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India’s new cool neighbourhoods

Lounge puts together a list of neighbourhoods with a distinct cultural vibe in cities across India that have quietly grown over the past few years into fun, buzzy public spaces

One Golden Mile in Netaji Nagar houses four gorgeous restaurants (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 25.11.2022  |  05:26 PM IST

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What makes a neighbourhood attractive? As we were planning this cover story on Indian neighbourhoods , we realised there are many ways to define “attractive"—is it about good housing, good roads, hospitals and schools, or a place that offers opportunities for residents to enhance their social and creative lives? We realised bundling all these was not the best way to go about identifying fun places to live and work in—residential neighbourhoods that fulfil the first set of needs often don’t offer the second (though the twain do sometimes meet). We also wanted to look beyond the known cool neighbourhoods—Mumbai’s Bandra, Delhi’s Mehrauli or Bengaluru’s Indiranagar, for instance. Hence, the search for the new cool neighbourhoods began—localities in Indian cities that have seen impressive growth over the past few years in terms of becoming hubs of social activity, usually marked by an explosion of cafés, restaurants, pubs and bars; attractive spaces for culture to thrive in, in the form of theatres, performance spaces and art galleries; and spaces that support a diverse community life and are cosmopolitan and inclusive. Reaching out to our writers across India and a network of independent writers who keenly watch urban life in India, we prepared this (very much non-objective) list of 13 Indian neighbourhoods, some from cities that haven’t been on “cool" lists before but have quietly developed public spaces that are not just buzzy and hip but fulfil that innate human need to connect and socialise.

KHOTACHI WADI, MUMBAI

TRENDING STORIES

Balancing commerce and heritage

James Ferreira’s house in Khotachi Wadi ( Instagram.com/jamesferreiralabel)

Fashion designer James Ferreira lives in a 200-year-old Portuguese colonial-style bungalow. The well-kept home, marked as house number 47/G, is like a homage to a time gone by.

It’s one of the most photographed bungalows in Khotachi Wadi in Girgaum, Mumbai. It’s also a place that doubles up as a venue for fashion events, food experiences and has a bed-and-breakfast. Last weekend, the 66-year-old welcomed two different groups of diners who had signed up for his East Indian sit-down dinner.

A few metres down the cobblestoned street is house number 47/A, where a design gallery opened in April. It’s painted in bright shades of blue and yellow. On one side, it’s flanked by a bungalow in perky peach, and, on the other, a bungalow painted lavender. It isn’t hard to imagine that this idyllic area is an Instagram favourite.

Look beyond the charming bungalows, though, and you will see towering skyscrapers—a reminder that times are changing and multistoreyed residential buildings might erase heritage properties one day. “There used to be 65 bungalows that belonged to communities like East Indians, Pathare Prabhus and Gujaratis. Now only 25 remain," says Ferreira. One of the strongest advocates of this heritage precinct, he runs the self-funded Khotachi Wadi Welfare and Heritage Trust with the objective of safeguarding the neighbourhood.

Andre Baptista, a visiting professor at colleges in Mumbai, where he teaches archaeology, ancient Indian history and heritage studies, lives in the area. In August, he collaborated with 47/A for a show, This Ground, Plus: Khotachi Wadi In Design Context. It was conceptualised as a walkthrough of the area to understand its history, streetscape and architecture.

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Khotachi Wadi is garnering a lot of attention and one wonders whether it will transform into a hub for hipster cafés and restaurants. Baptista has a nuanced take: “If you are proposing gentrification of a neighbourhood like ours, it comes down to ethics, conservation and heritage management. How much of the locality are you willing to preserve at the cost of making it commercial? There has to be a sustainable economic model that draws from the culture and encourages small, local businesses." As a shining example of balancing commerce and culture, Baptista invites me for a festival that will run from 9-11 December. There will be art installations on streets, food stalls by locals and some balconies of homes will double up as pop-up spaces for accessories, clothes and décor items.

A day in the ’hood: Follow James Ferreira and 47/A on Instagram to plan a visit when they have something interesting to offer. The neighbourhood can be explored in half a day. Grab breakfast at Panshikar, a Maharashtrian eatery that has chai and snacks. Visit the design gallery that opens at 11.30 am. If Ferreira has a pop-up, drop by his home. Take a leisurely walk around the area. The lane adjacent to Ferreira’s home leads to Ideal Wafers, where one can pick up snacks. Look out for wall art in nooks and crannies. Lunch at the vegetarian restaurant Soam, about 2 km away.     

