It seems strange to be writing this at a time when the city’s newspapers seem more full of murders and rapes than ever before, and let me emphasize that this is not my ode to Delhi. I still maintain that Mumbai is the only Indian city with a respectable skyline. In fact, Mumbai is the only Indian city.
But sometimes, a visitor can sketch a completely different picture.
Where the grass is greener: Lodhi Garden is one of the finest of Delhi’s numerous parks. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Lodhi Garden is better than Hyde Park and Stanley Park, said my visiting cousin earlier this week. He’s spent a large chunk of the last two and a half decades in London and Vancouver, home to these two gorgeous open spaces. What amazing flowers, what amazing weather, my cousin continued.
You’re such an NRI, I replied, rolling my eyes. Delhi has not more than two months of good weather in an entire year and those dahlias will be toast in another fortnight, I pointed out.
We passed a group of expats gathered for an open-air birthday party. “I’ve never seen outsiders look so comfortable in any public space in any Indian city,” my cousin, who is married to a Swiss national, said. Now I’ve often seen groups of men staring wide-eyed at Western families taking in some sun on a winter afternoon, but then Lodhi Garden (which celebrates 75 years next month) is my favourite place in Delhi so I let that observation pass uncontested.
At least the capital’s parks are mostly well-maintained. Mumbai isn’t exactly known for its parks and the last time we visited Bangalore’s Cubbon Park, the husband and me were horrified at the unkempt, dirty state of one of that city’s showcase green spaces. The walking path at Ulsoor Lake, another Bangalore beauty, comes with an attached open-air garbage dump. In Delhi, you can find a running track that will make you feel good about your city almost anywhere, including in the zoo.
Despite the rain trees, Delhi, not Bangalore, is India’s real Garden City. Even the husband, a die-hard Bangalore boy, agrees.
The nicely designed Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike website says its horticulture department maintains 1,079 parks across the city. The more basic Municipal Corporation of Delhi website says its horticulture department employs 8,000 people and currently manages 14,636 parks, gardens and green areas. Even accounting for the fact that Delhi is several times the size of Bangalore, there’s clearly no contest when it comes to the Greenest City tag.
When the cousin asked what to do in Delhi, I SMSed three people. All replied with dramatically different itineraries. That would never happen in any other Indian city.
One reply was particularly poetic: “Green grass. Flowers. Blue sky. Gentle slopes. The beautiful Jamali-Kamali mosque. Intact blue tile work. Great view of the Qutub. Step wells. Domes. No other place like this.” But then Jamali, a 16th century Sufi, who is buried besides the mysterious Kamali, possibly his lover, was a poet himself.
The cousin didn’t seem particularly interested in boarding an air-conditioned HOHO (Hop-On/Hop-Off) bus that drives past the city’s 20 must-see places at half-hour intervals. He didn’t seem inclined to pop into the art gallery that displays the Rs 7 crore fibreglass elephant whose skin is covered with more than 100,000 sperm-shaped bindis.
Instead, he came with me for a moonlit qawwali session, crossed the road to the dargah of one of the world’s most famous Sufi saints, then hopped over to the stunning Humayun’s tomb where I often go for my morning walk. He ate biryani and feathery galouti kebabs, wandered through the quaint stores at Hauz Khas Village (his favourite was Kunzum Travel Café), bought cheap cotton kurtas at crafts hub Dilli Haat, spent time at the Qutub Minar and the Red Fort and lined up quick trips to the Taj and the Golden Temple, two of the most beautiful structures in this country.
I could spend months here, he said and shrugged when I informed him that Delhi was the crime capital of India. How can you prefer any other Indian city to Delhi?
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