In the early 14th century, the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khalji constructed a walled city that he named Siri. Siri’s fortifications (some of which can still be seen, and lend their name to the area known as Siri Fort) were built mainly to keep out Timur and his invading armies. To provide water to the large settlement of Siri, Alauddin Khalji got a huge watertank created. This, named after the Sultan, was called the Hauz-e-Alai (‘hauz’ meaning ‘tank’ or ‘pool’).
As the decades passed by, the capital shifted (Delhi’s Sultans were notorious for creating new cities, often with each successive ruler building his own fortified city as a means of demonstrating his sovereignty). The population of Siri thinned, and the hauz gradually silted up. Fortunately for the hauz, in the 1350s, Delhi came under the rule of the Sultan Firozshah Tughlaq, a man renowned today as a major constructor and conservator – he built many monuments, and repaired a large number (including the Qutb Minar), during his reign. Firozshah Tughlaq took a great deal of interest in Alauddin Khalji’s old hauz, and gave it a new lease of life by having it excavated anew, adding channels, and desilting the tank. The tank was now named the ‘Hauz Khas’, the ‘royal tank’.
Firozshah Tughlaq’s fascination with Hauz Khas did not end at that. He built a sprawling madrasa complex around the tank – an institution of higher education that attracted scholars from as far as Baghdad. And he built his own tomb as part of the complex.
Today, the Hauz Khas complex is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, and is one of Delhi’s most important historical sites. It makes for a very rewarding walk (and free, too! – no entry fee is charged). Plus, the stretch leading into the Hauz Khas historical area, known as Hauz Khas Village, is one of Delhi’s poshest places to shop, dine, groove, and be seen.
This is a very small and restricted area, and the only people allowed to drive into the village are those who actually live in the village. All visitors must park in the car park outside, and then walk in. Thankfully, Hauz Khas Village is a small area, so you don’t need to walk more than about a couple of hundred metres to get to any place within the village. Do note, though, that this means that there’s a lot of vertical expansion, with many of the shops and restaurants here being built two or three (or even more) storeys above ground – and invariably without lifts. Be ready to climb stairs.
Hauz Khas has some fancy designer shops that sell clothing, jewellery, and accessories; there are also art galleries (the Delhi Art Gallery has a particularly fine collection), furniture and lifestyle stores, and a couple of delightful old shops that specialise in old paintings and posters – from 19th century etchings of India to old movie posters and lobby cards, both of Indian cinema and Hollywood.
Then, of course, there are the eateries of Hauz Khas Village. The village has no dearth of places to eat, and just about every popular cuisine in Delhi – Italian, French, fusion,
South Indian, Punjabi and North Indian, Oriental, and Mediterranean – is represented here. There are cafés, bistros, takeaway places – even a
tea room. None are really budget places, but many are fairly affordable. Try and go early (about 12.30 or 1 for lunch, around 8 for dinner) if you want to avoid the fashionable crowds that descend on the area for late meals.