Sunday, November 26, 2017

Chandigarh's newest gem: Is this place even real?

There are libraries. There are book cafes. And then there's this little cafe in Chandigarh that is set to combine the two into something really cool - really soon.
Chandigarh's newest gem: The Hedgehog Cafe

I was walking the streets a couple of days ago, exploring the local flavour of Chandigarh unguided and on foot. I may have lost my way a couple of times, but that's how I discovered this newly-opened gem of Sector 7.

The Hedgehog Cafe is striking at first glance, with a beautiful wood-finish facade standing out in the middle of a drab neighbourhood market. I was intrigued by the ceiling-high stack of books along one of its walls and felt compelled to walk in. The inside was tastefully done up in wood, with comfortable seating and mason jar candle lamps on all tables.

Chandigarh's Newest gem: The Hedgehog Cafe

It was 6 in the evening and the place was packed. I'd walked in after two girls who got the only empty table, so I was afraid I wouldn't get space to sit. But I did - at an L-shaped workstation in the far corner, with a huge bookshelf right overhead and a stack of books and a little plant on the counter. I couldn't have been happier!


With some help from who I assume was the wife of one of the owners, I placed an order for nutella filled French toast and coffee. While the order was being prepared, I picked up the slimmest book I could spot on the bookshelf - Tim Burton's The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and other stories. I was determined to finish a book that evening and decided the slimmer, the better. I finished two books that evening.


Chandigarh's Newest gem: The Hedgehog Cafe

The food came and I was eating when the kind lady from before checked in on me, asking if the presentation was fine. It turned out that the cafe was just three weeks old, and they were still trying to decide on the best presentation, but to avoid delaying my order, she'd had the chef spend less time on presentation and was sceptical now. I was taken a little aback. Did presentation matter THAT much? I was pleasantly surprised and assured her it was perfect, as was the taste. Not too sweet, just the way I'd like it.


We got to talking and I told her I was from Delhi and travelling solo around Chandigarh. She seemed happy, and after she left, the cafe manager, Ankit, approached me and we had a long chat.

The cafe is owned by two booklovers, a Punjabi who lives in Mohali and a Keralaite lady based out of Doha, Qatar. Their menu was finalised after thorough research by the former's wife, and their books were all brought in from Delhi, though I spotted some imported books with rates marked in foreign currency as well.

But floor-to-ceiling book racks, good food and cosy decor aside, what really sets this cafe apart from all the other book cafes I've been?

The Hedgehog Cafe has plans to start lending out books to readers. Like a real library. And they don't mind if you sit around all day reading. No questions asked.

It means you can walk in, read to your heart's content, have conversations over coffee and food, AND take your favourite books home to finish at your leisure. 

Is this place even real?

Lending out books is something only cafes abroad do. No book cafe in india has done it so far, and I'm really excited about The Hedgehog Cafe deciding to do it. They say it'll take a week odd to roll out. Methinks, if the idea takes off, it could make this cafe really popular with booklovers and attract locals and tourists alike.

Ankit, the manager, was very forthcoming about his own life and experiences in the hospitality industry. He dreams of opening a niche cafe in the jungles of Baijnath in his home state, Himachal Pradesh. I asked him if he knew how to operate a DSLR. He didn't. So I taught him (as much as you can in a minute) and he was sweet enough to take pictures as I climbed up on the cafe's 20,000 rupees' worth wooden ladder (a dream I think every booklover unconsciously harbours).

A booklover's paradise: The Hedgehog Cafe

A booklover's paradise: The Hedgehog Cafe

After a long chat about cafes, dreams, and the best Indian cities to live and work in, I had to bid goodbye but with the promise to return soon for a coffee we left pending. I left The Hedgehog Cafe thanking my luck for having spotted its door and for the evening that unfolded.

Over the following weekend, I explored more offbeat places around Chandigarh, the City Beautiful. Stories coming up soon on the blog. Meanwhile, check out my YouTube channel and subscribe (I'm just starting out making travel videos and would love some encouragement and feedback). Follow me on Instagram for more photos and stories.
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