The culture, sub-culture, people, the first whiff of ungraciousness and fleecing cab drivers, everything quite evident as soon as you exit the IGI Terminal 1. Unlike Bombay, where the system quickly accepts you as you are (sometimes fleeces you), Delhi needs a little push, forge a little Punjabi dialect clubbed with shudh Hindi, have Google maps at your disposal, make sure you are the only 'sawaari' in your cab and strongly empathise with cabbie's rant on government, traffic, heat and Kejriwal . Unlike Bangalore and Hyderabad where the airport is placed on another accessible planet, Delhi terminal is far more conveniently located if not inside the city like Bombay. The gradual transition of landscape takes place from five-star hotels to lush green plantations to slightly discomforting thick air of the city and concludes with some beautiful spacious roads clogged with cars; not just cars meant for commuting, but anything above and beyond what people in other cities would call as spacious sedans. A few months old statement by Deputy Chief Minister 'Manish Sisodia' more or less sums up the rather obnoxious spending capacity of the state-"The per capita income of Delhi is expected to be Rs 2.8 lakh in the current financial year against Rs 2.5 lakh during 2014-15. The per capita income of Delhi is about three times higher than the national average of Rs 93,231 for 2015-16." Case closed, Delhi is filthy rich.
Speaking of other modes of travel, Delhi Metro is one of the finest, extensive and exhaustive rail project and also probably the best way to move around from one corner of financial district in the north like Connaught Place to the more suburb residential areas like Palam Colony and Dwarka located in the south-west. Also probably the only city in this country to have an actual metro station within the premises of its airport terminal. Fares are cheap, rapid shuttle frequencies, clean, lit in hues of warm lighting and mostly taking place at a subterranean level and rarely with a view of the open world.
The city is absolutely filled with monuments, right from the inconspicuous ones at Hauz Khas to the more well knowns like Qutub Minar, Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Siri Fort Ruins, all the current presidential addresses and Akshardham, which is more of a ego satisfying gargantuan structure built by the right wing. While most of these structures are old and of heritage, there's one that stands out a little not only due to its architecture, but also due to its purpose, IHC or India Habitat Centre apart from being old is also a redefining artistic structure that houses arts, conferences, theatre, food, luxury suites, spas and more under one roof; sometimes even a blank space to relax, gaze at its complex roof structure and contemplate about life and universe. The only thing if the city is said to be devoid of would be tall skyscrapers, the wish of the rich and richer to own a sprawling square feet luxury pad at the thirtieth floor overlooking smog and sunrise. The NCR or National Capital Region serves as India's largest urban agglomeration that spreads over 58,332 sq-kms which includes the industrial areas of Noida and Greater Noida and the more tech-IT driven areas of Gurgaon like 'Cyberhub'. DLF Cyberhub and Cybercity spreads over 2,017,904 sq-feet in areas and houses some of the big names like Lufthansa, KPMG, Ericsson, Hero Motocorp, Royal Bank of Scotland and many such innumerable corporations inclusive under modern tech, banking and transportation labels. Encompassed in the centre of these horizontal and vertically grown towers is everything food and drinks, right from Wendy's Burger to Johnny Rockets, Hard Rock to Nando's and country favourites like Riyaz Amlani's Social that dons a look of Bombay's railway chawl to polished spaces like Farzi Cafe, Raasta, Olive Bistro, Delifrance and many more.
If Gurgaon and Noida is decorated with gigantic malls and everything expensive and immeasurable, then the heart of Delhi, Old Delhi or Purani Dilli is every compact, cramped and strictly measured. Places are let, sublet, cables running from the street side and each area reminiscing strongly of a particular trade, craft or ethnicity. Chaos, hard-work and hustle go hand in hand here. Manually pedalled cycle rickshaws fitting through the most narrowest of lanes of Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk, right though an active footwear market, a wedding card market and a fabric market. Within every few meters, you can see small boards of 'Beware of pick-pockters' since the area is notorious and known for flicking of phones and wallets in the middle of the crowded lanes, but come here early, like just-past-sunrise early and you can witness a more calmer ambience. Take a walk on a street known as 'Nai Sadak' in Chawri Bazaar and ask around for 'Lotan Chole Kulchewala', a 35 year old street stall serving Delhi's breakfast and serving it by the dozens. Known for its unique flavour of the traditional Chole and topped with deep fried Aloo one can opt from a range of spiciness and is to be had with tender Kulcha. Also a stone-throw away is located another local favourite known as 'Shyam Sweets' serving Delhi's take on Puri Bhaji / Sabzi. And if the local momos are on your knock-off list, then 'Dilli Haat' seems to be the best area for trying variations of this North East migrant steamy delicacy.
