Friday, August 27, 2010

Janpath - Shopper's Delight

Janpath is a “must do” for all visitors coming to Delhi. Janpath is the backpacker, tourist, college goers paradise for clothes, slippers, accessories, odds and ends, bags and more…Janpath was known as Queensway and it is not uncommon for old timers to still refer to it buy its old name. Janpath extends from the heart of Connaught Place down the road till it meets South End Road at the Claridges circle near the Hungarian Cultural Centre. South End Road which houses the Diplomatic population leads to Lodhi Estate. It is the middle road of what Lutyens built. It cuts across Rajpath, India Gate covering a huge stretch of important buildings in its wake. Janpath though a road, for most it refers to a wonderful rows of shops which sell some of the most interesting of wears. Janpath market has a total 35 shops. The shops in three separate segments. The shops at the far end, opposite the famous Cottage Emporium is known as the Tibetan market and one can find some really exquisite pieces – be it Tibetan handicrafts, metal work, beautiful silver earrings, old door knobs, look alike antiques….

The side lane offers excellent Western fashion wear – no they are not rip offs but export rejects… The base of the Indian Oil Building has plenty of shops selling shoes, silver earrings…The old Cottage Emporium is also located here, this was “the” place to go before CCI moved to its new space at Jwahar Vyapar Bhawan. Old Cottage Emporium does hold furnishing exhibitions from time to time. It also has a range of furniture and other products at veritable discounts.

Location – In Connaught Place, Sundays are said to be closed but many shops are open.

Timings – About 10 am in the morning to 7:00 pm or so

Highlight – After the crossing starts the entire stretch of clothes, handicrafts, Gujarati antiques, bags, shoes….. The bookstore at the centre offers a good collection of modern, classical and old books. Some of the excellent shops include – Bonton, Tantra T-shirts, Silver World for beautiful silver jewellery, there is a shop selling indigenous perfumes – itar – got from where it is made Kannauj. It is an ideal place to browse through, hang out meet friends.

Insider Tip – Bargaining is the norm….from 1/3rd to 50%, if you are a foreigner, the prices are slightly more marked up. Most shopkeepers though welcome foreigners at the cost of domestic shoppers!! The only place to eat are the food joints on the ground floor of the Indian Oil Building. Dee Paul’s cold coffee, patties, milk shakes provide enough refreshment when on the go.Also read the post of Gujarati Textile Sellers of Janpath

Friday, June 11, 2010

Safdarjung Tomb

Safdarjung Tomb, also called Safdarjung ka Maqbara is a beautiful garden tomb set amidst the hustle and bustle of Central Delhi. The tomb, yes as the name suggests is of Safdarjung. Safdarjung Tomb was built in 1754 A D and follows the precicints of Mughal Architecture in its full glory. The tomb though usually takes a backseat when compared to the other monuments and tombs in Delhi. The popular ones of Red Fort, Qutab Minar, Humayun Tomb, usually relegates this beautiful structure into the background. Located just off the busy stretch of Safdarjung Road, named after the tomb, the Safdarjung Tomb is hardly visible from the main road, shielded by a high wall boundary. All one gets is a wee bit glimpse of the dome rising into the sky from the Safdarjung Airport flyover, which is the greatest pity for a beautiful jewel is so totally camouflaged. Passing though the thick walls which form the boundary into the area actually takes one into another world, of leisure, open spaces, gardens…..where time literally stands still.

The Safdarjung tomb was built for Mirza Muqim Abul Mansur Khan (who was given the title of Safdarjung), by his son Nawab Shujauddaula. Safdarjung was an able and powerful figure, the Governor of Oudh during the reign of the weak Mughal ruler Muhammad Shah (1719-1748) and a powerful Prime Minister to his successor Ahmad Shah (1748 – 1754). Safdarjung died in 1754 and the Tomb was built thereafter. The body of Safdarjung is buried along with another body thought to be that of his wife.The Tomb has been built in the same pattern of Mughal tombs, the mausoleum at the Centre and the gardens in the classic Char Bagh style surrounding it. This reference to history is given on the stone tablet at the entrance, the only bit of information available about the Tomb (there is no other publication or printed material available on it!!!)

The beautiful enamel work in stone and detailed motifs on the high walls at the entrance gate, give a precursor to what lies inside. As soon as one walks into the sunlit huge area, it is with awe one views the monument. Rising high in the traditional four column structure, with a huge dome is the tomb more on the lines of the Humayun Tomb. The four sides are connected by four waterways or canals, now dry though I am told for VVIP visits or special occasion it can work i.e. it is flooded with water. The entire structure is made of red sandstone and marble and is very striking and resembles the Humayun tomb.

