Thursday, December 27, 2007

Story of a spoilt IT industry

The Indian IT industry is one spoilt industry. An experienced and successful entrepreneur once commented to me that for an industry to grow at a healthy pace, an unemployment rate of higher than 7-8% is needed. I think it makes a lot of sense. In the IT industry today, with manpower being scarce, the focus is merely on retention, hiring policies and compensation. While that does not mean that the industry is not growing at a scorching pace, it does mean that as a group, we are focused on the wrong issues.

Being a service focused industry, the dependence on manpower is inevitable. As such, I think it is a good thing because it generates employment, improves lifestyle and overall helps in GDP growth. But I absolutely despise the fact that the biggest "challenge" that the industry faces is a employee retention. So much time, effort, energy and money is spent on just one aspect of business that we are losing focus of the bigger picture. This trend is especially harmful for the fresh and young graduates who have just joined the industry or have been here for only a few years. Constantly pampered and hailed as the country's saviors, these young IT professionals live with a false sense of security. They start at salaries at which people in other industries retire, switch jobs every few months and in general lead the good life.

While this appears to be a win-win situation for both the workforce and the organization, it unfortunately prepares neither for the long haul. With organizations constantly focused on retaining and hiring employees "at all costs", our price competitiveness in the services industry is bound to suffer. Average salary hikes in the IT industry are in the range of 12-15%. If profit margins have been traditionally pegged at around 30% and billing rates are only going down, its easy to see how this current model is unsustainable in the long run. The answer of course is to move up the value chain, provide higher quality services and innovate. But with most organizations spending all their energy in maintaining headcount, where is the time to strategize and move up the value chain?

The IT workforce is actually getting an even worse deal. Switching jobs usually means a 20%+ rise in salary. Hence, on an average, an IT worker spends less than 2 years at one organization. Consequently, we have a large pool of inexperienced yet expensive workforce. This in turn ill equips IT organizations in India to move up the value chain since the workforce isn't stable and doesn't have enough expertise to add more value in a cost effective way.

The situation doesn't appear grim today because the world economy has been largely on an upswing for the past few years. So there has been enough business for IT companies to grow and thrive in spite of mounting costs and increasing difficulties in retaining employees. The media also paints a rosy picture and loves to glorify the Indian IT story. However, the big question is how well prepared are we for a downturn in economy? Are Indian IT companies prepared to handle an economic slowdown? More importantly, is our IT workforce equipped to face tough times? Are our young Turks taking their profession seriously enough? Are they spending more time on honing their skills and learning the ropes or are they only fretting over pay packages and job interviews? Do they have the maturity to prepare for future market correction?

Only time will tell but till then sorry, we don't have time to innovate!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Paharganj Bazaars

Immediately west of New Delhi railway station, Paharganj, centred around the Main Bazaar, provides the first experience of the subcontinent for many budget travellers. Packed with cheap hotels, restaurants, cafés and dhabas, and with a busy fruit and vegetable market halfway along, it's also a paradise for shoestring shoppers seeking psychedelic clothing, bindis, bags and bronzes and essence of patchouli and sandalwood. A constant stream of cycle and auto-rickshaws, handcarts, cows and the odd taxi squeeze through impossible gaps without the flow ever coming to a complete standstill - the winding alleys where children play among chickens and pigs seem worlds away from the commercial city centre only just around the corner. Beware of opportunist thieves here, though, and the attentions of touts, offering dubious hotels, overpriced tours and spurious charas.

As you wander through the mayhem of Paharganj, you may well find your clothes being gently tugged by some of the local street kids begging for rupees. Most of them are runaways who've left difficult homes, often hundreds of kilometres away, and the majority sleep on the street and inhale solvents - any money given directly to them is likely to further their fixes. A (non-registered) charitable organization working in the main bazaar, the Ujala Project, run by a Mizo-Swiss couple, is dedicated to helping street children attain a brighter future. Their main achievement so far has been the establishment of a centre in the heart of the bazaar where the children can meet, study, bathe and wash their clothes in a caring, drug-free space. They also offer informal counselling and teaching, and advice on hygiene and nutrition, and they try to wean the kids away from potentially harmful activities such as glue-sniffing and petty crime. The charity is sustained entirely by donations, and they welcome gifts of secondhand clothes for three- to eighteen-year-olds, coloured pens, pencils and paints, and of course money. They can be contacted at 5099 Gali Sakkan Wali, off Paharganj Main Bazaar (Telephone011/5539 8967, Email:-

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Environmental wonders, Delhi

squeezed dry of rain,
a host of clouds
palest silver like delicate sea-shells,
float free in places,
waved back and forth
by brisk winds with the utmost ease;
the sky appears like a great king
fanned by a hundred fleecy cowries.

A six pointed star, about 5 cm across, with Delhi at the heart of the hexagon, placed on a map of India of the scale 1 cm to 120 km, embraces the major regions of northern India. The north apex reaches the high Himalayas where lie Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, the cold desert with its magical moon landscape. The curve to the right to the next point of the star follows the sweep of the central Himalayas and the apex encompasses the holy Mansarovar Lake in Tibet. The second curve towards the right embraces the mountains of Nepal and its two lofty peaks – Everest and Kanchenjunga. The third point of the star almost reaches Allahabad, the heartland of the fertile and populous Indo-Gangetic plain and the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The holy city of Varanasi is 185 km downstream. To the west of Delhi, lying between the two points of the star, is the Great Indian Desert, most of which is in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The southern point of the star reaches the forested highland of central India beyond which is the Deccan peninsula, an ancient landmass of volcanic origin.

The climate of Delhi is created by these geographic features. Hot winds blow from the desert in the summer months, and temperatures soar to 40°C, occasionally reaching a high of 46ºC. Violent dust storms – locally called loo – are a feature of this hot, dry season in Delhi. The blessed relief of rain follows by end-June when the monsoon reaches Delhi, having hit Kerala around the first week of June, crossed the Deccan and the Bay of Bengal to be finally deflected along the sweep of the Himalayas from east to west. Temperatures for the next few months remain in the high 30s and the humidity makes for some discomfort. Winter is the pleasantest season in Delhi, sunny and cool but the minimum temperature drops sharply in late December and January. Every time there is heavy snowfall in the mountains, icy winds blow down.

There is a brief change of season between winter and the hot weather. Spring lasts only a few weeks in February and March, but it is sweet and sensuous. It is the season of new leaf – many of Delhi’s indigenous forest trees are dressed in shades of vivid green. This is followed soon after by the procession of color of the ornamental flowering trees. The Hindu festivals of Basant Panchami and Holi celebrate this season, known in Hindi as Basant. In the Indian tradition, there are six seasons – Grishma, Varha, Sharad, Hemant, Sheet and Basant. They correspond roughly to Summer, Rains, Post-rains, Early winter, Winter and Spring. The passing of seasons has been immortalized in Indian art and literature. The most famous literary work on this theme is the 5th century Sanskrit poet, Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara, literally the gathering of seasons.

The natural vegetation of the region around Delhi can best be described as thorny scrub, which can still be seen on the outskirts of the city. If one sees the city as a triangle, the western side is a natural divide, an extension of the ancient Aravalli hills, which run through Rajasthan. The undulating terrain runs through the Cantonment area in west Delhi, and the section in the north includes Delhi University. From the highest point in the south at Bhatti, 318 meters above sea level, the fall is 100 meters to the river Yamuna which forms a natural boundary of the city on the east. The base of the triangle is rocky, broken country where small villages are cultivated for vegetables and flowers for the urban market.

The magnificent remains of the older cities of Delhi, once fed by the Yamuna, invite exploration – Surajkund, Tughlaqabad, Mehrauli, Hauz Khas, Siri and Jahanpanah. Quarrying for stone at Bhatti, and in the neighbouring state of Haryana, has recently been curtailed through legislation as an environmental health measure.

The ridge today is an important lung of metropolitan Delhi. Its evolution from thorny scrub began in the 19th century with the British, who started planting drought resistant indigenous trees, largely Neem and Babul, Palas or Flame of the Forest, a small tree with a gnarled and crooked trunk, occurs naturally. It heralds spring with bright red flowers from which a dye is extracted. In 1878, the Ridge was declared a Reserved Forest. Lutyens, the architect of New Delhi, used the undulating land to great advantage while sitting the Viceroy’s House, now Rashtrapati Bhawan, the home of the President of India, on Raisina Hill.

At the southern base of the triangle, the urban sprawl has made inroads with agricultural land being converted into luxurious estates for the elite. Architecturally, these ‘farmhouses’ are completely out of tune with the past or contemporary landscape of the area. In planning colonial Delhi, Lutyens and Baker laid out a geometric pattern of roads radiating from roundabouts while keeping the Mughal and pre-Mughal monuments as axis points. They thus achieved an architectural synthesis of history and, at the same time, extended the garden concept integral to the buildings of the Mughal period to the avenues of New Delhi. The credit for planting indigenous forest species, a brilliant and practical idea, is shared with Lutyens by William Robertson Mustoe, a gardener from London’s Kew Gardens, who came to India in 1919. Together they created a garden city while not tampering with the old parks: Roshanara, the garden created by Shahjahan’s daughter, Qudsia and Shalimar gardens in north Delhi. The Ridge area in north Delhi, with Flagstaff Tower at the highest point, was a rambling wilderness until the idea of ‘beautification’ came up. This was the British cantonment during the 1857 war from where their attack was launched to recapture Delhi. In the 50 years since independence, Delhi’s population has grown by leaps and bounds. The garden city has expanded to become an unwieldy mega metropolis posing a severe strain on civic amenities and the environment.

After partition, the refugees from Punjab were allotted land in compensation for the homes they had to abandon: Karol bagh, Patel Nagar and Rajendra Nagar in west Delhi, Model Town in north Delhi and Lajpat Nagar in south Delhi. Now they are bustling centers of Punjabi enterprise.

The seat of government brought its own changes as government apparatus grew in size. A certain architectural homogeneity was retained in most of the new government buildings by the use of columns, domes, deep corridors and by continuing the use of the familiar pink sandstone from Rajasthan. The manpower needs of the burgeoning bureaucracy accounted for the growth of government housing colonies within New Delhi. Chanakyapuri, named after the master strategist, Chanakya, of the 4th century BC, is the diplomatic quarter.

Expansion continued. As bylaws changed and property values soared, gardens were sacrificed to greed. Soon the city spilled over across the Yamuna in the east, creating a concrete jungle, and south of the border into Haryana, which developed self-contained, suburban style housing complexes.

Some portions of the ridge have been landscaped and converted into parks. Buddha Jayanti Park was originally conceived as a Japanese garden. A splendid image of the Buddha was installed in 1990. Trees planted by visiting dignitaries in the 1950s have matured and lend variety to the landscaped garden. Mahavir Jayanti Park, near Maurya Sheraton Hotel, was developed more recently.

