Thursday

Paharganj with a purpose!





The reason we traveled many kilometers to Paharganj was for the famous Sitaram choley-bhaturey. Soft and delicious, it sure is the enemy of one's arteries but so yummy for the taste buds:) The bhatureys are one of a kind, stuffed with lightly salted paneer and aromatic greens, the authentic north Indian choley is topped and garnished with carrot pickle and green chutney and chopped onions - delectable! And my God is it heavy and filling – keeps you away from any other food all day long! My brother insists that ever since he has had the chholey-bhaturey at Sitaram's, there is no other place in India that compares and I grudgingly agree with him . Sitaram also serves khattae aloo (potato gravy) which is too sour for me but is an equal hit with his patrons! A tiny non descript place in the middle of a narrow 2 way street called chunagali which is invariably always caught in traffic snarls, you got to be single minded and focused when heading to Sitarams!

On a full stomach, and all of a sudden sleepy eyes I trudge out of Sitarams, shielding myself from the harsh sun, and come out to the end of this street into a flea market of sorts. Very similar in look and feel to Goa minus the beaches! Similar kind of stuff on sale. Similar kind of grunge on the street. Similar beckoning of shopkeepers thinking us to be foreigners to come and check the wares. And the similarity ends there.

Paharganj was delightful for me, as I discovered, its delight, on foot. Dhaaba and European restaurants nestle in this quaint street next to each other, Jalebee’s and Lassi’s are a hungry mans pick-me-up, fashion street kinda clothing and street side shoes shops are dime a dozen, and even many more souvenir shops, tiny as they seem, once you step in, are like a long non ending corridor of more things to be discovered within!

The people selling in these shops have a friendly demeanor ( starkly in contrast to the aggression of Delhi). The inner streets of this old world called Paharganj are unique, charming, mystical and happy. Many of the shops in there sell one category of goods, like silver jewelry or wire screens or beads and necklaces, or old antique pieces or shoes- reflecting decades and decades of traditional cultural Indianess.

This market boasts of 2 types of clientele, the locals and hordes of foreign visitors. The foreigners needs and requirements, help sprout, travel agencies-coffee houses-backpacker hotels and stylish fusion restaurants, which make them a lot more profitable:)

Paharganj allows you to devour the local moods rather happily. One thing is sure: A Street devoted to a particular product can almost overnight turn into the home of trendy restaurants. On one short block, I walked past a Conti bar, a Mediterranean restaurant, a patisserie and two upscale coffee houses. This mood of Delhi was most definitely a new exploration for me.

On the other hand on day 2 when I walked the streets of Paharganj really ravenous, I came across single-item restaurants, places where you perch on low stools and for very little have a sumptuous snacks – katchori, samosa, malai lassi, noodles, plain coffee, brun maska pao!! May not be a large variety to chose from, but delectable, economical, Indian and fresh!

The streets are teeming with foreigners of various hues and purposes, many of them looked like they did not belong to the present, and many who looked bright and vivacious searching a good bargain! I loved the easy pace as I shopped with glee and found myself much trivia and trinkets as souvenirs for friends back home.

Paharganj is hectic! All day a rush hour of traffic, people, complete with cows and stray dogs aimlessly roaming the streets and laying down where they please. Incense smoke and delicious food scent the air. This place is friendly and welcoming. The surrounding buildings are rather forlorn looking and ruptured, every street corner has a small cosy cafe – guess the basic needs of a traveler do get fulfilled with these:)

Some foreigners have come here in search of religion, some others in search of yoga and some are merely vacationing!

Paharganj almost feels like is caught in a time warp! It's an oasis of old culture in Delhi, a still-beautiful city of colonial villas, gardens and lakes that nonetheless is dotted with new high-rise projects, with massive lung space and is now getting transformed into suburban malls too. Some of it is exactly like it was when some old timers recall Paharganj of the yore, and some rue the loss of the old Paharganj that was tree lined and fantastic and sacred. A 100ft tall Hanuman keeps an eye on all that transpires here so beware all!:)

I found Paharganj to be forward and cheeky like our new age India.

13 comments:

ravi deshpande said...

Lovely. You could easily become a travel writer. If I venture back to docu or television, i'll ask you to pen the lines. Really enjoyed it. And will definitely go there for Sitaram's chole baturein. But why is the photo of the dish from the net? Didn't you click any?

Mee said...

hiya Ravi, was too focused on the food, and couldn't bare to put those oily fingers on my digital:(, so had to make do with a snap off the web!.

melinda said...

Sounds lovely! Much like you I discovered Paharganj by accident when my car driver tried to shortcut the lights and landed himself into this bylane and had no idea where this road was leading to! And I started gazing most curiously at these lovely shops and told him to pull over and let me have a look! I was there for over 2 hours! Loved looking around and shopping there:)O

sheila said...

Am not sure if PAharganj is bizzareganj or paharganj! iT CERTAINLY is a curious mixture of the old and the new, the best and the worst of what the city has to offer. The street entrance is thronged with miscellaneous market stalls selling fruits and peanuts to everything from nail clippers to glow-in-the-dark Shiva keyrings. Curious ain't it?:)

Anon said...

Paharganj is the most popular place for backpackers to stay when passing through Delhi. Rooms range from one dollar to fifty per night, from a bedbug-ridden bunk in a concrete cell to a room with air conditioning, satellite TV and attached bathroom. Almost nobody wants to stay here longer than they have to, though. They’ve either just flown in or are flying out. They’re going north, south, east or west. Failing that they’re waiting for a replacement passport, a visa or money to be sent from home. Who would stay in a place like this when they could be in mountains, desert or beaches?!

Jim said...

Paharganj has a cliched charachter, bristling with magic and intrigue. But yes I'd argue India is like that. So much injustice, filth and sorrow, yet there remains elements of the comic, light heartedness and the mysterious in the everyday life of the street. Its a heady combustion!

Raj said...

Pahar Ganj, the most exciting part of Delhi which you want to visit again and again. It is here that you get sarson ka saag with yak cheese, avocado, sandwitch, palak paneer, chop suey, kimchi rice, ratatouie, lasagna and enchilada all under one roof:)

Shweta said...

There are all kinds of people that you see here in Paharganj -hippies, arty-types, locals and serious tourists enjoying the exotic and cheap food. The bonus is there are eye-catching buys like kitsch style bags, multi-coloured kaffiyeh, pendants, rings, jackets, and even leather whips… you get it all in Paharganj:)

gita said...

I recollect my first impressions ( a decade ago) when I was 15 and we visited Delhi for the first time, and went to this locality called Paharganj. My vision of this name was a locality perched on soft, lush green hills but soon discovered that it just had narrow lanes crowded with backpack tourists, cycle rickshaws, carts and cars; all on the plains:)

RavneetSingh said...

I know you are an avid photographer, so I recommend next time you go shoot the havelis there. Go behind the Imperial cinema and turn left to Tilak Gali. This quiet street has some stunning havelis. Here it's like being in the walled city, but without the crowd:)

Mike said...

Paharganj has the most exciting books. The kind that are unavailable anywhere else in the city. Many tourists sell their books to lighten their bags and we love a bargain now don't we! I got truckloads of books from there!

Mee said...

@Mel- a delightful discovery no?:)

@Seila - eclectic:)

@Anon- more to learn:)

@Jimmy -contradictions coexist beautifully here:)

@Raj- such variety!

@Shweta- great purchases and supercool prices:)

@Gita- u serious?:)

@RS- I did:)

@Mike- must check next time:)

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