Old Delhi lanes are like a meander, every twist, every turn, every new lane is something quirky, dramatic yet noteworthy. Something similar can be experienced on the streets behind the famous Jama Masjid, particularly the Urdu Bazaar Road and Matia Mahal Road after the Magrib (evening) Namaaz where everything meaty, mostly deep fried, sometimes grilled on a stick or something deliciously thick in a bowl is waiting for you. From the Dilli wali Nihari to Butter Chicken to Kashmiri Kahwa to Mawa Jalebi, everything is ready to be served piping hot and with a side of delicious calories. Right at the start of the Matia Mahal Road is perhaps Delhi's oldest and probably India's most beloved Mughlai establishment - Dastarkhwan-e-karim or simply Karim's. Karim's opened shop in 1913 and currently is run by its fifth generation and which is known for its Nihari, Mutton Burra, Bheja, Paya, Dum Biryani, Shaami Kebabs, etc. Although Karim's is the most well-known, but if you're looking for that perfect bowl of Nihari with some succulent pink pieces of meat, then head to Al-Jawahar (there used to be a single Al-Jawahar restaurant, but now split, one is renovated and the other one still old school) for their version of Nihari. The gravy is bright, flavourful and the meat ever so tender that it breaks apart upon touch. Bite after bite and you can taste the layers of masala and the complexity of its cooking, all combined with the aroma of some fresh off the tandoor, khamiri roti. Just like Karim's, Al-Jawahar too tempts you to indulge into their Biryani, Paya and Karahi Mutton and Chicken. A few metres ahead is another prominent stop, doing something illegal with the classic dish Butter Chicken. 'Aslam Butter Chicken' is known for its twist on the celebrated boneless chicken gravy. The dish starts with pieces of tandoor cooked chicken legs and breast, which are chopped into three to four pieces; a quick spoonful of yogurt and blend of spices is thrown on top, gently massaged and keep aside while in a burning hot pan a chunk of butter is rapidly melted and brought to a bubbling consistency and immediately poured on the chunks of chicken. The dish is served with again with khamiri roti. The lane is absolutely packed with novelties after novelties like Sweet Sheermaal, piping hot Mawa Jalebis and a large percentage of the stalls and shops selling Tikkas and a whole Tandoori Chicken. Also if you keep some ten'ers handy, you can pick from a plate of quickly sliced pineapple, kiwi or mango, whichever fruit is in season. Perfect for cleaning the palate while hitching a ride on the rickshaw and back to the metro station.
It is almost impossible to not realise that Delhi has many pockets in the city that have settlements from North East and many markets and villages that have been built after the independence and separation to accommodate immigrants and provide them with a living. Khan Market is one such real estate space and one of the costliest retail space in India. Made up of an array of shops in a U formation, from everything local to reputed clothing brands, artefacts shops and everything food & drink. Probably one of the best place for an all in one socialising avenue and somewhat of a miniature replica of the mammoth sector 29 of Gurgaon. Perhaps, where you should make a few stops are: Khan Chacha for tantalizing kebabs, Big Chill for it's The Big Chill, Harry's for drinks and open verandah vibe, Perch for wines, La Bodega for quality Mexican fare, La Vie for their Pizzas, Barcelos for African fare and L'Opera for some top notch cakes and baked goods. It's this community like arrangement, similar to the one at Hauz Khas that makes places like these such an indulgent affair. One place and over a fifty options!
Delhi is just like what a metropolis is supposed to be, massive, posh at the right places, impoverished at every few kilometres, polluted and full of gridlocks. Its soul lies in its heritage, history, capital status and of course the cuisine that trickled from kitchen of the royalties, their painstakingly long recipes and inventing dishes which were rich, like rich with fats, gloss and texture.
It is impossible to experience all of Delhi in one trip, one long stay, one deep breathe; it is largely royal, sometimes humble, and where people are unmistakably vocal about their attitude. As they say, if you have it, flaunt it!