The city planners had some provision for park areas other than the ridge. The necropolis of the Lodi kings was tastefully landscaped around the monuments in the 1960s and called Lodi garden. The moat around Purana Qila was expanded into a serpentine lake where paddleboats are available. The grounds south of it became the National Zoological Park. Delhi Golf Club incorporates some old monuments creating a picturesque setting. Golfers tee off, often distracted by the unmusical call of peacocks.

In the third week of February, Mughal Garden at Rashtrapati Bhawan is open to public for about two weeks. The mass of colour is enchanting, the lawns impeccably manicured, the trees magnificent, even if the overwhelming security checks take away quite a bit from their enjoyment.

Nehru Park, located near Ashok Hotel in Chanakyapuri, is another well-landscaped garden. The rolling lawns are enlivened with groups of interesting trees and flowering shrubs. A group of three enormous Trees of Heaven (Ailanthus excelsa), provides a focus on the lawn near the rather forlorn statue of Lenin.

Forest species for avenue trees were selected primarily to provide shade. For instance, Neem is the choice for many of the major roads, including Lodi Road, Sher Shah Marg, Rafi Marg and Sansad marg leading from Parliament House to Connaught Place. Arjuna terminalia, with its distinctive light grey bark, lines Janpath, a major north-south road, and Firoz Shah Road. A group of six stands at the entrance of Safdarganj’s tomb. Tamarind is the choice for Akbar Road, Pipal for Panchsheel Marg and Banyan for Rajaji Marg.

Eugenia jambolana, the Java Plum or jamun is used extensively: Tughlaq Road, the northern half of Janpath and around India gate. The dark purple fruit is a seasonal delicacy but messy when it ripens and falls on the ground during the rainy season. Each of these species has many uses besides medicinal properties.

Variety is provided chiefly on the roundabouts or on subsidiary roads. Kanak Champa (Pterospermum acerifolium) on Jai Singh Road is a striking tree because of the size of its foot-long creamy flowers surrounded by five curled back sepals of the same length. The leaves are used as wrappings or made into plates, disposable and biogradable. A group of five Gingko-like trees, actually Hardwickia Binnata, a lone cypress and a clump of Kewra add character to the small masjid on the roundabout at the head of Sunheri Bagh Road.

The kaleidoscope of changing colors and fragrances continues through the year. The older indigenous trees have insignificant blossoms but provide variety in tints of green as they come into new leaf. Pipal (Ficus religiosa) and Kusum (Schleichera trijuga) are both delightful, as the young leaves are shades of rust or deep carmine which change gradually into a soft translucent lime green before assuming the deep green. This play of colors characterizes spring and early summer.

Then the flowering trees take over. The Coral tree (Erythrina indica), with its bright red spike-like blossoms and Jacaranda (mimosacfolia), with its delicate flowers in shades of mauve, is soon followed by Amaltas (cassia Fistula), draped in hanging bunches of fragrant bright yellow blossoms offset by the brown foot-long cylindrical seed pods of the last season. Champa or Temple Tree is a favourite in many homes besides public places and gardens. It grows easily, is attractive, and has exquisitely textured and scented flowers.

Well into summer, Gulmohur introduced in 1829 from its native Madagascar, comes into its own, its spreading crown a blaze of red shaded with orange. Pride of India, a small-sized tree, blooms in shades of deep pink or mauve, and then, turns to violet. Closer towards winter, the rusty shield bearer stands out with its copper-red oblong seed pods and sprays of yellow-touched-with-rust flowers. By mid September, Chorissia speciosa is glorious in its orchid-like blossoms in shades of pink and white, while Alstonia scholaris, often called Devil’s Tree, calls attention to itself with its heady fragrance.

Because of trees, gardens and the river, bird life in and around the city is abundant despite the pollution and the teeming population. Late winter and spring are the best time to wander in the gardens and to look out for birds. The winter migrants are still here and the trees, not yet in leaf, provide good viewing. Wagtails begin to lose their winter drabness; the blue throat will have its band of colors, and the red throat too. The warblers flit incessantly. A flock of starlings may alight on the ground and start feeding voraciously.

The brilliant green of the rose-ringed parakeets perching precariously on the soft grey and muted sandstone walls of the tombs at Lodi garden, tails fanned out, is an unforgettable sight. On the dome, there might be the ponderous white-backed vultures. Flitting through the trees you may glimpse the golden oriole or locate it through its rich flute-like call. A flash of deep turquoise will give away the white-breasted kingfisher. Or you may glimpse the common grey hornbill that is very partial to the ficus species. At dusk, the cacophony of mynahs, sparrows, crows, jostling for space in the putranjivas or malsarry may be punctuated by the sweet song of the magpie robin staking its claim to territory. The harbinger of the monsoon is the pied-crested cuckoo, which rides in from Africa on the south-westerlies.

Winter is the ideal time to see migratory waterfowl. At the Okhla barrage over the Yamuna in southeast Delhi, you will find herons, barheaded geese and brahmini duck down from their nesting grounds in Ladakh, and from Siberia and central Europe, common pochard, tufted duck, pintails, shoveller, mallard, gadwall, redheaded pochard if you are lucky, besides the comb duck, spotbills and coot. Spoonbills, avocets, painted storks, open-billed storks and the occasional black-necked stork can also be seen.

Another place good for watching water birds is the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, about 55km southwest of Delhi beyond Gurgaon. The Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary near Bharatpur, on the Agra-Jaipur highway, about 120km from Delhi, is the only wintering ground of endangered Siberian cranes.

In south Delhi, some areas have been demarcated as wildlife preserves, notably the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary near Tughlaqabad Fort. The area immediately south of Qutb is also worth a wander. Sanjay van, adjoining the Qutb Institutional Area, is a wilderness within the city and retains the indigenous flora and fauna of the Ridge. Peacocks abound in these parks.

The Yamuna is under threat. Much of its water is drawn away at the Wazirabad barrage in north Delhi to supply the needs of the metropolis and the rest is subjected to millions of tons of toxic effluents and untreated sewage. The meandering river bed is cultivated to grow water melons in summer but during the monsoon, the river rages in its full glory, reclaiming its bed. The sluice gates are opened allowing the accumulated water hyacinth to be cleared.

Unlike other cities with rivers, Delhi does not have a waterfront, perhaps because of seasonal fluctuations. However, the land created between the eastern wall of the old city and the current riverbed has been developed into massive memorial parks beginning with Raj Ghat, dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, and later the memorials of Jawaharlal Nehru and other prime ministers of India.

The basic building material for the older cities of Delhi was the grayish stone quarried in the region. The stucco finish of pre-Mughal and Mughal buildings acted both as a binding plaster and a medium for decorative motifs.

Sandstone for exterior facing has been used for over a thousand years. The most spectacular example is the Qutb Minar. Being a soft stone, it lends itself to the chisel and can be worked in intricate detail. The red sandstone comes from Mathura and Agra and the buff-beige from Dholpur, Bharatpur and Alwar.

Red Fort uses a mix red sandstone for the great ramparts and outer walls and the finest Makrana marble, quarried in Rajasthan, gleaming white, for the private palaces and Diwan-e-Am, the hall of public audience. The wall with the built-in throne, has some of the finest examples of pictra dura work, using dark grey limestone for the bird panels which are set in shimmering white marble and held together as a composition with coils of delicate floral arabesques. Kurkura, a mustard-yellow limestone quarried near Jaisalmer, for branches and stems. For the details of the panels, semiprecious stones are used, including turquoise, cornelian, agate, onyx and lapis lazuli.

Marble and Kota stone from Rajasthan, slate from Himachal and black granite from Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh continue to be used in contemporary buildings.

The many cities of Delhi have been created over the centuries. Its monuments of stone will endure, but its very life-blood, the river Yamuna, is under assault and something must be done immediately to save it.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Is Delhi Safe ?

Delhi, often makes the news on account of its security or rather lack of it. Rape of women, even a Swiss diplomat was raped, murder, theft etc. So what is the true picture. Is Delhi safe?
Delhi is a large city, with 15 million inhabitants. Delhi offers you both, old world grace and uncouth behaviour. Latter is much more visible but former does exist as well.

Much has been written about it and Google will give many leads. Delhi has become a city of migrants, from the neighboring states people come to work. They have no love for the city nor respect. Delhi is to be abused and living made off. Search of work brings in large numbers many people who are hungry for success and money. Failures here make them angry and their ego makes them look at women for easy conquest.

Minor and little precautions shall keep you safe. Like any large metropolis, Delhi has its underbelly. Avoid unknown areas in the night if without a male escort. When planning to spend a large part of day traveling in different quarters of Delhi, dress appropriately and take care of your belongings. Let your hosts know where you are going, if possible, take a cell phone connection. Keep a list of police numbers handy and other such services.

Normally Delhi is safe, but then you can help yourself by observing the above rules. This shall allow you to get introduced you to the old world charm of Delhi as well. Be open and inquisitive but within the decorum. Genuine concern and quest will help you open many doors. Delhi is a rare city, perhaps one of its kind in the whole world. To best of my knowledge, Delhi is the only city in world which had to rebuild it self 8 times.

Is Delhi Safe ?

Delhi, often makes the news on account of its security or rather lack of it. Rape of women, even a Swiss diplomat was raped, murder, theft etc. So what is the true picture. Is Delhi safe?
Delhi is a large city, with 15 million inhabitants. Delhi offers you both, old world grace and uncouth behaviour. Latter is much more visible but former does exist as well.

Much has been written about it and Google will give many leads. Delhi has become a city of migrants, from the neighboring states people come to work. They have no love for the city nor respect. Delhi is to be abused and living made off. Search of work brings in large numbers many people who are hungry for success and money. Failures here make them angry and their ego makes them look at women for easy conquest.

Minor and little precautions shall keep you safe. Like any large metropolis, Delhi has its underbelly. Avoid unknown areas in the night if without a male escort. When planning to spend a large part of day traveling in different quarters of Delhi, dress appropriately and take care of your belongings. Let your hosts know where you are going, if possible, take a cell phone connection. Keep a list of police numbers handy and other such services.