—Jahnabee Borah

NETAJI NAGAR, DELHI

Delhi gets a new party address

At restaurants like Cosy Box, the vibe is deliberately kept “young.” (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

If your partying days started late-2000s in Delhi, it’s likely your weekends were spent in the hippest hub: Mehrauli’s Kalka Dass Marg. This was the pre-Instagram era when having fun was not #vibeoftheday but a desire meant only for personal satisfaction. The street, located in south Delhi, was lined with decked-up designer boutiques and fine-dining restaurants and bars that were once crumbling havelis. Some 10km away, Hauz Khas was also trying to offer a similar temptation at a more reasonable price, with a hipster-meets-fine dining vibe. Over the years, while Hauz Khas has lost its charm much like Delhi winters. Mehrauli, meanwhile, continues to draw crowds, especially with the entry of more picture-perfect restaurants and designer shops. Lack of car parking and overbooked tables, however, are a complete mood killer.

Enter One Golden Mile in Netaji Nagar. Overlooking the landmark Hyatt hotel, the compound houses four gorgeous restaurants that instantly make you forget that you were stuck in a 30-minute jam on a Sunday just so you could take a U-turn, crossed a decades-old car repair and accessories market, and inhaled cough-inducing pollution and dust from the nearby Metro and house construction, to reach the destination as big as a school football ground. What was once an NDMC park with uneven and a musical fountain (when you enter the park a stone states the Sangitmay Phuwara was inaugurated by the then Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma in 1996) land is now the address of Cosy Box, Dirty Good, Chica and Noche—all fining restaurants that turn into clubs in the evening. They don’t allow people below the age of 21 and if you are above 40, you might be encouraged to get a reservation only for brunch/lunch. For evenings, the vibe is “young."

Its central location, stunning interiors fit for the Gram and a very spacious parking has made it the latest party hub of Delhi—and a place to spot the latest fashion trends. From the LV rani-pink pumps to the adidasxGucci jacket, people come dressed to impress.

The oldest among the restaurants is Cannes Film Festival's official food partner Cosy Box, which opened in April, offering a mix of Mediterranean, European and Oriental, and a lot of Afro music. Its neighbour is Chica, much more colourful with its French-themed garden filled, and offerings of world cuisines and Bollywood numbers. Above Chica is the newest member Noche, offering a Latin menu with an Indian twist. Think Buff Tartare and Pork in Coorgi Ghee Roast.

With over 500 real plants and trees as decorative pieces, Dirty Good occupies a larger space that wants Dellhiites to take their brunches more seriously. “The vibe I want people to have is just relax," says Sahil Marwah, one of its five owners. “Where else in Delhi, besides Lutyens or Sundernagar, will you get a chance to sit under the sun and enjoy food?" Of course, for summers, Marwah is working towards making the menu and sitting smaller since large part of the eatery is in the open space. Their menu is focused on healthy food choices—no colas, organic ingredients, less processed sugar. In the same area, Dirty Good folks have another property called Dirty Jungle, which serves alcohol throughout the day. “We are trying to create a culture with Dirty Good to promote the idea of eating out amid nature, picnic kind of a vibe. Dirty Jungle is more pub-kind of vibe."

The compound might be in south Delhi but it is strategically located near the ring road, making it accessible to foodies and party goers from across the city. “We wanted to create an out and out food place that was also a gated community and offered world cuisines," says Suvrat Batra, the head of House of Sunrydge, which has developed the One Golden Mile compound. “Delhiites are always looking for newer experiences when it comes to food and parties."

And Delhiites don’t mind spending money if it means good food and a location perfect for Instagram photos. Like Astha Jindal who came for a kitty party with her gang of five girlfriends said, “It’s winters. You want to come out more often, and try a new place, click photos," she told me before requesting me to click her photographs with the friends. But what about the pollution? “It doesn’t matter for 1-2 hours, no."

A day in the ’hood: The restaurants open at noon and remain open till 1am. Start your day with a relaxed brunch at any of the eateries (Dirty Good’s colourful Burrata salad is worth a try) and let your hair down in the evening after some delicious cocktails at any of the other places. Just remember to make reservations at least a week in advance. Barring Dirty Good, none of the restaurants entertains walk-ins.     

—Pooja Singh

ERANDWANE, PUNE

A sense of timelessness in a fast-changing locality

The Chirp restaurant in Pune 4. (instagram.com/chirpinpune)

If you were a student in the 1990s or 2000s, you would remember Vaishali on Fergusson College Road for its south Indian cuisine. You may also recollect Goodluck Cafe, an Irani restaurant that remains popular and affordable to this day. But many things will surprise you. Erandwane (sometimes called Pune 4, by its post code) is now dotted with coffee “kiosks"—cappuccino and espresso served from stalls—not quite the tapris (redis) of old but also not too expensive for the average student. The area plays host to many of India’s top colleges and each new wave of students brings with it a fresh set of changes.

