26 Experiences in Delhi That Are Endemic To Being A Dilliwala
14th July 2020
In June 2020, I completed 9 years of living in Delhi. For someone who has always moved from town to town, changed schools after schools every few years, this is a huge feat. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place and slowly but surely, Delhi has grown in on me. From despising the city for its ~unsafe~ tag, to readily accepting it for the experiences and growth it has thrown my way, I have had quite a relationship with this city! Over the years, I have come to explore some of the most offbeat places in Delhi, some of the best places to eat in Delhi, and some of the greatest weekend getaways from Delhi. So as I complete almost a decade of calling Delhi my home, I think a post on some of the top experiences in Delhi that certify my Delhi-ness is in order!
Delhi is at its finest during spring. The months of February and March come with just the perfect weather, with the sidewalks drenched in a riot of colours from the bougainvillaea vines taking over every inch of the city’s walls. Janpath is the best place to have this unique experience in Delhi. The colours of the Janpath market blend well with the colours of its street and it’s an absolute delight to walk those Delhi streets in spring!
Pro tip: Don’t forget to enjoy a hot plate of the famous Depaul’s momos in Janpath!
Visiting Taj CCD at Midnight
One of the best places to visit in Delhi at midnight has to be the iconic Cafe Coffee Day in the Pallavi AWWA Complex near the Taj Mahal Hotel. This is the only CCD outlet in the city that is open till as late as 2 am and with an airy courtyard to sit and enjoy your cuppa, it makes for one of the most memorable experiences in Delhi.
Feasting on Laphing at Majnu Ka Tilla
This is one experience in Delhi that may be best known to students of the Delhi University studying in its North Campus. Majnu Ka Tilla is a Tibetan Colony in North Delhi known for its many multi-ethnic cafes. Some of the most famous cafes in Majnu Ka Tilla are Busan, Dolma and Ama. But the one thing that stands out here is its traditional Tibetan street food- a dish called laphing. Laphing is essentially a bowl of mung bean noodles, mixed with soya chunks and a spicy chilli garlic paste. This bowl of goodness is one of the most ~delhi~ experiences ever!
Visiting the Sunday Book Market at Daryaganj
The Daryaganj Book Market has for years been the haven for students, scholars and literary enthusiasts alike with second hand books and magazines of all kinds being sold by the kilo. The narrow lanes of Daryaganj in Old Delhi used to come alive every Sunday with the streets flanked with sellers in every nook and corner. But since late 2019, the book market has been shifted from Daryaganj to the more ~organized~ Mahila Haat near Delhi Gate. Although the what and how of this market remains same at its new location, but the 5 decades old heritage market of the Sunday Book Market at Daryaganj will remain irreplaceable. What was once a thronging street bazaar is now a more controlled and organized marketplace.
Attending a Film Screening at India Habitat Center
Located in South Delhi, India Habitat Center is known to be the hub for art and literature events. every so often, IHC organizes unique film festivals, featuring short films from filmmakers around the world and it is an absolute delight to catch a few, and learn about the unique cultures that make up our world. Several book readings also happen here, so be sure to follow their schedule on their wesite or through social media to stay up to date!
Pro tip: India Habitat Center is also home to the famed All American Diner. Though the food here is pretty average, their breakfast platters that are served till 11 am are unmissable!
Going on a Food Walk Around Chandni Chowk
Chandni Chowk has long been one of the top things to do in Delhi. With its crowded and dusty streets and open street bazaars, Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi seems to be stuck in time. Street food in Chandni Chowk is an experience in Delhi that should most definitely not be missed! Some of my favourites are Khemchand Daulat ki Chaat, the special Chandni Chowk Jaleba with Rabdi, Natraj Dahi Bhalla and of course the famous Parathe Wali Gali!
Participating in a Protest at Jantar Mantar
Delhi has long been the hub for political activities in India. In the nine years I have lived here, I have seen (and participated in) countless protests, marches and parades. The old monument of Jantar Mantar has now become poignant in questioning authority and creating change, thanks to the countless protests and marches organized here. Some of the most notable of these have been the Nirbhaya Candlelight March, the DUTA March, the Anti-CAA Protests, the Climate Strike, and the annual Pride Parade.
Visiting Jama Masjid and Feasting at Karim’s
Visiting the Delhi Jama Masjid in Old Delhi is always a delight. As crowded the streets are, every corner is filled with decades old stories and the richness of this part of Delhi has always baffled me. But the one time that Jama Masjid really comes to life is during Ramadan. Every evening during iftar, there are all sorts of kebabs and sweet shops propping up and people coming out of ther houses to shop, eat and celebrate. And it is definitely one of the most vibrant experiences in Delhi! And when one thinks of Jama Masjid, Karim’s definitely pops to mind! This generations old restaurant is a haven for meat lovers, but also sells quite delicious vegetarian food!