Normally Delhi is safe, but then you can help yourself by observing the above rules. This shall allow you to get introduced you to the old world charm of Delhi as well. Be open and inquisitive but within the decorum. Genuine concern and quest will help you open many doors. Delhi is a rare city, perhaps one of its kind in the whole world. To best of my knowledge, Delhi is the only city in world which had to rebuild it self 8 times.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Delhi Nightlife and Entertainment

With an ever-increasing number of pubs and clubs, Delhi's nightlife scene is in full swing. During the week the central restaurants and bars are your best bet, but come the weekend the discos really take off. Most, if not all, of the discos popular with Delhi's young jet-set are in the luxury hotels - some operate couples-only policies, others are free for women but not for men, and many don't allow "stag entry" (men unaccompanied by women); one place that is not in a hotel and does not restrict entry is Delhi's biggest nightclub, Elevate. India Gate and Rajpath attract nightly "people's parties" where large crowds mill about, snacking and eating ice cream; these are not great for women on their own, as hassle is likely. For drinking, the five-star hotels all have plush and expensive bars - the Patiala Peg in the Imperial is perhaps the pick of the bunch. Djinns at the Hyatt Regency often puts on live music. Lounge bars have become very popular of late - but who knows how long that trend will last. Cheaper beers can be bought in many of the restaurants in Connaught Place, or in a few hotels and restaurants in Paharganj, including De Gem. Note that the legal drinking age in Delhi is 25.

The capital also fares well on the cultural front. A range of indoor and outdoor venues host performances of classical dance, such as Bharatnatyam and Kathakali, and regular classical music concerts - check the listings magazines detailed in the section "Information" to see what's on. The India International Centre is a good place to catch art exhibitions, lectures and films on all aspects of Indian culture and environment, while the colossal India Habitat Centre, the British Council and the art and theatre auditoriums around India Gate are all renowned for their innovative shows and high-standard drama in both Hindi and English.

Finally, Bollywood hits are shown all over the capital, and there are several centrally located cinemas. The Chanakya in Chanakyapuri shows both Bollywood and Hollywood blockbusters.


Blues Bar N-17 Connaught Place. Snazzy bar and restaurant offering an eclectic range of loud music (rock Thursday, retro Sunday). Extravagant cocktails expertly mixed.

DV8 Regal Building, Connaught Place. Central, popular place with an old fashioned, pub-like feel; music from 8pm and live bands on Tues.

Fashion bar Tavern by the Greens, Aurobindo Marg, Lado Sarai Rd . Fashion TV's trendy lounge bar down near the Qutb Minar, decked out with screens big and small. Music till midnight and the occasional fashion show; unsurprisingly, it attracts rather a glam crowd.

Geoffries Ansal Plaza . Very popular, supposedly English-style pub (really a bar-restaurant) in a modernistic shopping centre just south of the Ring Road, with bar meals and beer on tap. Happy hour 4-7pm (two beers for the price of one).

Pegasus Pub L-135 Connaught Place. A plush a/c pub, part of Nirula's hotel, with draught beer, daily happy hour (3-7pm) and good bar snacks.

Rodeo A-12 Connaught Place. Saloon-style bar with Wild West waiters, swinging-saddle bar stools, pitchers of beer, tequila slammers, and Mexican bar snacks (tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas).

Shalom N-18, N-Block Market, Greater Kailash Telephone- 011/5163 2280 or 2283. A trendy lounge bar with laid-back music, a Mediterranean theme, Spanish and Lebanese food (tapas meets mezze), hookah pipes, and tables for all; but you'll need to book, especially at weekends.

Ssteel Ashok, 50-B Chanakyapuri . A sophisticated dance-bar with two dance spaces and three bars, including one just for beers, and one for wine and cocktails. There's a huge range of spirits, including all sorts of vodkas and malt whiskies, with music and dancing from around 9pm till midnight.

6th floor, Center Stage Mall, Sector 18, Noida Telephone- 0120/251 9905, Website . Across the river, and indeed just across the state line in UP, this is the biggest and kickingest club in town, a proper nightclub rather than a hotel disco, modelled on London's Fabric, with three floors (dancefloor, chillout and VIP), a roof terrace, and British and Aussie DJs playing the latest electronic and dance sounds. Fri and Sat nights only (check the website for what's on), but open till 4am, and "stag entry" is permitted.

Floats Park Royal, Lala Lajpat Rai Path, Nehru Place Telephone- 011/2622 3344. Located near the Baha'i Temple, this is a bar-restaurant until around 10pm, when the dancefloor opens up and it really gets going. Open till 1 or 2am, but it's best to arrive by 11pm, as you may not be allowed in thereafter. Most popular on Wed, Fri and Sat.

My Kind of Place Taj Palace, 1 Sardar Patel Marg Telephone- 011/2611 0202. One of Delhi's most popular clubs, especially among expats, tending to attract a slightly older crowd than the other discos. Entry is free, but men aren't allowed in without a female companion. Wed is rock and retro night, Fri hip-house, and Sat Delhi-style music (with some bhangra and even filmi numbers).

Royale Mirage Crowne Plaza Surya, New Friends Colony Telephone- 011/2683 5070. A long-time favourite, now revamped, with a French-Arab theme (hummus is among the snacks available), dancing podiums, state-of-the-art light show and a hip, young crowd. Open Wed-Sat only, happy hour 5-8pm, music 8pm-1am.

Dance and Drama
Dances of India Parsi Anjuman Hall, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, near Delhi Gate Telephone- 011/2328 9464. Excellent classical, folk and tribal dance. Daily 6.45pm.

Habitat World India Habitat Centre, Lodi Rd Telephone- 011/2468 2222. Popular venue for dance, music and theatre as well as talks and exhibitions.

India International Centre 40 Lodi Estate Telephone- 011/2461 9431. Films, lectures, dance and music.

Kamani Auditorium Copernicus Marg Telephone- 011/2338 8084. Bharatnatyam and other dance performances.

Sangeet Natak Akademi Rabindra Bhavan, 35 Feroz Shah Rd Telephone- 011/2338 7246, Website- . Delhi's premier performing arts institution.

Triveni Kala Sangam 205 Tansen Marg Telephone- 011/2371 8833. Bharatnatyam dance shows, also art exhibitions.

Cultural Centres and Libraries
British Council 17 Kasturba Gandhi Marg, southeast of Connaught Place Telephone- 011/2371 1401. Talks, film shows and concerts, plus a good library and reading room.

Lalit Kala Galleries Rabindra Bhawan, 35 Firoz Shah Rd, by Mandi House Chowk Telephone- 011/2338 7241 to 7243. Delhi's premier art academy, with an extensive collection of paintings, sculpture, frescoes and drawings. Also films, seminars and photographic exhibitions.

Sahitya Akademi Rabindra Bhawan, 32 Firoz Shah Rd, by Mandi House Chowk Telephone- 011/2338 6626. An excellent library devoted to Indian literature through the ages, with some books and periodicals in English.

Tibet House 1 Institutional Area, Lodi Rd Telephone- 011/2461 1515. A library on all aspects of Tibetan culture, plus a small museum of Tibetan artefacts. Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm.

Bollywood movies are shown at the Odeon (Telephone- 011/2332 2167), Plaza (Telephone- 011/2332 2784) and Regal (Telephone- 011/2336 2245) cinemas, all in Connaught Place, or the Shiela (Telephone- 011/2367 2100) on DB Gupta Road, near New Delhi railway station. Check whether the films have subtitles. For more on Indian film, see "Bollywood".

Suburban cinemas, such as the Priya (Telephone- 011/2614 0048) in Vasant Vihar, the Chanakya (Telephone- 011/2467 0423) in Chanakyapuri and the PVR Anupam (Telephone- 011/2686 5999) in Saket, provide a diet of relatively recent Hollywood films (in English, with Hindi subtitles) with digital surround sound and superb popcorn. In addition, many of the cultural centres listed above run international film festivals.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Immediately west of New Delhi railway station, Paharganj, centred around the Main Bazaar, provides the first experience of the subcontinent for many budget travellers. Packed with cheap hotels, restaurants, cafés and dhabas, and with a busy fruit and vegetable market halfway along, it's also a paradise for shoestring shoppers seeking psychedelic clothing, bindis, bags and bronzes and essence of patchouli and sandalwood. A constant stream of cycle and auto-rickshaws, handcarts, cows and the odd taxi squeeze through impossible gaps without the flow ever coming to a complete standstill - the winding alleys where children play among chickens and pigs seem worlds away from the commercial city centre only just around the corner. Beware of opportunist thieves here, though, and the attentions of touts, offering dubious hotels, overpriced tours and spurious charas.

As you wander through the mayhem of Paharganj, you may well find your clothes being gently tugged by some of the local street kids begging for rupees. Most of them are runaways who've left difficult homes, often hundreds of kilometres away, and the majority sleep on the street and inhale solvents - any money given directly to them is likely to further their fixes. A (non-registered) charitable organization working in the main bazaar, the Ujala Project, run by a Mizo-Swiss couple, is dedicated to helping street children attain a brighter future. Their main achievement so far has been the establishment of a centre in the heart of the bazaar where the children can meet, study, bathe and wash their clothes in a caring, drug-free space. They also offer informal counselling and teaching, and advice on hygiene and nutrition, and they try to wean the kids away from potentially harmful activities such as glue-sniffing and petty crime. The charity is sustained entirely by donations, and they welcome gifts of secondhand clothes for three- to eighteen-year-olds, coloured pens, pencils and paints, and of course money. They can be contacted at 5099 Gali Sakkan Wali, off Paharganj Main Bazaar (Telephone011/5539 8967, Email:-

Friday, June 8, 2007

Delhi Silhouettes

Littering the rocky, arid plains below the humped Aravalli hills to the west of the Yamuna River are the remains of seven cities, from where chieftains, sultans and emperors ruled Hindustan. One can wander past the ornate victory tower, the Qutab Minar, built some eight hundred years ago, and the magnificently carved mosque next to it in the citadel of the sultans of the salve dynasty. Walk down the modern road northwards to the massive walls of siri, the great 14th century city, which were reputedly so wide that two chariots could be driven abreast along them; and go eastwards a few miles to the mighty fortifications of Sultan Ghiyasuddin’s capital city, Tughlaqabad, now desolate, overgrown with thorn bushes, its broken walls and fallen pillars baking in the heat of the sun, the few remaining rooms oppressively dark and silent. The river has moved far eastwards, leaving it dry and parched. Closer to the river, further upstream are the battlements now sadly ruined, of the elegant yet sturdy fort called the Purana Qila, the old fort, citadel of Humayun, the second Mughal Emperor.

Further upstream, and closer to the river, are the ravaged remains of Firozabad, another city, plundered and vandalized over three hundred years ago when the vast, splendid city of Shahjahanabad, the city of the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan, was built net to it: this was the seventh city, and the greatest, most vibrant and varied, a city whose energy swelled and poured far into the night, amidst flaming torches, laughter and the never ending sounds of people conversing, of hawkers calling, and, ever so often, the muezzin’s call to prayer, form the great mosque, the Jama Masjid, floating over the city almost like a benediction. Even today, long after the Emperor and his court have gone, the vitality of the city lives on, renewed by successive generations, in different ways. The sapphire blue sky is often dotted with brightly coloured kites, while flocks of pigeon’s wheel and swoop across it as the citizens play the games that were played centuries ago by their forefathers, with the same enthusiasm and gaiety. The British built two cities when they came here as colonial rulers. The first of these was not the capital of India, but the administrative center of the region, built North of Shahjahanabad, for the british had grown to disturb the city and also to see themselves as rulers, who consequently had to distance themselves from the district towns the British built elsewhere, with large bungalows set in dusty compounds.

