Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shop Hopping in Delhi


Delhi Ishtyle shopping

For a shopaholic, Delhi is manna from heaven, a shopping list reads more like ….handmade glass bangles near Hanuman Mandir, shoes from Connaught Place (a.ka CP), handicrafts and handloom from Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Cottage, ethnic silver wear from Dariba Kalan, gold jewellery from Chandni Chowk or Gold Souk at Gurgaon, browse through Hauz Khas Village or Khan Market, bargain wear from Janpath, pottery at Hauz Rani …. The list is never ending. For an outsider, Delhi in its first avatar seems more like a city of shops. Yes, there are shops everywhere, every locality has a few shops, there are shops in the basement, the ground floors, on the foot path…. Even in popular markets, shops housed in residences begin much much before the market. But despite the omnipresence of shops, each shop is a discovery in itself. No two shops sell the same style or design. Each offers its exclusive piece, so one can get different prints in furnishings in the most basic of corner shops to some extraordinary ones in well known label shops. With such a variety available, Delhi is one big bazaar shopping for most. And residents have their die hard favourites and do not mind travelling more than a few miles to shop at what they consider their favourites.

Delhi is famous for a number of crafts which flourished during the Mughal Rule and were later patronized by British. The by lanes of Old Delhi and certain parts of New Delhi still thrive in these traditional crafts. The areas around Jama Masjid, Darya Ganj, Kamra Bangash, Lal Kuan, Turkman Gate is home to many craftsmen who do dedicated work as their forefathers did centuries ago. Many of these craftsmen are award winners for their chosen craft and take veritable pride in their work. The crafts include Zardozi, Meenakari (enamel work), copper metal ware, Silver ware (called sheet metal work), jaali work in wood, bone carving, sword making, making of silver sheets for paan, sandalwood work, pottery..... Not only that many traditional craftsmen from other parts of the country have today set shop in Delhi and continue to ply their trade. So it is not uncommon to see a traditional Kantha embroiderer from West Bengal or Madhubani painter from Bihar or Potter from Manipur working out of their home in Delhi. It however, goes without saying, the shops around these area together with the inimitable by lanes of Chandni Chowk are simply a delight to meander through. 

For crafts, one of the most interesting of shops on Janpath is the Cottage Emporium at the Jawahar Vyapar Bhavan. The new cottage as it is called has a range of craft objects from the entire country. It stocks an excellent range of paintings, saris, silverware and objects d art. There is so much available that one visit cannot do justice what with new stocks coming in ever so often. Another place for getting a good range of handicraft products is the Emporium Complex at Baba Kharak Singh Marg and Dilli Haat, opposite INA Market.

Going by the niche, a market for antique furniture is the Amar Colony Market situated next to the Ring Road near Lajpat Nagar. A cluster of 30 odd shops, it is an antique hunter’s paradise. Each shop is stocked with boxes, chairs, chests, ottomans, odd pieces for the home, most of the shop keepers are also adept at recreating reproductions from pictures or drawings.  Sundays are special when tourists, celebrities descend to browse and the shopkeepers bring their wares out to display. Though to pick up genuine pieces, more than a few visits are required. Another up market place for beautiful pieces for the home is Sundar Nagar Market. Both these places are the proverbial shopper’s Achilles heel.

Another niche market, this time for books is the Darya Ganj book market. A Sunday foot path market it offers thousands of books, covering all possible subjects. Open from early morning to late evening, it is one stop sourcing place for old books, new books, out of print books and more…what more, most shopkeepers are familiar with the titles and can even scout it for you in later trips.

No account of shopping is complete without referencing CP and Janpath. Both have an innate charm and are an essential part of Delhi’s shopping vocabulary. CP has some very old shops sharing comfortable space with the contemporary – art, craft, apparel, bags, shoes, interiors, branded products…..there is something for each.

Two places for un-hurried shopping are Khan Market and Hauz Khas Village, both have an interesting medley of shops selling good products. The Hauz Khas market with its setting near the Deer Park and the monument makes for a wonderful laid back shopping sans the hustle bustle. The quaint shops offer a wide range and well, not all are expensive! Santushti complex also affords similar browsing and is stocked with designer boutiques as is the Hauz Khas Village. Both the G K I & II (Greater Kailash) markets have held their snob value and offer some wonderful avenues to shop for apparel, furnishing and silverware. 

Last but not the least, the omnipresent Malls have brought in a new dimension to shopping in Delhi. The Malls abound – Mehrauli Gurgaon Road, Gurgaon, Lajpat Nagar, Rohini, Pitampura, Noida….each has its pet peeves which is a must hangout. Though the four Malls at Saket which are the cynosure of all eyes!!  One last word though on shopping, bargaining is de rigor and even in the best of shops, you can try your luck for a discount!!  