The tomb has some excellent inlay work which can be seen from the outside. It has some beautiful marble carvings inside. As one proceeds into the area, one is left wondering by the heavy stone construction and how it is cool despite the warm weather outside. The garden on the outside which is being renovated now has been laid in the traditional char bagh style. With the palm lined trees on either side, it is a picture of complete bliss a hark into the era of how life once was leisurely and savoured!!!

The Archaeological Survey of India’s Delhi chapter has its offices located at the far end of the area. As also the library atop the entrance.

Location – About 8 kms from Connaught Place, very near Jor Bagh market. Near the Safdarjung Airport. It is on the main road so well connected by almost all modes of transport. 

Timings – The tomb is open from Sunset to Sunrise all the days of the week. Since there is a mosque where prayers are offered. A huge car park is convenient. The ticket price Rs. 5 for individuals and Rs. 100 for foreign tourists. The parking lot at the entrance is a huge relief!!

Highlight – The rooms at the top of the entrance occupy the library. It is quaint how a couple of rooms serve perfectly well in the modern century though built ages ago. The library though small has a good collection of books. Try going up, it is a revelation on the architecture and how it can sit cocooned in the modern day world!

Insider Tip – There is no leaflet, pamphlet or any written material available about the tomb, so read up on it or carry a guide book along. Guides are also difficult to come by. If you can take a trip to the ASI office, may be a helpful official can explain the structure and architectural elements better. A visit to this can be clubbed with Shopping at Dilli Haat (read Shopping At Dilli Haat) or INA Market, Sarojini Market or the Jor Bagh Market, each has its specialty and charm. A visit to the Lodhi Gardens, Khan Market or Sunder Nagar Market is also possible.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mangoes Galore - Mango, sweet, sour, tangy......bliss


Summer spells only one thing – MANGOES in capitals. The king of fruits is what mangoes are for some, even a novice can distinguish amongst the mangoes. For the connoisseur, mangoes are a byword in luxury, precisely peeled, cut to perfection, served beautifully untouched by hand. It is a fruit on which nearly everyone goes gaga on. And the capital is never left behind in its repertoire of mangoes. And why not, it gets flown in from the entire country. India may have innumerable mangoes but in Delhi it is riot from April onwards when mangoes start coming from the South initially, the the West and ofollowed by the ones from North. Mangoes actually taste better after the first showers of rain. That apart, the range is mouth watering. Each mango has its particular nuance.

The earliest to make its presence is Safeda as it is pronounced. Safeda is excellent for mango shakes. Then comes the Malda, smallish and green in colour. A good variety is the red coloured attractively called Sindoori. Yes, it looks a beautiful red and yellow just like the sindoor women use!!! and tastes wonderful. Safeda, Kesar from Gujarat, Kesari, hapus, tota (because it is parrot shape like)….  Mid June onwards Dussheri makes its way,  hapus, langda, chausa, dinga, saroli….Though for the discerning it is Ratnagiri Alphonso, Malgoa from the South….both which need some endurance to procure directly.

It is usually advised to soak the fruit in water to remove its heat. Milk / curd and mangoes go very well together. Nearly all restaurants / five star hotels plan their particular Mango festivals and there is range from Mango puddings, custards, kulfi, Mousse, Doughnuts, Tarts…..check out and create your own “must have” lists for every summer. Not to be missed ice creams and Gola or chuskis. Gujarati restaurants serve Chhunda, Amras, Kadhi, Kalakand, Mishi Doi with mango flavours are available at Haldiram & Mother Diary outlets.

Of course with all talk of the juicy sweet mangoes pushes the raw mango so popular for instant pickles, typical Aam ke Achar and chutneys to the background. From the Ram kea am, unripe Tota mangoes (excellent for instant pickles), unripe safedas for Aam Panna……