Attending a Play at Akshara Theater
What film festivals are to India Habitat Center, plays are to Akshara Theater. Akshara Theater in Central Delhi is one of Delhi’s oldest theaters. Established in 1972, this is one of the best places to visit in Delhi if you are an art and culture enthusiast. The entry ticket to the plays here have always been very nominal and speak about a plethora of social and political issues. So if you’re a dilliwala, and haven’t ever seen a play in Akshara Theater, are you even a dilliwala?
Eating Breakfast at Wenger’s in Connaught Place
Each of us know of Connaught Place is a bustling walking promenade with shops selling all sorts of things- but how many of us have seen Connaught Place during the quiet of the morning? Only a handful of shops open in CP bewfore 11 am and one of them is the iconic Wenger’s. During these early hours, the cafe-goers and window shoppers are nowehre to be seen and the only few people visible are office goers rushing to make it on time. And that is when the beauty of Connaught Place really unfurls! It’s truly one of the most beautiful experiences of Delhi to grab a sandwich from Wenger’s and sit outside on the benches and watch the city go by!
Pro tip: The original Keventer’s sits right beside Wenger’s and sells killer shakes that go oh-so-well with that Wenger’s sandwich!
Going on a Midnight Drive to India Gate
As maddening as India Gate is during the day, it’s as peaceful during the night. If you haven’t ever randomly decided to go on a drive to India Gate with your friends in the middle of the night, then you’re definitely missing out on a great experience in Delhi! It’s also a great place to sip some chai when you’re done raging all night and need a good cuppa before you hit the hay! ~pinning this under hangover hacks~
Riding the Blue Line Metro During Rush Hour
Riding the Blue Line Metro in Delhi anytime between 7 am to 9 am and 6 pm to 8 pm is an extreme adventure sport. So if you’re looking forward to smelling sweaty pits and fighting over the 1×1 feet of standing space allotted to each individual, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is your best friend! If you want to add a pinch more of thrill to this sport, try wearing a backpack with valuables at Rajiv Chowk metro station. You may or may not still have them by the time you reach home 😉
Attending a Delhi University College Fest
This experience in Delhi definitely needs the good ol’ desi jugaad, especially if you’re not a Delhi University student yourself. But the atmosphere of a thousand and one college kids pumping up to the likes of Lucky Ali, Amit Trivedi and Shankar Ehsaan Loy with rum and coke in PET bottles will be absolutely worth it. The best part- these concerts are absolute FREE of cost, so this has to be one of the best things to do in Delhi!
Shopping at Sarojini Nagar
Sarojini Nagar in Delhi is a massive flea market for clothes and junk jewellery. From underwear to fancy dresses and even sarees and kurtas, this market in Delhi has it all at throwaway prices. You can come home with at least 10 articles of clothing, having not spent more than 5000 rupees in total (3000 if your bargaining skills are above par).
Pro tip: Carry massive sized bags (or buy them from the market itself) to minimize your consumption of plastic.
If you only had a few hours in Delhi and you came to me for food recommendations, I would ask you to go to Saravana Bhavan straight away! It’s hands down the best South Indian food in Delhi you can eat. The only downside- there’s always a minimum 20 minutes wait at the restaurant. I have even stood outside in Delhi’s blistering heat for a good hour just to sip on its heavenly filter coffee. That’s how good it is!
Getting Piss Drunk at Hauz Khas Village
To have a ~not so memorable~ experience in Delhi, one must definitely head to Hauz Khas village. This is a small marketplace lined with clubs and bars one after the other, and is one of the most famous place for nightlife in Delhi. Throughout the week, one can find various clubs offering free drinks to women or couples. So if you’re looking to go drinking and dancing in Delhi, but don’t want to burn a hole in your pocket in that process, you know where to go!
Having a Winter Afternoon Picnic at Lodhi Garden
Despite the pollution and horrendous air quality, the bright and shining sun is the only thing that makes winters in Delhi doable. And when the sun is being kind, there’s no better time to have yourself a little picnic in the vast ~almost meadow-like~ lawns of Lodhi Garden! This ancient garden also houses a tomb of Sikander Lodi in its premises. The well-cut grass and makes for an ideal lunch followed by nap situation, making it one of the top things to do in Delhi!
Going All Out at Food Festivals at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium
If there’s one thing that Jawahar Lal Nehru (JLN) Stadium is famous for (apart from the sportsy things), it has to be the epic food festivals it organizes. From Zomato’s Zomaland to the Horn OK Please Food Truck Fest, JLN is truly LIT when these festivals come around. Other food festivals at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium include the epic National Street Food Festival. Considering the number of cultures India is home to, this one would be a complete drool fest! These festivals have live music, copious amounts of alcohol, shopping stalls and whatnot, making it truly one of the best experiences in Delhi!
