Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The streets of Paharganj

After a bit of rest and time spent updating the blog (with photos) I decided to go for a walk. Initially I thought this would be a boring area. Imagine four parallel streets named A B C and D.

Street A - major road with two lanes painted in each direction. That means it's really four lanes in each direction. Hotel after hotel line the road among numerous store fronts. Each store is no more than 12' wide and 20 feet deep, though many are only 10 feet deep at the most. They sell tile, marble, hardware, toilets, tools and other things that one wouldn't think about on a road lined with hotels.

Street B - paralleling street A this road sets behind the hotels and is a 'residential' street. Actually it's more like an alley only 10 feet wide. Numerous store fronts average only 8 feet wide and three feet deep. One sells veggies, another snacks, a local restaurant here and a beauty salon there. This road is for the locals that live in the area and after 6pm it comes alive with street vendors hawking food items including grilled corn on the cob, sweets, fried potato patties and tea. I opt for a cup of tea and am surprised when I only have to pay the local price of 14 cents. I didn't have to pay the 'tourist price' which is usually 80 cents.

Street C - More hotels. More than one could possibly imagine. I could not imagine this area if all the hotels were at maximum capacity. Rickshaws line the road waiting for customers, ideally a tourist who might pay 10 times or more than a local. Most of the restaurants geared towards visitors are inside hotels, tour offices are abundant and each will offer the best deal.

Street D - This is where I began to like Paharganj. It is the true off the beaten path area. This residental area houses thousands of people in such a small area. Street vendors are setting up, two men are sitting cross legged on a small cart making samosas, the oil is heating so they can be fried. The alley's are narrower and more congested as children play and people come home from work. Buildings look as if they have been here from the beginning of time, bricks crumbling, paint that was once white now a dark grey.

I noticed that none of the local restaurants were open yet as people here don't eat dinner until 8pm or so. So after my cup of tea I bought some moong dal which is a lentil snack. Yum! But I still need dinner yet I don't want to eat hotel food. I just hope that I can stay awake long enough to go back out for dinner.

My 50 cent lunch, 4 rotis with potato and tomato subji. Quite good.

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 got 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 and leave half. 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.

Here's what I saw on my evening stroll;

First place I think of having tea the chai wala (tea maker) grabs his towel, wipes his arm pits, then his face then the glasses. I move on to the next chai wala.

Boys no more than 12 years old washing pots and cooking chapatis in front of a restaurant.

A display case with neatly presented dinner plates filled with tonight's offerings.

One tourist, sticking out like a sore thumb with his camera hanging around his neck, his bright white skin a contrast to the dark skinned Indians.

Two Indian ladies, tourists I think, well dressed and riding in a rickshaw with a teenage boy pestering them. The rickshaw stops and a police man approaches, raising his long cane as if to swing, the boy reluctantly retreats.

A large restaurant jam packed with patrons eating feverishly, a display of marinated chicken hanging on skewers, smoke coming from the grill. A mental note made to try this place out.

A street vendor with corn on the cob stacked three feet high on his cart, a small charcoal grill fits only three ears. The corn is husked and laid directly on the coal and once roasted coated in lime juice and chaat masala (mixed spices).

An ice cream cart with a line of people, mostly kids enjoying their single scoop cones. A girl cries as her yellow ball of ice cream falls onto her dress.

A small food stand with a 12" by 8" grill and a display of chicken and kabobs. The owner smiles, an invitation to come closer. I smile but continue on, a mental note taken to eat here as well.

A teenage boy dressed in rags that may never have ever been washed and mis-matched shoes weaves among the street traffic looking for recyclables to fill his mostly empty bag.

There are a Indian tourists here on holiday, easily identifiable as they are dressed better attire than most who occupy the street. Saris that are vibrant in color, white shirts that are still white.

Food carts filled with snack items, some I recognize and others I don't.

It's a dangerous place for someone who is trying to lose weight.

I just got my laundry back. 16 pieces (one load easy) and it cost me $10. Much too expensive but it is a hotel. I like better when it was only 60 cents a load at Kabini Resort in south India last winter.

Rooftop restaurant at Hotel Aura, Paharganj

Small breakfast offering at Hotel Aura

Looking down from the rooftop restaurant

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