Location - A natural place is the Azadpur Sabzi Mandi, the C block is reserved for it, or pick it up from the Adarsh Nagar metro station. Okhla Subzi mandi has its range. The price there is almost 1.3rd of what one pays near homes. INA market, Khan Market, also stock plenty of mangoes including the exotic ones.
Exhibitions - The Delhi Government holds a two day mango festival in June – the venue which earlier was the Talkatora Indoor Stadium has since moved to Pragati Maidan, Dilli Haat – INA and Dilli Haat Pitampura. Watch out for it as the ads come out only a day or so earlier. One can taste a host of items from mangoes – jams, custards, puddings….and of course get to see the best of mangoes. Sad part though one cannot buy everything, majority is only for display. There are no sign boards or pamphlets available. All types of mangoes from the very tiny measuring a few cms to 5 inches can be seen, as well as rare exotic ones.
Highlight -   Mahilabadi fares come with plenty of experimentation. Mahilabad is known for its Dussheri and a host of mangoes the varieties of which can be seen at the Mango festival in Delhi
Insider Tip -  The NHB has been organizing mango festivals and getting Gujarat Kesar, Baganpalli from Andhra Pradesh, Malgoa from Tamil Nadu….under the Sangam brand. Baganpallis are also available at times at the Andhra Bhavan, New Delhi. The only problem is that they sell a minimum of one box or peti (4 dozens). You can try with other Bhavans if the caterer is kind enough to get you some special from that state.Alphonso mangoes are available at select shops. Rama Stores in Munirka brings in amblis or small green mangoes for pickles (called kanni manga in Tamil) in early Jan / Feb. They also stock some regional varieties during the summer months.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The last of the Tongas – Tongas at Sadar Bazaar.

Tongas or Horse Drawn Carriages were once the preferred mode of transport in and around Delhi. Old timers would recall taking the Tonga from Old Delhi, from the Railway Stations (Old Delhi, New Delhi & Nizamuddin) to various parts of the city. My father remembers arriving in Delhi (the first time from Pune and it has to become his home ever since!!) in winter on Guru Nanak’s birthday and taking the tonga to Lodhi Road. Even now it brings memories of a wonderful ride, the cold, empty broad roads and a wonderful fast paced horse.

The horses, horsemen still exist today removed from the Minto bridge area but active in the Sadar Thana area near Sadar Bazaar (near Bara Tutti). The horses ply from there to the Metro Station, the Sadar Bazaar, Naya Bazaar, Sadar Mandi areas and to Karol Bagh. It might be a curio to residents from other parts of Delhi, but for the locals taking the tonga is a way of life. And no tonga remains empty for long, being filled with passengers soon. Each of the Tongas take 6 – 8 passengers. A stand, a time table and the tongas ply with casual ease. The tonga drivers equally polite courteous and even breaking journey to pick up or drop passengers wherever they want.

My recent endeavours to photograph them following the much touted ban (in view of the coming CWG) raised concerned questions as to what would happen to their livelihood? How can the animals be maintained? Will Tongas never be seen on the streets of Delhi again? Who can answer such questions? For me, standing there, the Tongas seem well adept in the “to be made modernistic Delhi”. It is an eco-friendly fun way of travelling, fast and very comfortable. Yes, a wee bit emphasis on maintenance and keeping the area clean, it is a definitive tourist draw!!! Amidst the cars and fast paced life can such an animal drawn transport be viable? Why not, when the Government seems looking for eco-friendly non polluting, non-fuel guzzling bulk mode of transport – why remove one which seems to be functioning pretty well. A further boost, use it as a tourist potential. The areas of Rashtrapati Bhawan, Shanti Van or better still CP, can run on Tonga power, the chaos and parking problem can be taken care off!!! Purists and tech savvy individuals will call me a backward romantic, but kya kahen ki dil hai ki manta nahin!!!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eating out at Chandni Chowk – A curtain raiser


Nothing beats the food at Chandni Chowk. Eating at Chandni Chowk is a literal cake walk since you cannot go wrong in the choice of place. Even a blind stop and eat will be fruitful with divine taste flowing through the taste buds. Everything is so tasty and every shop has its own story and heritage to tell and has a huge bunch of die hard faithful followers. And the shop can very well operate from under a Peepul / Banyan tree, a crevice window of a building to a eatery with peeling walls. A theory in inverse ratio, the lesser the décor elements of the shop better the food!!!! The art of perfecting your favourite place to pick out the best comes with numerous visits and does one start discerning how to choose, the man selling baked biscuits off the mobile cart, hot and crisp at the end of the Paranthewala Gali comes only for two hours, the man selling hot puris and kachoris at Nai Sarak opens shop only at noon…..and as one starts mastering the eateries, it is with undisguised greedy glee that one plans a visit to the bylanes of Chandni chowk.

Believe me, food has never tasted so good before. The true blue blood at Chandni Chowk would of course start with Doodh and jaleebi in the morning even dahi jalebi, followed by the puri aloo (bedmi puri) routine, rounded off with moong dal halwa….well to the uninitiated, every food joint in Chandni Chowk, has its die hard follower, food at every nukkad tastes equally good and is clean and hygienic. Be it the non descript aloo tikki wallah who sells tikki with the khathi chutney right next to the Pepul tree towards the beginning of the Cloth Market or the street side kulfi wallah who dishes out his offering from plastic cones – it used to be earthen pots earlier.  

