12 Old Delhi Food Specials you can’t miss during Ramzaan!!!

” रमज़ान की आमद का है चारों तरफ चर्चा,
इस माह में बहुत ‘रब’ मेहरबान है होता,
तेज़ धूप की तपिश सबको सताएगी,
भूख़ प्यास की शिद्दत तुम्हें आजमाएगी,
रोज़ेदारों तुम हर हाल में सब्र रखना,
ये आजमाइश ही तुम को जन्नत में ले जाएगी  “

Ramzaan Special Walks_DBF

The streets of Old Delhi or “Dilli 6” are a treat for a foodie throughout the year, especially for authentic street foods, which I am sure you would have enjoyed in the past with your family and friends. But sampling the mind-boggling gastronomic treasures found here during the holy month of Ramzaan is an altogether out-of-this-world experience, as Old Delhi during Ramzaan turns into the proverbial ‘Jannat’….paradise for food connoisseurs!

During these roughly 28-30 days of Ramzaan, world-over, devout Muslims keep a day-long fast, the ‘Roza’ from sunrise to sunset, one of the fundamental tenets of Islam, towards the path of spiritual salvation. Abstaining from anything to eat or drink through the day, a devout Muslim is allowed to have only two meals….the pre-dawn ‘Suhur’ and the ‘Iftar’ meal at sunset. At the end of the day-long fast, the ‘Iftar’ prayers and meal are of utmost importance amongst the ‘Rozadaar’….the faithful who have fasted. And this Iftari invariably thus becomes the most sought-after grand feast at the end of the day for one and all.

Streets near Delhi’s Jama Masjid, which incidentally is the second largest mosque in India, welcome ‘Rozadaars’ each evening to a wide assortment of delicious foods & beverages being sold at brightly decorated shops. Bazar Matia Mahal, Chitli Qabar and Chandni Mahal, gali Chooriwallan and Ballimaran all within rickshaw-ride vicinity of each other, where you can savour the choicest of delectable fare like Dahi-PakodiKhajla-Sherbets, Samosas, Kebabs, Kheers and aromatic Biryanis!

But how does one choose what to eat and what to miss? To make your task of choosing the best easier, here is my set of 10 favourite foods & beverages which are bound to set your taste buds to work overtime right away!

#1 Bade Miyaan Ki Kheer (2867, Bazar Sirkiwalan, Lalkuan Bazar Rd, opposite Badal Beg Mosque)

Bade Miyaan Ki Kheer

What better place to start your Ramzaan food-a-thon, than with a bit of ‘sucrose-energy’ in form of the best Kheer (rice & milk pudding) to be sold in Delhi! This more than 130 yr old shop run by Jamaluddin Siddique or Jamal Bhai as he is popularly known, has been rendering a service to the people of Delhi without compare! Being a Bengali, I can vouch that Jamal bhai’s kheer can beat any kheer coming out of the house of even a true-blue Bengali household! The not-so-sweet, chilled, creamy-textured, brown-tinged kheer, which leaves a slight smokey after-taste, comes from hours of cooking the milk and broken rice on a slow wood-fuelled fire. But reach here early, since by 8pm his supplies are over, though during Ramzaan a little extra is prepared as back-up by Jamal ji.

#2 The Kababs:

Ustad Moinuddin Qureshi’s Kebabs/Sangam Biryani Corner (1612, corner of Gali Qasimjan, off Lal Kuan Bazar Rd, opp old Hamdard Dawakhana)

 Ustad Moinuddin Qureshi's Sangam Kababs

This tiny hole-in-the wall shop, near the haveli of the famous Urdu Shayar (poet), Mirza Ghalib, serves buffalo meat (buff) kebabs that are just as subtly nuanced and poetic as the verses penned by the great shayar! These soft, succulent and delicately spiced seekh kebabs coming hot off the charcoal fire, served with onion and green pudina (mint leaf) chutney, are so mouth-watering, that I can challenge you to take a picture before you gobble them up! Hours of marinading & pounding the meat by hand gives the meat its melt-in-the-mouth texture! Sadly the great Ustad  (master) himself is no longer there to dish out his love in form of those delectable kebabs, as he had been keeping unwell for quite some time and left for his heavenly abode 2-3 months ago. But worry not, his legacy is safe as is in evidence that the kebabs made by his sons who are keeping the family tradition alive, still run out by 9:30pm every night, so during Ramzaan you know by when you need to reach this spot!

