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TOURIST IN MY CITY | PAHARGANJ

— JASMEEN DUGAL

Paharganj. Adjacent to New Delhi Railway Station, heralded as the heart of the city's counterculture scene, it features in urban morphology as a neighbourhood with 'shady' pot smokers, after-hours parties and travelling musicians! I too had perceived it as home of the flower child and the backpacker. Until today… The moment I alighted from the cab, wham, I was Alice falling down the proverbial rabbit hole. The bazaar — on both sides of a serpentine street — was packed with budget hotels, bars, cafes and stalls selling Bob Marley merchandise, glow-in-the-dark Lord Shiva keychains, sequinned dresses, harem pants, Kolhapuri chappals, boho-chic bags, guitars and drums, books, terracotta pots and costume jewellery. At super attractive prices!!

 

What follows needs to be experienced. Hey, one needs eyes in the back of the head here! Just walking down the lane requires a degree in chaos management — cars, rickshaws and cows dart out at you from all sides and it's vital to zig zag, forever ready to jump to one side at the sudden blast of a horn or the 'moo' of a cow! And, once you've managed to learn the art of navigation, it's time to explore. My first stop was Sam's Cafe. The entrance was quiet, too quiet, and as I hesitantly looked around, the waitstaff told me the rooftop cafe was what I was looking for and I'd surely like it. They were bang on! After perusing the menu offering Israeli, Italian and continental fare, I ordered a vegetarian sizzler and onion rings, and looked around. The cafe offered an aerial view of the neighbourhood with CP's skyscrapers in the distant backdrop! It was packed with tourists indulging in steaks, sizzlers or pizza or just chilling alone with chilled beer and a book. While one was reading 'Shantaram' the other was thumbing 'Lonely Planet', confirming facts with people around him and trading anecdotes. It was a melting pot of people and cultures, a significant part of 1970's hippie trail's, due to which Paharganj still retains its cosmopolitan, countercultural character. The pace was slow and languid, the service prompt. As expected, the sizzler packed with veggies and mushrooms, was sumptuous.

 

Satiated, I asked the staff for directions to a well-known bookstore. Turned out, it was just down the street. If you're fond of books, there's an astonishing variety — falling-apart out-of-print ones, secondhand ones ideal for tourists on shoestring budgets and new releases — at Jacksons Books. I was told by the owner that the store keeps books in over twenty languages and bought interesting travel guides that didn't follow the standard; it was engaging with anecdotes and experiences. Walking down the street, I came across Guru Handicraft Emporium with costume jewellery! Preparing to polish bargaining skills, I was surprised when everything I loved-at-first-sight was priced at INR 50–250. So I bought a leather cuff for fifty rupees, owl pendant for Rs. 250 and statement rings for Rs 200! The store owner told me they restock collections each month and by the gleam in my eyes she knew I'd be back for more! Out again, I was fascinated by quirky shops lining the streets and a number of local establishments capturing the feel of the hippie movement. By then, my cab driver was panicking as he couldn't find parking since and insisted I return, so I made my way towards it and en route, just had to stop and buy a boho-chic bag for Rs. 500. There was so much to explore and shop… I could've spent all day in the labyrinthine lanes and by-lanes…

 

In just two hours I'd discovered the lay of the land; there's more to Paharganj than dreadlocked backpackers, heckling touts, bars serving liquor at unbelievable rates, a number of cybercafes for students and tourists, and bakeries where goodies are sold out within an hour. In the mayhem of the bazaar lie treasures worth jumping headfirst into the chaos for! For foodies, Metropolis Restaurant renowned for its steaks, fried fish and chips and paella although if you make it for breakfast you can have pancakes, fresh juice, eggs, fries and coleslaw under Rs 100; there's Badri Pakode Wala; Sitaram Chole Bhature Shop; decades-old jalebiwala; and the cafes; for shoppers, the main bazaar's our oyster! On a serious note, the 'hippie hotspot' is witnessing a resurgence. Perhaps one day it'll overtake ‘the village?’

 

PS Paharganj is home to the historic Qadam Sharif dargah dedicated to the footprint of Prophet Mohammed.
 

PAHARGANJ
You can buy just about anything here!
 
PAHARGANJ
The most sumptuous sizzler at Sam's Cafe!
 
PAHARGANJ
The rooftop at Sam's Cafe where the pace is languid and theservice prompt!
 
PAHARGANJ
You'll find things here you won't get anyplace else!
 
PAHARGANJ
If you're planning to try your hand at making music... you've come to the right place!
 
PAHARGANJ
Today's Shopping: boho-chic bag priced Rs. 500 !!
 
PAHARGANJ
Today's Shopping: all of this under Rs. 1200 !!
 
PAHARGANJ
You must have the patience to sift...
 
PAHARGANJ
The chocolates pancakes were more sumptuous than the ones I had in Pondicherry!
 
PAHARGANJ
Haven for book lovers!
 
PAHARGANJ
And that's the export surplus bag what I would have bought if I didnt own the original
 
02-FEBRUARY-2016
 
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