The entire Fatehpuri is lined with some excellent shops for namkeen – namak paras, salted cashews, kachoris, pakoras, chole bhatura, sweets – Karachi halwa, gulab jamun, rasgullahs…. Other joints include the Bikanerwala, Haldiram, to Amritsari Lassi, Juice wallahs, kulfi, channa bhaturawallahs, Chach, Sweetend Dahi, Rabri, halwa makers...almost everywhere.

The die hard favourites include kasta Kachoris, Puri subzi menu, yes, the pumkin (sitaphal) finds prime place in the repertoire of vegetables. Chole Bhature, Aloo Tikkis, samosa filled with all kinds of vegetables including gobhi (cauliflowers), namkeens, Lassi, Jalebi, Kulfi…..

The timing for each stall varies, the food and flavour though remains the same. One article cluttering all eateries does not do justice to the culinary taste of Chandni Chowk…. So I think I will just pick up each item like samosa or chuski or kulfi and write of places with divine taste for each as we go along……

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The good ole Phat phat or phat phati

Phat phati in Delhi – This was a popular mode to travel short distances especially Connaught Place to Karol Bagh or Connaught Place (New Delhi Railway Station) to Chandni Chowk. The huge Harley bike was suitably refitted to make room for about 7 – 8 passengers. A peculiar contraptions but it was truly a joy to ride it. I miss it and have made innumerable enquiries regarding its operational. The owners have been provided with jeep like vehicles called phat phati but nothing to compare the old. It was called the phat phati because of the noise the model would generate. It typically moved in the garangutan fashion splitting, it was banned to make the air in Delhi less polluted. As it was classified a polluting vehicle. How could just two dozen such vehicle pollute the vast city I still do not understand, a relic with definitive tourist potential if suitably made to run on CNG power??!!!!

If someone can tell me if this relic can be sported somewhere, I will gladly write more and of course put up some lovely images.

This definitely should be in the heritage or relic category but I had been so fond of it that in my mind it is still contemporary!!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bargaining on the Streets of Delhi


Delhi is a bargain hunter’s paradise for it offers innumerable avenues for buying products sometimes at throwaway prices. Be it the malls, five star shops or usual shopping complexes or even bylanes and shops on pavements, each offering is unique. Sales at malls, shops closing down sometimes offer products at lower than cost prices, this is specially true for interiors, craft, curio shops in the Hauz Khas Village, Shahpurjat, Neb Sarai. Yes, even a casual visit to the areas can bring out gems – the key patience in the hunt and not to loose heart easily!! I have picked up some exquisite stuff in this manner.

When bargaining the rule is never show your love for the product, for if the shopkeeper sees even the slightest gleam of love for it in your eyes, he /she will not budge an inch in the negotiations. The trick is to keep the emotions on hold, a very dispassionate appeal and pretend to let the seller convince you to buy it. You know the oft – “I am not too keen on it, I do have plenty which are similar but I do like it and won’t mind another similar piece and well I can afford it” look!!! 

The price is the million dollar question. Depending on the market the variations can be from less 10% to 1/3rdIndia not familiar with Hindi. Hindi is the street language, even a wee bit of English the prices say stuck. My confessions, an enthusiastic description of my writings on craft resulted in the price of enamel silver box being hiked from rate of silver plus Rs. 4/- per gm for making charges to Rs. 25/- per gm for making. The justification, since I wrote on craft I would definitely understand the nuances and time for making and would be prepared to pay for it. And of course that other Emporiums, in well known places sell it for more. My dual that since he was the middle man there was no justification in paying the making charges to him, yes if he were a craftsman it would still be okay!!! No and I do not patronize the shop any more!!!! of the price quoted. It is best to play it by the ear. A little recce of the market can give you an idea about the prices, products… If you are foreigner the price does shoot up, the same is true for Indians from other parts of

Boni (pronounced bo as in boat and nee) is the time of the day when business begins usually early morning or when the shop opens. It can vary from as early as 6:00 am to 11:00 am or 12:00 am depending when the shop opens. It is an ideal time for bargain buys, to get the first business of the day, the shopkeeper will at times reduce the prices very sharply. So at times, one can get the product for the price one actually asked. The caveat of course is that, the seller will expect you to pay up and take delivery immediately. And can get annoyed to the extent of shouting expletives if you refuse to buy after bargaining. The boni and its nuances another article does talk of this in great humorous detail. The basic concept though is that, Boni means the first business of the day. A superstition that if the first deal of the day is good, then the business will be good that entire day. Some sellers even have regulars whom they insist on selling the first thing in the morning, assuring that their hand is very good. As the first sale from their hand will result in good sales the rest of the day. Therefore, if shopping in the morning or when the shops open, be careful with your bargaining and don’t go bargaining for products which you may choose not to buy.  Else, be prepared to buy what you bargained for.