Babu Bhai Ke Sutli Kababs (1465-B, Masjid Sayed Rafa, Bazar Chitli Qabar, below street level)

Babu Bhai Sutli Kababs

My second most favourite buffalo-meat kebab joint after Sangam Kababs (see above), their preparations are so deadly that I have seen even non-buff eaters change their minds and given in to the temptation of the aromas and visual appeal of these kebabs! Starting from sunset till about 11pm when their stock runs out during Ramzaan, this place is a must-visit. Babu Bhai ke Sutli Kababs are called so since the minced & tenderised meat that goes around the seekh is so soft that they have to be held onto the skewers with a fine string or sutli –  in fact while they are cooking on the charcoal fire, some of the string burns off and the tender meat starts slipping into the fire. That’s the sign for the Kababchee (Kabab maker) that the Kebabs are done, which he then slips onto a green leaf covered plate, yanking off the unburnt string, as the meat shreds off onto the plate!! Yes it’s a fantastic sight just watching him do the whole process! Finding this neary 70 yrs old shop is tricky since the family members who carry on this tradition, make the kebabs sitting in a strange sort of a sunken room/bunker sort below street level, near the mosque’s entrance.

NOTE: Those who do not eat buffalo meat, can eat the goat-meat seekh kababs at Al Jawahar Restaurant, which I prefer over the ones at Karim’s!

#3 Manzoor Hotel’s Egg Curry & Dahi-Pakodey (20m beyond Sangam Biryani, Gali Qasimjan)

Manzoor Hotel Egg Curry & Dahi Pakodey

Looks like any other run-of-the-mill food shop of Old Delhi, but looks can be deceiving. My two favourites here, the Egg curry and Dahi-Pakodey, are good enough to kill and die for! Not many outsiders venture here but Sareem and his elder brother are found dishing out these gems of currys with soft khamiri rotis to the dwellers of this alley till 1:30am in the night during Ramzaan. The eggs are slightly fried and then along with potatoes cooked in a delicious tomato-based gravy, lovingly made just like at our homes. While the tangy Dahi-Pakodey, which is somewhere in the middle of a Dahi-Bhalla and Kadhi-Pakoda, can actually make you go into raptures of food orgasm! The exact recipe Sareem never shares with me, but what I have understood after multiple trials is that after the pakodas are dipped in the liquidy dahi (curd), a chonka (oil tempering) of saboot Zeera (Cumin) & Methi (Fenugreek) and Haldi powder (Turmeric), garnished with fresh corainder leaves does the magical trick.

#4 Buttery Chicken Roast at Anmol Chicken Corner (4120, Urdu Bazar Rd, opp. Jama Masjid Gate #1)

Anmol Chicken with Butter

When is a chicken, Butter Chicken? Only when its been made by the expert tandoori chicken makers Chand bhai & Irfan at this stall which is literally on the road! Chunks of chicken marinaded in basic tandoori masala are roasted right in front of you on a charcoal grill. A heady concoction of lemon juice, Anmol’s secret spice powders and loads of melted utterly butterly Amul butter is prepared and the scrumptious tandoori pieces are dunked into this concoction, the Amul butter making the pieces juicy and adding that extra layer of fat around your waistline! So if this is not “Butter + Chicken” then what is!!! And some indulgence in Butter-Chicken, every now & then is OK I guess! This one is my favourite, beating, albeit by a small margin, the more famous Aslam Chicken Corner, which we always avoid during our Ramzaan food walks.

#5 Haji Mohd. Hussain’s Fish Fry (113, Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Haji' Mohd. Fish Fry

Imagine, a piece of fish, which has been dipped in besan (chickpea-flour) batter and then deep-fried in a huge cauldron of boiling oil and served straight out of the vessel with a chutney made of kachi haldi (raw turmeric roots) raw mangoes, chilli, lime juice and accompanied with raw onion rings….and as you bite the crunchy exterior, the piping hot, soft white fish releases flavours of the various spices it was marinaded in…just heavenly!!! Haji saahab is a lovable guy with his shy smile, who always invites one of our group members to help him fry chickens, which is the other thing they serve at this almost 50 yr old shop! And even though his fried chicken, which I refer to as HFC (Haji’s Fried Chicken) is as awesome as KFC, if not better, yet my recommendation is the fish. Open till around 12:30am during Ramzaan, it is another must-have!