Amit Paranjape, a tech entrepreneur who grew up in Erandwane, makes Pune a focus for his tweets. According to him, Erandwane was first settled around 100 years ago, by retired military officers and bureaucrats moving to the west bank of the Mutha, away from the congested “peths" of central Pune. Pune 4’s geography at the heart of the city is driving its commercialisation. Offices, restaurants and cafés are rapidly replacing residential apartments and bungalows, a trend that the nascent Pune Metro might accelerate. There are still, however, many beautiful stone bungalows dating back to the 1950s, 1960s, and, in some cases, even the 1920s.  

Paranjape says Pune 4 offers a great mixture of distinct sets of people. You have retirees and people moving back from long stints abroad. You also have executives and owners of small factories and IT firms and professionals, such as doctors and lawyers. You have college students going to some of the best colleges in the country. The population, previously largely Maharashtrian, has become more cosmopolitan, notes Sahil Deo, a long-time resident. Many of Pune’s famous educational institutions are located in Erandwane: Fergusson College, BMCC, ILS Law College, Symbiosis (the old campus) and the stately Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (which still houses the one-time residence of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a mentor for Mahatma Gandhi himself).

Nilesh Sule runs a co-working space called CC&Co on Prabhat Road, one of Pune 4’s iconic streets. “Once the Metro starts functioning properly and the network expands, Pune 4 will be ‘the downtown’. The fact that it used to mostly be bungalows is an advantage. It is easier for a builder to deal with one owner than, say, 50 owners of flats in a housing society," he says.

Pune 4 is also seeing artistic growth. Theatres like The Box and The Base regularly put on plays and musical performances, often in experimental genres. The classics remain. The National Film Archives of India (NFAI), which sits opposite the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), still shows offbeat films on Saturday evenings for a nominal annual membership fee. Among Pune 4’s influencers, nobody captures its essence better than Shilpa Godbole (Godbole_Shilpa on Twitter), who makes it the butt of lively jokes. Sample this: “Peak Puneri behavior is to drive to Sinhagad, climb up, drink sarbat… branded activewear, trekking shoes, garmin on the wrist.. haggle for 20/10 with the tempo driver to drive you down. Once seated in the van talk about fancy vacations."

A day in the ’hood: Start your day with a hike. Pune 4 is dotted with hills (tekdis) like the iconic Vetal Tekdi. Enjoy a well-earned breakfast at Wadeshwar on Law College Road. Catch up on some reading over delicious food at Katha Cafe or Chirp on Apte Road. Go shopping at the Pavillion Mall on SB Road or visit the many independent stores lining JM Road. In the evening, attend a play or musical performance at independent performance spaces The Box or The Base. An absolute must: Visit the eight-century Pataleshwar Caves. They give you a sense of timelessness in a fast-changing locality.             

—Neil Madhav Borate

NEW BEL ROAD, BENGALURU

This foodie paradise highlights the city’s changing nature

New BEL Road in north Bengaluru is the hippest new address in town ( Samuel Rajkumar/Mint)

My rickshaw driver, annoyed by the traffic (no surprises there), dumps me unceremoniously at the corner of New BEL road. In front of me looms the MS Ramaiah Memorial Hospital, bustling with life. Scrub-clad medical professionals constantly spill out of its gates, heading towards eateries for every budget. The 3-odd kilometre stretch of north Bengaluru is now a foodie’s paradise: whether it’s Bengaluru-based F&B brands like Smoor, Fat Unicorn, Auntie Fung’s and 1522-The Pub or global fast food franchises, they have all opened outlets here over the past few years. Akshith Shetty, who works at Ramaiah and has been frequenting the area since 2003, says that there was nothing but housing plots back then. Even in 2011, when he was studying for his postgraduate degree at the medical college, there were only a few restaurants. By 2015, however, it had changed and become truly commercial, and covid-19 has brought in further churn.

Trekking down the road takes me around 45 minutes, including dodging traffic, negotiating the pockmarked pavement, stopping for tea at Chai Theory and being distracted by the stores on the high street. Spas and gyms jostle with restaurants for space, and branded stores like Benetton, Cottonworld and CaratLane. “I have lived there for 14 years and have seen the area transform from a quiet residential area to a high street over the years," says Chethan Hegde, founder of 1522-The Pub, which has branches all over Bengaluru and opened on New BEL Road in 2017.

New BEL Road’s transition from a residential locality into a consumerist paradise is also a function of the changing nature of north Bengaluru itself. This part of the city, seen by most as being on the outskirts, is now a vibrant part of Bengaluru and has garnered a lot more interest from property developers, with gated communities and commercial parks coming up here. Better infrastructure appears to be part of this story, believes Ranveer Sabhani, business head (south) of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt. Ltd, which owns popular restaurant brands like Smokehouse Deli and Social. “This is an industrial belt urbanising very rapidly," says Sabhani, adding that more people shifted to this side of town since they no longer had to head to office daily. Social is opening on New BEL Road in December, something Sabhani seems excited about. “I don’t think people have realised the dynamic and capability of New BEL Road. It is going to be something to watch out for."

