Friday, October 24, 2014

Chandni Chowk - Culturally, spiritually and gastronomically yours


Sometimes we forget to appreciate things/ experiences in our backyard before exploring the world. My maiden trip to Chandni Chowk was intended to correct that!



Having lived in New Delhi for several years during my schooling, the closet I had been to Chandni Chowk was several touristy trips to Red Fort, of which I have fond memories in photos and otherwise.  This time around I had some time at hand and decided to go to explore the historic Chandni Chowk which incidentally, even today, is the largest trading hub in North India.  You must have seen Chandni Chowk area in several Bollywood movies like Delhi 6 (6 is the postal code of this area), Chandi Chowk to China etc.

Getting there

The easiest way to get to Chandni chowk is by Metro (yellow line) to avoid parking hassels.  The moment I got off the metro station at Chandni Chowk, it’s with a typical Mumbai local train amused me.  The station was crowded, there are many food vendors outside the station and getting out of area around the station may be a challenge in peak time.  Luckily, we went in the afternoon that too on a weekday and the crowds was lesser.

At the far end of the main road I could see the gates of Red Fort, imposing upon and overlooking the many gallis (i.e. lanes). I could already sense the aura of this and countless hidden gems waiting to be experienced! 

Religious co-existence

As we approached the main road, we came across Gurdwara Shish Sanj.  It was bustling with devotees and curious tourists. 



A short walk ahead we came upon Gauri Shanker temple and a quaint Church.  Our destination was Jama Masjid which has several gates and is a good 15 minute walk from metro station.  I would recommend taking a cycle rickshaw if you wish to preserve energy for exploring the area more, and yes, don’t forget comfortable footwear! Strolling through the bustling sreets, tackling pedestrians and cycle rickshaws, we finally made it to Jama Masjid on Chowri bazaar road.  It amazed me how so many religions co-existed here – a true mark of secularity!

Jama Masjid

The darwaza of Jama Masjid (main entrance i.e. Gate 1) resembles Buland
Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikhri in Agra, little wonder both were built by Mughals.

Jama masjid is one of the oldest and largest mosque in India.  It can accommodate nearly 25,000 devotees at once.  The boundary and darwazas are made of red sandstone, while the structure is red sandstone, white and red marble.  The Mosque also has two minarets, which now serve as viewing points – if you are willing to climb several stairs!








We walked around the courtyard, minus the camera (Rs 300/- charge for camera!) admiring the mosque structure and the minarets. I realized that the mosque is as much as a religious place, a sit is social.  



Several devotees, and locals sit and chit chat on the stairs leading upto the mosque darwaza.  


Kids play cricket at the small lawn next to the masjid.  In the courtyard I came across people taking afternoon naps while their kids played with the grains lying in the courtyard to attract pigeons.  I have heard the mosque looks amazing during sunrise, but unfortunately, I couldn’t make it so early.

Legendary kebabs at Karim’s

Established in 1913, Karim’s with its scrumptious kebabs, gravies, rotis and authentic recipes is a must visit for foodies. 

It is located on the street opposite Gate no. 3 of Jama Masjid and you may need to ask for directions to locate it.




Karim’s has a central cooking area comprising of kebab grilling counter and a tandoor for rotis.  This central courtyard leads upto 3-4 seating areas each done up with unique interiors (green walls, walls covered with mirrors, etc).  The main kitchen is location on first floor.  While Karim’s now has grown in popularity and has several branches across Delhi, nothing can beat the charm of the one here.

We kept visit here short and our order simple – mutton seekh kebab (Rs 45 each) and kheer (Rs 40) .  The seekh kebabs were straight off the grill, piping hot and succulent.  They tasted even better once with green chatni, onions and dash of lemon.  The kheer (Phirni) was served in typical earthen bowls and was lightly sweet – nothing out of the extraordinary though.

(PS – A friend recommended Al Jawahar, but we were pressed for time)

Parathe Wali Galli

I had been warned that parathes here are overrated.  But no harm in trying right?  Hence we walked through small bylanes (motor car spares galli, firecracker galli, jewellery gully, lace gully) to reach parathe wali galli.  I was shocked that this street was nothing more than 6-7 shops selling variety of stuffed parathe.  Each shop has cramped seating and the food is priced more or less similarly (Rs 50-70 for a paratha).



The food is pure vegetarian and each paratha is served with pickle, vinegar salad, basic gravy, spicy and sweet chutney and a dry vegetable.  Varieties of parathas include the usuals like aloo, gobhi, matar to the exotic dry fruit parathes.  We ordered gobi paratha and peas paratha.

 

The parathas were deep fried and served piping hot.  The gobi paratha was good, while the peas one disappointed me.  The side dishes were tasty.  Also, I ordered a sweet lassi to wash down the fried parathas.  I must admit I also found the parathas over-rated, especially when there are so many tawa paratha options and tandoori parathas available in the market. 

Other food knick-knacks

Health conscious can also indulge in fresh cut fruits, sukha bhel sold by vendors or opt to eat Delhi’s famous dahi bhallas.  

 

We decided to try fresh made naan khatais from a street vendor.  They were fresh, hot and straight off the make-shift oven.  Indeed a delight!

Jewellery market

Girls can never get enough jewels, I am no exception.  



As we were walking through an entire lane dedicated to jewellery, I couldn’t resist picking up some traditional artificial earrings and ofcourse enquiring about prices of silver, kundan and meenakari jewellery.  Everyday tons of jewellery is whole-saled and retailed from this market.  The prices are super low and hence don’t forget to stock up on your stand out jewellery pieces!

Concluding thoughts

In those narrow lanes I realised that Chandni Chowk/ Old Delhi gets to you.  Every corner brims with untold stories, history and culture.  At the end of our 4 hour trip to Chandni Chowk, inspite of the crowds, chaos and dirt, I felt at peace.  The energy of this place had rubbed off on me.


4 comments:

Harshad Datar said...

Nicely composed Brings out the essentials of the trip and makes the reading interesting. Enjoyed

Soumyendu said...

There is also an Annapurna Sweets outlet in Chandni Chowk for authentic bengali sweets, it's small, easily missed but just opposite the gurdwara.

Years back, I saw pictures of Daniel Ortega and Rajiv Gandhi enjoying the fare

Happy blogging!

Preeti Datar said...

@Harshad Datar: Thank you. Next time we should explore more places

Preeti Datar said...

@Soumyendu - Thank you for taking time to read blog entry. I shall definitely try Annapurna Sweets when I am there next :)

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