Connaught place, now named Rajiv Chowk, was constructed by the British around the same time other structures including the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Parliament building were being constructed. Together, these structures were a symbol of Imperialism. It was a show of strength for the colonists, and many people were displaced to make way for the construction.
However, soon after the completion of buildings, the second World War broke out, followed by the Indian Independence movement.
Today, CP, as it is fondly called, is a hub of commercial activity and a favourite hang-out place for thousands of people, including yours truly.
Last month, on a cool cloudy day, I went to meet a friend at CP. The breeze was strong and little drops of monsoon rain were beginning to fall. We looked at the center of the circle.
Flying high overshadowing the past, and looking over our shoulders, the Indian tricolour was at its finest.
It was a chilly Sunday. And the best way to spend it was sitting in the winter sun.
We decided to visit the Indian Coffee House at Connaught Place*. We climbed up to the second floor of Mohan Singh Place. There were only a few people on the terrace. Empty tables were spread randomly, while plastic chairs were piled up, one on top of another, along the entrance. We grabbed our chairs, pulled up one of the plastic tables, and sat down to bask in the sun.
Apart from the outfits of the waiters, there really isn’t anything that looks fancy at the Indian Coffee House. Even the food isn’t really great. But the coffee is good, and its cheap! The main reason why I keep going there, however, is that it is absolutely laid-back. There is no such thing as spending too much time here. When most cafés will eventually ask you to leave, no one here will even hint at that. You are more likely to see people stepping in, than stepping out – even if you spend hours. Like my friend said, ‘It’s like being at home!’
We read the menu pasted on the wall, and ordered ourselves ‘Hot Cream Coffee’. A little while later, the waiter kept a pot of coffee for each of us, with cups, spoons, and a small bowl of sugar.
As we poured out our coffee, and stirred in the sugar, I found myself looking towards the opposite side of the road. A number of state emporia lined the street.
‘You know, there is a huge flower market here. It opens early morning, and winds up before breakfast.’ I looked towards the pavement. A large number of people were walking there, shouting slogans and carrying banners. It was hard to tell what they were campaigning for, though.
‘We used to come here on Sunday mornings, when we were in school.’
‘I know, you told me.’
‘We would get up lazily, and go about our morning routine reluctantly. And then, our father would ask, ‘Do you want to go to the flower market?’ And just like, that our faces would brighten up, and we’d get ready within no time!
It was such a treat! And I don’t mean just visually. We’d pick up a few flowers – usually roses, or orchids. The orchids would last much longer than most other flowers. And then we’d head over to the nearby McDonald’s. We hardly went to McDonald’s back then. It was a novelty. That particular branch used to open very early. And we’d always order a McShake with our breakfasts. Nah! The McShake was the breakfast. Of course things have changed a lot since then…’
My friend waited patiently, till I realised I had to shut up, and then suggested, ‘Maybe you should blog about it.’
* * *
*Connaught Place is now officially named Rajiv Chowk.
Going through WordPress’ freshly pressed entries, my eyes fell on a familiar image – flower sellers. The post ‘Where guys give roses’, about the flower markets in Delhi, refreshed some memories for me.
A gallery tour of Ugrasen ki Baoli – not really on a tourist’s itinerary. But then, not even locals are aware of its presence!
Ugrasen ki Baoli
Delhi has been loved, and loathed, by people for centuries. She has been built, razed to the ground, and rebuilt, by the same people who destroyed her.
The city has always been the favourite city of successive rulers. The proof of their love, lies in the monuments they constructed, that are spread across the city. Most of the newer buildings were constructed at the site of older structures. So the Fort of Rai Pithora, was razed to the ground, only for the Qutub Minar to be built.
Purana Qila (Old Fort) was built by Humayun, only to be destroyed by Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah built his own capital at that site, only for Humayun to return! But even before the battles between these kings, an ancient civilization existed there – excavations of objects and pottery dating back to 1000 BC proving the antiquity of the Fort.
Besides the most obvious monuments, there are several smaller ones – those that are not on a tourist’s itinerary. They are hidden from public view. Even locals, never fully explore the city. To peel away the different layers of the city, requires more than just a few days. To understand what makes immigrants fall in love with the city, requires more than a lifetime.
In our quest to explore the ‘other’ side of Delhi, a few of us visited a baoli.
A baoli is a step-well, unique to the desert regions of western India. Ugrasen ki Baoli, is just off the main road near Connaught Place (Rajiv Chowk), at the heart of Delhi.
A short walk from the Barakhamba Metro station led us to the walls of the baoli. It looked like any other stone wall we’d seen, until we stepped inside. We collectively gasped at the sight in front of us – a long flight of steps leading to the bottom of the well.
There were scores of pigeons happily going about their daily lives, unaware of their historical home; a few groups of people, wanting to ‘hang out’ together; and one youth, working on his laptop, seeking refuge from the harsh heat!
We descended the stairs, to be welcomed by a very strong odour and screeching sounds. We looked up from the bottom of the well, to the ceiling of the tower – bats. We climbed up the stairs faster than we had descended!
The old, the new, and the pigeons – The three elements that define Delhi – A gallery tour
Mosque on Western end
Just Before Closing Time
Banyan Tree Roots
Banyan Tree within the complex
Tree just outside
Upon Entering – First View
Pigeons in flight
Arched Corridors on the sides
Mid-way – Going Up
Mid-way – Looking Down
My friend who introduced the baoli to me, posted a few photographs on one of his posts too. Do check them out here.