The above is just a “tickle your palette” kind of version of markets. Some other markets include:

Nehru Place – Nehru Place is a computerwiz’s paradise, the range offered is mind boggling. Hardware, software, computer accessories, electronic products….. prices wholesale. It has a range of both branded and unbranded outlets. Another product it is well known for is Fabrics..it is a must visit for exporters and garment designers as it offers following International forecast.

Lajpat Nagar  - A good shopping adda which offers almost everything be it in apparel or for the home. The range in Indian ethnic wear and furnishing is what it is well known for.

Sarojini Nagar Market – It is also in the same genre but the prices are more economy or budget class.

(A portion of this appeared in Discover India, October 2010 issue)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lodhi Garden Turns 75 - Delhi's Muse


Lodi Gardens  - Delhi’s muse

If there were one modernistic icon which straggles the past and present and holds all of Delhi with fond memories, it is its green lung - the Lodi Gardens. It is the power house of oxygen literally for Delhi, given the acres of green area and figuratively, it is where the corridors of power meet informally at the time of their morning walk!!! A place to be literally seen enjoying nature for Delhi’s bold, beautiful and the powerful. This is where many politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, expats, artists, writers…….take their pleasant morning walk. Or while away their time in the evening. It is a place where relationships are formed and deep friendships nurtured. For the old, it is nostalgia as it reminds them of what Delhi once used to be, covered by forest area. For the young, it is a charming laid back world, far from the maddening crowd. It has been much written about, it has been the setting and provided inspiration for many a book by well known authors, including that of Kushwant Singh.

Lodi Gardens is located at the heart of Delhi, very close to Khan Market, off Max Mueller Marg. It is spread over 90 acres and is a standing testimony that the monuments of the past built several centuries earlier can exist peacefully with modernistic restaurants, themed gardens, international influences and more. The history of the Gardens is very interesting. As per INTACH’s brochure it was once called Bagh-I-Jud, the burial grounds of the Sayyid and Lodi dynasty and the monuments are traced to the 15th century. As a Garden, it was first developed in 1936 to preserve the beautiful monuments located around the area. It was Lady Willingdon, wife of the British Viceroy at that time, who is said to have fallen in love with place and was keen on setting up of the garden. The village around it was called Khairpur, the villagers were moved and the space was created for the park. The gardens were developed with a mix of trees native to India, exotic ones, plants of various hues. Thus the monuments were given a new lease of life. The park was Lady Willingdon Park, after Independence it was re-named Lodi Gardens. As a tribute to the several monuments of the Lodi period and Sayyid periods located in it. It was re-landscaped in 1968.

The Lodi Gardens are a historian’s delight for it houses a cluster of monuments. Of which the oldest of the monument is the Muhammad Shah Tomb. Muhammed Shah (1434-44) was the third ruler of the Sayyid dynasty. The octagonal pattern with Chhatris is the hallmark of this Tomb. The Bara Gumbad, its decorations includes stucco work. No one really knows who has been buried but the conjecture is that it was meant for a high official held in great esteem by Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517). On its West, it houses a beautiful small mosque, said to be built in 1494, which is decorated profusely with coloured tiles. The Sheesh Gumbad to have been built in the late 15th century, gets its name from the tiles century, gets its name from the tiles that once decorated it. Hence the nomenclature glass or glazed dome. The remnants of the Persian blue tiles can still be seen. The Tomb of Sikandar Lodi is enclosed in a square garden which is enclosed within high walls. It also has a wall mosque on the west side. In all the monuments, the clever use of stone, the arches, the shapes are an architect’s delight. The Athpula getting its name from ath meaning 8 and pula meaning bridge or piers was built during the Mughal rule – Akbar’s reign (1556-1605). The bridge probably covered a part of the tributary of River Yamuna, unbelievable today that the river Yamuna once flowed through the heart of South Delhi!!! 

If the monuments are a historian’s delight, then the trees are a Nature lover’s quest. It houses more than a 100 variety of trees. Some local, some traditional Indian, some rare imported and cared to with great love. The National Bonsai Park was started in 1996, today it has a butterfly conservatory, rose garden with around 25 varieties of roses, Lily pond, herbal garden. A recent addition, the fragrant tree corner with 2000 trees of 21 species. It is home to several varieties of birds and little animals.  

Apart from these factual details, it is the undisturbed ambience which makes the Garden so special. It is ideal for picnics during winters and wonderful oasis of cool comfort in Delhi’s hot summer days. It makes one nostalgic for the good ole Delhi sans its traffic jams, dust and choc a block roads. Nevertheless it is literally one of the last remnants of what Delhi used to be once upon a time, lots of green areas and a laid back lifestyle. It is a 75 year young muse Delhi will not forget in a hurry!
(This appeared in the July 2011 issue of Air India magazine - erstwhile Swagat)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Markets of Delhi - What is hot n where.....