A day in the ’hood: Start with a plate of idli-vada at Shiv Sagar. Get a massage at the Varna or the Angsana Thai Spa, a haircut or pedicure at Bounce or Toni& Guy or hop over for a quick sweat session at Cultfit. Take a short trip across to the Bangalore Creative Circus in nearby Yeswanthpur—it always has something interesting going on. Finish the day by unwinding at one of the resto-bars here, some of which have great live music too: Gillys, 1522-The Pub, Halfway House Restobar or Geometry Gastropub.          

—Preeti Zachariah

ALTINHO-MALA-ST INEZ, PANAJI, GOA

Bombolinis, vinyl and pottery in the lanes of Panaji

The Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts in Altinho is a non-profit arts initiative that hosts gallery shows, events and community-based programming. (instagram.com/sunaparanta_goa)

Goa’s capital is where tourists come to wander about the Latin Quarter, lose money at casinos, and pose outside the white Panaji Church. But beyond the shining lights of the riverboat casinos, there are quiet pockets that offer information, entertainment and good food. It starts at the top of the hill, at Altinho, a quiet residential area, goes down to the commercial hub that is Mala along the Rio de Ourém, snaking in to Rua 31 de Janeiro, and ending at the Panaji Church (Our Lady of Immaculate Conception).

A 200-year-old home doubles up as a concert venue, coffee shop and store—CIPA is where you go for pasteis de nata, to browse through and buy azulejos (Portuguese hand-painted tiles) and listen to fadista Sonia Shirsat perform. There’s art to be found in Gitanjali Gallery by the creek or in the beautifully restored Goan home, Sunaparanta (with its coffee shop, Bodega) in Altinho. The canopied roads here also house the new That Book Store, championing children’s picture books, and second-hand books. Along the riverfront is the co-working space Café Rasa, which looks out on to the Mandovi Bridge. In Mala, Thomas the Potter’s is the space for delicate pottery or learning how to use the wheel.

Mala, along the Ourem creek, was once marshland. Today, it’s a commercial hub—across the bridge from another such space, Patto—close to Fontainhas. When Priyanka Sardessai opened Larder & Folk a year ago, she chose Mala because it was familiar and offered her the commercial space (and perks like power backup, consistent water supply) she wanted for her production kitchen. Though Larder has now evolved into a sit-down café (serving stellar cookies, bombolinis and burgers), the location still works—“we get the Patto office crowd from across the bridge and more people are learning about this area," says Sardessai.

Nearby, the sound of (vinyl) music streams out of For The Record-Vinyl Store, whose menu is a tribute to fermented foods, and sourdough. Its neighbour, Soul Chef, offers flavours of the North-East.

Mala leads directly into Rua 31 de Janeiro, which is dotted with old taverns, new restaurants and pretty guesthouses. Along the road is Antonia at 31 that does hatke Goan food, and its sister concern, Makutsu, serving Japanese Yakitori. And, of course, the old bakery/café, Confeiteria 31 de Janeiro.

Away from this historic street, the region around Panaji Church is where century-old food institutions stand strong: Mr Baker 1922, Café Tato and Clube Vasco da Gama. The nearby 18th century garden, Jardim Garcia de Orta, now serves as a venue for pop-ups, performances and events. It is where gastro-bar Petisco began two years ago, offering live music, karaoke, and delicious small plates. “This area attracts the kind of crowd we want, locals and explorers keen to try different foods," says Pranav Dhuri, owner, Petisco. “In the future, I think it will develop as an experience, just like Fontainhas."

A day in the ’hood: Find local tour groups and individuals who conduct walks that cover the creeks, trees, birds, even medicinal plants. These tours will tell you where to find the best xacuti in Goa, give you a history of old-school drinking houses or tavernas, and help you look at seemingly ordinary trees/plants in a new light. For, in Panaji, there’s a story behind everything.   —Joanna Lobo

C-SCHEME, JAIPUR

The undisputed ‘it place’ of the Pink City

Mahavir Marg in C-Scheme, Jaipur, is buzzing with restaurants, cafés and young people (Prakash Ghai)

Ask anyone where the heart of 21st century Jaipur resides and the answer will be unanimous—C-Scheme. From Tapri, a tea house inspired by a roadside tapri to Cafe Earnest that has Oscar Wilde as its muse, from homegrown coffee roasteries and upscale breweries that could give multinational coffee giants a run for their money to the corner side kiosk of Uncle Coffee that is known as much for its cold coffee as for causing traffic snarls, from Napoli, a chic eatery serving authentic Naples-style pizzas to thelas and trucks that have no qualms in dishing out Indianised global grub, this Pink City locality is abuzz with an eclectic mix of eateries. The most recent addition is a café that houses a baori / baoli (both are correct)(ancient stepwell). Apart from being a haven for gastronomes, C-Scheme is also a hub of designer boutiques, posh salons and well-stocked departmental stores. The Shopper's Paradise departmental store attracts shoppers not just from all over the city but also from outside.

