Hanging out in Delhi

Every city has its hotspots, places that are inevitable destinations for people to visit for shopping, eating out or just an outing. These places change every few years, with new ones springing up every now and then. This is particularly true of the Capital, where hangouts could be CP, HKV, MCM or ‘Khan’

NARROW, WINDING streets housing stores selling designer garments and antiques, interspersed with cafes, lounges and pubs, populated by the city’s tattoo-sporting, hat-wearing, cigarette-smoking youngsters, amid blaring music and a shimmer of colourful lights—symbolise typical evenings in Delhi’s posh hangout, Hauz Khas Village, popularly known as HKV.

Until a few years ago, this was a relatively quiet neighbourhood, where one would go only to buy movie posters, eat at Gunpowder (an eclectic Indian cuisine restaurant with a beautiful view of the lake near the lush green Deer Park), visit Yodakin (a bookstore that promotes and stocks alternative titles), or groove to Indie music at TLR Café.

For those unfamiliar with HKV’s history, it was part of Siri, the second of Delhi’s seven cities created by Alauddin Khilji in the 13th century. It is home to a reservoir, a madrasa, a mosque and the tomb of Firoz Shah Tughlaq. In the Eighties and Nineties, Hauz Khas Village was a secluded spot, where designers opened stores that were frequented by their foreign clients. It became a nest of cultural activity in the mid-2000s, when independent artists, expats and restaurateurs opened shops, studios and cafes due to lower rentals.

You could find everything here, from shops selling shiny, colourful cushions emblazoned with kitschy art to restaurants serving regional Indian cuisine. HKV soon acquired a cult following among those who didn’t want to be identified with the mainstream. Says 25-year-old Hitesh Mehta, a Jaipur-based industrialist, “I have to visit Delhi frequently for work, so I make it a point to spend at least one evening in Hauz Khas. The crowd, the ambience, everything about this place is addictive.”

For shopkeepers, business is booming. “As a lounge manager, I have no complaint with this place, for business is brisk and we rarely have a dry night,” says Vishnu Singh Mothey, manager of My Bar. As per designer Ruchika Sachdeva, whose label Bodice has a store in HKV, “The location of HKV is perfect, plus the close proximity to the National Institute of Fashion Technology makes it perfect for designers to set up shop here.”

Also, it’s a haven for foodies. When you have a craving for south Indian food, you can drop in at Coast Cafe, or you can satiate your sweet tooth at Hokey Pokey. In case you are looking for the perfect ambience, try The Project inside Deer Park. And if it’s alcohol that you desire, try Hauz Khas Social for its astounding concoctions.

However, owing to its popularity, Hauz Khas Village has in the past two years become an extremely noisy, crowded and much less distinctive enclave for Delhiites and tourists alike.

Nevertheless, the market is a magnet for a wide and diverse portfolio of brands. There’s stationery shop Paper Handy, where you can get handmade paper, diaries, paper bags, frames, cards, etc. For designer fashion, you can try Ogaan, which stocks collections from the houses of Kavita Bhartiya, Raw Mango, Sabyasachi and Nikasha. You can also try Lola’s World for quirky knick knacks and kitschy accessories, Country Collections for antique furniture, accessories and statement pieces, or Love Birds for its vintage-inspired fashion. There’s something for everybody here.

Moving to central Delhi, favoured by expats and Delhi’s elite is Khan Market, with shops focusing on fashion, books and homeware. One can buy handmade paper at Anand Stationers or visit Mehra Bros for cool papier mâché ornaments and Christmas decorations. Literature lovers should head to Full Circle Bookstore and Bahri Sons. For ethnic fashion and homeware, there’s Fabindia, Anokhi and Good Earth.

Khan Market, named in honour of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (popularly known as Frontier Gandhi), is one of the high-end shopping streets situated in the heart of Delhi, close to the exclusive India International Centre and India Habitat Centre. Not surprisingly, it ranks as a market with one of the highest rentals per square foot in the world.

The alleys might be narrow and cramped, but they house some of Delhi’s best restaurants, with every brand worth its name wanting to set up shop here. From international-cuisine restaurants to pubs and bars, modern coffee shops, stores selling exotic vegetables, fruits, meats, imported sauces and cheese to shops on pavements selling beads, chains, bracelets and jootis, one can find a varied mix of things while shopping and eating here. “My daughter keeps following these diets that require fruits like avocado and grains like quinoa, and Khan Market proves to be a one-stop shop for all. Plus, it’s perfect for a family outing, as we dine here after shopping,” says Suman Kohli, a south Delhi resident.

