Monday, June 18, 2012

Paharganj in Old Delhi

I left Meerut this morning and went to Delhi. I'm now checked into the Hotel Aura in an old neighborhood of old Delhi called Paharganj.

Paharganj is congested, there are lots of old buildings, hundreds of hotels and tour companies. This is the area that you would think of when thinking of India, it's just like what you see on tv. Do a search on for Paharganj. The hotels here range from $5 a night upwards to over a hundred, I'm in a nice hotel, somewhere in the middle of the pack. The room is pretty spacious with a king size bed, fridge, desk, chairs and coffee table flat screen and so on. One of the nice things about the hotels in India is that they provide complimentary (and new of course) razors, toothbrush, tooth paste, comb and a few other things (and they are all in my large marble bathroom). This hotel also provides slippers and a robe, complimentary tea and coffee in the room and two free bottles of water per day. For Indian standards it's actually a pretty nice hotel and since I will be coming and going through Delhi this might just be the hotel to use. Oh, except that peak season starts in September and thus the deep discounts I'm getting will go away.

One of the wider side roads

(typical narrow alleys through Paharganj's residential area)
So after getting settled I went outside. It is noisy, crowded and just chaotic. But it is also beautiful as it is one part of India. The main roads here are wide enough for one small car going in each direction, the side roads are wide enough for a scooter or rickshaw. I meandered down a few roads looking at the variety of hotels, tour companies and stores. Lots of repair and parts stores. The alleys seemed quieter so I went down a few of those and came across a small dhaba (Hindi for restaurant). It's quite small, maybe 12' by 12' with three very small tables and benches. Out in front there were several large pots each filled with a different dish and behind the display a man making chapatis (flat bread). I was actually quite proud of myself as I ordered bindhi and chapatis for lunch (okra dish with 4 pieces of flat bread). After I was done eating the man asked me a question and I have no idea what it was but I waggled my head as Indians do and he smiled. Then I ordered one tea. I had absolutely no idea what this was going to cost me so I handed over some money and he gave me back a huge amount of change. Much more than I expected. As I walked away I calculated that my very nice lunch of spicy okra and flat bread with tea came to a whopping 53 cents. Okay, now I heard it could be cheap to eat in India, but 53 cents?? This is a very touristy area normally full of backpackers and other tourists and I'm sure the restaurants on the main roads are more expensive. All I can say is that I WILL be going back for more meals. I should note that not only was I happy to have a cheap meal, it really was quite good. The okra wasn't slimy and it was very well seasoned. Hot but not so hot that you couldn't enjoy the flavors. The chipati was dry cooked on a cast iron pan so had no oils to it. The dough was a little heavier than I'm used to making it a bit harder to tear with one hand, but it was still very good.

On the way back to my hotel I stopped and bought a soda. It's also interesting to note that a soda is more expensive than a basic lunch. To many living and working here a soda must be a luxury item that they cannot afford.

 During my afternoon walk I was strolling down one of the alleys and there was this man pushing a Ferris Wheel. A little one that looked home made with decades of wear. I turned and followed him as did an entourage of kids. The man found a spot and the kids jumped in to the seats after paying one rupee each (less than two cents). The wheel was turned with a push of the hand, there were no warning signs or height restrictions. With the excitement, laughter and wide  eyes one would have thought this was the biggest Ferris Wheel in the world.
My cup of chai

Eight pm and I head on out in search for dinner. The sun has set, the temperature has dropped a bit and hoards of people come out filling the streets and alleys. Street carts now rival the number of taxis along side the road. The place comes alive. I go for a stroll in search of dinner and end up where I had lunch. I sit down and order dal-chowl (yellow lentils and rice). I'm asked if I want a half order or full, I go for the full. Big mistake. Must be enough for four hungry adults. I eat only half of what was served. The owner and cook smile as I eat and frown when I don't finish. I reassure them it was good but just too much, even for me. As expected dinner was more expensive than lunch and cost me 30 rupees (55 cents). Then I stroll some more.

I've concluded that I'm going to have a serious problem with this location. While the hotels and stores don't interest me the number of restaurants and street food carts than appeared are tantalizing. I could spend a month here alone trying all the food. And with periodic visits to the tailor next door to let my pants out I could leave here very satisfied.

View of my regular eating dhaba from inside

View of the dhaba from outside. I'm an adventurous eater so I didn't hesitate to eat here. I've had four meals here now
and countless cups of tea. It's amazing that I can eat here and not get sick yet the last time I ate at Olive Garden
I got food poisoning. One just never knows.

yet another cup of chai

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