Julie Andrews trilled in the evergreen Musical The Sound of Music, Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens….. these are a few of my favourite things….. if it were to be sung again in Delhi, every word in the list would be shopping, shopping and shopping. Yes, it would be mild to call Delhi, a shopper’s paradise, it is a shopper’s addiction binging on the almost maniacal. Unlike other places, Delhites do not need an excuse to shop, it is almost a habit, be it the wedding season, the festival (and there are more festivals in a year than the number of days!!!), birthdays, marriage days, rituals, ceremonies…….shop Delhi must!! And to give indulgence to this craving are well stocked market places, from the ever popular nukkad (corner mom pop stores) markets, the upscale Khan Market, Connaught Place, Malls (Saket, Ansal Plaza…), South Ex, G K I & II.., to the weekly – Budh bazaar, Shukr bazaar (Wed or Friday markets)….the wholesale markets of Chandni Chowk, Sadar Bazaar, Karol Bagh, the evergreen Lajpat Nagar, Sarojini Markets….the list is never ending ever increasing. In these markets, the supremely expensive sits very comfortably with the dirt cheap bargainable, contemporary modern pieces are as much sought after as antiques, bargaining is a compulsive habit and reveled in and not considered infra dig. And everything is bought, cushion covers from the designer outlets to cushion covers from the footpath weekly bazaars. Delhites do not distinguish between upmarket or downscale, an average shopper is as comfortable shopping in the swish environs of Malls as bargaining hard at the Budh Bazaar.

The variety in each of the shops is mind boggling. Try this, despite shops selling same products (jewellery, shoes, sarees….) no two shops stocks similar products or prints, one is awed with the design availability everywhere. So here’s a recce of Shopping in Delhi.

One of the most comfortable places to shop is the Khan Market, the nice leafy avenues, controlled traffic, enough space to move about and the swish crowd makes it an excellent place to stroll and indulge in. Similar areas for quite browsing include Santushti Complex, Hauz Khas Village and Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhawan. Connaught Place aka CP, always holds a special place in the hearts of everyone coming to Delhi. Sensuous silks, stylish bags, custom made shoes, jewellery…

The college goers, backpacker tourists paradise is Janpath. The main attraction is the small bylane selling export reject fashion wear at dirt cheap prices. The best of Western fashion can be accessed and good brand names at a mere fraction. No, they are not rip offs but a consignment meant to be shipped abroad at times gets rejected because of time delays or minor quality problems, this finds it way to the portals of Janpath. A fashion savvy individual can pick up the best at affordable prices. It attracts tourists and even fashion divas. The main shops on the street also stock some beautiful stuff, the antique textile sellers from Gujarat in another inside bylane also offer interesting patchwork and furnishing pieces. Craft pieces, metal wares, footwear are all must do here. A similar place for such affordable wear is the Sarojini Nagar market where nearly two bylanes are full of excellent T-shirts, skirts, Kaftans…cushion covers a plenty on the foot path and shops selling beautiful sarees and woollen products. In the same genre is Lajpat Nagar which though was a middle class market today offers an excellent range in fabric, stitched garments… it stocks Lucknowi Chikan, juttis, kolhapuri, printed Jaipuri Cotton and loads of Fabric.

The bylanes of Chandni Chowk pack in so much of nostalgia and variety that one can spend decades browsing it and still come with surprises. Each of its bylane is devoted to a particular product. The fact some shops are centuries old simply adds to the flavour. So the Kinnari Bazaar offers zardozi work, woven laces, worked pieces, Dariba Kalan is well known for silverware, Kapda market for clothes, fabrics, Khari Baoli for dry fruits, snacks, sherbets.., Nai Sarak is a book lover’s treat while Lajpat Rai market for electronic goods, the main road houses plenty of gold and silver merchants…One can discover niche shops selling pure zari work, selling itar or hand made perfume.., Sadar Bazaar is a wholesale market and stocks everything from shoes, silver, clothes, kites, books, lace, borders….The famous place in Karol Bagh is the Banker’s Street which has rows upon rows of shops selling gold ornaments. Nearly every gold styling from the country can be found here, Konkani, Marathi, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengali…The Gaffar Market is excellent for rip offs and fake electronic items.

The Malls changed the way many shopped atleast during the summer months, where else can one get an Air conditioned market. The Ansal Plaza which was the first soon had competition from the DLF Emproio, the Saket Malls – MGF Metropolitan Mall, Select City Walk (it is a must do place!) are today “the” places to see and shop. The Flea Market Night organized attracts its fair share of visitors.

