20 August 2012

Connaught Place, New Delhi


Classical English architecture, wide beautifully-kept roads, colonnaded walkways and glittering large showrooms of every known brand – if it were not for the recurring garbage piles and betel (“paan”) stains ornamenting the white walls and grey marble floor, one would have thought they were somewhere in Europe. Welcome to Connaught Place – the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi! Officially called Rajiv Chowk and often abbreviated as CP, the massive commercial area was originally conceived to provide maximum shopping experience to British colonialists and military officers who then ruled over the subcontinent from their newly developed capital ostensibly christened as “New Delhi”, but now predominantly caters a clientele consisting of the Westernized, rapidly multiplying, newly affluent middle-class of a modern capital. A reflection of the vast changes that have crept unopposed in the society with time, the market’s large buildings that once housed British shops, bakeries and bookstores are now owned by multinational retail and food outlets catering to Indians and foreigners alike who throng them in search of instant gratification stemming from the belief that “A lot can happen over a Coffee” and one is supposed to be “lovin’” their burgers.


Connaught Place - Shopper's paradise


Interestingly, about a century ago, the entire area was dominated by forest lands used as grounds for shooting partridges and a cluster of three villages (Raja ka Bazaar, Madhoganj and lastly Jaisinghpura where Gurudwara Bangla Sahib exists today, refer Pixelated Memories - Gurudwara Bangla Sahib); between 1929-33, the villages were evacuated and demolished and the massive megalith was raised in their place as a showpiece of modern British construction and Georgian architecture. Today, one cannot even attempt to imagine the erstwhile villages/forests in place of the glistening white facades since every sign of their existence has been obliterated by the unrelenting surge of capitalism and urbanization – the partridges are long gone from among the high-rises of the commercial mega-hub and it is regarded amongst the top five most expensive realty and commercial establishments globally! Designed by architect Robert Tor Russell and christened after H.R.H. Prince Arthur, The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (seventh child of Queen Victoria), the gigantic circular structure, inspired by the Royal Crescent of England, is divided by intervening roads into three concentric layers (obviously) christened as Inner, Middle and Outer Circles (actually the circles are horse-shoe shaped – superstitious British planners and administrators thought the shape would prove lucky for both shoppers and shopkeepers); the double-floored buildings were intended to house shops on the ground floor and residential quarters on the first-floor; in the center of the entire scheme is located a grass-shrouded lawn from which radiate seven streets like the spokes of a wheel and divide the concentric building into large arched blocks.


Nocturnal sparkle at the commercial heart of Delhi


If there is one place that showcases the fast-paced and frenzied life in Delhi and also its vibrance, it would definitely be Connaught Place. Walk into any of the wide colonnaded avenues along its horse-shoe structure and into the outlets offering everything from food (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Bercos, Kaventer’s, CafĂ© Coffee Day, Wenger’s) and clothing (Pantaloons, Levi’s, Shopper’s Stop, Woodland) to electronic and electrical accessories (Sony, Nokia, Samsung, Canon) and you will notice an equal mix of foreigners and Indians alike enjoying their time here. Even the pavements are lined up with kiosks and pavement dwellers selling books, posters, street food, cold drinks and ice cream. This is what I like the most about CP, the big and small conduct their business side-by-side, especially the numerous book sellers with their wide range of popular covers (though one can get much cheaper, though often second-hand or pirated, books at Daryaganj flea market (refer Pixelated Memories - Daryaganj Sunday Book Market)). Over time Connaught Place has become a shopper’s paradise, and even if you aren’t one for shopping, the wide walkways and shop windows that give a glimpse of the marvels they store within shall certainly tempt you into buying one thing or the other.


So many shops, so many brands!


As part of a project initiated by Delhi Municipal Corporation to showcase CP in good light during Commonwealth Games 2010 (CWG XIX) that Delhi hosted, the inner and outer circle areas are being redeveloped and beautified, but as with almost every Indian civic project, it too is mismanaged, has missed many deadlines, incurred vast cost overruns and is still in progress, thereby leaving many of the footpaths and walkways destroyed or dug up and shop facades re-plastered but not painted. Following the 2008 bomb blast attacks in the area in which terrorists hid bombs in dustbins, all the dustbins have been removed from the market place prompting people to throw plastic bottles, ice cream wrappers and fast food packaging around the walkways from where the sweepers simply shove them to one or the other corner – I realized this late one night while out with a friend and even pointed it to her – the authorities have to provide dustbins of some sort, right? The condition cannot continue status quo.


