The ever growing charm of Puraani Dilli

A walk inside Purani Dilli: Shops in Old Delhi selling lip smacking snacks, some have been doing business from pre-Independent India.  

History text books and films have glorified Old Delhi to such an extent that visitors are often disappointed the first time they visit the Walled City. But once you learn to look past the crowds, the haphazard streets, the grime and delve into the history of the city, the charm of the area shines through.

Winter is a glorious season to explore the area as it allows one to walk around without breaking into a sweat.

Each visitor to the city will come back with a different experience, as the more time one spends exploring the markets the more interesting it gets. Second-time visitors will vouch for the fact that no two visits will ever be the same.

“I always find winter the perfect time to catch up on the history of my city and it all started from Old Delhi. The Red Fort, Jama Masjid and the surrounding areas are crowded but not so much that you get jostled. However, there is also the option of a heritage walk,” says Aditi, a history student from Delhi University who came to the Capital three years ago.

There are several “heritage walks” that are organised specifically during winters. While some are themed on a specific monument, others take you around the old city, and those interested can also have a particular walk curated specifically for them.

“We always get increased footfall in Red Fort during winters,” says ASI Delhi Circle officer Vasanth Kumar.

“I looked up some heritage walks on the net and arranged for one to be held for my whole family. We were taken around Kashmere Gate and nearby areas and they explained not just things we read in textbooks but also some local legends and how the neighbourhood had grown with the times,” said Divyab, who works in public relations and has lived in the Capital all his life.

One of the unique features of walking down the street in front of Red Fort is that shopkeepers and local residents are always happy to guide people around. Whether it is about finding a shop selling wedding finery, cloth, jewellery, sweets or invitation cards, there is always someone in the market who is famous for it and would have catered to many generations. All one has to do is ask and detailed information is readily available.

Tourists and Delhiites alike throng the old city for its food. “There is something new to be discovered every time you set foot in Chandni Chowk. After you have done the things that are listed on the travel brochure, it is time for you to explore beyond Paranthe Wali Gali and the jelabi wallas and you will find little gems dotted across the area,” says Anupam, who has made countless trips to the old city in search of good food.

Rahul Sharma, whose family has been running Natraj Dahi Bhalle Walla since 1941, says a lot has changed in the market from when his grandfathers started selling dahi bhalle from door to door carrying it on his head but the recipes of the tikki and dahi bhalle at his shop have not changed.

“My grandmother used to make bhalle at home and my grandfather would go around selling them. The snack became so famous that it turned around the fortunes of our family and my grandfather bought this shop. He then added tikki to the menu and since then the crowds have never stopped.”

The tikki that was sold for one anna in those days now sells for Rs.50 and the metro reaching Chandni Chowk, says Rahul, has further improved business. Now many more people from other parts of Delhi come to eat and go back without any inconvenience.

The first Haldirams in the country also started in Chandni Chowk and the manager of the outlet Anand Mohan says that despite strong competition from brands that have been around for many years they have been able to do well because of their emphasis on hygiene, packing and quality ingredients.

“This Diwali the road outside our shop was dug-up but that did not hamper sales. This shows how quality drives sales even in a market that is tough to shop in.”

Some of the famous shops that have been there since 1790 are much smaller versions of themselves but they send large orders to places across the globe through a website set up specifically for shops in the area. Jalebis, samosas and kachoris in one part of the market, kulfi falooda in another and traditional non-veg dishes in another form a maze that is a street-food lover’s dream come true, says Kartik who takes tourists on food hunts every weekend.

Enough has been written about the food peculiar to the city, but the weekly book bazaar at Daryaganj needs some reminding.

A stretch of road comes alive with the buzz of book-lovers congregating for a great deal every day. Obscure, out-of-print books, comics from decades ago, bestsellers, faded yellow books and also textbooks for the student wishing to make a quick bargain is to be had here.

“We usually sell books in open markets and pavements all over the city and then we come here every Sunday. It is usually students, regular customers and at times tourists who come here. We slash our prices when we sell here but we generally make a profit almost every week,” said Sanjay, a vendor selling cheap reprints of popular classics.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 11:44:12 AM |

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