I still remember while trying out Kurtas at DilliHaat, with my cousin, the shop was practically empty and though noon, there had not been any sale. Anyway in the process of our browsing we realized that several more had walked in and we cursed our luck as it meant jostling in the tiny shop. The shopkeeper though termed us lucky for the shop saying, some customers have the ability that the moment they step in more will follow!!! That is the extent of belief when it comes to having good sales!
(So happy bargaining!!!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Janpath - Textile hawkers from Gujarat


Textile paradise in the bylane of Janpath, shops upon shop with hand embroidered, hand woven, machine made textiles. Delhi can be called a microcosm representation of Indian textiles. Nearly, nearly everything from India in terms of its textiles can be seen and bought here. So are you a folk embroidery freak? Does the site of beautiful textiles make your mouth water, well then this one is for you. Be it vintage, antique or contemporary textiles, this little bylane stretch in the middle of Janpath (read the post on Janpath, a budget / bargain hunter’s paradise) offers just that. The entire stretch to the left near the erstwhile Annapoorna bakery and coffee shop is packed with Gujarati ladies especially from Kutch, Bhuj, Surendranagar selling yes eye catching pieces of textiles both old and new. This is a favourite haunt for textile lovers who love bargaining. This street developed in the late 80s when the craze for Rajasthani and Gujarati mirror work started in a mass way. These women would sell on the streets of Janpath, they were then given this narrow stretch to sell their wares. The initial 20 odd women today have swelled to nearly 40 or more stretching to the end of the road. A lot of products seen then are hardly visible now and the prices are also much much higher. It is probably the only market in Delhi completely run by women. What is interesting is the thrift and excellent sales tactics of the women. Jabbering amongst themselves in Gujarati, they can break out in English and Hindi equally fluently. Initially though they may seem aggressive, a little talk and they can become almost friendly. Most of the products come from Ahmedabad, Kutch and Gujarat. Good saris, suits and kurtas – second hand, rejected from outlets, from shops and factories. The moment one enters the lane, one is dazzled by the omnipresent mirror work, glitter and of course persistent selling. There are multi shaded quilts, one can request the women to procure what one wants.

Location - Janpath, in Connaught Place

Timing – It is open throughout the week 7 days from about 11:00 am in the morning to 7:30 pm in the evening. Peak hours are 2 – 5 pm in the afternoon. The women start late in the morning, so at times even at 2:00 pm it is “Boni” time, read the post on Boni).

Highlight - The range of contemporary textiles include stoles, shawls, dupattas, salwar kameez pieces, sarees and a range of home accessories – throws, cushion covers, wall hangings, torans or door decorators, cushion covers (in literally all hues)…. Quilts, patchwork bed spreads, cushion covers….literally a range from Gujarat. Most of the women have mobile phones, so it is pretty easy to tie up with them for specific items.

Insider Tip - It is a turning area for cars wanting to cross over to service lane of Janpath, as is for vehicles wanting to avoid the traffic rush. There are offices, bungalows and houses on the opposite side, each of which makes the roads very very dusty and almost caught in a dust storm. But beyond that it is a wonderful place to browse and pick things up leisurely. The sales pitch is persistent and annoying the first time, second time most treat you as a regular and give you space to choose. One can get old pieces from almost all parts of the country. But one has to have the patience to wait for it. It is Bargainable paradise, so haggle haggle and haggle. There is no thumb rule, it depends on your luck the sales situation of the woman, does she want to make a “Boni” (read the post on Boni) first sale of the day, the general economic trend and if she wants to get rid of stock. Well try your luck!!!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Surajkund Mela – The Craft and cultural Extravaganza