Colonnades and symmetry - Georgian architecture at its exemplar


The underground metro station at CP, officially Rajiv Chowk station, is one of the largest and busiest in the city and serves as interchange station for Yellow and Blue lines of metro service. The headquarters of Delhi Tourism is also located in Connaught Place, opposite the famed Hanuman Mandir (an ancient temple dedicated to the monkey-faced Hindu God Hanuman). One can visit the temple too, though it doesn’t have much to say for itself, except the idol of course which is said to be over a millennium old. Also located nearby is the revered Sikh shrine Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. If you are one for history and monuments, head to the nearby located (or rather hidden!!) Agrasen ki Baoli or the majestic Jantar Mantar complex (check links at the end of this article). And if even after all this your urge to shop isn’t satisfied, you can always visit Palika Bazaar (an underground shopping arcade immediately next to the inner circle) or Janpath (which is basically a large flea market selling both men and women clothing and accessories at dirt-cheap prices). Of course, unlike Connaught Place, one has to extensively bargain at both Janpath and Palika Bazaar, plus there aren’t trial rooms available at either which becomes an issue for women shoppers. Baba Kharak Singh Marg adjacent houses state emporiums – individualized outlets where one can purchase traditional textiles, sculptural art, souvenirs, religious items and handicrafts of that particular state.


The handicrafts building at Baba Kharak Singh Marg, a cornerstone of CP's touristy image


Edit (May 2014) – Overlooking the entire business district, the country’s largest tricolor, a 60 X 90 square feet mammoth monumental flag weighing 35 kgs and hoisted upon a 207-feet high pole, has come to flutter proudly in the Central Park courtesy of Flag Foundation of India (FFI) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). As it quivers and trembles in the wind, the leviathan sends surges of pride, wonder and excitement through the hearts of onlookers who, even if they have seen it numerous times before, cannot take their eyes off its majestic form. The charm refuses to fade, especially of gazing at it at night when it has been lighted up with powerful arc lights.


National Pride


Nearest Metro Station: Rajiv Chowk
How to reach: The metro station exits at CP's inner circle. Autos can also be availed from different parts of the city for reaching CP.
Timings: The shops usually open around 11 am and close down somewhere around 1 am.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Other landmarks in the neighborhood - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Agrasen ki Baoli
  2. Pixelated Memories - Jantar Mantar
  3. Pixelated Memories - Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Other shopping destinations in the city - 
Suggested reading - 
  1. Blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com - Article "Patriotism can’t flag now with a tricolour atop every roof" (dated March 22, 2014) by Reshmi R. Dasgupta
  2. Blogs.wsj.com - Article "Bending the Rules to Fly India’s Largest Flag" (dated Mar 12, 2014) by Aditi Malhotra
  3. Hindustantimes.com - Article "A village that made way for CP" (dated June 02, 2013) by Nivedita Khandekar
  4. Hindustantimes.com - Article "CP's blueprint: Bath's Crescent" (dated Feb 08, 2011) by Sidhartha Roy
  5. Hindustantimes.com - Article "Who will keep the tricolour flying in Delhi's Connaught Place?" (dated June 08, 2014)
  6. Indiatoday.intoday.in - Article "CP's decline and fall is a capital shame" (dated July 24, 2011) by Sourish Bhattacharya
  7. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "NDMC’s digging frenzy in CP stalls traffic, hits trade" (dated Jan 08, 2010) by Ruhi Bhasin
  8. Wikipedia.org - Connaught Place, New Delhi

4 comments:

  1. sharp description of the market place!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting write-up..you captured the essence of the place & structures..

    ReplyDelete
  3. CP cudnt have been captured better:) excellent job Sahil:)!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This experience helped me a lot for my home work
    THX!!!!!

    ReplyDelete