Where to switch off in New Del­hi

New Delhi is a city that can be overwhelming, especially when you first get there. In this blog post, I'll tell you about some places that give me peace and quiet - and how I was able to find calm in my everyday life at university, too.

Paula in front of the university.
Being relaxed while studying in the megacity of New Delhi? No problem, once you've found your quiet zones! Photo: private

Around 32.9 million inhabitants move through New Delhi every day on tuk-tuks, scooters and cars. Often on twice as many lanes as there technically are. The honking of the vehicles is part of the city’s soundscape and accompanies the teeming hustle and bustle. In addition to the constant background noise, as a foreigner you also attract stares wherever you go. I found all of this overwhelming, especially in my first weeks here. It can also be difficult to find quiet at home. At the university dorms, rooms are shared and mealtime takes place in large dining halls. Time alone is very rare. However, there are some places where you can find peace and quiet. You just have to know where to find them. Here are my recommendations for safe havens that helped me feel more comfortable and switch off in the city.

Deer Park is adjacent to Hauz Khaz Fort. The 13th century ruins make for a dreamy backdrop. Photo: private

Lean back among deer and ruins: Deer Park

Not far from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus you can find Deer Park. The large-scale facility owes this name to the Indian deer that can be seen in the park. The animals, which very much resemble their German relatives, share the terrain with bats, monkeys and chipmunks. Surrounded by 13th century historic ruins and palm trees, this is a good location to relax and have a picnic. The park is fenced in and monitored by security personnel. This makes it one of the few places in New Delhi where you can really sit back and relax.

The Ambience Mall.
Ambience Mall is within walking distance of the campus. Photo: private

Cool down at the shopping centre: Ambiance Mall

A complex of three shopping malls frames the university campus to the west. Here, I particularly recommend Ambiance Mall. From campus, it can be reached on foot via a motorway overpass. This makes the mall perfect for a short break from the city’s climate, where the thermometer climbs to 32 degrees Celsius and more on most days. In addition to the air-conditioning, the mall offers another advantage for newcomers: the supermarket on the ground floor has everything you need for your move-in and beyond: from kettles to towels and brooms to buckets (which you'll need for showering and doing laundry). The good thing here is that the prices are set. Although most things can also be found in the nearby Munirka market district, there you will have to negotiate and prices are often set higher for non-locals.

For a relaxing afternoon, I also like to head to the neighbouring DLF Promenade Mall and enjoy a Bollywood movie. Amidst the many new impressions and surprises I experienced in India, it is sometimes nice to be in a space that feels familiar - a movie theatre away from the crowds.

Paula walking in the streets.
Crossing the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University takes at least an hour on foot. Photo: private

Go on a safe walk: The JNU campus

Finally, the JNU campus itself is a wonderful retreat in the megacity that is New Delhi. The campus stretches over 400 hectares, making it slightly larger than Berlin-Mitte. However, most of this area is undeveloped. Trees and green spaces stretch between the various departments, which each have their own buildings. As a result, the campus is always a little cooler than the rest of the city.

A walk from the main gate of the university to the other end of the campus would take at least an hour, but there are many other small paths to explore. Even after sunset, it is still possible to walk here safely: There is good lighting, security and the other students, which probably make this the safest place in the city. So, if you're studying in the university library late at night, walking home is no problem.

School of Arts and Aesthetics
At the School of Arts and Aesthetics, there is a pleasantly familiar atmosphere. Photo: private

Study and snack: School of Arts and Aesthetics

In addition to the large central library, the School of Arts and Aesthetics (SAA) also has a small library, which is where I prefer to study. The SAA is my favourite retreat here on campus. The department’s two small buildings are right next to the Admissions Block, but shielded by trees and hedges. After my lectures, I often grab a chai and a samosa at the small kiosk at the back of the school. At the library, you can find students focussed reading and writing papers until late at night.

After a few hours, there inevitably comes a time where we take a common break. We’ll typically stroll around campus and stop at one of the many canteens to re-invigorate ourselves with a tali (a platter of various regional specialities) or a coffee. Many cafés are open late into the night. This makes study breaks more social and enjoyable. Because of the familiarity at the institute, I find a balance of calm and community here. When I'm done studying, I walk home and enjoy the cool night air - a luxury I've only really learned to appreciate in India.

(Published 30 October 2023)