to make it guidebook worthy?
In a time when Google can show results even about your most introvert neighbor, it comes as a relief to hang about in a place like this one, that has managed to remain so secretive. It is tucked in Delhi’s heart, yet hidden from view. It is supremely serene and yet crudely infiltrated by the city sounds. It is off the beaten track and yet just beside a busy road.
Come here on an afternoon like this one.
Like a secret