The Suraj Kund crafts Mela or Bazaar or Fair showcases the abundant wealth of Indian crafts – handloom textiles and handicrafts. It is a craft lover’s delight. An annual event, Suraj kund Mela is held from February 1st to 15th of every year. It is awaited eagerly by hundreds of die-hard faithfuls for it brings some of the finest in Indian crafts under one roof. The Suraj kund Mela which started 1981, thanks to Harayana Tourism efforts, has simply grown from year to year. Each year is welcomed with a theme state which also constructs a theme gate encompassing the cultural history of the place. This year, 2010 theme state was Rajasthan and the theme gate inspired from the Shekhawati region of Shekhawati paintings. Yes, the colour and vigour was intact. Since the last few years, five – six years, foreign craft groups have been invited to form international partners. This year’s partner state was Tajikistan showcasing its rich embroidery, appliqué and more. Of course, the Egypt, Afghanistan, SAARC countries – Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka were present apart from Thailand. It was Egypt last year. Silver from Egypt (it is beautiful), Pashmina and Rudraksha beads from Nepal, intricate embroideries and antique panels from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan adds to the colourful fervour.

The fair is spread on one side of the Suraj Kund, a manmade reservoir as an ode to the Sun God, constructed in the 10th century. The fair follows the natural contours of the land, the rocky patches, the hills and low land amidst trees makes it perfect setting. The thatched huts where the craftsmen are housed adds to the Bazaar, Mela ambience. The joy rides, camel rides at the entrance, the Mela is complete. It is a perfect picnic spot, but with so many gorgeous offering, it boils down to a shopping spree. You name the craft it is present – bell metal crafts, tribal crafts, wood, embroidery, woven fabrics, vintage pieces, furniture, pottery, silver crafts, jewellery, sandalwood…. It is however with the crafts on display and sale that the Mela scores. The invitees are well known craftsmen – National Award winners, Master Craftsmen, State Award Winners, Shilp Gurus, Merit certificate holders, NGOs…so the craft available is genuine and from crafts persons directly. The quality of craftsmen this year was excellent though in some years it has been indifferent. The authorities do try out novel placements to see that all crafts are covered, though at times there is an influx from one state to the detriment of the other. The entire Mela ground is dotted with Orissa appliqué umbrellas, lamp shades, huge carved statues. The Chattisgarh partner state theme had excelled at offering tribal handicrafts in the past. The colourful drummers, players of traditional music instruments (ravana tarang from Rajasthan this year), the puppeteers (Rajasthan is omnipresent each year!), snake charmers with their repertoire add to the ambience.

The food is again delicious and a separate enclosure food court is exquisite. It offers a host of Indian, Continental and even food from the participating countries. It is possible to see both common and rare crafts at the Mela.

Location - At the historic Surajkund a reservoir built in the 10th century by Suraj Pal of Tomar dynasty. A worshipper of the Sun God, a temple was also built on its bank. It is located amidst the Aravalli Hills and a manmade lake. It is roughly 8 – 9 kms from South Delhi. The drive from Alaknanda or Tughlakabad Institutional Area is beautiful, there is the backdrop of the Tughalakabad Fort for company, some beautiful minarets. One turns in right into the road leading to the Asola Sanctuary and the shooting range. The drive is beautiful with khikar jungle, earlier one could spot peacocks or the elusive fox on the roads, now it is only the monkeys. The drive is nice as it meanders into a curved slop pattern. One enters Haryana to be greeted by the five stars – Claridges and Charmwood high rise apartment. Opposite of which is the Mela.

Timing – Held from February 1st to the 15th of every year. Morning 9:30 to evening 7:30 pm. Cost of the Ticket – Rs. 50/- per head, children below 5 years allowed free. Parking is available in front of the area and the walk from the Parking lot to the Mela is a HUGE trudge and not in the least enjoyable. Despite the high parking rates, Rs. 50 this year, the parking lot leaves a lot to be desired. It is still mud tracks which invariably gets slushy with rains.

Highlight - Most of the cultural events are held in the evening. When the place comes alive with sounds of the instruments and is beautifully lit. Yes, it rains in Delhi during this time and a few days are invariably lost due to it. There is no real shelter when caught in the rain.

Insider Tip - I have got to see some of the finest Cherial paintings, silver filigree, South Indian bronzes, Chitrakathi paintings, Vyanj puppets, Patola sarees, Paithani sarees, antique / vintage Kutchi embroidery.…The variety is mindboggling and sometimes difficult to cover the entire stretch in a day. During recent times though given the profile of visitors and it being a tourist destination, the prices has shot up and it has become quite expensive. Potential to bargain has come down.
For food, the Institute of Hotel Management, Faridabad formerly called Food craft Institute puts up their stall offering Chana bhatura, Tikki, Samosa, Tandoori roti, thalis…. Which is pretty good as it is made by the students and the stall is also handled by them. Of course, the traditional state cuisine is also available as also pizzas, Thalis and more….

