Commonly know as CP, loosely expanded as Can-Not Place, Connaught Place occupies a circular, central presence in New Delhi. Built in 1933, the market, named after The Duke of Connaught, was designed by Robert Tor Russel as a commercial district inspired by the Royal Crecent building in the city of Bath, England.
As New Delhi took shape under the British, the need for a heart – a place that would have all the trappings of good life like dining, shopping and entertainment became obvious. CP or Connaught place was thus laid out as a vibrant place with offices, shops and residentials in two white, colonnaded, concentric circles with radial roads meeting its center – a park (now, a ‘landscaped lid’ to the Delhi Metro running underneath)
Delhi has grown elsewhere since then, multiplexes, malls and into the NCR but CP remains a delightful landmark of the city and there are many things You Can in Can-not Place as you go around its inner and Outer Circle.
Watch the Tricolour Flutter
Erected by Naveen Jindal’s Flag Foundation of India, the tricolour is the tallest (207ft) and the largest (60x90ft) in the country has become part of CP’s urban history. You cannot miss its flapping as you approach the center of CP – and you shouldn’t either!
Stroll past the Landmark Buildings
The Statesman’s House, Gopal Das Bhavan, LIC or Jeevan Bharti Building built by Charles Correa belong to the transformational age of CP but Regal Building, which housed the once famous Regal Cinema, speaks of a glorious theatrical past that defined modern entertainment for the residents of Delhi. (The cinema lies shut but the floors above have been taken over by Madam Tussauds Wax Museum)
Enjoy some old world delights at Wengers
The city’s oldest pastry shop, Wengers, began as a catering venture by a Swiss Couple in the early 1920s for the British troops operating from Kashmere Gate. It moved to CP in 1926 and has continued to delight the Delhiites since with its array of cakes, pastries and more.
Though it has shrunk in size from what it was, with a tearoom, ballroom and party room spread over two floors, the old world charm of the interiors remains intact. Some of the popular items at Wengers are Swiss roll, Chocolate éclair, Lemon Tart, Shami Kebab, NewYork Cheesecake, Chicken Patty and assortment of chocolates but there is always something for everyone. Note: there is no seating at Wengers – You either stand and eat or pack it to eat later or on the go.
Get your caffeine hit at India Coffee House
Located at Mohan Singh Shopping Palace, India Coffee House still stands. The old glory of being a hub for intellectuals might have gone, it has shifted from its original place but it continues and the fact that it serves on despite its crumbling walls and history bears testimony to its resilience.
Visit the dargah
The ‘youngest Sufi Shrine’ of Shah Abdul Salaam Faridi Chishti, descendant of Salim Chishti of Fatehpur Sikri is easily missable, as it lies in the narrow lane in the shadow of Shah Abdul Salaam mosque.
As you walk in you are transported from the Colonial imprints of CP into a world before it – of open courtyards, graves, and leafy trees. You could be elsewhere in Delhi but you are in CP still and you only have to walk back out to know that. It is a gentle reminder of the world that got left behind as the new capital was being built.
Pay your respects at Hanuman Mandir
The Hanuman temple, a little off the circle, is the one of the oldest Hanuman temple in the country. Built in 1724 by Raja Jai Singh the temple history is shrouded in myths. Some point at the crescent on the spire and say it has Mughal connection, others talk about the temple holding a Guinness World Record for non-stop chanting of ‘Sri Ram Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram’ since 1964.
Whatever be the case see it for what it is and admire the artwork depicting the epic Ramayana. If temples are not you thing, stroll past the shops around temple precinct and take in the colourful bangles and bindis, sip some sweet tea in a kulhad, bite into a kachori and walk on.
Go dodgy at Palika Bazaar
Built in circles Palika Bazaar, is the subterranean alter ego of CP, infamous for selling dodgy goods. It is full of shops selling “best bargains” on clothes, electronic items and “adult stuff”. Of late, many neon-lit tattoo parlours have sprouted in the bazaar adding an air of cheap cheer to the interiors but mostly making it seem dodgier in contrast to what lies above.
Get Art Smart at Dhoomimal Art Gallery
Dhoomimal art gallery established in 1936 claims to be one of India’s, definitely Delhi’s, oldest galleries. Since then it has made quite a name in promoting India’s modernist movement and contemporary art – from well-known artists to new emerging talents. More recently, it opened the Dhoomimal Art Complex, at Connaught Circus comprising several exhibition halls, a sculpture court, cultural center and a private museum that warrants a visit.
Once at Connaught Place, there is a lot of shopping one can do at high end stores a la Omega, the uber modern international brands or at the be Indian buy Indian Khadi Bhavan that stands prominently in the Regal Building or visit State Emporiums where you can pick ‘state special’ items from across the country or score enviable bargains at Janpath. There is something for every budget and everyone at Connaught Place.
When it comes to bars & lounges, Connaught Place is second to none; all you have to do is shift your gaze up. The floors that were once residentials have turned into some great resto-lounges and nightspots. You just have to choose what catches your fancy and rock right in. A perfect way to end a day at CP.
Finally, don’t miss the glorious Gurudwara Bangla Sahib (see feature image) off Connaught Place!