The transformation of C- Scheme to the “it place" took place over 10-15 years. “Back in the 1950s and 1960s, C-Scheme had a plethora of barren plots. Even till the 1990s, there were mainly residential houses and schools. The earliest claim to fame for the area was a first-of-its-kind ice-cream corner that used to see beelines for its Italian softy. The last two decades have witnessed the opening of so many places that there is hardly a lane that is bereft of buzz," says Rajnish Pardal, a C-Scheme resident since 1958. Echoing his thoughts, Rajesh David, the owner of Shopper’s Paradise store, says: “We were the first ones to open a departmental store here in 1995. Before that there hardly used to be any footfall here. Many new businesses started cropping up gradually in the last decade. The area is now chock-a-block with cafés, boutiques and even a pet accessory store."

Jaipur is known for seamlessly blending its old-world charm with modern-day conveniences. This stands true for C-Scheme too as it also has organisations that preserve and promote traditional arts and crafts. The premises of one such foundation, the Jaipur Virasat Foundation, are home to a gourmet eatery, TGH Cafe, with a special focus on health-friendly food, bringing alive the rich culture of yesteryear alongside contemporary culinary trends.

A day in the ‘hood: Start your day with cutting chai and bun maska at Tapri, while soaking in lush views of Central Park. A Neapolitan pizza at Napoli and a cup of your favourite brew at Curious Life Coffee are a must. Catch a folk performance at the Jaipur Virasat Foundation or attend a craft workshop at Nila House. Stock up on exotic gourmet products from Shopper’s Paradise.

—Tusharika Singh

GOMTI NAGAR, LUCKNOW

An entertainment hub in the capital of hospitality

The Gomti riverfront in Lucknow. ( Facebook.com/gomtiriverfrontlucknow)

Until a few years ago, Lucknow was a sleepy little town happy with its historical legacy. Over the past few years, though, the city has gone through a metamorphosis. Lucknow today is as hip, trendy and pulsating as it is beautiful, grand and regal. At the heart of this change is Gomti Nagar, the neighbourhood that was for long considered too far from the action but is now the cultural and entertainment hub of the city.

The transformation began a few years ago, with major IT companies and five-star hotels checking in to the neighbourhood. A few shopping malls followed. Today Gomti Nagar is Lucknow’s hippest district. Located by the newly renovated Gomti riverfront, the neighbourhood boasts of all kinds of entertainment options—from theatres and auditoriums to art galleries and multiplexes, to the coolest restaurants, cafés and pubs.

“Having come back to Lucknow after living in bigger cities may have felt like a demotion at first but I couldn’t have been more wrong," says Vidula Sharma, who chose to settle in Gomti Nagar after her husband’s early retirement from the navy. “Today Lucknow, especially Gomti Nagar, offers everything that a big city does. The most striking change is in the food scene, with popular brands presenting themselves around every corner, not to mention the mushrooming art and culture centres," she adds.

The sentiment is shared by business owners who are choosing to invest in the area. “We are excited to have opened in Lucknow. The city taught the world about hospitality and has great taste in food and entertainment," says Nishant Sinha, founder of Roastery Coffee House, which opened recently to long queues. “A café culture seems to be thriving in Gomti Nagar, not just among the youth but among other age groups."

“The market in Lucknow took us by surprise," says Vikrant Batra, co-founder of Café Delhi Heights who has recently opened an outlet in Gomti Nagar. Batra feels there is a huge demand for recognised brands in the area and sees all kinds of guests at Café Delhi Heights at the RiverSide Mall. “Lucknow is no longer a tier 2 city and in the years to come, I see Gomti Nagar developing further, especially in F&B and entertainment."

A day in the ’hood: Begin with an invigorating walk at the sprawling Janeshwar Mishra Park, followed by the quintessential jalebi-khasta breakfast at the newly renovated Neelkanth Sweets. Then you can stop by the Florence Art Gallery or catch an exhibition at the Indira Gandhi Pratishthan. In the afternoon, hop over to Roastery Coffee House or Café Delhi Heights for a lazy lunch and coffee. We recommend you spend the evening catching a play, a dance recital or a mushaira at the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Lucknow’s cultural icon. The night stays young here and a few drinks at Lord Of The Drinks or Molecule Air Bar can be followed by a scrumptious Lucknowi dinner at Oudhiyana, the city’s finest restaurant. To end the day, you can walk by the Gomti’s quaint waterfront, feeling like a modern-day nawab. 