The biggest attraction and shopper’s indulgence is the humungous IITF – India International Trade Fair held from the 14th to the 30th of November every year at Pragati Maidan. With participation from almost all states and foreign countries, it is a gargantuan enterprise, offering excellent bargains and plenty of freebies. The display of gems from Burma, Rajasthani & Gujarati wear, Hyderabadi pearls, Carpets from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Saffron, dry fruits…..

They say shop till you drop, in Delhi there is no drop it is only shop shop and shop!!!

BOX 1

Handicrafts and handloom hold a special place in India and there is much experimentation on to create contemporary pieces using age old skills. For excellent craft picks – Baba Kharak Singh Marg (all State Emporiums are located here), Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhawan where Tribes, Kamla, Industree stock some very beautiful products. Cottage Emporium in Janpath. To buy straight from the craftsmen - Crafts Museum shop and demonstration area and Dilli Haat (INA Market & Pitampura).
Fab India outlets, Khadi Bandaars, Soma, Anokhi, Neemrana Shop….are others offering excellent ethnic stuff.
Interiors – The Bamboo Store, House of Istavam, Zara
For T-shirts – Tank Road for wholesale and Tantra outlets, Tribes
For silverware – Amrapali (Khan Market), Silverline
Antique Furniture – Amar Colony market, Puratan
Darya Ganj Sunday Market for books especially old.

(This article appeared in Discover India October 2010 Issue)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hindu Rituals – Tam Brahm ones in Delhi

Death is never discussed, it is never planned and least of all ceremonies associated with it are never thought about. Who would want to visit them again, hearts of hearts everyone knows one has to reach there but no one ever wants to, so it is a much avoided topic. Happy thoughts and ceremonies are welcome, but this is usually a big no no. Call it Destiny, but once it stared us in the face, there was much learning. A revelation that a place like Delhi, could pack in so much in ritualistic traditions, where ceremonies could be performed as it could be in a village on the banks of a river. There were people associated with it, for whom such rituals and participation in it were a part of life. The entire operation running smoothly without a hitch, every aspect could be organized to ensure its smooth performance without any fuss, of course for a consideration. Given our Tam Brahm emphasis on rituals, Delhi in my opinion seemed to be the North Pole when it came to facilities for such rituals which could be contracted out and performed with ease in other cities like Madras, (Chennai if you must), Mumbai….. For my father and I the loss was of a larger magnitude which coupled with grief stunted our ability to organizing the rituals at home. And then, vistas opened up where we heard or Priests / Pandits or in Tamil Vadhyar or Sanskrit Shastrigal (one who has mastered the Shastras) who organized the entire run of 13 day ceremonies including buying all items, the Dhan (to be given to Brahmins), Dakshina, the ahuti for burning, food…….

Kartik Shastrigal was the one who came to our rescue, referenced through a short chain of relatives. An enterprising young man in his late 30s man, born, brought up and educated in Delhi, who studied the Vedas and Shastras at a Gurukul in Benares (Varanasi). What set him apart was his being from the contemporary world he was able to understand our grief, circumstance and be able to perform the rituals so that each of the variable was addressed. The rituals were not a chore to be done by rote but one which he explained, helped us along and made it seem all so relevant.

The place for the rituals, a tiny home in village Bindapur. Bindapur is the place chosen by DDA to present its expandable housing scheme. Meaning yes, the ever expansive construction is actually legal. This flat though small was to be our Benares or Gaya during the 4 days of the ceremony. Can such a little space give the same mental satisfaction? Travelling the first day I must have cursed everyone for putting us through it. But somehow it did. But moving from ceremony to ceremony each day revealed a growing satisfaction. The ceremonies seemed as our way of finishing off all the unfinished business we had with her. Conversations left unfinished, trips planned but never undertaken, work to be done together, re-doing the house, shopping expeditions….. It suddenly was our Karma.

Why do I write about this in visitors2delhi? Yes, the ritualistic traditions shunned in a modernistic world exists peacefully in its full fledged earlier avatar. Priests, rites, offerings……………well it is another world, lesser known which does exist in Delhi.
(More about Ram Ghat in the next one)

Wedding and a Funeral

It has been a while since I wrote on Delhi. Explore I did, write I could not or rather did not, mentally thousands of words may have been written but nothing on the dear faithful computer. First there was a wedding, and then the lethargy of enjoying it before writing about all those wonderful experiences of the wedding, the preparation, attending…..then came a much deserved but shot trip to Jaipur, and then the least expected my mother fell ill, nothing much but she needed to rest. So everything was put on the back burner till she recovered. And recover she did except not in this mortal way but going away never to return on 2nd December 2010. The grief, trauma engulfs but writing is theraupetic and so once again the faithful dear computer comes to the rescue becoming my agony aunt!