Reclaiming Delhi’s villages

URBAN villages are an oxymoron. They were given this definition as they were engulfed by the southward spread of Delhi. Outsiders were not allowed to buy land here, and their parameters were marked in maps by a red line or laldora. However, these villages have come a long way from their rustic antecedents. Their astounding development is a part of all that has transformed the face of the Capital in the past few decades.


In the 1981 census, there were 111 villages, and since then, several of them, especially the ones in South Delhi, have become thriving and even upmarket hubs. Typically, Delhi urban villages, are roughly 400 acres, and have similar topographies narrow, winding lanes and tall buildings set close together (and increasingly remodelled)and a chaupal, or crossroads where the elders used to gather for gossip.

The change had started in the 1980s, when people were looking to set up their businesses in an affordable area. That trend continues till date. While there are still some old families who continue to live in their ancestral houses, a lot of newcomers are now also settling here. The increasingly fashionable clientele attracted by the growth of boutiques, restaurants and art galleries, in turn drew a real estate market for those looking to live in these trendy new hubs. While the villages of Adhchini, Neb Sarai, and Munirka, are still smaller-scale centres, other locales are now major city hangouts.


Hauz Khas Village, with its glittering nightlife and an array of fashionable nightclubs, bars, and cafés is the definitive example of the hip transformation of the urban village in Delhi. It is always the place which springs to mind, when one thinks of urban villages in the Capital. Besides, it also happens to be the one of the go-to places to eat, drink, or hang out. With its hole-in-thewall food stalls next to more stylish restaurants, and art galleries in every alley corner, this locale has a flavour of its own.

Named after the tank Alauddin Khilji built for his city in Siri Fort in the 13th century, the lake and the Deer Park, still stand today, and attract visitors as much as the restro-bars of Imperfecto, Yeti, and Delhi’s original Social. Though the crowds start coming in the evenings, its carefully-drawn street art, breakfast places, and art studios, make it as much a lure to visitors during the day time.

As Gayatri Shukhla, a marketing executive, 27, says, “I have been coming here with my friends since I was a 16-year-old. There hasn’t been a night when things have been slow. It’s also not just a party place. I come here at times to sit by myself by the lake, or browse through the boutiques.” Landscape designer Hema Malik, 43, comments on the dynamic nature of HKV, and its variety of options. “There is always somewhere to go to here. When the restaurant Gunpowder closed, there was still Naivedyam for South Indian food. The Tea Room is my personal favourite.” She muses, “Owing to high rents and the constant sealing of places, outlets and restaurants may come and go, but the village will still have other things to offer. I like to think of it as Delhi’s Soho.”

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