—Anubhuti Krishna

UZAN BAZAR, GUWAHATI

No longer a transit point, the city’s riverfront will make you want to stay

At least 14 new eateries have popped up next to Riverrun in the past year (Instagram.com/cafe_riverrun)

Till very recently, Guwahati, known as the gateway to the North-East, served only as a transit point for tourists visiting the region. The sleepy neighbourhoods along the Brahmaputra had a few markets with local produce and a handful of restaurants usually serving Indian Chinese. Over the last five years, however, the city has seen a boom in cafés and cultural spaces, concentrated mainly in the riverine area. To ride the change, the Assam government is developing a riverfront and attracting investments to set up an entertainment complex. As millennials studying in metro cities began returning to the state during the pandemic, the search for new hangout places began. Uzan Bazar’s awe-inspiring vistas of the Brahmaputra, dotted with tiny islands, made it one of the most sought-after neighbourhoods.

Many café and restaurant owners could foresee the change. “There was a disconnect between cultural events in the city and the youth as most of these events were happening in formalised, government-sponsored settings. The youth needed a new adda that was more inclusive," says Rishi Raj Sarmah, a Guwahati-based entrepreneur who founded Maati, an activity space specialising in ethnic produce like handlooms and traditional ware and events like slam poetry, acoustic music and film screenings.

Once known as Strand Road, Uzan Bazar’s Mahatma Gandhi Road (MG Road), with its old Assam-type houses facing the Brahmaputra, quickly became the hot favourite of restaurateurs and aspiring baristas. “We found a place on the busy GS Road downtown. But the rent was too high. We love the laid-back vibe of Uzan Bazar and breeze from the river. So, we started this café here in 2015," says Afzal Ali, co-owner of Café Riverrun. Ankur Deka, who manages Banana Leaf, a restaurant specialising in south Indian dishes, is a new entrant in the area and is excited about its potential. In fact, as covid-19 restrictions eased, at least 14 new eateries popped up next to Riverrun.

A day in the ’hood: Start with the planetarium on MG Road. Visit local markets with indigenous produce, like the famous bhut jolokia and yam. The riverbank stretch from the planetarium to Raj Bhawan has several parks. Get on the Alfresco Grand for an evening cruise on the Brahmaputra with live music.  

—Anupam Chakravartty

PANAMPILLY NAGAR, KOCHI

The hip and the homegrown

‘The Streetscape’ walkway in Kochi developed by the Kochi Metro (Facebook.com/kochimetro)

Kochi’s Panampilly Nagar isn’t a new kid on the block; only now, it’s giving every other locality a run for its money in terms of hipness. Located close to MG Road, the city’s high street, it began as a middle-income residential area that slowly attracted cafés, restaurants, boutiques, offices and businesses. What works in its favour are the broad streets and shady trees that make walking a pleasant activity.

Old hangouts—such as the decade-old French Toast, a quirky café with brilliant white walls and furniture and vintage posters of Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd staring down—are busier than ever. East India Café opened four years ago, in a former East India Company warehouse, and attempts to replicate a London street vibe. Its airy atmosphere, with plush sofas, patches of greenery and whimsical wall art, forms the backdrop for European fare that uses organic ingredients.

And there’s no place for a sundowner quite like the chic lounge bar Fly High, just on the outskirts of Panampilly Nagar on MG Road.

“We have seen other areas rise to prominence and plummet equally rapidly. But Panampilly Nagar has steadily flourished and acquired the reputation of a cool hangout. There is something new happening here constantly, and it is more appealing to younger people than any other place in Kochi," says Jazeela Basheer of Tamanna, a boutique in the area.

In fact, Panampilly Nagar’s proximity to MG Road has worked in its favour in a tangential way. While the big brands jostled for space on high street, Panampilly Nagar was left free for one-off, home-grown and quirky establishments such as Salt Studio, a clothing store that draws inspiration from eclectic sources, including Sufism and minimalist abstract paintings.

Giving Panampilly Nagar an avant-garde edge are a couple of performance spaces, such as The Hive, a performance space to “showcase people with unique voices & inspiring stories", while Forplay Productions has an intimate space for experimental performances of all kinds. The Panampilly Nagar walkway, branded “The Streetscape", was built by Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) in 2016 and is a beautifully laid-out urban oasis with paved roads, glittering lights and lots of greenery—people compare it to the cobbled streets of European cities and it is a popular public space with walkers, joggers and anyone looking to enjoy the outdoors.

A day in the ’hood: Start with breakfast at French Toast and wander around the shaded streets, window-shopping or popping into quirky shops. In the afternoon, soak in the soothing atmosphere of East India Café. In the evening, check if Hive or Forplay have any performances scheduled. Or head to the canal just outside for a walk and end the day at one of the nearby restaurants, such as Cocoa Tree.       

—Anita Rao Kashi

ATTAVAR, MANGALURU

Blending the old and the new

The Avatar Hotel and Convention in Mangaluru has become a focal point of the rapidly growing neighbourhood. (Karen Pinto)

Think Mangaluru and it’s the beautiful beaches, indulgent seafood and multicultural society that come to mind. Go exploring and you will find, tucked into almost every nook and corner, localities that have wonderfully merged the old with the new. You see this on Lighthouse Hill, at Balmatta Road, Valencia, Nanthoor and Bejai, and in Attavar.