The capital city the British built is to the southwest of Shahjahanabad, the gracious imperial city of New Delhi. The focal point is the low Raisina Hill, from where what was then called the Viceregal Lodge gazes proudly, in regal splendour, at the two buildings flanking it, the Secretariat, formal, with ramrod straight pillars, austere and yet with elegance which can only be called royal. This was true imperial splendour, meant to overawe the subject: a metaphor of the benign, if always stern paternalism the British fancied they had brought to India. Above one on the imposing entrances to the North Block of the Secretariat they carved what could be their message to the subject masses: ‘Liberty will not descend to people; people must raise themselves up to liberty’. Sic transit Gloria mundi.

To the south of the Viceregal Lodge are the cool bungalows of the satraps of the Raj, with deep verandahs, patios and pillars, set in acres of green gardens. All is hushed and quiet, except for the birds singing, and the occasional swish of cars. A second metaphor, perhaps a little more private, of the Raj.

Independence has made only a little difference to the ambience of this gracious, sanitised still is the set of power, but the symbols have changed. There are the cars, usually white Ambassadors with winking red lights and an array of antennae followed by jeeploads of men in khaki, or, depending on the stature of the person in the car, in black who journey the wide roads sirens wailing, at an astonishingly high speed. These are the people, the power mendicants themselves, seen usually in official receptions or ‘functions’ as they are called each surrounded by scads of men in khaki, or as mentioned, in black, all of them carrying fearsome looking weapons of indeterminate make and character.

There is actually yet another city, which has grown around the city Lutyens built, a city which is brash, tumultuous, chaotic, violent and also very warm, lovely and engaging – this us the city which stretches from Rohini in the north, through Janakpuri in the west to Vasant Kunj and Sangam Viharin the south and across the river to Pratapganj and Shahdara. Here slums live cheek by jowl with steel and glass high-rise buildings, the nightmarish traffic flows and eddies past loud bazaars, the most sophisticated departmental stores and pavement shops. In skirts, noisy and murderous, the sylvan quietness of institutions likes Indian Agricultural Research Institute, National Council of Education Research and Training, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Indian Institute of Technology.

North of the narrow galis of Shahjahanabad, beyond the wider streets and more obviously laid out spaces of the first city the British built, is the University of Delhi where the frenzy of the traffic which is so much a part of the metropolis fades as one enters the tree-lined roads which go past buildings of mellow brick, set in gardens. The center of this very laid-back ambience is the old Viceregal Lodge, now the University offices where the vice chancellor and other dignitaries have their offices.

To the east of the University, running through the city almost to its southern outskirts is a rocky outcropping, covered for the most part with low trees and thorn bushes, called the Ridge. It provides blessed relief from the city, and takes one away to a different time frame, to a world of quietness broken only by birdsong and the occasional voices of people strolling through the trees. This too, is Delhi, and integral part of it, as it has been since the city was first established.

There can be no categorization of the city. It does not fit into any one pattern. From the crowded bazaars of Karol Bagh, saris and textiles spilling in brightly colored profusion on to the pavements, to the sophisticated glitter of the markets in south extension or greater Kailash, the prodigal display of wares in Lajpat Nagar, to the classically clean lines of Lutyens’ New Delhi, and the dense throng of people, vendors, cobblers, hawkers, tailors, silversmiths and sellers of sweets and other eatables in the galis of Shahjahanabad, there is a variety that few cities in the world can match. There is something for everyone here – as indeed there ought to be in one of the greatest capitals of the world.

A complex city with many faces, with a gravitas of historical tradition and the brashness of the arriviste, sensitive and violent, a vortex of political and economic power, and of academic enquiry and a growing richness in the arts. There is a vitality – often a raw vitality – which informs life here. That is what persists through the ages, and it is this which will take it through the ages, and it is this which will take it through the century that is coming, and to many others.

Delhi’s perspective is not of a mere century. It has seen emperors, kings, courtiers, generals, prime ministers and party leaders. It will see so much more, in the years when the present day splendour of the magnificent buildings designed by Lutyens, the modern steel and glass towers and the dreadful new houses with their pastel colours and curlicued balconies crumble and become part of the ruins that are all around, half destroyed landmarks in an even greater capital city, with new contemporary symbols of its strength and power for buildings are, for all their splendour, evanescent – what ultimately remains is the vitality and the strength. That is what Delhi hands down from generation to generation.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Week End Getaways From Delhi


One of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism, the ancient town odf Mathura, on the banks of the Yamuna, lies 146 km southeast of Delhi en route to Agra. It is birthplace of Lord Krishna and the miracles associated with his life continue to give the surrounding villages a magical air of rural devotion, especially during the festival of Holi, Janamashthami and Dussehra. To the west before reaching Mathura is Barsana, a village on a rocky hillock, where Krishna’s consort Radha was born. Snaking through country lanes towards Yamuna you come to Brindavan, where the medieval saint from Bengal, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,, established his Vaishnavite cult of devotion for Radha-Krishna, which is practiced to this day, with the addition of foreign devotees. The ghats on the banks of Yamuna, perpetually thronged with pilgrims from all over India, have witnessed the building and razing of Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim structures over the centuries. Mathura Museum run by Archaeological Survey of India has a superb collection of ancient masterpieces which makes Mathura’s name famous in the world of art as well as religion. Visit Kesava Deo Temple and Vishram Ghat.

On the way to Brindavan is Gita Mandir, and the ambitious ISKCON spiritual campus is in Brindavan. Accommodation in the Mathura environs is designed for the devotional. For material comforts Agra is a more inviting choice.

One of the world’s most sought after tourist destinations (56 kms from Mathura, 200 km from Delhi), it is vital for the visitor to approach Agra with eyes open to its treasures, but firmly shut to its less salubrious manifestations. Go by train, either the Shatabdi or Taj Express (both leave early morning), and earmark a good hotel near Taj Mahal. The Taj is closed on Mondays. If you have to go by road to Agra, choose a Sunday when there are fewer trucks. Agra does not lack accommodation to suit every pocket.

Entry fees for Taj Mahal
7 am - 10 am and 5 pm – 7 pm is Rs 100
10 am to 4 pm is Rs 20
Foreigners Rs 500 + $ 5
Night viewing: Two days before and
After full moon night
8.30 pm -12.30 pm
Entry Indians – Rs 510
Foreigners – Rs 750

Fatehpur Sikri
Every inch an imperial capital, Fatehpur Sikri (38 km west of Agra) is built proudly on a ridge that yielded enduring stone. This dream city of Akbar that became a ghost town within two decades of its investiture, speaks of that rare moment in architecture when a ruler has the means and energy to fulfill his vision of srandeur. The strength and quality of Fatehpur Sikri’s remarkable unified layout has been able to withstand the arid hands of time and scorching weather. Akbar conceived Fatehpur Sikri in 1571 as a thanks-offering to the Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chishti, who predicted male successors to the Mughal line. Massive in parts and tenderly evocative in places, the layout reflects Akbar’s attempt to reconcile his Islamic heritage of central Asia with the cultural seductions of Hinduism’s urge to openmindedness. Less likely than the call to business in a warring age, was the suggestion that Fatehpur Sikri failed because of its water supply. (Travel the road westward to Bharatpur and you pass a huge reservoir).

Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur provides marvelous exposure to more than 350 species of birds. Bharatpur is the only wintering ground in India of the endangered Siberian Crane. Despite the droves of tourists, the birds continue to steal the show. The setting is so lovely that it induces a hush even amongst those for whom no picnic is complete without a transistor. The finest way to explore the sanctuary is on a cycle, which can be hired from the entrance gate, or on a cycle rickshaw. The local rickshawalas are experts on birds and are often the best guides. Bharatpur is about 120 km from Delhi and 17 km from Fatehpur Sikri. It is linked to Agra and Jaipur by train. Reasonable accommodation is easily available in Bharatpur.

Deeg is 36 km north of Bharatpur and 90 km from Agra. A market town, it boasts the distinguished Gopal Bhawan of Maharaja Suraj Mal (1750), an architectural treat with the added attraction of still-furnished royal apartments. Ask at the local desi theka (country liquor vendor) for a bottle of Kesar Kasturi. Though this retail outlet is very downmarket, the drink makes an excellent tonic unique to this region. Having driven from Delhi via Mathura on the main road, the tourist can return through the Aravalli Hills via Alwar (Deeg is 38 km west of Mathura and Alwar lies another 90 km west). Many small fortified villages can be discovered as compensation for wandering off the main road, a few of which have been converted into motels. However, be careful about driving late at night, unless you are very sure of the locality.

The landscape at Gwalior (320 km from Delhi, 120km from Agra) is irresistibly royal, the fortifications a gift of nature. The palaces of the Scindias are magnificent and contain exotic trifles mixed with priceless antiques. Visit Man Singh and Jai Vilas Palaces and the archaeological Museum. The Scindias managed to maintain loyality both to Indian inspiration (Chhatrapati Shivaji, the scourge of Aurangzeb) and to the paramountey of the British Raj. The state became famous in an age of conservative Maharajas who resisted the coming of the railways by setting up comprehensive network of narrow gauge lines. The Maharaja not only had a line laid up to his palace gate but the railway engineers who built his fabulous engines also designed a silver line for his dining table that served the replete Maharaja with brandy and cigars. The Usha Kiran Palace Hotel transports the visitor to the mood of the 1930s.

The picturesque Madhav National Park in Shivpuri is set on a salubrious plateau, 114 km south of Gwalior. The spectacular royal hunting lodge of the Scindias is situated within the park. Stay in the Madhya Pradesh Government Tourist Lodge, amongst the finest of its kind. One can travel 94 km east to Jhansi, or about 200 km west to Ranthambhor through delightful forested tracts. But passage over the Chambal River is by a leaky tin tub that claims to be a municipal ferry.

Jhansi, 415 km southeast of Delhi, 215km southeast of Agra, makes an excellent base for nearby Orchha and Datia, and connects with India’s finest temple encounter, Khajuraho, another 200 km east into the interior. Shatabdi Express to Bhopal gets you to Jhansi from Delhi in a little over four hours.

This tiny former state, 74 km south of Gwalior and 27 km north of Jhansi, has the seven-storied palace of Raja Bir Singh Deo (called Gobind Mandir) which is brilliant in its strength and harmony. But be careful you do not get lost in its eerie echoing labyrinth. The cluster of Jain shrines at Songir, 60 km south of Gwalior on the road approached by crossing the main railway line.

