Coddiwomples in The Colonnades: How to Explore Connaught Place Like a Delhite?

Delhi is famous and infamous alike. What you choose to focus on dictates how you experience it. It is a city of contrasts, where stories from the past peep through modernity’s cloak; where age-old structures struggle to survive amidst rapidly rising modern enclaves; and where chaos and excitement of the day ease into the laid-back evening scene. It is a city you would either love or hate, but never forget.

Coddiwomples in the Colonnades is an exploration of modern Delhi’s heart. It is a story of belonging, of human appreciation of a place, and of discoveries that lie within plain sight. It is the story of an outsider’s quest to belong, and a recollection of a native’s memories of the place. Coddiwomples is a guide for travellers who come to explore Delhi like a native. It is a testament to the Delhites’ love for their city. 

A Traveller’s Tattle

As an outsider, I had known Delhi through travel books and Internet searches; learnt its history in my school days, and created a mental image of the city through various interactions with the locals. It was a city that had fascinated me, even before I set foot. So when moved to Delhi, I wanted to experience everything that had drawn me to it.

Georgian-style buildings of Connaught Place (fondly known as CP) became my official introduction to the city. But it wasn’t just the white-plastered colonnades or those radially laid streets that had captured my interest. CP had a unique vibe, something unlike Purani Dilli (Old Delhi) or a posh South Delhi. Connaught Place is the best place to visit in Delhi — it is where the city’s heart lies. From chic retail stores to cheap souvenirs, faux jewellery to flea markets, or instagrammable cafes and lip-smacking street food, the colonnades are spoilt for choices. 

My experience of Connaught Place was, however, more than just a tourist’s fascination. The colonnades were a place to escape and belong; a place to love and live life. CP made the mundane task of changing the metro at a crowded Rajiv Chowk Station an enjoyable grind. Trying new cafes in the colonnades or spending hard-earned money for buying books at a bargain price became a norm. Sunday meant shopping in Janpath market. Sunday also meant catching up with friends or contemplating life after late hours. And when under stress, a dose of Nirula’s Hot Chocolate Fudge felt like a comfort. 

For a newbie, it is easy to get lost amidst the chaos of Connaught Place. Wayfinding is difficult. And remembering block numbers along with their nearest metro exits is a challenge. One might be tempted to give their memory a chance in order to avoid long walks. But remember: coddiwompling within the colonnades has its own thrill. It is a must-do thing in Connaught Place because that is what separates a true Delhite from those who come with a checklist. 

There is more to CP than what meets the eye. Pay attention to walls and columns. Notice a rhythmic pattern in glazed windows above the curved arcade. Try to find narrow staircases amidst the chaos. Do not forget to pause at the threshold between two blocks. While you do so, observe stark contrasts between the two Delhis that embrace each other in the colonnades. 

Within the colonnades, vendors sell their products outside fancy showrooms. Movable food carts are crammed in the corners, while fancy cafes and sophisticated restaurants remain hidden on the upper floor. If walking through a crowded inner circle without colliding with someone seems impossible, wandering in the deserted middle circle or a less frequented outer circle feels like an escape. Then there are tiny alleys that no one notices. But if you decide to enter, look for some traces of the past. CP brings together two different worlds within its colonnades, and that is what hooked me to it.  

I have seen CP as a passerby, admired it as an outsider, experienced it as an explorer, fell in love with it like a writer’s muse, and found refuge in its colonnades. The more I came, the more I realised that the colonnades of Connaught Place do not reveal themselves in one glance; rather, it requires patience to appreciate the contrasts.

The Second Home

Architects and writers have an innate way of romanticizing buildings and places. We are adept at finding stories hidden in the crevices of dilapidated structures or under the crumbling plaster as if they were speaking to us in silent whispers.

As a Delhite, Connaught Place had been an integral part of my childhood. Back in the days, a trip to Connaught Place meant climbing a creaky old staircase to Raghumuls, our school uniform supplier, whose shop was tucked away within the less frequented parts of the Middle circle. This was followed by me pestering my dad for a treat; and him, reluctantly trudging a 10-year-old to ‘Keventers’ — serving their famous flavoured milk in glass bottles, and offering much-needed respite from Delhi’s hot weather. Over the years, the shop has been revamped, and its name changed, just like countless others in the area, but its charm remains intact.

CP was a regular haunt because my school was in the neighbourhood. From idling my time at Dunkin Donuts to blowing off my meagre pocket money on the overpriced alcohol at the Boombox Cafe, many afternoons were spent here. 

Even though I moved to a new city and discovered unknown places, wandering aimlessly through the corridors of CP was something I missed profoundly. Hence, every visit back home meant a rendezvous with my friends in some newly opened bars.

It wasn’t just those white corridors that enthralled me. For any young girl, Janpath Flea Market is nothing less than a paradise. My mom and I have spent countless evenings here, improvising on our bargaining skills, with Depauls’ hazelnut-cold coffee in our hands.

Image: Connaught Place Delhi, overlooking a modern architectural landmark.

My parents also had similar memories of the place. The iconic revolving Parikrama Restaurant, located just outside CP, was where my dad took my mom on a date, way back in the 90s. It was in this neighbourhood where I spent many weekends surrounded by books at the British Council Library. Connaught Place also became my first introduction to grandmaster Charles Correa’s work, which helped shape my career years later. 

With time, my memories of the place have evolved. Now I have frequent dinners at the Odeon Social, overlooking the famous roadside Fire Paan Vaala stuffing his customer’s mouth with an extra-large betel leaf (never had the courage to try it myself though); or shop at the newly opened H&M store, and pick up books from the roadside vendors on my way back from the office. Compared to any other place in the city, Connaught Place has always been my go-to option—a second home, if I must say. 

All kinds of beauty do not inspire love: there is a kind of it which pleases only the sight, but does not captivate the affections. 

– Miguel de Cervantes

Connaught Place goes beyond simply charming the sight. It calms your soul and captures your imagination. Here, within the colonnades, we have found a cure for our heartaches, had our escapes from the hectic life and stashed all our emotions. Home is where the heart is, and here in the colonnades of Connaught Place, we have tucked ours safely.  

Going by the famous line ‘Dilwalon ki Dilli’, the heart of the city will make you fall in love with Delhi. So if Mila Kunis can sell New York City to Justin Timberlake through a flash mob in Times Square, coddiwompling in the colonnades of Connaught Place would inadvertently be the experience that we can sell Delhi on.

Contributing author

Vanshi Grover

Loves all things colour. Quirky art enthusiast and a sucker for desserts. As enchanted by the palaces of Rajasthan as by the skyline of New York. Awaiting the opportunity to finally earn enough money to travel around the world. A recovering bibliophile, and an architect by education, but dabbles in content marketing, event management and public relations. Perfectionist to a T. 

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