The Centre Of The NCR... Too

  • Hritvick Sen / FG
  • India
  • Oct 05, 2012



 What makes a place, or a market, worth spending time in? 

If the place happens to be New Delhi’s Connaught Place (CP), the world-weary, traffic hardened  Gurgaonite will have even lesser reasons to go all the way on a precious week-end. And truthfully, there are hardly any branded outlets in CP that MG Road doesn’t
now have. 

But... if there were places unique to CP, and which could not be found by turning Gurgaon upside down, one might just be tempted. And there are, if there is the will to walk. Besides the brands splashed all over the Inner Circle, there are little nooks and crannies where one can find gems of stores – places which will break a smile even on the most been-there, shopped-that visage.

The Trip

The recommended mode of transport will always be the Metro. It is, without a doubt, the fastest, cheapest, and the most comfortable ride from Gurgaon to the heart of New Delhi – with no runners-up. Seats are guaranteed from the HUDA City Centre Metro Station; and by the time Rajeev Chowk Station in CP arrives, you will be alternately blessing DMRC for the air-conditioned ride, and smirking at having got a seat. No need for your car – definitely. Besides being dropped right in the middle of CP, this is one place with such excellent public transportation that an auto will screech to a stop even when you raise your hand to take off the cap. The travel time one way is around 50 minutes, and you will reach Rajeev Chowk without breaking into a sweat.

Starting Off

Bengalis (actually all of India) believe that a trip is so much the better if there are frequent food stops, and CP does not disappoint. Gate number 7/8 takes one right up to one of CP’s oldest shops for snacks and sweetmeats. For celebrating the fact that one has made a 33-kilometre journey from Gurgaon comfortably, Wengers is the perfect flag-off. Take a fresh loaf of french baguette to munch along, or their signature patties, or a slice of their scrumptious chocolate truffle cake. Life has already become that much sweeter. Manager K. Singh, who has spent the better part of his life behind the Wengers counter, proudly states that the Delhi University crowd empties their patties’ stock by the afternoon itself. “We have a daily footfall numbering in the thousands,” he says. Started by a Swiss couple in 1926, it is the third generation of the Tandon family that are the owners of Wengers now. From a start of four varieties of pastries and breads, the shop today has an astounding offering of 35 varieties of cakes and 70 of pastries, not to mention the speciality breads and snacks.

For the Gurgaonite, whose shopping alternatives coincide with indoor air-conditioning, Connaught Place is a step away from that ordinary. The branded outlets hold little attraction (Gurgaon will almost always have better discounts), so take a 20-minute walk across Palika Bazaar, until you reach Janpath. Rather than dealing with glass doors and well-mannered attendants, indulge in an hour of hearing the raucous bellowing of shopkeepers as they convince you that they have the shirt or skirt you have been searching for all your life.  Do exercise the long-lost art of haggling, and feel the heady rush after reducing Rs. 100 off the shopkeeper’s price.

Just beyond Janpath is the Tibetan Market – a narrow lane which brings a shopper/tourist to Mini-Tibet. For those who are planning to stock up on woollens, this lane will be nothing lesser than a God-send. From jackets (woollen or leather) to shawls or anything for warmth, everything is available in the  brightest of colours. Some hawkers will try to entice you with carved chillums (they now use the American slang- ‘bongs’; entrepreneurship at its best!). This market has the best of unbranded winter-wear, at prices that will water up the eyes of a mall-goer. Remember: Haggle!


Obscurity In Plain Sight

Take a break from the Tibetan market and sample some of their traditional dumplings from the make-shift shops. The more adventurous can try the thupka – pork dumplings in a thick stew, sprinkled with herbs. After that, sample some of the antique shops in the area. There are massive bronze plates, paintings (they are called tunghkhas), and various knick knacks to brighten up the living room.

At the opposite end of the Tibetan Market is a red building which people often mistake for a government establishment. This place is in fact the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, the biggest outlet in India – and probably the biggest shop in Connaught Place itself. Spanning three huge floors, with mezzanines, it is probably the most under-rated shopping experience, just because people equate Cottage Industries with musty khadi kurtas and leggings. This mega-store has items ranging from clothing to home décor, art and collectibles, wood crafts, and edibles – all top-notch. This establishment is highly recommended if one has a hankering for exotic silks and rare collectibles. The ground floor has a section of carpets and statues (some of which are labelled ‘price on request’ – in a government-sponsored shop, no less!) which can easily best any offering from New Delhi’s poshest shops of arts and crafts. A simple tour of the place would take an hour. You can shop for a day. There is even a Barista thoughtfully hidden away on the first floor.

For Bookworms

Now take a break, by catching a film at any one of Connaught Place’s four cineplexes (Plaza, Rivoli, Odeon, Regal). A two-hour of rest will give you enough spirit for the rest of the CP saga.  Right next to Wengers is heaven, for those who still remember the milk-shakes fondly. For all the others bred on fizzy pleasures, this is Keventers, the small chain of outlets who pride themselves on churning out the creamiest of milkshakes in gigantic milk bottles of yore. They offer around twenty flavours, with not one of them touching the Rs. 100 mark. Keventers is run by the Pahuja family, which still maintains the taste that is loved by the milkshake aficionados, who come to the shop even after 30-odd years.

For those who wish to carry back to Gurgaon something more intellectually stimulating than threads, CP offers a virtual paradise in terms of modern literature. There are the hundred-odd pavement shops which offer ‘smuggled’ versions of best-sellers at Rs. 100 – Rs. 250. Littering the Inner Circle at every 50 yards or so, these book-sellers have no idea what’s inside the cover, so there is a good chance you can pick up an expensive thriller at a throwaway price. Remember: Haggle!

On the other end of the spectrum are the handful of bookshops which have been the cornerstones of Connaught Place – such as Jain Book Depot. This old shop has a veritable treasure trove of books of every imaginable genre and segment. Whether it is architecture, law, self-help, children’s, fiction, or plain general knowledge, there are more options here than what you had in mind. These shops also are one-up over their brethren in the NCR; if there is any book that you have been pining for but cannot find, they will locate it for you – at no charge.

Rounding Off

Where as Gurgaon markets and malls pride themselves on being open as late as possible, Connaught Place very primly begins shutting down by eight. The last stop of the day would be dinner at Kake Da Hotel on the Outer Circle. For vegetarians and meat-lovers alike, this shop has been a haven of good taste for generations. Just beyond the Minto Road turn-off, just stop where there is the longest queue – that is the marker of Kake. On a good day there will be a waiting line of four to five patrons. On a busy day (week-end), it’ll take more than a hour to get to your table. Book accordingly.

And finally, a little ahead is New Delhi’s first Paan Parlour, where exotic paan is served up with pizzazz. Check out their signature condiments and traditional Indian after-meal mouth fresheners. A refreshed end to an alternative evening.

There are of course, bigger and better places. CP’s Tao Zen, Sarvana Bhavan and other classy restaurants and clothing establishments are as good as any in the country. But they and their peers can always be found in ‘hip’ Gurgaon

The Metro will obligingly drop you back at HUDA City Centre; and for once, you will not have missed being in  a ‘happening’ Gurgaon mall on a week-end.


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