A Dynamic Cultural Scene Takes Form at the Edge of Delhi

Three neighborhoods are home to contemporary bars, clubs, galleries, studios, bars, and clubs, all located beneath an old tower. This attracts art lovers, fashionistas, and nightlife-seekers.

“Delhi can be described as a town for soldiers, politicians, journalists, and diplomats. It is Asia’s Washington. However, it is not as picturesque,” said a well-known British travel writer.

Another put-down stated that “agriculture is the only culture in Delhi.”

Art and culture are linked to money and Delhi has seen a dramatic change over the past 20 years. Due to the real estate boom and the rise in Gurgaon, Delhi’s high-net-worth residents have doubled in the past five years. They also built a metro system that rivals New York City’s and nurtured a growing cosmopolitan population.

Go south to find out where this creative crowd galleries-hops, shops, and generally chills. Hauz Khas Village and Mehrauli’s “Style Mile”, which are rising neighborhoods, sit on Delhi’s Outer Ring Road. They are almost at the same distance from Gurgaon’s call centers as the central city’s domes and ziggurats.

Bhim Bachchan said, “It’s very dynamic location.” He returned to Delhi from a career in U.S. Investment Banking to open an e-commerce studio. The resort wear store, Ramola Bachchan is located in Soho-esque Hauz Khas Village. These hot spots at the edge of the city attract a new, hip, wealthy, often young class from the suburbs as well as central Delhi. They have been kept in their homes during Covid. They’re now free.

“The East Village in Delhi”

These neighborhoods are dominated by the Qutab minar, a tower made of sandstone and fluted in 13th century. It is 238 feet high. You’ll find medieval ruins scattered throughout modern developments.

Visitors arriving by taxi to Hauz Khas Village, the northernmost and most established of these neighborhoods, are dropped off in a lot just a few yards from its three main streets. This lot is next to a reservoir where deer parks were once used for hunting. Teenagers in heavy metal T-shirts and eating golgappa (syrup-filled puffballs) sit on top of the madrasas’ broken domes. Bars and galleries are located next to the terraces and weathered walls. Hauz Khas, Urdu for “Royal Water Tanks”, is the name of the village. These tanks still stand guard against the smog and clamor beyond the deer park.

Walking through Hauz Khas’s streets, one finds little treasures such as Bana Studio which sells vintage tribal jewelry and frames pictures of former clients like George Harrison. Or AllArts which is an Aladdin’s Cave of Bollywood movie posters and lobby cards. I went to the Blossom Kochhar cafe, natural beauty shop, and spa for much-needed relief. There, I received an exceptional aromatherapy massage, followed by masala tea, scones, and coffee.

The action moves upstairs at night when Delhi’s young, hipster-chic crowds flock to the bars and nightclubs. The winning spots are currently Social with its industrial scrap-metal aesthetic and the rooftop Perfecto, which is drowning in sangrias and rum drinks.

Hauz Khas is full of tiny art studios, all dominated by Lokayata Gallery with its roof-top, bus-sized fiberglass iguana. However, there is an emerging contemporary art scene just a few blocks east from the Qutab Minar among the tire shops, hardware stores, and other businesses of the Lado Sarai neighbourhood.

Shaji Punchathu (the founder of Gallery 1000A in the heart Lado Sarai) said that this area is similar to the East Village of Delhi. He was referring to New York City’s historic, gritty downtown. He said that the area is home to the city’s first ever concentration of contemporary art galleries.

A recent summer afternoon saw Mr. Punchathu, his assistants, and their work in progress setting up “Molecules,” a multimedia exhibit featuring the works of five Indian artists. The exhibition featured remarkable, icon-like engravings by Amit Das, a Delhi-based artist. I was unable to identify how his engravings were made. “It’s an innovative method he invented using needles to embed ink on the papers,” Mr. Punchathu stated. “Our artists often employ local artisanal methods that aren’t well-known in the West.”

I crossed the street to Latitude28, one the pioneering galleries that anchored Lado Sarai more than a decade ago, when rents were much cheaper here. Mr. Punchathu stated that they have since caught up. The gallery displayed a multimedia exhibit called “The World Waits You Like A Garden”, which featured five artists who celebrated Delhi’s rich, flower-scented past as a fuel-starved city. Gopa Trivedi from Gurgaon, who draws detailed illustrations of invasive plants and is based on Mughal court miniatures, was one of the most impressive works.

Director of Latitude 28, Bhavnakakar stated that the Indian contemporary art scene is on the rise since Covid. Ms. Kakar also serves as editor in chief for Take On Art magazine. This is Asia’s leading contemporary art magazine and is published from the gallery. People have been spending a lot more time at home and are looking for something to hang on their walls. They don’t look as far away from home anymore.

Window-shopping and tandoori portobello

After having had a delicious breakfast of croissants and coffee at Miam Patisserie, I was searching for lunch. But here is where I discovered Lado Sarai’s greatest weakness: there is very little food. Ms. Kakar stated that while we have access to a dozen of Asia’s best galleries, there is only one French patisserie available to us.

The Kalka Das Marg is a short walk from the Minar’s base, and was called the “Style Mile” in India by Indian cognoscenti. It offers excellent food just 15 minutes away. Like many places in Delhi, you have to look beneath the surface to see the good stuff. At first glance, the Kalka Das Marg appears to be an uninspiring street. You will find a charming courtyard with amazing shops and restaurants if you continue down the narrow streets between grubby buildings. One such alley led me to the whitewashed Cubist pavilions at the Ambawatta One complex. I was astonished by the chic cafes, galleries, and fashion shops that I saw. It reminded me of Rodeo Drive in New York. Contrary to Mumbai, which has only one tropical season, Delhi has many. This allows for a wider range of high fashion to be seen in its shops.

The Style Mile is particularly charming at sunset when the birdsong from the nearby parkland takes over the traffic din. This stunning sunset is slowly replaced by the Qutab Minar’s glowing lights, which hovers high above the city like a celestial chandelier.

One of the most difficult dinner reservations in Delhi is at Rooh. It’s located in the Style Mile. Here, the young and well-off risk parking their Range Rovers and Bentleys in the small, cramped lot near Kalka Das Marg. They then climb up to the roof terraces to enjoy unusual but delicious fusions of Indian & Italian cuisines.

A selection of plates of zucchini spaghetti, tomato dum sauce, and tandoori Portobello with black garlic butter Pao were served alongside a impressive wine list and impressive bartenders. The incredible Latitude 28 exhibition was suspended here, with its colorful lanterns, gnarled treetops and ruins below of the old Sultanate, as well as the surreal Qutab Minar against all the stars. The city’s newfound wealth was evident in the glamorous evening with its bright saris, dark suits, constant clinking glasses, and formidable gold jewelry.

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