Kuldeep Singh, 52, a bus contractor and driver, is being sought out by many suave, English-speaking entrepreneurs, all wanting to rent a piece of land he and his brothers own in Saidulajab village in south Delhi. The land–khasra number 258—which till a few years back had cow shades and furniture workshops, has morphed into Parisian passageway with cafes, design studios, a reading room and handicraft shops.
The backyards of these establishments are often the venue for impromptu poetry evening, music gigs, book launches, making the place an important spot on the city’s culinary and cultural map.
The passageway is called Champa Gali, and do not be surprised if you have not heard of it. Even locals haven’t. Auto drivers will gawk at you if you mention Champa Gali-- the Capital’s best kept secret.
But those who know cannot stop gushing about it. Aditya Sharma, a children’s author, says that there is no better place in the city to think, write and meet like-minded people. “The place has the vibes of a rural French street with alternative cafes that offer such a fantastic blend of coffee and culture,” says Sharma. “It is everything that other urban villages in the city are not.
Just come here on a rainy evening to experience its romance,” says Sharma, sitting on a wooden bench under a neem tree at the backyard of a cafe in Champa Gali.
It is afternoon and a group of foreign tourists are curiously looking into a design studio before settling on a wooden bench outside a tea shop; there is a young couple taking a selfie, and then there is a group of young executives from a start-up who have come for an afternoon snack. The place has the quietude of a mountain village.
“I have walked the streets of most of the city’s urban villages, but none is quite like Champa Gali. The street offers a best retreat in the city,” says Priyanka Kapur, a freelance content writer who meets her clients in the reading room of Jugmug Thela, which describes itself as a chai shop and a community space. And interestingly, its founder, Jiten Suchede, calls himself Chief Chaiwala. But he is quick to point that his ‘designation’ has nothing to do with politics. “It is just that we are a tea company and this designation seems just apt,” says Suchede.
In fact, Suchede is also a man everyone in the street wants you to talk to if you want to know the history and geography of Champa Gali. After all, he was the first person to start his office and then a cafe two years back. “A lot of people visited me and liked the place, and some of them decided to have their own space here,” says Suchede. “Frankly, Champa Gali as it is, is not a planned project. It just evolved into its current form without our conscious efforts. A lot of visitors come here driven by curiosity”.
Generating a lot of curiosity are Champa Gali’s Facebook and Instagram pages where the goings-on in the street are notified through enticing photographs. And Champa Gali is pretty photogenic, what with hanging trees on its walls, the arty signage of its establishments, a green cloth canopy covering a part of it. Its Facebook page describes it thus: “A rustic street in the lanes of Saidulajab, reviving old sheds into a places filled with life -- Art, Culture, Handmade goodness, Design, Chai & Coffee.”
As for the name, Suchede says they decided to call it Champa Gali after Blue Tokai, a cafe with an on-site roastery , brought in a lot champa plants. Matt Chitharanjan, co-founder, Blue Tokai, who was born in the US to an Indian father and American mother, says what drew him to the place is its quaint, rustic charm. “It has such lovely, rural vibes. Our customers include young executives, uncles, aunties, artists. Our pop-up events are as well-received as our coffee,” says Chitharanjan, sitting under the shade of a tree in the backyard of his cafe that serves as an event venue.
His next door neighbour Shailesh Mehta says he used to come to Champa Gali as a customer and fell in love with the place. But it took him quite a while to convince Kuldeep Singh, whom he fondly calls ‘Tau’, to let him rent his place which, he says, was a junkyard. Mehta says it took him a few months’ of hard work to create Morellos, a cafe with a distinct Goan feel and join the league of the Champa Gali establishments. “All of us here are trying to ensure no alcohol is served in any of our cafes. Champa Gali is a completely non-alcoholic place,” says Mehta, who is quite happy with his journey from being a customer to an owner of a cafe in the street.
While Kuldeep Singh, his landlord, is not aware how his Khasra came to be called Champa Gali, he is happy that Saidulajab, the Yadav-dominated village, is transforming fast. Until the 1990s, he says, there was nothing but agricultural fields in the village. The English-sounding Westend Marg, he points out, was a narrow slushy track along the agricultural fields where you could only see tractors, bullock carts and cows. “A few people opened offices in the early the 2000s. “ The arrival of Metro in Saket in 2010 changed this village. These days, my phone keeps buzzing. The callers are people wanting to open new cafes in Champa Gali,” says Kuldeep, who has an office in the village.
Kuldeep is not exaggerating -- in the past few years Saidulajab , barely half a km from the Saket metro station, has become a preferred destination for start -ups to open their offices. Soon, Champa Gali, which is still a work in progress, might become its enduring identity. At one end of the street, a couple of more cafes are coming up. “Though what these cafes offer is not my cup of tea, I am trying to make more space to extend Champa Gali,” says Kuldeep with the air of a man , who is part of a great cultural project.
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