#6 Mutton Qorma & Chicken Kashmiri Curry at Al-Rehmani (

Al-Rehmani Chicken Kashmiri Style

A pretty much new entrant going by Delhi-6 standards, Al-Rehmani Restaurant has been around for just about a decade and a half, but their Goat meat Qorma and Chicken in a Kashmiri-style white yoghurt curry is a much sought-after local favourite. The qorma is hot, spicy and the meat tender & juicy, the Qorma masalas perfectly balanced with a mix of both powdered and whole spices. The yoghurt curry chicken, on the other hand is more sedate; the heavy curry isn’t spicy and is served doused with dollops of white cream and coriander leaf garnishing and is almost similar to a Kashmiri Wazwan’s Goshtaba curry in texture & taste, except the flavour of Saunf (Fennel) which is otherwise present liberally in a Goshtaba.

#7 Changezi’s Mutton Nihari & Shahi Paneer (2614, Gali Churiwallan, off Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Nihari

Meat preparations usually mean loads of fiery hot spices/herbs and copious amounts of ghee/oil thrown in, to create flavourful, rich Mughlai style dishes. And which will add a few inches to your waistline too! But what if you could get the combo of healthy plus yummy! Changezi Chicken has been serving such a dish for almost last 30 yrs or so, popularly known as the Nihari. This goat-meat dish which was actually created by the Hakeems (traditional Unani doctors) in the court’s of the Mughals/Nawabs to help patients suffering from the Flu/Cough/Pneumonia/Asthma albeit in a flavourful way! Nihari is meat shanks cooked with 40+ different spices & herbs overnight on a slow fire, to be had as a breakfast dish, thus fortifying a person against the muggy/chilly Delhi climate of monsoons/winters respectively. Served piping hot with a garnish of ginger & green chilli slivers, the Nihari’s, meat pieces melting in your mouth as soon as you bite into them, is bound to forever change the way you think of meat stews! Changezi also comes to the rescue of the vegetarians with their own take on the Shahi Paneer which is so yummy that even a die-hard non-vevegtarian like me doesn’t mind a few morsels of this paneer dish! So howsoever you are stuffed already, make space for these two dishes!

#8 The Biryanis:

Biryani Mirch Masala at Pehelwaan Biryaniwale (#701, Haveli Azam Khan, off Bazar Chitli Qabar Rd)

Mota Pehelwaan Mirch Masala Biryani Walley

When you meet Haji Mohd. Anwar, sitting at the threshold of his shop, his very formidable frame almost resembling the shape of his giant cooking pot, you can’t stop falling in love with him! Popularly known in the area by the name of Mota Biryani Wala, he always has a warm & affectionate smile on his face; and a man whose smile is so congenial, imagine how nice the Biryani he must be dishing out! A buffalo meat biryani, a mix of exceedingly tender meat and perfectly moist rice which are cooked separately and then packed together in that huge Degh (Pot) over a slow fire ‘Dum Biryani-style’. The twist is that his biryani isn’t spicy hot as the name suggests, but some morsels of the biryani have a spicy, tangy zing which comes from the pickled green chillies which are added during the marination of the meat! During Ramzaan his shop is open till past midnight as the big pot seemingly has a never ending supply of Biryani!

Mohd. Taufik’s Dil Pasand Biryani (735, Haveli Azam Khan, off Bazar Chitli Qabar Rd)

Buffalo meat FBiryani

Again a buffalo meat briyani seller, his biryani is all about chunks of juicy buff meat, with the rice, almost shining with all the oil used in cooking the meat. The heavenly aroma of the fragrant rice, saffron having been liberally used, makes Taufik bhai’s biryani really drool-worthy! The place is a really difficult one to find; after you pass Pehelwan Biryani’s shop (above) keep going straight, then turn left, a right and another left to reach there. His supply during Ramzaan runs out by 12:30am, so you can reach late as well!

NOTE: If you do not eat buffalo meat, then don’t fret, you can eat pretty decent chicken & goat-meat Biryani at both Al Jawahar Restaurant and Karim’s!

