The Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden, or Elephant Park, as fondly known by the locals, is a political memorial garden. Today, the residents of Noida don’t think much of the political past of the place and view it as an ideal weekend getaway.
Hugging Delhi in the east like a little sister lies the bustling city of Noida. New Okhla Industrial Development Authority or NOIDA for short is a satellite city of the national capital, often overlooked because of its flashier cousins like Delhi and Gurgaon. Set up as part of an urbanization push during the Emergency period, the quaint suburbs of Noida have long been steeped in politics. Today, DUB Travels is going to take you along to this budding megacity neighbor in NCR.
When traveling to Noida from Delhi, one of the most preferred routes is the DND (Delhi Noida Direct) Flyway which traverses the serene banks of river Yamuna. One of the first sights when you enter Noida, besides the gigantic statue of Lord Buddha as an ode to the Gautam Buddha Nagar district the city lies in, is a sprawling park speckled with sandstone figurines. For most Noida residents, this park holds a core childhood memory of sunny picnics and refreshing fountains.
The Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden, or Elephant Park, as fondly known by the locals, is a memorial garden. It was commissioned by former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati, at the height of her political glory in the state. Spread over 33 acres of land, the park is dotted with idols who devoted their lives to social justice and equality such as Sant Kabir, Bhimrao Ambedkar, and Jyotiba Phule. Among these social reformers are also busts of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati herself, surrounded by 24 eighteen-foot-high elephant statues (no points for guessing that Elephants are the symbol of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party).
Accusations had been flung far and wide over the construction of the memorial with the Opposition calling the CM a “megalomaniac” and “waster of tax-payer money”. Despite several roadblocks, the garden was inaugurated in 2011, drawing thousands of visitors in its heyday. However, as power shifted hands in the legislative, the park was left in a dilapidated state with certain statues cornered off. Today, the residents of Noida don’t think much of the political past of the place and view it as an ideal weekend getaway. Despite the lack of maintenance, nature thrives in the tree-line boulevard and rundown fountains, an idyllic retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
As I sit under the shady canopy, gazing at the statues which look like mere dots on the horizon, I can’t help but think about the past. There will come a new generation of park enjoyers who might have no idea about what had happened. There is something about this last remaining bastion of a bygone era of state politics that makes one ponder about the tide of democracy – a vibrant political arena forgone in favor of the current scenario. In its wake remain these age-less statues, stories etched in sandstone. How long before the next wave washes them away?
Visitor’s say it’s polluted, messy and always so crowded but have you ever asked a Delhite? They would probably talk about comfort in the chaos. A million people and unspoken stories, small happenings and heartwarming feelings all reside here.
If you’re planning to take a day off from classes and go around exploring, this might just be the most authentic way to experience Dilli, a local’s tried and tested guide.
1. Start from the campus
Both North and South Campus are home to the top colleges of the city; and of course, the top eateries. The canteens of the colleges are famous for their savories, often popularized by Bollywood films. Have some chai at the hangout spots like Sudama’s Tea Stall set up on the University bylines. You can also head to seminars being held in colleges or participate in the events, specially with fest season around the corner.
Tip: Do not forget to carry your college ID card. The guards won’t listen otherwise, you know. 2. Head to Majnu ka Tilla
Majnu ka Tilla, or Aruna Nagar is a Tibetan settlement in North Delhi, known for its quaint little cafes, bakeries, boutiques and souvenir stores, it is home to multiple monasteries and a huge Tibetan market. To get there, take the yellow line metro and get off at the Vidhan Sabha metro station. A rickshaw ride later, you will find yourself in streets that smell like the coffee your body so desperately needs. The streets have pretty architecture that can add up to your Instagram aesthetics.
Tip: Talk to the locals there and not just for directions. They have great stories to tell.
3. Explore Chandni Chowk
Chaotic and unbelievably busy, Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi is often recognised as Delhi’s retail market. It is hub to a number of food places, jewelry shops and clothing items. You can also find some unique and hand-crafted stationery and accessories. Visit the Jama Masjid, Lal Mandir and Sis Ganj Sahib Gurudwara and witness the religious harmony co-exist. Grab some lunch in Paranthe wali Gali and put that tick on your checklist.
Tip: Keep notes of Rs10 and 20 handy with you and commute through e-rickshaws. Enjoy the hustle bustle of the street at its fullest.
