With Delhi temperatures hovering in the mid-40s throughout the seemingly interminable months of April, May and June, keeping cool can be a formidable challenge. Delhi-ites usually deal with the breathtaking scorch of a thermometer-busting summer by scurrying indoors, and burrowing deep into air-conditioned spaces, fleeing to the Himalayan hills or flying to cooler climes.
Deliverance, to some degree, arrives with the monsoon in July, when rain cools the air and the mercury falls to relatively bearable levels. But it’s impossible to escape the summer swelter entirely, so read on to discover how to beat the heat in the most pleasurable way possible. Start by buying a Metro pass, for cool trips underground, and download apps for air-conditioned cab rides.
Seek out greenery
Delhi’s lush green spaces provide a much-needed escape when the mercury begins to soar. The city’s public parks are invitingly cool in the morning and evening, and most are accessible free of charge. Lodi Garden, dotted with water features and atmospheric mausoleums and monuments from the Lodi period, is by far the most popular spot for exercising and unwinding in New Delhi. However, keep an effective bug repellent handy to ward off the mosquitoes who come out to feast at dawn and dusk.
East of Lodi Garden in Nizamuddin, the Sunder Nursery beckons with 16th-century grandeur and green abundance. Mughal tombs and pavilions lie scattered amongst the lawns, waterways and ornamental flowerbeds, in what was until recently an overgrown wasteland. Musical evenings are par for the course at Nehru Park in Chanakyapuri, where aficionados are treated to performances of all genres of music, from Indian classical to jazz.
South of the centre near Mehrauli, the dense woodlands of Sanjay Van are great for calm walks, bird-spotting and playing hide-and-seek with the resident spooks (according to legend, the forest is haunted by a mysterious lady in white, as well as other spirits).
Put history in the shade
Many of Delhi’s historic architectural marvels, including grand tombs honouring departed emperors and sultans, are set in leafy, shady grounds. Just yards from the bustle of Connaught Place, Agrasen ki Baoli, an ancient step well, is fresh and quiet, dropping below the streets of a leafy New Delhi neighbourhood. Despite its popularity with tourists, the historic Red Fort is another space with plenty of quiet corners where you can sit with a book in the shade and catch the breeze.
In south Delhi, the Qutab Minar Complex and Mehrauli Archeological Park are home to a remarkable collection of tombs and mosques that offer both splendid artistry and welcome shade. In Mehrauli, the tombs and pavilions spill into an ancient forest that feels more like rural India than the heart of a thriving capital city. Modern religious spaces also offer room for cool contemplation; when energy levels dip, visit the serene Lotus Temple (Bahai House of Worship), lavishly carved Akshardham Temple or Gurdwara Bangla Sahib to recharge body and mind.
Delhi’s history, art, culture, and quirks are proudly displayed in its countless museums and art spaces, and most are blissfully air-conditioned. The National Museum is a remarkable repository of India’s past history, with cool, airy galleries full of sculptures, paintings and treasures where visitors can marvel for hours on end. It even offers art appreciation classes for people seeking extra insights into India’s artistic heritage.
For paintings, sculpture and installations, and high-ceilinged coolness, visit the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts, India Habitat Centre (Habitat World), and the National Gallery of Modern Art. The quiet interior of the India Habitat Centre in particular is a green haven, and a welcome retreat from the noise of the Lodi colony and Nizamuddin.
With kids in tow, earn brownie points by traipsing around the cooled interiors of the Nehru Planetarium, Shankar’s International Dolls Museum, and the National Science Centre. There’s less indoor space but plenty of outdoor shade at the National Rail Museum and Heritage Transport Museum in Taoru near Gurgaon, both great for family days out. For the star-struck, there’s always Madame Tussaud’s, though it can get crowded here.
Stay busy indoors
If the streets are too hot to handle, Delhi offers a host of workshops and activities that will keep you having fun away from the sun. Master the art of cooking with Tastesutra, get your hands dirty with pottery classes at the Clay Company, and explore the artist in you with creative socials organized by Delhi Drawing Room and sketching sessions with Delhi Pencil Jammers. For mediation, yoga and astronomy workshops look no further than Zorba the Buddha, in green grounds southwest of Mehrauli.
Sporty types are also spoilt for choice, with plenty of air-con spaces for getting active without overheating. To get really frosty, try the ice-skating rink at iSkate in Gurgaon, or go snow-boarding, sledging, and ice-sliding at Snow World in Noida, clearly the coldest place in town when temperatures skyrocket. Kids will also enjoy air-cooled bowling at Amoeba in Gurgaon, and various branches of Smaaash dotted around the suburbs, and indoor climbing at Delhi Rock in Greater Kailash I.
If being cool is the objective, any of Delhi’s glitzy malls could fit the bill. Consider catching up on some retail therapy, taking in a Bollywood blockbuster in an icy-cold movie theatre, and trawling the eateries at Select CityWalk or DLF Promenade, two of Delhi’s favourites.
Eat for the heat
When the temperature soars, Delhi-ites eat accordingly. Come summer, the city stays hydrated with revitalizing fruit juices, shakes and other non-alcoholic drinks like shikanji (Indian-style lemonade), aam panna (spiced green mango juice) and lassi (Indian drinking yoghurt). Citrus fruits are put aside for mulberries, loquats, musk melons and water melons, and light snacks such as sandwiches and savoury chaats (Indian-style salads) take precedence over heavy, fried foods.
In Delhi’s watering holes, whisky and rum take a back seat to white wine, cocktails and icy-cold beer, and nightlife sees a huge spurt, as people take advantage of refreshing evening temperatures in the city’s rooftop bars. Kick start your evening with wasabi Lemonade at Warehouse Cafe in Connaught Place, sip coffee-sangria pitchers at Perch, Delhi’s first wine and coffee bar, or sup on beer and sushi in curtained pavilions at Kylin Sky Bar in the Ambience Mall at Vasant Kunj. For a cool drink with an even cooler view, devote an evening to the terrace overlooking Qutb Minar at Dramz.