#9 The Ice-Creams:

Cool Point (972, Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Mango ice cream, Shahi Tukda, PhirniAfter a lot of spicy and hot delicacies, how about you cool it off with something chilled and sweet! So head off to Cool Point, established almost 30 years ago by Mohd. Zahid, where my pick out of the variety of chilled deserts is Phirni, Rabdi, Shahi Tukda and mango with vanilla ice cream.  Phirni  is a mouthwatering dessert of milk and crushed rice served chilled in clay containers, while Rabdi is sweet, thickened milk, served chilled with a smattering of nuts. Shahi Tukda literally meaning ‘A Royal Piece’ which is a dessert made of bread fried in ghee, dipped in a syrupy solution of saffron & cardamom infused milk, sprinkled with a variety of nuts & raisins and all this kept & served at a piping hot temperature maintained using a slow fire and continuous adding of ghee throughout the evening! It is really very sweet, overflowing with calories and even the die-hard foodie skips a beat before eating this goodie! But the high point here is the chilled combo of hand-churned mango and vanilla ice-cream, which, as per many who have joined our food walks say is better than the ‘Gelato Vinto’ ice creams available at South Delhi malls!!!

Ahmed’s Roller Kulfis (Just beyond Chitli Qabar Chowk)

Roller Kulfis

Roller Kulfis/ice creams is a yummy and very innovative style of making ice cream right in front of your eyes! This truly is a Ramzaan special, since it is only during the festival time that you will see a man pushing a cart which carries a cylinder suspended horizontally on a wooden frame, apart from a heap of different varieties of fruits and drums of creamy vanilla flavoured milk that lie on the cart. The roller consists of a hollow metal cylinder which is packed with ice sprinkled with anti-freeze salt, to prevent the ice from melting. Over this ice-cold metal cylinder, which is being continuously rotated, a mixture of freshly extracted juice & pulp of fuits like oranges, grapes, pomegranates, papaya, banana etc mixed with the vanilla milk is slowly poured over, so that the liquid instantly gets solidified because of the ice! The solidified creamy layer is then literally scraped off the roller and served. Unfortunately Ahmed bhai never seems to stick at any one place, instead preferring to move up & down the road beyond Chitli Qabar chowk going towards Chandni Mahal. He stops his cart at, as he says, wherever his customers are!

#10 The Sherbets:

Gorging non-stop on lip-smacking delicacies during Ramzaan will make you thirsty, so quench your thirst with these chilled beverages by the innovative Sherbetwallas of Old Delhi!

Nawab Bhai’s Watermelon-Roohafza Milk Sherbet (Cart at intersection of Gali Churi Wallan & Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Sherbet Pyaar Mohabbat Mazza

Many years back I asked Nawab miyaan what’s the name of the pink concotion of Amul milk, Roohafza (bottled Ayurvedic medicinal summer drink concentrate), cubes of watermelon and iced water that he makes. He replied “Yeh hai Sherbet ‘Pyaar Mohabbat Mazaa’…Main Pyaar sey banata hoon, aap mohabbat sey peetey hain aur sabko mazza aa jata hai” (I make this Sherbet with affection, you love the drink and we all have loads of fun!). This drink is so simple to make, and is such a refreshing summer thirst quencher, that it is no surprise that nobody can have just only one glass of it!!!

Mohd. Shahid’s Apple-Vanilla Custard-Milk Sherbet (Cart goes up & down Bazar Matia Mahal Rd and beyond Chitli Qabar Chowk)

Apple Sherbet

Replace the above watermelon sherbet with grated apple, the Roohafza concentrate with vanilla flavoured custard powder and add Amul milk with iced water to these ingredients; you have got yourself another killer sweet sherbet to enjoy! Easily giving Nawab (see above) a big run for his money, sometimes Shahid bhai stands with his cart right opposite where you will find the Watermelon-Roohafza induced bliss. Sometimes he is found further towards Chitli Qabar chowk. Where ever he may be, don’t stop asking people till you find him, because this sherbet will rejuvenate you like no other!

Gudh ka Sherbet (Stall at turn of Gali Churi Wallan & Bazar Matia Mahal Rd)

Gudh / Gur ka SherbetSometimes it’s hard to believe the ingenuity of people in Delhi-6. When you are served this golden-hued liquid in a glass, you may think it to be an Old Delhi version of the ‘Lipton Iced Tea’ that comes out of a tetrapack in our homes. But this is not tea, it’s chilled Gudh ka Sherbet (Jaggery Sherbet)! The jaggery is soaked overnight in water in a big container, the pieces of the jaggery dissolve in the water, a dash of lemon juice is added and suddenly the common-place Gudh has been transformed into a healthy, soul-nourishing and refreshing drink! But don’t expect it to be open beyond 8pm even during Ramzaan, so you better hurry!