“For a brand like ours, which is very niche, Khan Market is the perfect location, for it’s in central Delhi, plus the footfall is great,” says the manager of Cottons, who didn’t want to be named. Cottons is a Jaipur-based design house, which has a store in the market.

However, there is serious lack of space here, which has prompted many enterprises to open shop in the adjacent Mehar Chand Market, the latest aspirant for a Khan Market-like status in Delhi. Nicknamed MCM, the market was once known for its grocery shops and tailors, but is now home to an eclectic set of entrepreneurs. Speciality organic grocery shops now flank decades-old kirana stores. Branded textile and designer label stores stand adjacent to tailoring establishments of old. And brand-new Dutch and Mediterranean dessert shops stand side by side with shops selling momos and tea on the long stretch of the road.

Mehar Chand Market is becoming a one-stop shop for French cuisine, authentic baklava from West Asia and Indo-western clothing. Old regulars of Hauz Khas Village will recall that in its initial years HKV looked similar to today’s Mehar Chand Market, with a collection of designer and antique stores that drew in tourists and Delhi’s elite. But Hauz Khas, now filled with bars and restaurants, and swarming with people, has somewhat lost its quaint charm.

Mehar Chand, though not as picturesque as Hauz Khas (which overlooks fort ruins and a reservoir), is also centrally located—near Lodhi Colony and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium—and is within easy reach of affluent Delhi dwellers.

“Mehar Chand is like a boutique market,” says Raghu Sehgal, a partner in Mediterranean sweet store Kunafa, named after a Palestinian sweet. The store was set up by Sehgal, Nikhil Anand and a Palestinian-Jordanian businessman, Naser Barakat. Chefs from Syria and Jordan dole out authentic baklavas, Egyptian and Syrian basbousa and traditional kunafas, as well as Arabic coffee here.

With its organic food stores, Mehar Chand is also the grocery stop for the health-conscious in the city. Resembling a small nook from Notting Hill, London, The Kirana Shop stocks organic produce from across the country and even has a section of fresh vegetables. This new store also has a wide personal-care range. Nourish Organics, which sells packaged organic snacks and cereals, also has a store in the market.

Fashion label O Layla, known for western clothing made with Indian fabrics and embroideries, opened in the market in November 2013. Pleased with the kind of clientele in Mehar Chand, store manager Prapti Malhotra says, “Hauz Khas Village had become a picnic spot for college kids, so we moved to what seems to be the next village.” House Oh Masaba, owned by designer Masaba Gupta, has also opened a flagship store in Mehar Chand.

Architects, artists and designers can often be found at the concept bookstore CMYK for its collection of illustrated design, art and travel books. Residents of low-income-group flats behind the market go about their daily lives, as the well-off eat French onion soup and shop for kurtas at Fabindia here.

The boom has inevitably had an impact on property prices as well. As per realtor Vipin Sharma, whose company JBB Developers is based in Mehar Chand, new leases are going at the rate of R500 per sq ft, up from R250 last year. This, however, is still much more reasonable than the R1,500 or R2,000 per sq ft for property in nearby Khan Market, Sharma adds. He has finalised 30 new commercial leases in the past three months in MCM and says many designers are looking to set up shop in the market.

But New Delhi’s heart, colonial Connaught Place—named after George V’s paternal uncle and fashioned after the colonnades of Cheltenham and Bath to assuage British homesickness—refuses to let go of its grip on city residents. Its whitewashed, grey-tinged streets radiate from the central circle of Rajiv Chowk, and are lined with shops and restaurants. The outer circle is technically called Connaught Circus and the inner circle is Connaught Place, but locals call the whole area ‘CP’. Almost every visitor to Delhi comes here.

Developed as a showpiece of Lutyens’ Delhi, with polished white facade, wide pavements, uncluttered archways, giant billboards and ample parking, Connaught Place’s central location made it the preferred place for outings. But for some time till the recent past, CP had lost its charm, as people’s attention started to move towards the new malls and other markets in the city. However, that phenomenon has eclipsed now, for the footfall at Connaught Place has been witnessing a rapid increment due to some much-needed improvements: online booking for parking and vacancy information boards have streamlined the nightmarish parking scene to a large extent, while new food joints like Naturals, the fruit ice-cream parlour from Mumbai, and non-veg delight Nando’s, among several others, are attracting visitors.

Combined with the Raahgiri initiative that turns inner circle into a car-free zone on select Sunday mornings and free Wi-Fi, Connaught Place has fast got rid of its boring tag. “CP makes for a perfect spot to meet friends due to its central location and good connectivity. Markets like HKV become a bit distant for people living in corners other than south Delhi,” says 22-year-old Pradhuman Sodha, an aspiring writer.

The phrase ‘life comes full circle’ certainly applies to the concentric circles of CP.

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