I love Delhi in the winters. Well, actually I quite enjoy Delhi summers too …But the winters! Aah, quite nothing like them. The warm sun making its way through misty foggy mornings, and the dew covered grass. An entire industry of street hawkers come to life, fresh out of hibernation, with eggs and bread, paranthas and chai, boiled corn and the likes. Not to forget, the ever-present ice cream wallahs of Delhi at India gate, patiently waiting for the aficionados to find their way to the stall.
I make most of this season – meals in the garden, walks in Nehru Park, picnics at India Gate and frequent visits to one of my favorite haunts in Delhi – Chandni Chowk! Bless the metro! Satya and I often spend weekends exploring the little nooks and corners of the Old city, feasting on typically Indian, greasy street food. This time, we decided to head for Paharganj. Shady, dark streets with men of all kinds offering ‘ the best hotels’ follow you around, until you speak to them in chaste hindi and then they are suddenly not interested. We were here to look out for the famous ‘ chole-bhatura’ stall, called ‘Pandit’. We later realised its called Radhe Shyam, actually. He has been around for centuries, making the same old thing, everyday. He opens shop at around 9am and is sold out by the afternoon. Nothing else on the menu. For Rs.25, he serves a huge plate of chola and paneer bhatura. Surprisingly, you can take heaped servings of the chola, repeatedly, without paying an extra dime! While I went trigger happy clicking the efficient staff, arranging 30 plates at a time, Satya went to the neighboring shop to make conversation with the lassiwallah. In less than 15 minutes, he had told Satya his life story. The sad part of it all was that this fellow was paid a paltry 1500/- per month.
From here, we weaved our way through the sea of people to reach Chandni Chowk. Seemed like most of Delhi was doing what we were because the metro was choc-a-bloc. Some pushing, shoving later, we were in the old city. Here, the agenda was to look for a 200 year old sweet shop called ‘ Ghantewallah’. Ghantewallah finds a mention in Tim Mackintosh book as being the only shop serving one particular sweetmeat from the time of Ibn Battutah. We found it, alright, but the shutters were down. Another trip would be called for.
With that over, we gorged on the famous jalebis of Chandni Chowk and walked the many lanes and bylanes of CC. Since the shops are closed, hawkers set up stalls selling utensils, threads, jewellery, clothes- all on the street. Pack loads of foreigners, clutching the camera in one hand and holding onto their pals for dear life with the other hand whiz pass. Their horrified expression mixed with the glee of watching India – up close and personal evident on their faces. Most rickshaw pullers spoke decent English and were busy regaling Indian history to the guests.
Getting lost was on our agenda, so we entered any lanes that caught our fancy. In one such lane, we found one of the oldest kothis of the city, once occupied by the family of the Prince of Alwar. The old man who greeted us was non-plussed, he was used to tourists for sure! A first hand historian, he is a descendant from the same family. While the kothi has fallen to ruins, its subtle grandeur can still be imagined. Vijendra Singh spoke enthusiastically about the architecture and history of his ancestral home and regaled with stories of days past.
Along the way, we met many interesting people, each of whom stopped to tell us a little about the place we were in, the history and the people. We met a man whose family had been grinding spices for ages, a cobbler who loved his radio and a grocery store owner who spoke of food quality in these areas. We crossed a small wedding procession, or so it seemed and finally found our way back to Kinari market and then the metro station.
It was a day well spent! We intend on going back. Just like we have before, to meet new people, to make some friends, to know more secrets about this vast and ancient city called Delhi and above all, to walk up paths of history.