Just like Philip but without the PH and rather, with an added D.
This morning it was time to get to Hauz Khas Village, a beautiful old settlement in South Delhi and home to some of the most amazing boutiques and cafes that you can possibly find in this great city. As an added bonus, this chic village with its potholed narrow laneways and low hanging cables, sits alongside the Hauz Khas Complex which houses a water tank (a huge lake), an Islamic seminary, a mosque, a tomb and crumbling pavilions built around the now urbanised village and, which has medieval history tracing back to the 13th century of Delhi Sultanate reign. It was part of Siri, the second medieval city of India of the Delhi Sultanate of Allauddin Khilji Dynasty (1296–1316). The name Hauz Khas is derived from the words ‘Hauz -water tank or lake’ and ‘Khas- royal’ which leaves us with ‘Royal Tank’. The large reservoir was first built by Khilji to supply water to the inhabitants of Siri and several of the now ancient buildings (including the Mosque and madrasa) and tombs, were built overlooking the water tank (or lake).
In the 1980s, Hauz Khas Village, studded with domed tombs of Muslim royalty from the 14th to 16th centuries, was developed as an upper class residential and commercial area of South Delhi- and this afternoon, after one of the funniest morning walks of my life, I settled in there for lunch and a spot of shopping.
It really is not a bad spot for either.
It all started after breakfast (and a surprise drop in from housekeeping which almost trumped my piano playing flash in Paris), where I approached the doorman and asked him what direction I had to turn out of the driveway to get to the village (I had google maps ready to go but I couldn’t determine north from south). ‘Mam, there is not a possible way in the world you can be walking to Haus Khas, it is but 5.9 kilometres only and I will order a fine taxi, you will not walk’.
Now, there is nothing subtle about the way in which I hitch my stretch jeans up towards what used to be a rib cage, but I did it with the greatest consideration for his concern, right there, knowing that those jeans and that rib cage were never going to meet again if I didn’t take this conversation very, very seriously. ‘Yes, I understand it is some distance, but you have to understand that I would like to walk, I just cant work out if I turn left or right at the gate’.
Eye rolls, head wobbles and plenty of sighing followed and he finally pointed to the right.
And with that, I was off along the leafy and busy Rajesh Pilot Marg Road and past the Spanish Embassy before turning right into Prithviraj Road (and straight onto freshly painted road markings made with the strongest of oil paint, which got a rise out of the family squatting on the side of the road who had just finished painting them, not out of concern for their work, but more so for the soles of my shoes), and then left into the busy and heavily polluted Sri Aurobind Marg Road.
This is where I ‘truly’ found Delhi again and where my nose was taken right back to my first visit almost 14 years ago to the day.
There is no easy way in the world to describe how this city smells and what it looks like to navigate a busy roadside market but I suppose if you imagine diesel, kerosine, bonfire smoke, oil frying, the stench of rotten cabbage, dust (so much dust), dogs (so many dogs), the sweet and sour smell of beedies, the richness and thickness of tobacco stained slag lining the pavements, rows and rows of people standing on those aforementioned pavements alongside that incredibly busy road waiting to board a bus (that is flashing ‘breakdown’ on its lit up backboard while the driver sleeps in socks and jeans on the backseat), thousands of tuk tuks tooting, and a man riding a bike, with his wife riding side saddle with a child in her arms in amongst it all – you might sort of get the drift.
No one in the world is too important nor precious to make that walk but to his credit, I can see how the guy at the door thought that big fat white Madam with plenty of rupees in her pocket, shouldn’t do it. What he doesn’t know, is that BFW Madam learns a lot from these walks and she is much better for them.
Once I reached the relative greenness of the affluent suburb that is Green Park an hour later, I was probably on the brink of expiring and very much in need of a tall glass of water but I pushed on the further ten minutes which landed me in Deer Park, a beautiful park that houses (you got it) deer, and overlooks the Hauz Khas lake. It is a beautiful little sanctuary and one that allows a (sometimes welcome) distance from the madness that is Delhi and her huge, busy, choked and chaotic roads. Once the pathway around the lake was completed (and crashing into Indian families taking a Sunday walk and plenty of selfies, avoided), I was struck by the beautiful view of the Hauz Khas Complex that I described earlier on.