One of the last unspoilt jewels of Bundelkhand culture, Orchha, lies 20 km south of Jhansi. This atmospheric, abandoned city with dreaming spires reflected in the blue Betwa River, is Raja Bir Singh Deo’s creation. You can stay in a palace hotel run by Madhya Pradesh Government and breath in the beautifully relaxed pace of Madhya Bharat. Nothing quite like Orchha for a getaway far from tourist touts.

Although a hefty 700 km south of Delhi, Bhopal, the attractive capital of Madhya Pradesh, is worth visiting. Bhopal also makes a good base for three fabulous ancient sites in Madhya Pradesh – Sanchi, Vidisha and Bhimbetka. Vidisha, 9 km north of Sanchi, has column erected by Heliodorus, a Greek devotee of Lord Vishnu, dated between 1st and 2nd century BC. A few kilometers from Vidisha are the caves of Udaygiri containing superb reliefs of Gupta period. The prehistoric cave paintings at Bhimbetka. 45 km south, are remarkably well preserved because of the nature of pigments used. The oldest paintings are believed to be 12,000 years old. For accommodation, Bhopal is a good bet for the discriminating tourist. Jehan Numa Palace hotel evokes the past, and Hotel Lake View Ashok, the present. With hired transport and a sober driver, the visitor can fit in all three sites over a long weekend.

See Khajuraho and you have glimpsed the essence of India. The Taj is a mausoleum to love, the Kandariya Mahadev Temple a living ode. It is the architectural inspiration rather than the erotic details that bewitch the visitor to this hideway village. Few temples in the world excude the spiritual serenity that infuses this scattered array of buildings. The temples of Khajuraho have uplifting lines that move the viewer as a range of mountain does, the design being borrowed from the perspective of receding ranges leading to the climax of Mount Kailash. Khajuraho enjoys the infrastructure of comfortable hotels. If the five hour road journey from Jhansi to Khajuraho seems an avoidable extra, recall that but for its inaccessibility, Khajuraho would not have survived the centuries with iconoclasts, graffitists and moralists seeking to downplay one of the richest examples of wholeness in the world of art, the natural interplay of flesh and spirit. Khajuraho is a useful base for exploring the Bundelkhand region. Panna, 40 km away, has diamond mines and some bizarre palaces. Panna National Park with the famous forts of Ajaigarh and Kalinjar are not too far away.

A Stone’s Throw Away

Dhauj with its imposing red cliffs and reservoir is the nearest of Delhi’s weekend getaways, around 40 km south, off the road from Faridabad to Sohna. It nestles hidden in the lee if the Aravalli ranges providing opportunities for rock climbing and bird watching. The craggy outcrops of the Aravallis and the wide expanse of the Damdama Lake offer an ideal setting for boating and rock climbing. A Haryana Tourism motel caters to the leisure-bent. It is 8 km east of Sohna, which with its hot springs, is another popular destination for picnickers from Delhi. Only 55 km southwest of Delhi, Beyond Gurgaon, the lake at Sultanpur has a rich variety of migratory birds in winter. Accomodation in huts and rooms is available. The area is also rich in railway history. Nearby is the very first meter gauge passenger line laid in the world (to Farrukhabad).

This quaint and dramatic capital of a former Rajput state is 160 km from Delhi. The palaces live up to exotic expectation, as does the city palace Museum. Alwar offers a reasonable range of accommodation and lies along the railway route to Jaipur (150 km). Share royal lifestyle at the discount end, at the Palace Hotel in Silser, some 20 km away. Sariska National Park is 35 km southwest of Alwar and 200 km from Delhi. Unfortunately, the once viewable tiger has become rather rare. Evening at a hide-out overlooking a water hole is the best time to view the wildlife. Hotel sariska Palace offers accommodation within the park.

Connected to Delhi by a good but crowded road and excellent railway, Jaipur (250 km), with its broad streets and grid plan invites easy inspection. Maharaja Jai Singh’s observatory, Jantar Mantar dates to 1728 and Hawa Mahal, the five storey palace with a façade of extensive lattice work in stone, to 1799. Inside the elaborated city palace is located the fabulous Maharaja Swai Man Singh Museum. For a great view of Jaipur go to the fort of Nahagarh overlooking the town.
The grandeur of the palaces and the wealth of the museums can overwhelm the indiscriminate victim of guided tours. While shopping in the bazaars beware of manufacturers of instant antiques, but do spend some time in the jewellery shops. Jaipur is a major center for precious and semi-precious stones. The range of accommodation available is excellent. Rambagh Palace Hotel retains discreet references to past opulence and the sybaritic lifestyle. Amber Fort, situated 11 km outside Jaipur, exudes the flamboyance of Rajput warrior traditions. It is stunningly positioned on a hilltop which overlooks a lake. The fort is a 15 minute walk from the road, though it is de rigeur to ascend on elephant back.

Ranthambhor National Park
Ranthambhor National Park is the scenic sanctuary near the Chambal gorge, ideal cover for the tiger. It is 160 km southeast of Jaipur via Sawai Madhopur. Poaching has diminished the number of tigers, in spite of the efforts of honest environmentalists. There are good lodges at the park gate, with jeep hire arrangements. The best time to visit is from November to May.

The Shekhawati region in the semi-arid triangle between Delhi, Jaipur and Bikaner has spectacular art treasures adorning the walls of its havelis (mansions). The mansions in the small market towns of Shekhawati are deserted and crumbling inhabited by Chowkidars or squatters. Their owners have to big cities but those mansions with their painted walls are not to be missed. The havelis belong to Marwaris, India’s most successful merchant community. Every available inch of space, inside and out, is covered with vibrant paintings, astonishing not just for the quantity but for the quality. Jhunjhunu is the nearest of the Shekhawati painted towns from Delhi (about 220 km via Narmaul). It makes a good base for study tours of the cluster of smaller towns that boasts of painted havelies, Fatehpur, Mandawa, Ramgarh and Sikar. The walled city of Mandawa, 27 km west of Jhunjhunu, is built around the Maharaja’s palace which has been turned into a hotel where the royal families are well informed hosts. The havelis are tall, narrow buildings where the artist was commissioned to fill every available space with bright blues, deep reds and yellows to give a primary impact that announces to one’s neighbours that your family has arrived in the pecking order of Marwaris eths. The local textiles are superb in colour and design, and wear well. Fatehpur, 8 km west of Mandawa, also boasts a medieval baoli (step well). Fatehpur has a Rajasthan State Tourism bungalow which is well-run and reasonably priced. It makes a good base to see Ramgarh, 15 km to the north, perhaps the ultimate Sekhawati painted town.

About 450 km southwest of Delhi by the Shatabdi distance shrinker; this town is famous for the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, a Sufi saint who settled here in 1192. Also worth visiting is the mosque, Adhai Din ka Jhonpra, built from a despoiled Jain college. Accommodation at Pushkar, only 11 km away, is fairly simple, while at Ajmer it is passable. The brilliantly beautiful Pushkar Lake is sacred to Hindus and is irresistible to young western tourists. Pushkar also has one of the only Brahma temples in the country.

This true desert town flaunts the mood of feudal Rajasthan and everything about it is appealing. It is an overnight journey by train from Delhi (460km). Going by the palace size and fittings, the Bikaner motto seems to have been ‘anything other dynasties can do, we can do better’ and the building are not just impressive but overwhelming in their pomp and style. It was Maharaja Ganga Singh (1887-1943) who dragged Bikaner from its medieval status to an invigorating modern style. His rambling Lalgarh Palace is now a hotel. The museums of Bikaner are the last word in exotic memorabilia and inspired upmarket junk (including a soup-strainer for the Walrus-mustachioed Maharaja, Prussian helmets with villainous looking spikes and shot down enemy aircraft in a shot-up condition). Do not fail to see the bed that says it all about these desert princes, forever on guard against treachery. Outside the well laid-out town is the palace of Gajner (32km), once famous for its gargantuan bags of sand grouse and now a hotel. Another famous excursion is to the Karni Mata Mandir at Deshnok (32 km southwest) where rats are allowed religious right of way. Otherwise Bikaner is essentially camel territory and a visit to the Camel Breeding Farm (10km) is a must. The Bikaner royal family cenotaphs at Devi Kund (8km) merit a visit.

Chandigarh hosts the governments of both Punjab and Haryana. It lies 250 km northeast of Delhi and is extremely well connected by trains and buses. With the lived-in experience of its model layout sobering the original hype of its designer, Le Corbusier, Chandigarh as a city still striving to find its soul. The government buildings in sector I almost bully the landscape. The Rose Garden, the museum and Art Gallery are worth a visit. The latter has a fine collection of Indian miniature paintings. Sukhna Lake relieves the monotony of Le Corbusier’s grid while Nek Chand’s rock garden is a work of sheer landscaping genius. For the rock garden alone, Chandigarh is worth a visit. Accommodation in the city is limited.

Dehradun is now the capital of the new state of Uttaranchal. No longer is a place of sylvan beauty for the retired, Dehradun, like many other towns, badly in need of a bypass. Coming from Delhi (230kms) you can turn west at Clement Town and drive to the Indian Military Academy (IMA), then through the Cantonment to Rajpur Road, missing the patholes and fumes of innumerable three-wheelers. The institutions for which Dehradun has always been famous, IMA, Doon School and the Forest Research Insttute, lie on this route.

Once the ‘Queen of the Hills’. The 36 km climb from the Doon Valley now introduces the visitor to Mussoorie’s modern claim to fame, the largest number of hotels in any hill resort in India, 350 at the last count. But it is still cool and salubrious if you know where to find the shady walks. Landour Cantonment, for example, remains untouched by the building boom. Mussoorie is an excellent base for treks into the interior of Garhwal. Nag Tibba at 3,000 meters, through dense unspoilt jungle can be done in a weekend. The Mussoorie season only lasts six weeks in Mau and June and for the rest of the year there is the prospect of more reasonable room rates and the likelihood of more reliable drinking water. Mussoorie’s so-called suburban expansion west to Kempty Falls, and east along the great snow view ridge to Dhanolti and Sarkhanda Devi, attracts visitors who come to get away from Delhi’s traffic jams though Mussoorie’s Mall is worse in the tourist season! Taxis and buses ply regularly between Mussoorie and Dehradun. You can drive to Rishikesh along the rodge (via Chamba and Narendranagar) but it takes half the time via Dehradun.

