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.


Chandini Chowk- Timeless Lure

A man holds up a fake chandelier the size of 40feet, and that is the entrance to Bhagirath Palace known for its unique down to earth prices for exotic lampshades. A nearby lane showcases a variety of electronics, locks, phones, rotating fans etc; if you are indeed looking for a steal this is the market to visit!

Anyone who walks these crowded streets opposite Jama Masjid in Old Delhi could be forgiven for doing a double take. On the right side of the road is this gigantic monumental pride of India the Red Fort, and on the left side is this manic, crowded, teeming with boundless energy in its tiny streets and shops offering bargain deals.

Here you see aam janta rubbing shoulders with the sophisticates, realism & practicality rubbing shoulders with urbane energy. All hunting for great bargains. I even saw a shop displaying stacks of paper money – fake dollars, euros and rupees—to attract customers:)

Just before Chandini Chowk we passed by a street named Daryaganj , where most items for sale on this block, were either ‘seconds’ or stolen. It was indeed a Sunday flea market that had families with limited spending power come out in hordes to shop.

Walk down the traditional street of CC, and the smell of food (samosas, kachoris, bhatura channa and jalebis) overwhelms the exhaust fumes from the car and motorbike traffic jockeying for space with the rickshaws and the ubiquitous human driven bicycle taxis. All cursing each other with the harsh sun beating down the weary traveler and the shopper alike.

These quaint streets didn't even consist of streets in the initial times, but were more a collection of little communities, separated from each other by gates and bamboo hedges, according to the book "Old Delhi -- Streets of Chandini Chowk". Over time urbanization and development have given rise to many road blockades and one way streets or no way street as the case maybe, to avoid humans being trampled. Humans jostle with each other, with non existent pavements and black smoke laden traffic, to find some space to exist!

From streets devoted to grains, bottles, charcoal, paint, to todays streets – that sell herbs, dry fruits, antique silver and gold to fancy clothing and wedding attire, to silk and paintings and statues and glassware, you will find everything you need here, provided you have the patience for crowds and no fuss attitude.

Enterprising merchants have started repairing and selling computers in here. The car driver educated us on the advantages of trading old laptops for new machines in this street! I did see a young man bring in his aging IBM ThinkPad where one of the screen's hinges had snapped in half. He was asked to leave behind his Thinkpad for 4 days as the shopkeeper had to wait for parts to arrive, but the deal was struck for a mere Rs 200/- So much for laptops being too expensive to be repaired!

Chandini Chowks popularity has soared once again with movies being themed around this locale & fashionistas making it trendy to visit. The real estate has soared in value here. The shop owners who live above their stores wouldn't consider any other sort of life. They like the ease of stepping out on the street buying whatever they need, talking with friends over walls, and hate the concept of shifting out of here into apartments in other localities as that would mean no meeting neighbors for days together!

The flip side to this pride of community is when you glance upwards you tend to see a lot of loosely hung cables which looked alarming, reflecting utter neglect and callousness. Thickly congested roads and intense traffic pollution could not be conducive to health. To my mind this is indeed a heavy price to pay for a flourishing business.

What would I wish for to change in this bustling street? Actually, not much. Chandini Chowk derives its character from the myriad things sold, the myriad diversity of people and languages that merge here…I only wish for an enchanting body of water surrounded by trees and featuring some quiet and peace. This should allow the weary shopper and the traveler alike some lung space, to catch ones breath and resume the feverish journey with gusto again.


Have a good trip ahead!

How do you describe the feeling that you get before traveling? The much anticipation, the much excitement, the waiting to get that ride to the destination, the things one will do when one reaches the destination…all of this adds much zing and happiness because one is looking ahead, a clean canvas that will eventually get splashed with vibrant energetic colours. You will get to paint your art. Liberating isn’t it?

But if the journey ahead is full of dread, anguish, sadness, non stop tears, pain, memories, even this experience leaves one anxious, wishing the journey would be long over and done with, because one is looking ahead at a canvas that is already painted and waiting for you to be picked up. You will not be allowed to choose your art here.

What a marked difference when purposes of travels can be so different, right? Leisure travel, holiday, meeting friends and relatives, meeting loved ones, work travel all have a note of positivism and good excitement associated with it. Travel when it is to do with a heavy heart- loss of a dear one, moving cities after marriage, being unwell, air sickness and a long haul ahead, all these have a baggage of sadness, loss, a vacuum of sorts that leads to no purpose, the unfamiliar , hence the dread and unhappiness.

Life is a journey people say. I sincerely wish all of you a journey of discovery and exploration always, whatever be the purpose.