A residential locality, Attavar has significant cultural importance for Mangalureans. The Attavar Katte (katte is a raised platform around a tree), which marks the beginning of this locality, was once the meeting point for all community interactions. Today, the katte is a key junction leading to the Central Railway Station, areas like Highlands, Falnir, and into the heart of Attavar. For 110 years, the locality has also been home to the annual Mosaru Kudike (or the Mangalore Dahi Handi for Krishna Janmashtami) celebrations.

In Attavar, you will find several traditional homes, complete with Mangalore-tiled roofs, large verandas and sprawling gardens, interspersed with apartment complexes. While there is the “Nandigudda House" of Dr Derek Lobo and Patsy Lobo, dating back to 1892, there is also Casa Grande, a massive apartment complex billed as the largest in Mangaluru when it was constructed three decades ago. Today, Attavar has several such high-rises, built by well-known names like the Prestige Group and MAK Group, lending it the feel of a metropolitan skyline.

In October 2021, Attavar became the chosen location for The Avatar Hotel and Convention, Mangaluru, a 43-room boutique hotel. Its F&B offerings have taken an interesting approach to showcasing the city.

“At the hotel, The Stairway Bakery and Cafe is an alternative to the traditional bakeries of Mangaluru, with its chic boutique vibe yet traditional baking process," explains Nilesh Nayak, head of experiences and storytelling at The Avatar. “The Stairway Project here was where over 200 young Mangalurean singers took to the wooden staircase stage in the first 12 months of the hotel’s operations. It was our tribute to the choir-singing culture of this city," he adds. Offering the best of dining experiences, The Loft Studio at the hotel has held multiple global food festivals. It even hosted the popular restaurant Jamming Goat from Majorca Beach for over 70 days, when its outlet in Goa was closed during the peak monsoon season.

The presence of the Kasturba Medical College (KMC) hospital in Attavar and the several student hostels around have prompted many street-facing restaurants and boutiques to open here. Mangalureans love their shawarma and the Sultanate of Shawarma, near Apple Mart, has become a hot spot. Aayan’s Kitchen, a restaurant serving Indian food, became so popular that it was able to expand by acquiring shops around it. Town Table, Wok & Fork, Cyborg Fitness Club, branded salons and more have come up too.

A stroll around Attavar will offer you the luxury of choosing from several places to visit, each with a unique vibe.

A day in the ’hood: Visit the ancient Chakrapani temple for its Hosyala architecture. For food promotions, gourmet coffee, bar takeovers and music events, head to The Avatar Hotel. You could enjoy shawarma at the Sultanate of Shawarma or treat yourself to Dajaj al-Faham at Aayan’s Kitchen.

—Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

BILLY GRAHAM ROAD, KOHIMA

Coffee culture and fresh produce in Kohima

Billy Graham Road in Kohima

I teach at the Kohima College. Residents of that area remember it as a jungle but it has developed into a lovely neighbourhood. I believe the change transpired because the Secretariat is close by, and government offices and residences shifted here. Down the road, in the same complex as Kohima College, is the TM Government Higher Secondary School. The crowd is a mix of school and college students and government officials. It was in 2016 that the now iconic Été Coffee Roasters opened here. The founder, Lichan Humtsoe, sources coffee from local farmers, processes and roasts it. One could well argue that he has pioneered the café culture in Nagaland. In 2019, the restaurant Deccan Kitchen opened here, with a chef from Hyderabad, a venue for birthday parties. Last week, a large library for children, The Book Home, opened in the area. Its founder, Yirmiyan Arthur Yhome, says there’s huge demand from parents for books, so she has created a small section for sale too.

A few months ago, a shopping complex, Beits Plaza, opened near the Secretariat. It has a restaurant, a beauty parlour, a store selling Decathlon-type clothes, the children’s label, First Cry, and a pet store. Opposite the Secretariat is the business centre, Made In Nagaland, home to stalls selling local produce like tisanes, coffees, honey, handicrafts and memorabilia. Outside the centre are stalls selling the season’s freshest vegetables. Twinkling fairy lights show the spirit of Christmas is in the air.

A day in the ’hood: Pick up a hot coffee from Été and visit the Made in Nagaland Centre down the road. Spend some quiet time at the memorial for Naga National Council chairman A.Z. Phizo. Have lunch at the Deccan Kitchen and then visit The Book Home.

