Do not disturb the ducks

The Deer Park in Hauz Khas is really nice. It’s just a pity that until last week I had never visited it.

I really don’t know why I’d never bothered to take the small detour by the entrance of Hauz Khas Village (actually I do – it’s because I was usually on an urgent mission to find biscuits at Kunzum or crepes at Flipside), so I’m quite ashamed at my laziness and at how clearly unwilling I am to alter my (albeit deliciously biscuit-y and crepe-y) routines.

Anyway, it all changed the other week because my brother had come on a visit from Scotland, and I thought, as a supplement to our extensive tour of Delhi’s best dessert-serving establishments, I’d show him some of the city’s greenery. And Maegan, who’s lucky enough to live within walking distance of the Deer Park, came with us.

You follow the path that’s on your right as you approach the Village. First you’ll see some grass and trees and a few overexcited children, and then there’s a big enclosure full of deer. Actual deer! Most of them are quite timid, but some brave ones will come right up to the fence if you bribe them with a handful of fresh grass and some Haldiram’s snacks. There are peacocks too, that strut around with their fancy feathers on public display, and, according to a sign, the enclosure is also home to rabbits, though we didn’t see any. At this stage I didn’t realise I had my camera with me, so I don’t have any photos of the animals. But I’m sure you can imagine what it was like…

Then there’s a couple of dome-shaped tomb-type-things, beside which a group of awfully cool teenagers were playing volleyball. Surprisingly, we weren’t feeling sporty enough to join in, although we did try a few of the exercises along the jogging track.

What we were most excited about, though, was the duck pond. We’d been following signs to it for ages, our hearts filling with expectation at the aquatic-avian delight we were about to discover. We imagined lush greenery, crystal clear water and birds bathing blissfully. Perhaps we’d buy some bread to feed them, and then sit back and listen to them quack-quack-quack with happiness.

But then we reached the pond and were a bit disappointed.

Come to think of it, we mused, had we ever actually seen a duck in India? Maegan remembered that she had, once, but in Kerala. We’d obviously got our hopes too high. Not to mention, made the terrible mistake of believing what was written on a sign in India.

But never mind. It was time to leave the Deer Park anyway, and carry on with some much more important cultural activities, namely my chhota bhai’s first meal in India. Which, of course, was schnitzel and carrot cake at Flipside.

Cheap Eats in South Delhi?

Last month when a friend visited me in Delhi, we had a rather delectable brunch at Elma’s in Hauz Khaz Village. Freshly baked bread in different hues, a German-style handmade sausage roll, and olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes for dipping purposes. All washed down with Darjeeling tea (served in china cups and saucers, naturally) and carrot and cheesecake cake. The bill was Rs.1200.

Tea & Cake at Elma's - yes that is cheesecake!

While permissible as an occasional indulgence, forking out at this level just isn’t possible on a student budget. Luckily for me, my daily expeditions to North Delhi for college take me into the realm of Rs.30 thalis and Rs.5 cups of chai. But what happens when you want to eat local? Six months after moving into Safdarjung Enclave, here is my round-up:

Tiffin in the Village

If you find yourself in Hauz Khaz Village on a sunny day, then you can have the most delicious aloo gobi without breaking the bank (in fact, even if you order it with curd and roti, you’ll still have change from a Rs.50 note). This tiffin-wallah extraordinaire(who also sometimes has rajma, rice & aloo matter) is located just behind the newsagents on the left hand side of the main drag, just before you reach the entrance to the small park/historic monuments. Taking your lunch into said park means that you can enjoy not just delicious food, but also a lakeside view. What more could you want.

Aloo gobi in the village

Bengal Sweet Corner

In the same complex as Kamal Cinema in Safdardung Enclave, and rightly famed for its delicious sweet dishes, The Bengal Sweet Corner also does a rather wonderful thali. Rs 100 for delicious dahl makhani, a paneer dish, raita, tandorri naan, rice & sabzjie, it never fails to sate me. And for just another twenty rupees they’ll deliver it beautifully packaged to your door, with the added bonus of a desert dish (often gulab jamum – yum).