#11 The Mithaais (Sweets)

Paneer Jalebis at Kallan Sweets (4&5, opp. Jama Masjid Gate #1, corner of Matia Mahal)

Kallan Sweets Paneer Jalebis

Anybody worth his foodie leanings would have tasted the Rabri, Phirni, Sohan Halwa and other milk-based sweets at Muhammad Shaan’s sweet shop that’s more than 75 yrs old. But come Ramzaan, and people flock here for the Ifaari special of Paneer Jalebis (Cottage cheese Jalebi) ! Thick orange colored jalebis, with a crunchy exterior that easily yields its secrets of soft, syrupy paneer inside sending sweet notes of pleasure down your throat! Open till 12:30am in the night during the holy month, it is a not-to-be missed sweet stop, to be tried out even if you aren’t a sweets-lover!

Khoya Samosas, Khajlas & Dry Jalebi at Al-Ameer Sweets (57, Haveli Azam Khan, Bazar Chitli Qabar)

Food60And if you have been wondering what to take back home with you, so that your familywallas don’t get cross with you for enjoying all the goodies all alone, well then Al-Ameer Sweets has the answer! Continue to enjoy the Ramzaan feast the next day with your loved ones, with Al-Ameer’s dry, packageable stuff  like Khoya Samosas, Khajlas and Sukhi Jalebis! Think the North Indian Holi special, ‘Gujiyas’, change their shape and you have the most amazing Khoya Samosas in Old Delhi! The samosa has a thin pastry like crust which as you bite in, releases the mildly sweet, moist mixture of khoya mixed with spices like cardamom & cinnamon making you remember “Maa ke haath ke Gujiyas”. This nearly 100 yr old establishment, run by Hazi Mohd. Zafruddin also specialises in Khajlas (Mildly sweet fried flour puffs) & Sukhi Jalebis (Dry Jalebis).

#12 Assorted Rusks and Breads at Golden Bakery (543, )

Bakery products Golden Bakery in Old Delhi

Another set of food items that you could take back home, along with your memories, are what the numerous bakeries prepare each day during Ramzaan. All the bakeries in the area have their baking unit right behind or above their shops, so you can pick what you need, literally out of the oven! The smell of fresh batches of baked cakes/breads will automatically guide you in to these shops. Baked products are very popular during Ramzaan as they are easy to digest, provide energy for a longer period of time and can be had as quick Iftar snacks with tea or glasses of hot milk. Some of my favourites from Golden Bakery are Coconut Bread, Fruit Bread, Jam & Butter Roll, Suji & Bread Rusks, assorted cakes, muffins and cream rolls.

I wish you a very happy month of fun…fasting and feasting at its best in the gastronomic hot-spot of Delhi!!!

DelhiByFoot organizes special Ramzaan food walks as per a set calendar, to help you relish and participate in the customs, rituals and partake the special foods during this holy month of Ramzaan. For details, visit our Facebook page or our Website . If you wish to organise a customised Iftar Cultural & Food Walk for you & your family/friends/colleagues then E-mail us at explore@delhibyfoot.in

PICTURE CREDITS: Shweta Berry, Praveen Kumar, Himanshu Bagai, Samudra Sengupta

A walk on the Buddhist side of life: Delhi’s Mini Tibet

Guest post by Seep Gulati, an active DelhiByFoot community member. Pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.

Foodie, traveller, adrenaline junkie and life enthusiast, is how Seep describes herself. She believes in the concept of loving, laughing and learning throughout the journey of life. When she isn’t chasing dynamic life, she is fighting ‘world-war’ battles with her niece and nephew or drafting new promotional PR and Marketing strategies for her clients.
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Buddhist Prayer Drums outside a Buddhist Temple

A love-struck majnu (Romeo), unable to claim the object of his affection, sacrifices his life on a tilla (hillock) and over time the place gets transformed into a historical or religious edifice and comes to be known as ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ or Romeo’s Hillock!