Friday, January 15, 2010

Delicious sweets for Winters - Halwa


(Hot – piping hot Gajar ka halwa - the Supreme One!, not to be left behind Moong dal ka halwa and more…)

Truly on could sing, all I want is some Gajar ka Halwa. I know, in winter what with ravenous appetites it is difficult to control the craving for sweets and what tops the list are hot – piping hot halwas. Aha they are food for the souls, tasty extremely filling and leaves one feeling warm, comfortable and in love with world (despite the bitter cold ) feeling inside. The trick of the halwa is that it is packed with all natural goodness which offers warmth to the body and gives it energy for the winters. So it is ghee (clarified butter), dry fruits – almonds, raisins, milk (for gajar ka halwa), suji (semolina), crushed moong dal.

Gajar ka halwa or Gajrela as it is popularly fondly called beats the halwas hands down during winters. It is made from the English variety of carrots which makes its appearance in the cold season. And with it starts the romance with the Halwa. The quickest way to make it at home, is to simply grate in the carrots, add the sugar, milk, ghee and pressure cook. Decorate with raisins, khoya and serve. Though strictly “No comments” on its taste. Purists will scoff at it, (as does yours truly also except when she makes it in a jiffy then it is defined aka 2 minute halwa!!!) The true delight as my mother makes is to simply heat the grated carrot to remove the fluid from it, slowly cook it with milk, ghee, sugar, the adornment with raisins, khoya…I am not sure of the proper order but well, the halwa is mouth watering. The other best of course is to buy from the market – aah and are they plenty in their offering. A couple of spoonfuls is enough to warm the cockles of the heart. It does become heavy on the stomach is devoured in greedy proportions.

Moong dal ka halwa is made out of moong dal (split lentils – mung beans), heavy duty roasting slowly in pure ghee to which huge quantities of almonds, raisins, walnut….(dry fruits – mawa) are added. It is so rich that a couple of spoons are enough satiations for the stomach and soul.

Nearly all sweat shops sell gajar ka halwa & moong dal ka hawla during winters, one just needs to pick one’s favourite.

Location: Some popular ones include:
Gianji’s - Their gajar ka halwa and moong dal ka halwa is wonderful in the evenings. Their outlets dot the city.
Ghantewala Halwai (the venerable sweet / confectionary shop in Chandni Chowk) has moong dal ka halwa, gajar ka halwa.. (as the shopkeeper put it, we will sell till the gajar season lasts!!!)
Chainaram’s in Chandni Chowk
Nehru Place is dotted with shops selling gajar ka halwa. There is one next door to Sharma Photocopy where it is divine.
Bikanerwala, Haldiram’s, Rameshwar, Anupam, Nathu’s….
(Do write in if you have your favourites – it will be worth a try!!)

Timing – It is available from morning 10:00 am till late into the evening. There is no best time to eat but it is to beat the evening cold, both the halwas come to their own. The price ranges from Rs. 200 per kg to Rs. 350 per kg. A plate can cost anywhere from Rs. 10/- or more.

Highlight - I think nearly every halwai in your nukkad (round the corner) market offers it and one develops a sweet tooth for it. Each to his own favourite joint when it comes to eating Gajar ka halwa and moong dal ka halwa.

Insider Tip - What further adds to the halwa is that the gajar ka halwa, the glorious one is available only during this weather. And the other hot favourites like moong dal ka halwa, lauki, seethaphal, sohan halwa, Karachi halwa….the commonplace suji..the feast is a true fit for the gods. It does taste heavenly when combined with other sweets – Gulab Jamun, Ice-cream, kulfi….take your pick or simply enjoy the ghee dripping delights!!!!

There are other sweets eaten hot during winters – gulab jamun, malpuas…..that is of course musings for another day and post.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eating Out in Delhi

Delhi is a huge melting pot of influences which is amply reflected in its cuisine. Today, the melting pot assimilates national, international cuisine, some cuisine “adapted” to Indian taste well – Chinese a huge example in this direction. Delhi offers innumerable places to eat, each having its own traditional offering. The food palette includes almost all kinds of food from India and a delectable spread of International Cuisines. Traditional Indian food is classified apart from geographical bearings as per caste, religion. The nuances are plenty as also the range of spices, condiments and vegetables, fruits, cereals, meat, rice …that is added.