4. Spend the evening cycling at Lodhi Colony
Started in 2016 and officially inaugurated in 2019, Lodhi Colony is India’s first public art district. The walls and bylines are adorned with beautiful art and graffiti, providing visual delight, and making the ride extremely pleasant. Rent the cycles from Jor Bagh Metro Station Gate No.1 for Rs 60 for an hour. There are theatre nearby so you can also watch a play at Indian Habitat Center or Lok Kalayan Manch.
Tip: Chauhan Ji’s chhole bhature are quite the ‘World’ famous here. Just in case you had some space left in your stomach.
5. End the day at India Gate
This place is always brimming with picnickers and vendors selling ice cream, bhelpuri, fruit chaat, soft drinks, packaged food, colourful toys and so much more. While it does seem to be pretty cliched, a night visit here must be on top of all the to-do-in-Delhi lists. Surrounded by grassy lawns, the 42 metres tall monument is brilliantly lit every evening. At a closer look you’ll find the names of brave martyrs engraved all over its surface.
Tip: Play some Rang De Basanti music, the vibe is always worth it.
A lot has been said about Kashmir’s beauty and hospitality through the cinema, literature, the media, etc. Here’s adding more to that pool, while also coming up with pragmatic reasons why you should visit the valley that has not lost its charm all these years.
Before going on any further, click on this link and see for yourself what Kashmir has to offer to a tourist:Aerial View of Gulmarg
Being a Kashmiri, and writing about Kashmir, it becomes impossible to not bring the conflict perspective into the narrative. In all honesty, if you are worried about shutdowns or curfews, I won’t blame you. Although slight, there are chances that you might witness a brief spell of disorder, but I can guarantee, you won’t be affected by it. The narrative that is propagated in this case is that the Kashmiris are extremely hospitable – it stands in all tests of verity for me, yes. But I also understand that this may not necessarily be enough substance for assurance. What we also need to understand is that tourism is the main industry of the valley, and the people won’t harm their ‘customers’ as opposed to the vague term ‘guests’.
• Trigger warnings and suggestions:
1. If an exceeding amount of military presence daunts you, don’t visit.
2. If you need uninterrupted internet, make sure you make arrangements beforehand.
3. Kashmir is mostly a dry region, so if alcohol is important to you, it might be just a little difficult to find.
• Reasons why you should visit:
1. The geography of Kashmir allows it limitless royalties for being a top tourist destination. It is almost like a bowl surrounded by the most majestic of mountains; you feel disconnected from the rest of the world.
2. The food of Kashmir can be compared to the likes of Persian, Afghan, and Mughal cuisines. Although primarily non-vegetarian, there are options for vegetarian food as well. Besides these, drinks like kahwa and noon-chai (salted tea) are some things you must try.
3. The history of houseboats dates back to British times. Because of the infamous article, non-inhabitants could not buy land in the valley. As a solution to it, the British decided to live on the water, in these uniquely styled boats – which came to be known, quite simply, as houseboats. The interior is a beautiful amalgamation of Kashmiri and British decor. The ones at Dal Lake are the most famous. Perhaps the best thing about houseboats is that every morning there will be vendors on small boats or shikaras, selling everything from fresh produce to flowers to imitation Kashmiri shawls.
4. Kashmir is a great shopping destination, with souvenirs like the Kashmiri Shawls, carpets, saffron, honey, papier mâché, wood-carved decoration pieces, among many others.
5. I have mentioned this before, but the people of Kashmir are extremely hospitable.
6. The weather of Kashmir is a pleasant 20 degree these days, less than half of that of the capital. This should be enough reason to make you visit.
7. Kashmiri slopes are world famous from their powder snow and skiing, a summer alternative for that is water-skiing. Many companies provide the service at Dal Lake, and it is a safe, guided and extremely fun experience.
8. We all know of the cultural and religious diversity that exists or existed in Kashmir. This gives a rich architectural history to the place, and the valley is littered with shrines of various gods, goddesses, monks, and saints.
