In the midst of the madding crowd

In the run up to World Population Day on July 11, which seeks to raise awareness of global population issues, we bring you India’s most populous cities as tourist destinations. Whether you choose to join the jostling masses on your next trip or seek solace in the brief moments of solitude that some spaces offer, it’s all up to you…
City travel
Even crowded cities can have a place on your itinerary. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

The numbers are high and climbing steadily. If world population was a company’s growth graph, the shareholders would be very pleased! At approximately 7.8 billion humans currently (according to Worldometer) and set to cross the 10-billion mark by 2100, the Earth is certainly getting rather crowded. India, meanwhile, estimated at 1.39 billion, is close on the heels of China, the world’s most populous country with about 1.44 billion people, give or take a few. Here’s our take on India’s top cities when it comes to population density and ways that you can enjoy your time here nevertheless, once the pandemic abates and it’s safe to travel once again.  

Mumbai: Manic yet mesmerising

With the official figures guesstimating close to 21 billion people, and the real ones probably being far higher, Mumbai is well known for its paucity of space. Surrounded by the sea on three sides, the erstwhile island city has had to find space skywards, with those who can afford it living and working in towering high-rises. Huge areas given over to shanties also cram a lot of people into really small spaces. The overflowing local trains that have become a Mumbai meme, could be daunting to the first-time visitor. Over 20,000 people sharing every square kilometre means precious little place to think, let alone play the peripatetic tourist.

Mumbai, city travel
Mumbaikars from all over the city come to shop at Dadar market. Image: Shutterstock/Ramniklal Modi.

Join the jam: The markets that lead off from the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai (Crawford Market), such as Zaveri Bazaar,Bhuleshwar, Null Bazaar, Do Tanki and more are full of people, loud sounds and interesting sights every few feet. Dadar is another area worth exploring on foot, with flower markets, textiles and much more.

Mumbai, city travel
Calming interiors at Mani Bhawan. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

Oases of peace: You’ll be surprised to know that even an urban jungle like Mumbai has a lot of beautiful parks and playgrounds where you can catch your breath. There’s the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, an actual forest sanctuary in the middle of the city. We also recommend the Kamala Nehru Park at Malabar Hill, which has a splendid view of Marine Drive, but there are plenty in every area. Other places to find peace are Mani Bhawan (the house where Mahatma Gandhi lived while in the city, which is now a small museum), old reading rooms like the ones in the Asiatic Society of India, and the David Sassoon Library, sleepy lanes in the old villages that dot Malad, Bandra, Girgaon and Mazgaon.

Delhi: Discordant yet delightful

About 30.5 million populate the National Capital Region (NCR). Delhi’s vehicular traffic snarls are legendary, even though the roads in New Delhi are wide and well planned.

Delhi, city travel
The always chockablock Chandni Chowk. Image: Shutterstock/Finnstock

Join the jam: The best place to experience the best of Delhi’s bustle, is in Chandni Chowk. This chockablock district of Delhi 6 in the old city with a lot of fascinating history, has human and animal traffic, street vendors, and cycle-rickshaws to add to the chaos. Some of the city’s best food is available at age-old shops here, from pea samosas at Lala Babu Chaat Bhandar to a variety of parathas in the little joints in Parathewaali Galli. In winter, flag down the guy selling Daulat Ki Chaat for a mouthful of heaven.

Delhi, city travel
Monuments and greenery spell a quiet charm at the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Image: Priya Pathiyan.

Oases of peace: There’s no dearth of natural beauty in the nation’s capital. You can take your pick from any of these forested areas and more – Jahapanah City Forests, Dheerpur Wetland Park, Bonta Forest Walk, Yamuna Biodiversity Park, Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, Southern Ridge Forest, etc, or just head to a green open space like Lodhi Garden or Hauz Khas District Park, which will give you a mix of flowering gardens, ornate trees, ancient tombs, walking paths, plenty of birds and small, adorable animals. Our favourite is a ramble through the secluded Mehrauli Archeological Park, brimming over with history, atmosphere, and scenic vistas. The ancient Agrasen ki Baoli is a beautiful and serene stepwell a surprisingly short walk from the busy Connought Place.

Bengaluru: Busy yet beatific

Being the centre of India’s software and call centre business, its population has been rising steadily. India’s Garden City has 12,764,935 people milling about at last count. The largely radial road network has 84.5 lakh vehicles on it and is one of the country’s most congested.

Bengaluru, city travel
Crowd crossing the road at Church Street. Image: Shutterstock/Kaarthikeyan SM.

Join the jam: MG Road, Commercial Street, Brigade Road… these are major hubs for offices, shops, entertainment outlets, and you will almost always find them packed with people. The crowd may not always be local though, as most tourists usually stop by for a dekko, just like you plan to!

Bengaluru, city travel
The colonial Bangalore Palace has quiet corridors and nooks full of repose. Image: Shutterstock/G Alina.

Oases of peace: Apart from the many peaceful parks and tree-shaded localities, the Lal Bagh Botanical Garden is a 240-acre paradise with planned pathways, greenhouses and ornamental flowers offering you a chance to commune with nature and yourself. It has history too, having been built by erstwhile ruler Hyder Ali and completed by his son Tipu Sultan, with flowers and trees imported from all over the world. Stop by the 3,000-year-old rock in the centre to ponder or look out for the lawn clock that was the first in the country. Make sure NOT to visit during the fabulous flower show that’s held at the stunning Glass House here in January and August every year, else you may find yourself part of the flower-frenzied throng. Another great place to seek some solitude is the Bangalore Palace, built in 1887 and spread over 400 acres. It’s said to have been inspired by Windsor Castle.

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