The Capital’s foodaddiction includes the classy Chandni Chowk fare – the Delhi Bania style of cooking in pure ghee without the use of onions, garlic, the Mughal style of kababs, biryani, the Punjabi touch of Pindi chole, Rajma chawal…Regional cuisine can be tasted from spicy Andhra Fare, Namma Tamil sapadu (Karol Bagh, Lodhi Road..), Malayali fare of puttu…Gujarati, Rajasthani snacks and thalis, Parsi, Iranian, Anglo-Indian fare…..Yes, it is food lover’s paradise. No pun intended, a friend’s husband on a visit to Delhi from Kerala, asked in all innocence “don’t people cook at homes, the food stalls are always so very crowded”!!!

This section tries and captures some of the best to be indulged in Delhi. No, this is neither a “eating out of the street” kind of a vengeance section neither “oh how can they eat street food – with emphasis only on chic upmarket cuisine” atitude. But in turn it is a slave to the taste buds, yes anything that tastes good, is different, has you ruminating about its glory during the day and pursuing it salivating in your dreams. Being a vegetarian, an eggetarian to be precise, the non-veg food section might not be justifiable but I shall make amends with recommendations from die hard “only non-veg” friends!

Happy Eating (Munching, Lunching, Snacking……..)

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Fine Art of Bargaining

BONI KA TIME & ITS NUANCES

This is a humorous take on the way business is conducted in Delhi where boni or the first deal of the day “boni ka time” has been stretched to incredulous limits. (The article appeared in the Indian Express – Jan 4th 1997. This is the unedited version. The edited version if I can find the clipping I will scan it in and incorporate here!)

The oft repeated word one hears every morning is, "boni ka time" or "Boni kar do" . "Boni" is the first deal of the day to be clinched by the seller. The belief being that if the first deal for the day is made without much ado and in the hands of a prosperous customer, the rest of the day will proceed well and will not cause any problems. Since, for a seller the getting of the blessing of the Goddess of Wealth is of primary importance, he goes to any extent to procure it.

This system is religiously followed by all traders be it a wealthy trader or a footpath roadside seller. Although at times, it is possible to get good bargains during this period, the pitfall remains, if you were to simply bargain and walk off
without buying, you were in for a lot of trouble and verbal abuse. For in this case the trader would superstitiously tend to think that the rest of the day would be also similar. This together with worshipping of the first income of the day is
centuries old.

Today, however, this practice of " boni" has been taken to unimaginable lengths . Early morning deals till 10 am or 12 am were once considered " boni" period but there is no dearth of such deals even at 3.00 pm. I once took an auto at 4.00 pm , the 
driver with great reluctance agreed to take me to my destination. As always, his meter was fast but he told me, that he drove the auto in the evening and had just brought his vehicle on the road. I being his first customer was doing the "boni". I promptly shut
up and paid up a couple of rupees extra. He immediately touched the money with his eyes and circled the meter. You bet, he should thank it for giving him the extra bit.

Again once, wanting to get to office on time, I went to the doctor early in the morning. This doctor used to take her fees on alternate consultations alone. I was her first patient and it was my second visit. She told me to continue with the same medicines for another couple of days. As I got up to leave, she
hemmed and hawed and finally said, " It is early in the morning and you are my first patient", so I paid her fees in the name of Boni. The same action of touching the eyes with the money was carried out.

A similar story was repeated at my cousin's tuition class. They had weekly system of paying and she being the first student on the pay day, gave the money. The teacher took it, touched it with his eyes, offered it to the statue of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Laxmi before locking it. And here was I thinking they were both indebted to the Goddess of Learning for giving them the skills.

Observe this practice in the office of any professional - be it a lawyer, architect or tax consultant, you would know what I mean. Of course, Vidya (Knowledge) and Vaidya (medicine) should be made available at a price otherwise it does not seem valuable to the recepient, but its emphasis now seems to be purely monetary .

The various professions hitherto differentiated on respectability, dedication and nobleness seemed to be tied together with its preoccupation on Nakkad Narayan. Avocations supported by Goddess Saraswati, Vishwakarma and Dhanvantri (medicine) seemed to be dedicated to Goddess Laxmi and Kuber.

The difference between a seller of goods, an auto driver or a teacher & doctor is hardly evident. They are all commercial people for whom Lady Wealth is of prime importance. She seems to rule their lives and each feels that a bad first deal would ruin
the commercial success of that day. Everything is a Dhandha.

I realised, the ridiculous extent to which this "boni and dhandha" had been taken when at the Chirag Delhi crossing a beggar woman approached us saying , " madamji, ek rupaiya dekhe mere boni kara do !" (Madam, give me one rupee and start my business!!!)

(P.S. I think even I should start quoting it to the editor!!!)