The Ganga, free of the Himalayan valley, broadens out at Rishikesh. Loudspeakers on both banks blare out spiritual sustenance from the numerous ashrams lining this athletic river. A footbridge enables the visitor to cross to the opposite bank. Walk up to Lakshman Jhula and return over the much narrower gorge section. This would give an idea why the Ganga is believed to be the releaser from sin. Though Haridwar is known as the ‘gate’ of the abode of Shiva to the plains, it is the swelling of the uncaged river at Rishikesh that arouses the feeling of deliverance. Rishikesh is the starting point of pilgrimages by car or bus, to the Char Dham of Uttarakhand. Twenty-five km upstream near vyasi is Shivpuri, a center for white water rafting which offers short and memorable trips for all ages, the perfect tonic for jaded urban appetites.

The bazaar at Haridwar is beautifully devotional while the ghats tend to be more businesslike. Har ki Paori has the same memerising universal quality as the Dasavamedh Ghat in Varanasi. Some time or the other, all good Hindus must make the rounds of Haridwar and the air is full of the spirit of thankfulness. High-rise ashrams between Rishikesh and Haridwar offer the ultimate ‘best of both worlds’, packaged ancient wisdom with all mod cons. Shatabdi Express from Delhi has now made Haridwar a convient day outing.

Thanks to an overnight train to Kotdwar (300 km from Delhi), it is possible to enjoy Pauri over a long weekend. At satpuli, a road diverts to the anglers paradise at vyasi (where the Nayar River meets the Ganga) and a diversion to the west takes you to Lansdowne, a hill station famous as the regimental center of the Garhwal Rifles. Higher still, Pauri is perched in front of the snow peaks of the Great Himalaya, Chaukhamba, Nilkanth, Trishul and others in a marvelous close-up panorama of the inner Himalayas. Accommodation is available in the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam bungalow in Pauri and in the PWD bungalow at Lansdowne. Pauri is 110 km from Kotdwar, 100 km from Rishikesh; Lansdowne is 42 km from Kotdwar, 110 km from Pauri. Najibabad, 20 km from Kotdwar on the road to Bijnor, has the vast and rambling Patthargarh, a mud fort, which was the original home of the famous Robin Hood bandit, sultana.

Fifteen kilometers north of Meerut is the startingly magnificent basilica built by the diminutive Begum Samru who led her own forces to battle. She was spouse to two foreign soldiers of fortune and turned to religion after retirement. This Roman Catholic structure, built in 1819, has some fine furniture and monuments and is an incredible architectural achievement to emerge from an age of freebooting anarchy. The marble gateway was said to be imported from Italy no doubt at the instance of the Begum’s French husband.

Corbett National Park
The oldest of north India’s game sanctuaries, Corbett is situated on the generous flow of the Ramganga, a river that divides Garhwal from Kumaun. The main entrance to the park lies north of Ramnagar some 300 km from Delhi. The facilities are wide enough to satisfy every taste. The mix of sal forest, Blue River and receding hills make it a perfect getaway, in spite of the number of tourists. The main accommodation is at Dhikala, some 50 km fro Ramnagar, but private resorts outside the sanctuary at Ramnagar and Kalagarh offer tempting facilities. Tiger Tops Corbett Lodge on the river Kosi near Ramgarh is top of the range. The best time to visit is between November and May. Corbett offers not-to-missed tours into the interior of Kumaun. The driver to Ranikhet (85 km) follows a breathtakingly beautiful panorama of the snow-capped mountains along a ridge road. An overnight train to Kathgodam now makes the Kumaun hills.

An interesting excursion is a trek to Ramnagar from Nainital by the high ridge route via Binayak (2 days).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Mughlai Affair

Delhi is a generous city. It has assimilated the cuisines of Banias, Rajputs, Arabs, Afghans, Mughals and the English and more recently, the Punjabis. Sometimes it makes you wonder if what unites the country is not language or religion, but the food.

People of the early Vedic civilization ate meat and were fond of soma rasa (fermented fruit juice). In the following centuries, the priestly class became vegetarian and so did those who adopted Buddhism and Jainism. The Turko-Afghan invaders of Delhi were fond of lamb and poultry but their food was not very spicy, and peppercorn was used to liven a dish. The mughals, who became thereafter, favoured various types of meat cooked with ghee, curds and spices. They were fond of fruit and they imported grapes and musk melons from central Asia. What is today termed ‘Mughlai’ food in Delhi has little resemblance to what the emperors ate. It is a blend of Punjabi and Mughlai cuisine, standardize so much it tastes the same all over the city. If anything can be called the original Delhi food, it is probably the vegetarian Bania food which retained its original flavour despite the influence of mughal cuisine. After the partition of India in 1947, many people from west Punjab moved into Delhi and the city was introduced to Punjab’s vegetarian fare which is spicier than the food eaten locally.

Nowhere else in India will you find so many types pf cuisines-each with its own pedigree-which have evolved over the years. While Delhi’s ethnic specialities can be identified as Bania, Mughal and Punjabi, the European and Chinese food available are of a high standard.

Places that offer Muslim food are the areas around Jama Masjid, Bara Hindu Rao near Sardar bazaar and Nizamuddin. Some restaurants in the exclusive five-star hotels serve excellent Muslim food. Jama Masjid is today probably the best place for Mughal cuisine in North India.The variety and the quality are incredible, from the gola kebabs of Babu Khan who sits near the mosque in Matia Mahal, to Kallu’s halim and nahiri at the end of Gali Chitli Qabar. The different types of kebab and bread thet are available in the Jama Masjid area are mind-boggling. The kebab range from seekh and reshmi to kathi and kalmi, and the bread from naan and roomali roti to bakarkhami and tandoori roti.

For Puinjabi-Mughlai food the most popular places are the restaurants in Pandara Road Market, Karol bagh and Connaught place. Pindi and Gulati in pandara road and kake d hotel in connaught place have large clientele. Every locality in south and west Delhi has one or two good eating places serving this hybrid of Punjabi and Mughlai food. The menu here is predictable, with the ubiquitous tandoori chicken, butter chicken and dal makhani being favourites.The most famous non-vegetarian restaurant in Shahjahanabad area is karim in gali kababiyan in matia mahal.The restaurant has been run by the same family for over 90 years. Mutton korma, ishtew and barra kababs are musts for the gourmet visiting karim and the meal should end with firui, a milk-based dessert served in an earthenware dish. Karim has a branch near the dargah at Hazrat Nizamuddin. There is an interesting story about how the beef stew, nahiri, first came to be made during the reign of Emperor Shahjahan. Delhi’s water supply came from the canal in Chandni Chowk. The water in the canal was once found to be unfit for consumption, so the hakims of Delhi put their heads together and devised a recipe far a stew, cooked overnight over slow fire, with beef and a large measure of red chillies. The furiously hot chillies were meant to burn any germs present in the polluted water. It is said that the use of chillies and amchoor in bania food started around this time.

Interestingly, there are no restaurants in Delhi offering the traditional, vegetarian restaurants or bhojanalayas offer Marwari food. The better known being sakahari in Chawri bazaar, New Soni on Nai Sarak and Brijbasi outside Katra Neel. In most places the vegetarian food available is basically Punjabi. Unfortunately, most restaurants trend to thrive on dal makhani and the eternal paneer or cottage cheese. These restaurants give any international fast food chain competition when it comes to standardizing the flavour of food!

The mainstay of the restaurant scene is the numerous makeshift eateries or dhabas. Originally dhabas were located on major highways, catering mainly to the truck drivers. Within the city these modest eateries have acquired a different dimension, serving reasonably priced food ranging from Punjabi to Chinese. The speed and dexterity with which food is splashed out on plates and brusquely placed on rickety tables is commendable. Special mention must be made of the Punjabi favourite, chhole bhature or chhole kulche. The best thing about chhole is that it taste different in every household and in every restaurant. One of the best places offering chhole bhature in Kwality in Connaught place. Another Delhi favourite is rajma-chawal, kidney beans cooked with spices and tomatoes, and served with rice. Rajma-chawal is available outside most office complexes though this is a dish best cooked at home. An important part of bania food culture is its savouries, chaats and snacks, for which Delhi is famous. The chaats available in Delhi include gol gappas, papris, dahi pakore and raj kachoris. Some old chaat stalls survive in the Shahjahanbad area. Ashok Chaat Bhandar at Hauz Qazi Chowk is a great favourite asare the shopps selling chaat in Bengali market in New Delhi and Haldiram Bhujiawala on Mathura road near Badarpur.

Satellite TV has made the dilliwala familiar with international cuisines. The generation that grew up on Archie comics knew what burgers and pizzas were. But only recently did phrases like Fettucine Verde, Quiche Lorraine and Spaghetti Bolognaise start tripping off the dilliwala’s tongue. Apart from restaurants in five-star hotels , Delhi now has a large number of restaurants specializing in food ranging from Mexican, Lebanese and Italian to Indonesian, Japanese and Thai. Also, the small restaurants in Paharganj, where young foreign tourists on shoesring budgets gather, serve reasonably good European food. Major international fast food chains find a karge clientele in Delhi, although the desi eateries next door serving spicy chaat and hot masala dosa with equal efficiency, are just as busy. Delhi’s children are as passionate about chaat as they are Chinese noodles and burgers.

For those with a sweet tooth, Delhi is the place to be. Apart from the original fare associated with Delhi, popular sweets from all parts of the country are available here, rasmalai, pakeezah, mohan bhog, kalakand, milk cake, gulab jamun and all kinds of burfis and laddos. The oldest mithai shop in the city is Ghantewala in Chandni Chowk which has been run by the same family since 1790. They make the traditional sweets of delhi-habshi halwa, sohan halwa, pinni, and all-time favourites like pista and kaju burfis and motichur laddoos.

Other well-known sweet shops Chandni Chowk are Haldiram Bhujiawala and Annapoorna. The latter is the oldest authentic Bengali sweet shop in Delhi. Annapoorna has branches in Green park and Chittaranjan park. Among the best sweet shop in New Delhi are Kaleva in Gole Market. Nathu’s and Bengali sweets in Bengali market. One of the best loved sweets in Delhi is kulfi, made with thickened milk and yopped with saffron and nuts. Kulfi is eaten with falooda, a type of vermicelli. Roshan Di Kulfi on Ajmal Khan Road in Karol Bagh serves excellent kulfis. Delhi is also known for various kinds of halwa-mung dal and gajar halwas are popular. Jalebies are another fovourite, eaten throughout the year, but especially in winter, when all sweet shops reserve a corner for frying piping hot jalebis. The best jalebis are to be found at Old Famous Jalebiwala at the crossing of Dariba Kalan and Chandni Chowk. For those with western tastes, Delhi has a host of excellent confectioneries. Wenger’s in Connaught place, Sugar and Spice and Nirula’s with branches in different localities are among the best. The bakery at Santushti complex makes excellent breads, while the one at Aurobindo Ashram is recommended for its variety of biscuits.

