Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Paharganj delight

My train chugged into the Paharganj Railway Station of Delhi one sultry summer afternoon. On un-boarding my air-conditioned bogey, I seemed to be in a busy bustling station like any other in India, except that the sizzling heat made it quite apparent that I had travelled miles from my hometown. My friend had booked a hotel for me in Paharganj. From the name Paharganj, I thought that it was a locality perched on soft, brown hills but soon discovered that it just had narrow lanes crowded with backpack tourists, cycle rickshaws, carts and cars; all on the plains. The cyber cafe I checked mail from seemed to have the slowest Internet speed on earth and I was shocked to see flies flocking the sweetmeats sold at the roadside stalls. But within a few days I was able to discover the myriad chaotic charms of the locality’s bazaars, peddlers and tourists. was staying in a low-budget hotel of Paharganj but even that was too expensive for me as I was on a very long vacation. A relative of mine found paying guest accommodation for me at Chittaranjan Park (CR Park)- nicknamed Delhi’s Little Kolkata. CR Park has grown around a Kali Mandir and its inhabitants are mainly Bengalees from East Bengal. Everyone in the neighborhood from an autowallah to an engineer could speak Bengali fluently. All its homes had the Bengali channels; its residents read the Ananda Bazar Patrika daily and tuned into Khas Khobor in the evenings. The fish market, which has now unfortunately being taken off the roads was the hub of the Bengali addas and sold the tastiest jumbo prawns of the city. I have fond memories of Durga Puja organized in CR Park, the sound of the dhakis and fair selling Bengali audio cassettes; making me feel so at home. However the purpose of my visit was not to interact with Bengalees in Delhi but to explore the city. After all Delhi being India’s capital is a very cosmopolitan city. Instead of taking a tourist bus I decided to travel by auto rickshaw to the tourist spots. Despite the police making a rule that the fare has to be fixed according to the meter, nine out of ten autowallahs will say that the meter is out of order and rates have to be fixed by bargaining. Taxis are far too expensive.Riding through Delhi’s main roads specially Janpath and Rajpath is an experience in itself. The roads are wide and majestic flanked by manicured lawns resembling Kolkata’s Maidan. The Indian Gate towers amidst the green and jawans are often seen marching under it. It bears the names of the thousands of Indian army soldiers who died in the campaigns of World War I.On the whole Delhi is a very green city with an extensive forest cover inhabited by monkeys, squirrels and birds. In fact I was surprised to see an auto arriving every evening at 5 o’clock sharp laden with bananas to feed the monkeys of the Okhla forest. I was great fun to watch at least 50 monkeys of all sizes and age groups enjoying a high potassium diet everyday. The stray cows of Delhi are quite a spectacle too. They are all over the city with their calves- strolling, ruminating and waiting pensively at the bus stop as if to catch a bus


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