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Wednesday, March 03, 2021

My family staycation to discover Delhi’s Chandni Chowk

There are eighth generation shopkeepers who’ll greet you with a smile as you bring them business, however small. We bought nice little hoops for my daughter and traditional silver jhumkis for me.

Updated: June 20, 2019 1:33:12 pm
Digambar Jain temple Chandni Chowk The Digambar Jain temple in Chandni Chowk (Source: Ritika Jain)

By Ritika Jain

We hadn’t booked any place for the summer, had had our share of board games and weren’t keen on travelling, so we decided on an impromptu staycation. Just like we would explore any new place, we thought a street photography stint in Chandni Chowk would be exciting. So we packed our DSLRs and a few clothes and went backpacking in our own city!

A friend had mentioned Goel Sahib ki haveli or ‘Haveli Dharampura’ as it’s better known in the area. We found they had a spacious room for three at special off-season rates so we jumped at the offer. Apart from the location, the interesting thing about this three-storey haveli is that it is a 1887 building that has won a UNESCO award for cultural and heritage restoration. Indigenous Lakhori bricks, marble inlay floors, relief stone work on walls, coloured glass windows, jali and grill work, bamboo chiks and knick-knacks like hookahs take you back to the Mughal era. The old Bollywood music playing in the restaurant adds to the nostalgic ambience. Right outside in the street was a cliched snake charmer who encouraged us to take blessings from the (probably drugged) King Cobra by actually making it sit on our heads. This was a crazy experience for my daughter, who till now has been petrified of snakes. The adjoining shop was a barber shop where you could see a man busy getting a hajaamat. We took our welcome drinks of Rose Shikanji and headed out of Anar Gali into Kinari Bazaar for some street food.

chandni chowk, snake charmer Snake charmer at Chandni Chowk (Photos: Ritika Jain)

Kinari Bazaar is like a wholesale market for Indian fashion accessories and all kinds of items like tassels for the ends of your dupatta, gota and zari borders, dress materials and even crafting material for dressing up your temple, making rakhis or organising a birthday party. If you walk in a certain direction, you’ll reach Dariba Kalan, the silver market from the Mughal era. There are eighth generation shopkeepers who’ll greet you with a smile as you bring them business, however small. We bought nice little hoops for my daughter for just Rs 300 and traditional silver jhumkis for me.

The food scene at Paranthe wali gali is legendary. You’ll see pictures of all kinds of celebrities including Nehru and Shastri who’ve eaten at shops like those of Babu Ram and Pt Kanhaiyalal Durgaprasad Dixit. They serve 36-odd varieties of paranthas including the unusual kela, karela, gajar, nimbu and even rabri parantha. These are nothing like your tame homemade ones. They are deep fried in desi ghee and come with a spicy jackfruit and potato sabzi. They are best chased down with a lassi for good digestion and an afternoon siesta. We packed some naan khatai biscuits from a vendor for our evening tea and also found a fruit seller who had faalse and lotus fruit.

Also Read| 6 offbeat holiday destinations near Delhi you can visit with kids to escape the heat

In the evening, we headed straight to Jama Masjid as it was the Ramadan season and the festive vibe was unmissable. It was as though the mosque had turned into a picnic spot with families spread out on sheets and children playing games. My husband, who was wearing shorts, was provided a lungi at the entrance, to cover his legs. We were given dates to eat and some people were sitting in rows and being served food upon breaking a fast. Although I’m a vegetarian, my husband doesn’t mind the odd Tunday kebab, Nihari and Biryani. It’s amazing to see how many poor people are fed for free in shops around Jama Masjid during festival time.

On our way back, we also stopped at an ancient Digambar Jain temple. Although the Lal mandir with the bird hospital is the more popular one, the one at Naughar is truly a marvellous one. They have a glass gallery, where the mosaics made with coloured glass tell the story of Lord Mahavira. There’s also a sculpture made of the rare Kasauti stone. Sitting there in a sanctuary of peace and a cocoon from the bustling world outside, one can hear the chants of the sacred Navkar mantra. This was the first time my daughter was witnessing the authentic culture of Old Delhi –– Muslims and Hindus living in harmony, each bringing their own unique flavour to the city––and she was fascinated!

chandni chowk, staycation Ritika Jain and daughter Nayanika

Early next morning, we went to the rooftop to see some Kabootarbaazi and kite flying in action. These were not meant to entertain us. These were merely the neighbours going about their daily routines. We watched the monkeys jumping around on a mad jumble of electric wires, got requests from small kids to take their photos, made way for cows and autos and finally on our way out, hit a street where a political party seemed to have set up a small community kitchen to celebrate their recent victory. I hadn’t thought the riot of colours could get any more vibrant. As we bid farewell to a cacophony of dhols and dancing, I wondered about all the places I’m yet to discover in this vast city where I’ve lived all my life.

Best way to reach: Take the Yellow metro line

Best time to go: November to March

Stay at:

Recommended places to eat:

Meghraj Halwai for puris and lassi

Dariba Jalebi wala for the best jalebi and samosas

Natraj for Aloo Tikkis and Dahi bhallas

Annapurna, KanwarjiandChaina Ram for Indian sweets like Mishti Doi, Motichoor Laddoos and Karachi Halwa

Giani for Kulfi Falooda

Seekh Kebabs at Karim’s

Kebabs at Qureshi Kebabs

Nihari at Kallu Nihari

Other places of interest:

Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib

Lajpat Rai market for electronics like cameras and keyboards

Khari Baoli, Asia’s largest wholesale spice market

Cycle market

Darya Ganj Sunday book bazaar

Sunday Chor Bazaar for an assortment of things–from Nike shoes to Gramophones

Recommended reading list:

The City of Djinns by William Dalrymple

Daughters of the Sun by Ira Mukhoty

This Side, That Side by Vishwajyoti Ghosh

The Forgotten Cities of Delhi (Where Stones Speak trilogy) by Rana Safvi

Perpetual City by Malvika Singh

Jasmine & Jinns by Sadia Dehlvi

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