Madras Café

Whenever I find myself in Green Park Market, I always nip into the Madras Café for my fix of South Indian food. Whether you want a cup of chai (served so that you have the added challenge of pouring it back and forth from the metal cup to the metal bowl without scalding yourself) a dosa or a full blown thali, it’s the place to go. The thalis are particularly noteworthy for coming with poori rather than roti, which always goes down well with me. You need to get your oil fix somehow, nah?

Madras Cafe chai, served the south Indian way

Baker’s Byte

Sometimes only pizza will do. On such occasions in the past, I have relented and called Dominoes or Pizza Hut Home Delivery, forked out a large sum of money, and invariably been disappointed by the fact that the pizza claiming to feed two actually barely satisfies one. That was until discovering Baker’s Byte! A small chain of bakeries (with my local being a stone’s throw away in Arjun Nagar), it does very passable large pizzas for between Rs.100 and 150, in a range of (vegetarian) flavours.  Their personal pizzas (the same size as dominoes medium) come in at Rs.55, and they also have a great selection of toasties, pasta, and of course cake. Fast-food fix sorted.

Happy (cheap!) eating.

Tea, coffee, travel culture, and a bowl of coconut soup

While we’ve mentioned once or twice that Hauz Khas Village might be becoming a tad too ‘bohemian’ (read: pretentious) for its own good, there are a few places in the tangle of leafy, winding lanes that are well worth checking out.

The other day, after a long and questionably useful Hindi class at DU (Did you know that the poet Kabir was abandoned at the side of a pond by his mother when he was a baby? Well, you do now.), Maegan and I headed to South Delhi’s artsy urban village for an evening of socialising at Kunzum Travel Cafe.

Started back in 2007, Kunzum – named after the ultra altitudinous mountain pass in Himachal Pradesh – is a space for swapping travel tales with newly made friends; for reading travelogues and guidebooks stacked on library shelves; for daydreaming about exotic and distant lands (owner Ajay Jain’s photography all over the walls helps with this!); for penning/blogging your own holiday memoirs… Oh, and even for just sipping tea or coffee, which, believe it or not, you can pay whatever you like for!

And the best part – my lovely friend Brandi now works there. Lucky b*tch.

Look how smug she is!

We shuffled out of the bone-chilling January fog and into the cosy cafe. I swear it was the first time I’d felt warm in days; I even had to take off my shawl. Brandi and some other friends were lounging on floor cushions, discussing film nights, book launches, workshops and several million other exciting things which would be happening at Kunzum soon. We had masala tea in Fabindia cups and rectangular peanut cookies. We chatted about a new collaborative e-zine called Outside In. We toyed with the idea of turning chai drinking into a sport, envisaging headlines like ‘Team Chai completes race across Delhi, discovers chaiwallah with best recipe’.

Creative ideas in a creative space: Kunzum is just like that.

And then it was closing time. And we decided to go in search of soup. The quest took us along the Village’s narrow gullies, round dark corners and up crumbling staircases – via detours at Flipside and Elma’s – until we reached Lah! – an almost brand-new Southeast Asian eatery with bright pink walls and a slightly out-of-place Christmas tree. Studying the menu that promised tasty-but-perhaps-not-100%-authentic dishes from the likes of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, Maegan and I ordered a gigantic bowl of ‘Laksa Lemak’ to share. A spicy coconut soup full of noodles, veg and beansprouts, it was the perfect meal for a cold winter night. We were very happy indeed.

So while I didn’t move to India to sit drinking coffee and using free wifi, or to eat Thai soup beside an elegant vase of bamboo, there is definitely room in my life for the odd night in Hauz Khas Village. And with Brandi filling me in on the events at Kunzum (she does excellent Facebook updates), I expect my visits will soon become more than occasional.