• How to get to Kashmir:
Either a short 1 hour 25 – 1 hour 45-minute trip, depending on the airline, will get you to the valley. Although many hotels or guesthouses are not where the airport is, the city centre is just a 15-20 minutes’ drive away. Srinagar airport is an army airport, therefore make sure not to take any pictures there, in addition to this, you might also be asked to lower the window sheets. This is all security protocol, and you need not panic. This mode will gain you a plethora of Instagram-worthy pictures of flying over the snow-capped mountains, much above the clouds. The skies are cleaner, bluer, and better.
Airport Authority Contact Number: 0194-2303311
The train to the valley only goes till Banihal, after which you have to take a cab, or a bus – both of which are fairly cheap. The best part about this journey is that right after you cross the Jawahar Tunnel, which is a 2.5 km long tunnel, the entire scenery will change! It will feel almost as if the tunnel teleported you to a different, beautiful land. The journey after this will be your quintessential Old Bollywood Romance setting. The bus or cab will drop you at the Tourist Reception Centre, which is in the heart of Srinagar, and 2 minutes from the Dal Lake.
Places to visit:
Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Dal Lake, and the Mughal Gardens are all some places you have to check off of your list. But besides these, here are some off-beat places you could visit:
Doodhpathri: A rather new tourist spot, this place is quickly gaining more attraction, and for good reason. Doodhpathri is a specimen of what a Kashmiri vacation spot should look like, minus the crowd. In Pahalgam and Sonmarg, you can still spot more than a few other groups of tourists. Doodhpahri is comparatively quieter and more solemn. (Don’t miss on Pahalgam and other famous places, though. They are famous for a reason!)
Downtown: The Kashmiri downtown is absolute heaven for photographers, historians, or generally anyone who is interested in the culture of a place. The locals are the most polite and helpful people, and will readily serve you noon-chai if you ask them (or even if you don’t). Make sure to visit the rose water vendors, the spice vendors, the houses, if you are allowed, and just sit on the banks of the river Jehlum. Downtown is also famous for all the shrines that were mentioned earlier.
Shankaracharya is a hill located in Gupkar, and a short hike to the top gives you a view spanning the Dal Lake, the main city, and the adjacent mountains. There is the temple, as the namesake, at the top of the hill.
Kishtwar is a place famous for its ruby and sapphire mines. Another attraction is the natural hot spring, Tatta Pani. With numerous health benefits, there is hardly a reason why you wouldn’t take a dip.
Dachigam National Park has numerous species of birds and wildlife animals, but the most majestic of these is that Kashmiri Stag, or Hangul as it is locally called. Make sure you say hello to the Hangul before you return.
Dachigan National Park Contact Number: 0194-2462327
If you are feeling particularly fancy, do visit the Khyber Resort, Gulmarg, even if just for a lunch. This 5-star has the most picturesque landscapes and the most beautiful of views.
Director Tourism, Kashmir: 0194-2502279
Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar: 9596098882
J&K Tourism Helpline Number: 1-800-103-1070
J&K Tourism Official Website: Here
Police District Headquarter, Srinagar 0194-2455047
Kashmir exists above and beyond its conflict. If you are thinking of taking a trip to the valley – you must go now!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”– Mark Twain
There has been a lot said and written about the term “travelling”, almost always glorifying it to the point that the everyday man believes it to be the perfect way to “find yourself”. The one thing I personally like about it is, the fact that travelling can mean so many different things to so many different people.
If looked at closely, travelling has always been a part of history, from voyages leading to colonialism to communities spreading to different parts of the world, it has been the foundation of the world as we know it today. While it is only recently that it has been connoted to a specific abstract purpose, travelling was only meant to fulfil a certain materialistic purpose earlier. It is the advent of modernity that has brought on the philosophical quest of this generation to ‘find themselves’ and the ‘true meaning of life’.
As an individual, my belief stands strong in people stepping out of their houses and venturing into unknown territories because this provides the opportunity to step out of one’s comfort zone, and face a world not quite familiar to oneself. It gives one space to look around and absorb the beauty the world has to offer, along with the opportunity to interact with new people in foreign lands and break away from the mundanity of city life.
Travelling does not have to be about spending huge sums of money on luxurious trips, rather, ideally, it should be about exploring places and cultures never seen before, even if that means venturing to a place less frequented, like Old Delhi. Be it family, friends, or your significant other, pick a partner and gear up for an adventure of a lifetime, because life is short, and this World Tourism Day, do not forget to see a little more of it, after all, the world is your Oyster.