Savour specialties of different states. The Makki Ki Roti and Sarson Ka Sag of Punjab; Momos from Sikkim; Chowmein from Mizoram; Dal - Bati Choorma from Rajasthan; Shrikhand, Pao-Bhaji and Puram Poli of Maharashtra; Macher Jhol from Bengal; Wazwan, the ceremonial Kashmiri feast; Idli, Dosa and Uttapam of South Indian and Sadya, the traditional feast of Kerala, all are available under one roof.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Festivals Of Delhi

As the capital of a nation, with its pot-pourri of people, Delhi relishes its heterogeneous character and celebrates every festival with gaiety and abandon.

In India everything is celebrated, from harvests to the changing of seasons, from the triumph of a goddess battling evil to the love between a brother and his sister. Festivals are what give life its richness and colour. Through the sharing of a celebration, society continues with its traditions and, at times, even creates new ones. Through conquests and calamities India has held on to its culture. And inevitably every new generation falls under the spell of this medley of worship and rejoicing.

Republic Day: come 26 January and people line the streets to watch the Republic Day parade. As the president of India takes the salute on Rajpath, marching columns from the armed forces, tanks and missile carriers rumble past. Camels amble along, elephants come swaying, school children turn cartwheels and transforms the solemn occasion into a carnival. An exciting folk dance festival follows a day later at Talkatora stadium. The festivities end with beating the Retreat, a feast of martial music, at Vijay chowk on 29 January.

On 13 January, a rural festival, Lohri, invades the streets of Delhi and is celebrated with bonfires in parks and open spaces. Traditionally, Lohri marks the end of winter.

Basant Panchami: The biting winter winds continue till end January- early February when the Hindu festival of Basant Panchami welcomes spring.

Festivals, especially Hindu and Muslims ones, Follow traditional lunar calendars and their dates vary from year to year. The only way to list them is by season as has been done here. However, with most Muslim festivals, even the seasonal dates vary. Many Hindu festivals are related to Purunima and Amavasya which are significant days in the Hindu calendar. We have included colorful happenings unique to Delhi, as well a some of the more important religious festivals.

Statesman Vintage Car Rally is held in early February on a balmy weekend. Classic cars roll sedately out on to the roads, ambling off on a day trip to Sohna in the bordering state of Haryana.

Surajkund Crafts Mela is an annual fair which is held for a fortnight in February. Just beyond the borders of Delhi, in the state of Haryana, a traditional village fair is recreated with little thatched huts where craftspeople from all over India display exotic artifacts.

Holi: On the day of the full moon in the month of Phalguna, Delhi braces itself for a day of uninhibited revelry as Holi is celebrated with great vigour and joy. All morning people smer gulal often mixed with water on one another and dance to the beat of drums. There is a tradition in North India of consuming bhang on Holi. Pakoras and thandai, both laced with bhang are consumed with gay abandon in many households and community gatherings.

Outsiders are advised not to go into unfamiliar localities on the morning of Holi and to play only with those they know well as the revelry could get out of hand and rowdyism is known to creep in. The festivity end with lunch and is often followed by long hours of gambling.

Mahashivratri is celebrated on the amavasya night of Phalguna. It is said Lord Shiva danced the tandava nritya on this dark night. He is worshiped at temples with all night vigils and prayers. Unmarried women keep day long fasts so that Shiva may grant them good husbands.

In North India, the Hindu New Year is celebrated on baisakhi in mid-April just as the sun begins to get fierce and the dusty winds herald summer. Baisakhi is particularly important for Sikhs because it was on this day that Guru Gobind Singhji, the tenth guru, organized the Sikhs into a powerful brotherhood and called them Khalsa. Gurudwaras commemorate the day with the singing of Shahad Kirtan.

Id-Ul-Fitr is most often celebrated in this season. It marks the end of Ramzan, the month of fasting for Muslims. This day is also called meethi id, because of a special sweet delicacy, sevaiyyan, which is cooked on this day.

The Urs of Hazrat Nizamuddin is celebrated with fervour at his dargah. Devotees put flowers and chaddars on his grave. The nightssway to the singing of qawwalis, especially those composed by the medieval poet, Amir Khusro, a friend and disciple of the saint.

Ramnavami, the birth of Lord Rama, is celebrated on the ninth day of shuklapaksh in Vaisakha with readings from the Hindu epic, Ramayana, at temples, both large and small.

Buddha Purnima in the month of Vaisakha, commemorates not just Lord Buddha’s birth, but also his enlightenment and nirvana.

Mahavir Jayanti, the birth of Lord Mahavira who founded Jainism, is celebrated around this time with prayers and processions.

Muharram is observed with procession of emotionally charged devotees wailing and beating their breasts. Others rcount the story of Husain and carry elaborate paper, pith and tinsel replies of the tomb at Karbala called Tazias.

On 15 august, India celebrates Independence Day with the Prime Minister addressing the nation from Lal Qila’s sandstone ramparts. On this day, a tradition has evolved of people flying kites and the breezy evening sky is dotted with soaring squares of fragile, coloured paper.

On Sravana Purnima Rakshabandhan is celebrated. Sisters tie rachis or woven bands of tinsel and thread on their brother’s wrists as a pledge of love and receive their promise of protection and normally a gift or money.

Janmashtami is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna on the eight day of krishnapaksh in Sravana. Temples across the city are decorated with fairy lights and colourful exhibits on Krishna’s life. Laxmi Narayan Mandir has a special display which attracts huge crowds.

Id-Ul-Zuha is popularly known as bakr Id, the ‘feast of sacrifice’. /this is time for celebration for meat-eaters and a spirit of general bonhomie pervades among Muslims.

Phoolwalon ki sair is a festival unique to Delhi. It is celebrated in September in Mehrauli.

Navaratery, literally nine nights, commemorates the victory of goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasur. Navaratrey ends with Dussehra, also called Vijay Dashami, or the tenth day of victory. Through the nine days diligent Hindus in North India keep fasts all day long. The tenth day, Dussehra, is celebrated in different ways by people from different parts of country.

On Vijay Dashami, Rama is believed to have defeated Ravana. Huge effigies are made of Ravana, his brother Kumbhakarna and son Meghnath, filled with fire crackers and set on fire in community gatherings in open spaces all over the city.

Night after night, people watch the story of Ramayana re-enacted, and the magic never fades. Ram Lilas are organized in most neighbourhoods all through the nine days of Navaratrey.

Durga Puja is celebrated by Bengalis on the last four days of Navaratrey. Images of the mother goddess Durga, all fiery power and exquisite beauty, are worshipped with flowers, incense and the beating of drums. On Vijaya Dashami the idols are taken out in a procession to be immersed in the yamuna.

Around the same time, the vibrant Balloon Mela at safdarjang Airport celebrates adventure with huge exotic hot air balloons lazily floating across the sky.

Diwali, the festival of lights, falls on amavasya, the darkest night of Kartika. It is believed that on this day Lord Rama came home to his kingdom after a fourteen year exile and the city of Ayodhya lit oil lamps to welcome him. As dusk falls, streets turn into fairylands with shimmering garlands of lamps to and candles strung across balconies and windows. Sweets and gifts are exchanged between families and friends amidst the bursting of crackers. Doors are left open on Diwali because goddess Laxmi is supposed to enter homes and bring prosperity and good luck. With many small busieness establishment in North India, the financial calendar begins on Diwali when the new khata is inaugurated.

Guru Purab is the celebration of the birth of the Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak. Nagar Kirtans are taken out through the streets and in the gurudwaras, granthees recite verses from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs.

Delhi’s year of festivities and with Christmas and New Year’s Eve when there special programmes at most hotels and restaurants across the city. In Connaught Place, people step out at midnight to welcome the New Year with noise and revelry.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Delhi Bazzars - Shopping Zones

There are countless bazaars in Delhi. But for sheer ambiance, few can compare with the ancient bazaars around Jama Masjid & Chandni chowk – each a world in itself – like the romantic old souks of Baghdad & Damascus. The best place exploring these bazaars would be Jama masjid. Built on a rocky outcrop, Jama masjid gives a kaleidoscopic view of the old city. The flight of steps on the eastern end of Jama masjid facing Lal Quila leads to meena bazaar. This bazaar was built in late 1970s to cater to the needs of pilgrims and tourists. It has rows of small shops selling readymade garments,local cosmetics, embroidered caps in silk, cotton and nylon.Thee are also many dhabas, makeshift stalls where you can get a piping hot meal of meat curry and rotis for just a few rupees,or biryani, a fragrant, spicy Muslim rice specialty. The lane going through the left flank of the bazaar, behind Jama masjid ,will take you to the cotton market which specializes in making and selling quilts, pillows and mattresses .Beyond it is the busy cycle market which has the best range of bicycles ad tricycles as well as accessories. You can also go down the right flank of the meena bazaar and head for kasturba hospital marg. Before doing so pause for a while at Urdu Park. Here you can sit under the soft shade of the age-old trees, have your ears cleaned or get a body or head massage. At the far end of Urdu park you can see the akharas where wrestling bouts are held every Sunday evening from 4pm onwards.

It may be worthwhile to hire a cycle rickshaw at Kasturba Hospital Marg to negotiate the labyrinthine lanes and bylanes of these old bazaars. The perpetual crowd of pedestrians, handcarts, rickshaws and stray buffaloes might intimidate you. The lanes are narrow and winding and in no way conducive to a leisurely stroll. They are a pot pourri of shops, godowns, eating places, residential quarters, temples and mosques. The rickshawalas are careful navigators who will point out the landmarks to you as they manoeuvre their way. Climb carefully on to a rickshaw and wedge yourself firmly on the narrow seat. Use your feet to push against the foot rest and hold on to the side. A little way down Kasturba Hospital Marg is the meat market. The shops display rows of goats heads, piles of trotters, chicken in crowded coops waiting to be is not a pleasing sight and certainly no place for the faint of heart. The fish market across the street is probably more interesting because it is visually vibrant though wet and messy and not as starkly carnal as the meat shops. On the left, the meat shops give way to the motor parts market.Motoring aficionados claim that this is one of largest second hand spare parts market in the world, with over thousand shops packed into a square kilometer behind Jama masjid. Exactly half way down the length of the west wall of Jama Masjid, is a road leading to the heart of specialised wholesale market. Chawri bazaar, paper products market is where one could buy paper by the ream, wedding cards and wallpaper in exquisite shades. The melee is maddening ,as cars and rickshaws vie for passage with pedestrians and coolies who rush around with huge bales on their back.