To say I left Hauz Khas with no bags would be a lie, and to say I didn’t enjoy a beautiful lunch at Hauz Khas Social, overlooking the lake and feeling a little bit happy with myself, would also be a lie.
From there, I navigated the queues of tuk tuks and taxis and hopped into one of the latter with a man who was intent on singing along to Hindi classics as he wove his way through the traffic and on towards South Ex – a huge shopping mall, (but not a mall, more a mass of shops taking up two sides of the highway) to buy bathers from Marks and Spencer. Yes, bathers. I am after all, going to Goa in ten days and I hope the mirrors in M and S were mean because it was all a sight for sore eyes. With this really awful task complete, I headed to the pharmacy – through potholes and more low lying cables, to find tanning cream. Several thousand bottles of whitening cream (I forgot this obsession, why do I crave brown and the most beautiful of us all, crave white- that’s another post in itself) later – I just had to take the legs for what they were and pray that my dear friend Tor arrives here in Delhi tomorrow night with something that resembles ‘Dove Summer’ or something equally as terrific.
After almost an hour of searching though sari shops (I’m actually addicted to Indian wedding dress shops and weaving through brides seeking the ultimate piece), it became apparent to me that darkness had fallen and I was really short of cash. After standing dazed on the pavement surrounded by so much noise and my jeans needing a further hitch, I found a backstreet cash merchant who swapped the 50 euros I’d made at Charles de Gaulle earlier in the week (thank you French govt for returning tax to those silly and willing enough to get roped into your excellent sales). And, not only did he give me enough rupees to probably see out the rest of my time in India, he was was also incredibly kind. With his son hellbent on selling aftershave and cigarettes while trading currency, Dad was hellbent on getting me a taxi (and home safely) when I asked where I could find one, in the dark and incredibly busy, noisy place that South Ex had become.
‘Follow,’ and with that I was on his heel to the prepaid taxi hut (which admittedly was hidden behind a thousand parked cars) where I eventually met Dilip.
‘Madaaammmm- will you be staying at the Claridges and will you be paying 400 rupees to get there- it is a most reasonable price,’ the boss said before screaming ‘DIIIIIIILLLLLLIIIIIIP,’ ‘DIIIIIILLLLLLLLIP,’ and with that, the cash merchant (also now my friend) started to shout ‘DIIIIIIIILLLLLIIIIIIIIIIP,’ and, with ‘Dad/cash merchant/now friend’ on ‘the shout for Dilip bandwagon,’ a sweet boy who had just patted the seat in the hut and said (very calmly) ‘sit down Mam,’ to which I replied ‘thank you,’ before sitting (with all my bags) and he replied ‘welcome,’ (also in a very calm manner) also shouted ‘DIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLIIIIIIP,’ from the top of his lungs.
Out of the darkness and tooting and smog and puddles and just general madness, appeared a man who I really hoped was Dilip, because that’s what I called him for the next half an hour as he led me down dark alleys, through more puddles and into relative silence, behind a thousand shops with no lights and finally, to a Suzuki Swift with smashed doors and locks that weren’t working so well. The only reason I didn’t feel too perplexed by all of this, was that as I passed my friend the cash merchants shop on the way to Dilips wrecked taxi, I smiled at him, waved and mouthed ‘thanks’ and with that, he followed with a steady eye as we disappeared around the corner.
It’s safe to say that ‘Dilip’ (confirmed as ‘yes Mam, I am Dilip’ upon saying goodbye), was the nicest man I’ve met in at least 12 hours and, just like the doorman this morning, he had no other intention but to get me home safely (albeit in silence). I’ve just had the most delicious feast of paneer and peas and have not stopped being told what to do ever since walking in the door.
Pictured: an Ambassador Nova taxi found on my walk this morning. When I first came to Delhi, these cars were still prominent on the taxi scene but not so much anymore. Guys like Dilip drive Suzuki Swifts and Tatas these days.