Attending an IPL Cricket Match at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium
Getting down to using the stadium for what they are actually built – if you haven’t seen a single IPL match at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, are even a dilliwala? Tch, I already have and I don’t even like cricket…or sports for that matter. I went to watch a Chennai Super Kings vs Delhi Daredevils match and a day before, I did meticulous research on who was the most ~good lucking player~ on either team. Turns out, Morne Morkel made the right fit and I created a massive poster saying “I <3 Morkel” Judge me all you want, but I was 14 back then.
Going Brewery Hopping in Gurgaon Sector 29
Ah, what’s Delhi without a little good ol’ bar hopping and getting shitfaced by the end of the night and not knowing how you ended up back home, eh? The Gurgaon Sector 29 market is best known for its microbreweries that sale different kinds of craft beers on tap. Of these – IPA, Wheat and Dark are the most common. If you are a beer fanatic like me, this Delhi experience is one you should not miss out on!
Attending the Evening Qawwali at Hazrat Nizammudin Auliya Dargah
This is an offbeat experience in Delhi that not many know about. So if you haven’t heard of it yet, I’ll give you a free pass…but just this once. Hazrat Nizammudin Auliya Dargah in Delhi organizes a qawwali session every evening. It starts at sundown – usually around 6 pm and is a surreal experience to have. The magnetic energy when the humnawa gets lost in their qawwali is absolutely a sight to behold! If you’re a music lover and are as fascinated by Sufism as I am, head to the Dargah ASAP!
Feasting on Langar at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is one of the most prominent Sikh places of worship in Delhi. Complete with a gold tomb and a holy lake called Sarovar in its premises, it’s also truly one of the most peaceful places to visit in Delhi. Like any other gurudwara in the world, this one too feeds people of all race, colour, gender, age and caste twice a day daily for free. These meals known as langar are some of the purest acts of kindness ever established by an organized religion. To be a part of this meal is an experience in itself – and one can go and have this experience at any given day!
Chomping on the Fire Paan at Odeon, CP
Odeon is an iconic cinema house in Connaught Place that has given birth to many more iconic places like the Odeon Social and now the Odeon Fire Paan. This trend of munching on a paan (a beetle leaf and areca nut preparation) set ablaze started from the humble paan kiosk right outside the Odeon Cinema called Gupta Paan Palace. This delicacy then gave rise to several paan stalls selling the much-famed fire paan as well as other variations like ice paan and chocolate paan. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch the countless videos of people stuffing their face with fire available on YouTube and Instagram!
Getting a Multi-Ethnic Food Coma at Dilli Haat
Dilli Haat is a handloom and craft lovers paradise. It represents India’s arts and crafts taking the phrase “Kashmir se Kanyakumari” to a whole other level! This market also sells some of the finest delicacies from each state in the country. So, in a span of a few hours, you can gastronomically travel from Nagaland to Kashmir and from the Konkan to the Coromandel coasts! It truly is one of the most drool-worthy experiences in Delhi – one that shall not be missed!
Going Pandal-Hopping in Chittaranjan Park During Durga Pooja
Delhi truly is a beautiful amalgamation of cultures. Each festival brings a certain charm to this city and Durga Puja in Delhi is no less. Chittaranjan Park, a neighbourhood of South Delhi – home to a large Bengali community – really comes to life during the nine days of Navratri. With the smell of Bengali delicacies wafting around from the richly decorated pandals (marquees), it is a cultural extravaganza. Some dishes that you can try with pandal hopping at Chittaranjan Park during Durga Puja in Delhi are fish cutlet,prawn malai curry, mishti doiand puchka.Other things to do in Chittaranjan Park during Durga Puja include Rabindra Sangeet competitions, Baul music nights, Kolkata street food and Bengali traditional dress in Delhi etc.
Instagramming the Heck Out of Lodhi Art District
The Lodhi Art District is India’s first open-air museum. Located in Lodhi Colony in South Delhi, Lodhi Art District is one of the most unique experiences in Delhi. Organized by St+Art India Foundation, this art project brought together 25 street artists from India and around the world to paint this lane with bright hues, and make Delhi seem a little more vibrant than it already is! If you already haven’t been to this perfect photo op, what even are you waiting for!?
This is but a fraction of what Delhi truly is – it is a vast and endless experience that often amazes but sometimes disappoints too. To truly be a dilliwala is to be able to survive it in all its good, bad and ugly. From the flowery spring to the smoggy winters, to a cultural overdose – Delhi is all that and more. What, according to you are the most quintessential experiences in Delhi that every dilliwala must-have? I’d love to know about them in the comments, and match my list with yours!
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A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.