If you want a breather, ask the rickshawala to take you down Churiwali gali. Once upon a time bangles were manufactured here. There were countless, colourful bangle shops. Today, only about a dozen shops remain and the bangles are brought from faraway manufacturing centers. Turn back now and go to Nai Sarak which specializes in school and college textbooks. At the end of the lane,turn left for khari baoli, Asias largest spice market. The pungent aroma of spices will hit you as the shops display mounds of turmeric, red chillies, cardamom cloves and nutmeg. There are raisins from California, Sultanas from Afghanistan, walnuts from Kashmir and much else. Shopkeepers here claim that this I also the biggest market in Asia for edible oils and dry fruits. It is time to return to Chandni Chowk. The historical accounts of this market are legion, of times when merchants came from Turkey,China,Holland and other distant lands, with weapons, exotic birds, pearls and tapestry. There was nothing that was not available here. An Amir’s son could squander away a ransom during a stroll without affecting the supply of goods! Travellers wrote of tall trees and a canal running down the centre of the street. Sadly the trees have long gone and the canal has given way to an unaesthetic road divider painted a bilious yellow. But there is no denying that the charm remains.

The katras or wholesale markets are sandwiched between the shops, offices, churches, mosques, temples and gurudwaras. One of the most popular is katra neel which deals with fabric and there is nothing in textiles that you cannot find here. Silks, cotton, voiles, muslins, brocades from Benaras and much, much more. It is fascinating maze of shops, most of which are no more than two feet by five feet. A little ahead is Bhagirath palace, Asia’s largest market for electrical goods. Old and new, outdated or imported, it is all available here. And what is not available can be specially fabricated for you. Cross the main street and go down to Kinari bazaar. You will be overwhelmed by an outburst of dense colours. Everything needed for an Indian wedding is available here, garlands of fresh paper currency decorated lavishly with gold and silver tinsel, garments, jewellery even paper plates and glasses! And if you are in a rush to tie the knot, you can hire clothes and accessories for the occasion. Vishal Chitrashala Dresswala for example, rents out splendid gold brocade achkan, salwar and turban for the groom and lehnga with zardozi work veil for the bride for anything between Rs300 and Rs 1000.Many shops also sell and rent out theatre costumes. If there is a festival in the offing, people come here from all over the city to make their purchases-gulal or coloured powder if it is Holi, rakhis if it is Rakshabandhan or extra heads of Ravan if it is Dussehra.

The lane ends at driba kalan which is still known as the jewellers street. There was a time when it used to be lined with gold and silversmiths, but over time most of them have moved away. Those that remain deal largely in silver. It is an interesting place to buy silver jewellery, old or new. But be sure that you have ample time in hand, for it is not possible to rush things here. While in Dariba,look out for Gulab Singh Johrimal,a perfume and attar shop that has been doing business since 1816. Turn towards Lal Qila and stroll through the flower market. The sharp fragrance of flowers will envelop you as deft fingers weave garlands of roses, jasmine and marigolds. The fragrance stays with you long after you have left the flower market behind. Across the street in Lal Qila beyond the high arches of Lahore Gate is Chhatta Chowk Bazaar. Its long and chequered history gose back to the 17th century, to the days of Shahjahan, when caravan traders displayed their exotic wares for the ladies of the royal household-silks, pearls, precious stones, perfumes, brocades, carpets. Since the ladies were in purdha, the traders would lay out their wares and move away to allow the ladies to come out and make their choices and so it was till the British came and turned the fort into a garrison for its troops. Today Chhatta Chowk bazaar has abput forty glass-fronted shops dealing in artificial and semi-precious jewellery, embroidered bags, hand-painted wall hangings and fake ‘antiques’ from India and Nepal.

With sunset the ambience of Shahjahanbad changes, As lights are switched on temple bells announce the evening art and muezzins call the faithful to prayer. Shutters are pulled down and the hectic crowd disappears,as if by magic. Gradually all activity shifts to the eating places, especially in and around Matia Mahal Bazaar near Jama Masid, The lanes are hilled with aroma of fire and food and the sound of Hindi flim music.It is time to celebrate the flavours of traditional Muslim food as people from all over Delhi find their way to their favourite restaurant.

The act of collective cooking and eating acquires a special meaning in this cobweb of lanes.Huge pots simmer on slow fires, infusing flavours and needing to be stirred frequently with large ladles,often with both hands. Meat is not only fried, roasted and cooked in front or you, but outside many restaurants you may actually see live goats waiting their turn.

Traditionally, most villages in India have a haat or weekly bazaar where villagers sell grains, vegetables, tools, handicrafts and cattle. With urbanization most villages in and around Delhi have disappeared but the haats remain, so much so that even an urban jungle like Delhi has about 50 of them.These sprawling bazaars cater to diverse needs, miracle oils and exotic herbs and spices. Many locations in Delhi have their own weekly haats. The biggest is probably the one held in Ajmal Khan road in Karol Bagh on Mondays. On Tuesday there is one in Govindpuri,Wednesday in Bhogal, and so on. If you are not particularly keen on quality you can pick up attractive bargains at these weekly haats. An interesting book bazaar is held on the pavements of Daryaganj every Sunday which is certainly worth a visit. If you are lucky you may even spot a rare book among the piles of secondhand books, old magazines and periodicals. The Sunday bazaar below the eastern ramparts of Lal Qila on the Ring Road is variously known as Chor bazaar, Kabadi bazaar and Lal Qila bazaar. This is Delhi’s own fle market. Here you can get almost anything, antiques, alarm clocks, beautiful bottles, box cameras, typewriters, army shoes and overcoats, brass lamps, used bullets, and even carpets and crockery. As with flea markets anywhere, you must have an eye for the unusual. You could very well walk away with a crystal decanter, an old prayer rug, or a priceless first edition.

The tradition of the delhi school of miniature painting has continued from the time of emperor Jehangir, father of Shahjahan. The Delhi school is an offshoot of the Mughal painting tradition.Mansoor, a painter in Jehangir’s court was apprenticed to the Iranian miniature painters, Mir Ali and Abdul Samer during the 16th century.The Delhi school was distinguished for its dynamism and naturalism in treatment, contrast of colours and strong urban influence.The preferred base for the painting was ivory, but today special handmade paper is used.In the Zakir Nagar house of Firozbhai, Faridbhai and Akhtarbhai, direct descendants of Mansoor, the ambience is that of a medival studio. They prepare their own brushes with squirrel hair inserted into quills with specification for fine single hair lines or thicker strokes. Only herbal and mineral colours are used. The gold-leaf work is the last to be applied before burnishing with agate stones. These shy artists are willing to arrange a demonstration of their art by previous appointment.

Ivory was in Mughal India a symbol of aristocracy. African ivory was coveted as a material for its close grain, though Indian ivory was extensively used. Furniture, screens, lamps, platters and decorative items were inlaid with gold, silver, precious stones and miniature paintings. The carving was delicate, as can be seen in the Red Fort archaeological museum. Delhi ivory place,a 300 years-old-shop at the northern gate Jama Masjid, attracted the best craftsman who lived in Sahahjahanabad. It has, in its collection an old set of furniture carved by three generation of craftsmen which was intendad as a gift forQueen Victioria. Because of the ban on ivory use craftsmen now work on bone for small items such as pendants and earrungss and on sandalwood.

Dariba Kalan near Chandni Chowk known as the jeweller’s street,is famous for Meenakari or the art of enamelling on silver and gold. Setting in gold of navaratan,is a traditional skill of muslim craftsmen called saadegars who settled in Delhi during Sahajahan’s time Dariba also has Hindu craftsmen from Punjab and Bengal who specialized in gold and silver works. The sarafs,sellers of jewellery, are mostly Hindus and have been around for more than two centuries. Over the years, a lot of work has shifted from gold to silver and gold-plated silver ornaments. Exquisite handcrafted silver ornaments are also available in Dariba Kalan.

Uttam Nagar and Bandipur in west delhi are where most potters in the city live. Most of them are originally from Rajasthan and Haryana. A neatly laid-out settlement in Uttam Nagar called Kumhar colony was built in the 1970s to suit their specific needs. This is a unique case of group migration and solidarity. Most kumhars fan out to various parts of the city and establish pavement stalls from where they sell their wares. The crafting of objects of everyday use like clay pitchers, cooking pots and small oil lamps continues. Modern adaptations include flower pots and exotic display pots and planters. Quality earthenware is available at the crafts Museum in Pragati Maidan, Dilli Haat, Lajpat Nagar and along major roads and at the annual Surajkund Crafts Mela.

Opposite to shadipur bus depot in west delhi,one dips under the flyover and turns left into a deceptively innocuous street marked by a small stall of dholak sellers. This is asettlement of rajasthani puppeteers, street performers and craftspeople who migrated to Delhi decades ago.Puppets, large and small are made here as well as big, dramatics sculptures. Families of the bhopa community who live here are traditionally storytellers. Their women sing out the stories which are, in turn, painted on horizontal scrolls. The paintings are folk versions of the rajasthani school of miniature painting. The paintings are adapted to surfaces such as wood and clay,on furniture and decorative pots. The densely packed images are lyrical tales of local heroes. Women & children of the puppeteer Bhat community make papier mache wall decorations, stuffed toys and lamps. The itinerant Gilahre community make folk instruments like dug-dugi and seetis. The bhat women & children are seen in most delhi markets selling stuffed animals-large and small horses, camels and elephants made of black cloth and decorated with bright gold braids.

There are a few old shops dealing in musical instruments, most of which are brought to Delhi from various parts of India.Here, assemblage work is done , such as fitting of hide membranes of tables, dholaks and other drums. Harmoniums are set. String instruments such as diluba, israj and sarod are fitted and the single-stringed ektara is made. One of the oldest shops dealing in musical instruments in Bina Musical Stores in Nai Sarak. Rishi ram at Connaught Circus is known for its sitars. Others shops of repute are delhi musical stores at jama masjid and Lahore music house at daryaganj. Harshvardhan (house 1799 ram gali, malkaganj 3263595), an independent craftsman, specializes in making flutes. A variety of paper crafts are prevalent, of which tazia making is the most spectacular. Tazias are commemorative paper structures, intricately cut and pasted on a bamboo frame. Fantastic, colourful images of paper are taken in a procession during the muslim festival of Muharram. The making of paper kites caters to the famous kite flying mania of dilliwalas which reaches its heights during the monsoons, especially on 15 August, India’s independence day & during the spring festival of Basant Panchmi. The patanga or kite market in lal kuan bazaar in shahjahanabad is then a riot of colours. Kites come in all sizes, ranging from 36 inches to their miniature versions ,which are available at the crafts museum, Dilli Haat & Central Cottage Industries Emporium. However, the two standard sizes are 12 inches & 15 inches. Kites made of plastic sheets are also available.

Also popular are paper toys that do magical tricks, move like snakes & tortoises & quickly disintegrate to be replaced with newer ones. The toy makers do not have a stable market because mainline showrooms prefer expensive western-style toys.A few are stocked at Crafts Museum, Dilli Haat & Central Cottage Industries Emporium.