—Dr Theyiesinuo Keditsu (As told to Jahnabee Borah)

MAHARANA PRATAP NAGAR, BHOPAL

A mall seems to have jumpstarted MP Nagar’s path to coolness

The Rooftree restaurant is a popular hangout in Bhopal (Instagram.com/the_roof_tree/)

The original city of lakes, and some sprawling museums, Bhopal is the quintessential Indian small city — a far cry from the metros with enough originality for the homegrown native to wear pride for the city on their sleeve. Lately though, millennials have discovered the joy of malls for the sheer diversity they offer. And the glitziest of them seems to have made its neighbourhood the coolest in the city – DB City Mall in Maharana Pratap Nagar.

“MP Nagar has a lot to offer. The food court at the DB City Mall boasts of a variety of cuisines to choose from," says Ipsita Malviya, who was raised in Bhopal and currently works at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences, but shuttles between the two quite often. “Whether you want to go out for drinks at Drinx Exchange or 10 Downing Street, or grab a meal at one of the fast food franchises, you will find everything under one roof. The authentic Rajasthani thali-serving restaurant called Ghoomar adds a tinge of Indian culture to the mall's offering, while The Giant Panda is known for mouth-watering Pan-Asian cuisine."

It is a mix of posh residential areas and patches of old world buildingslike those surrounding Chetak Bridge. There’s an element of solemnity supplied by the Shaurya Smarak, a 12-acre open air war memorial for martyred soldiers which might seem like a sombre place but is actually culturally vibrant with a museum, sculptures and other exhibits. If nothing else, there’s lots of greenery and network of paths for a leisurely walk. More cheerful is the Chinar Park next door with kitschy scrap-metal animal sculptures, plenty of greenery and shade for a walk, for picnics or even yoga sessions!

However, the buzz has spread outwards. Saffron Cafe and Restaurant is not too large but is popular enough to double up as work space during the day, while attempting to give itself an edgy feel with occasional events like a Rap Battle. The Roof Tree says it all – a terrace lounge with a profusion of greenery. For some reason, there are also a set of hookah bars such as Zero Degree and Atmosphere. And then there’s Molecule in neighbouring Arera Colony, a funky, ritzy rooftop bar with greenery and colours everywhere – walls, ceiling, furniture and lights.

A day in the hood: Fortify yourself with breakfast at Saffron and spend time in war memorial. Head to DB City Mall for window shopping or catch a movie. Step a bit outside MP Nagar to see the sun set over the Upper Lake and head back to mall for a drink at either 10 Downing Street or Molecule in Arera Colony.

– Anita Rao Kash

MUSSOORIE ROAD, DEHRADUN

A once-forgotten area becomes the favourite haunt of locals and tourists

A view of the Malsi forest hills from the rooftop of the Hyatt hotel

Dehradun may conjure up images of quaint British era bakeries and walks to Paltan Bazaar but the capital city of Uttarakhand now boasts of a lot more than just that. The newest hub of all action in the city — be it dining, social events, or shopping— is Mussoorie Road. With swanky 5-star hotels, standalone restaurants, and residential condominiums coming up, the area that was forgotten until some years ago, is now the preferred hangout of the locals.

“The F&B scene in Dehradun is growing at a rapid pace with noteworthy standalone outlets finding home near the Mussoorie Road," says Pratiti Rajpal, Director of Operations at the newly opened Hyatt Regency Dehradun who has been watching the space for the past few years. According to Rajpal, “the area has seen a rapid growth with huge demand from the local audience for new places. Sunday brunches and posh fine dining restaurants are the main pull." 

The neighbourhood now also sees many cultural events with the latest being a grand concert by Lucky Ali at the luxe Mann Estate. While on one hand niche upmarket restaurants, pubs, and chains like Farzi Cafe, Malt Bar, CaféDe Piccolo, have upped the market value of the neighbourhood, on the other are cute artsy cafés and cozy tea-cigarette joints frequented by the abundant young population that have brought in a hipster vibe to the neighbourhood. “People in Dehradun want to go to newer places every day and MussoorieRoad is now the hotspot; it has something for everyone from students to young professionals to families and the uber rich. The area is still green and overlooks the lush Malsi Forest and makes for a nice outing for locals who may not want to go all the way to Mussoorie," says Pooja Martolia, a local resident who likes to frequent the neighbourhood for the short yet scenic hiking tracks and multiple cafés that it promises.

A day in the hood: Start your day with a short hike to Shikhar Falls, a set of small falls just off Mussoorie Road and have breakfast at the many tea shops there. Next, you can choose to hike further to Mussoorie or return to visit the Dehradun Zoo, also in the neighbourhood. The afternoon can be spent al-fresco at Range, the posh all-day restaurant at Hyatt Regency that lets you sample hearty local food and soak beautiful views of the forest and hills. Your evening can begin with a drink or two at the adjacent Malt Bar and progress on to the many restaurants just outside. The best way to end the night is a nice long walk with twinkling lights of the tapris, cafés, and restaurants around, marvelling at the beauty of this little town.

—Anubhuti Krishna