Raised on a steady dose of Bollywood movies, this rather romantic plot was how I imagined Delhi’s mini Tibet or ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ to be.

So when I went on a walk in the lanes and bylanes of ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ with DelhiByFoot (DBF), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the place was actually a beautiful Gurudwara immortalizing the memory of a kind hermit who was blessed by Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru, for his selfless devotion to mankind.

DBF’s walk leader Jaya explained that the hermit, incidentally a Muslim, was so lost in his search for ‘God’ that he forgot about the world and people started calling him ‘majnu’ (or the crazy one, like being crazy in love as Romeo was for his Juliet).

Majnu used to ferry people across the Yamuna River and instead of charging a fee he would spread the word of the ‘Almighty’ amongst them. On one of his trips, Majnu met Guru Nanak Dev who blessed him and prophesized that history forever shall immortalize his name. So it came to be true when in the 18th century a Sikh shrine was established in this place — Gurudwara Majnu-ka-Tilla.

Buddhist Colony in Delhi
The once mighty River Yamuna, now flows listlessly just behind the Majnu Ka Tila area, more a dirty sewage drain, than a perennial river as it was once described in Indian Vedas and historical notes of the past.

With this tale from the pages of Delhi’s history began my first walk with DBF, the beginning of my attempt to experience India’s capital – a city I have been born in, but seems have not actually seen!

A few blocks away from the Gurudwara was our destination of the Sunday morning walk, the Tibetan refugee colony, also known as ‘Little Tibet’ of Delhi.

Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Technically in Delhi the Buddhist Colony is called New Aruna Nagar, but Majnu Ka Tila is how Delhites know this place as

DBF had arranged for us to meet a practicing Buddhist, Gelek, to help us navigate the intricacies of Buddhist spirituality and the lifestyle of the Tibetan community of Delhi.

What struck us we reached the colony were the vibrant prayer flags hanging from every nook and corner of these narrow by-lanes, seemingly inviting us on a mystical journey. Gelek explained that each flag has a different texture and its own story. Five elements of nature – land, water, air, fire and sky merge in these flags. Powered by sacred mantras, they purify the air wherever they are hung as the wind spreads the positive energies in the atmosphere.

Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Buddhist Temple facade with multiple flags on the roofs
Prayer flags flutter in the morning wind
Prayer flags flutter in the morning wind

Tibetan shops lined on both sides of the streets here sell everything from decorative wall hangings, Tibetan jewellery, music CDs, and T-shirts with Buddhist mantras (chants). There are many guest houses also offering cheap accommodation and obviously Tibetan food!

What struck me the most was the immense amount of colour on the streets and inside the temples we visited. The sight was worth the effort of waking up early morning on a Sunday!

Shops selling curios and prayer drums and flags
Shops selling curios and souvenirs like Buddhist prayer drums and flags
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Altar and offerings inside a Temple of the community

As we walked through the colony and were assaulted by the multiple hoardings of steamed momos, thukpa, shabalay etc, the participants, each an early bird on this 8AM walk, had a sudden urge to satisfy our breakfast cravings!

We decided to sample local Tibetan food and try a delicious snack locally known as ‘Laping’ which the locals almost pronounced as ‘laughing’ or maybe they were just teasing us!

Picture this: Potato starch dried cakes cut into bite-size pieces, enclosed with minced garlic/ garlic -water, vinegar, soya sauce, sesame oil and red chilli sauce creates a spectacular cold snack. Laping can be consumed dry or with cold soup. We tried the dried version as a starter and then ordered for Laping soup along with fluffy Tibetan bread.

Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Applying a fiery paste and rolled-up the Laping, cut into bite-size mini-rolls!
The cold and soupy version of the Laping..
The cold and soupy version of Laping

Post the food-adventure, we headed towards the two Buddhist temples in the locality, where Gelek answered all our questions regarding rituals, culture, prayer wheels, butter lamps, sculptures and how a Buddhist monk would lead his life.

Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Incense burns at multiple prayer zones, at alley corners which spread the musky fragrance all over the colony

It was interesting to note that two adjacent Buddhist temples were so different in terms of their decoration, the offerings and how the locals worshipped. While silver lamps with butter were being used in one temple, artificial lights were lit in the other. Similarly offerings at one temple included fruits while at the other temple even a bottle of beer had been put up as an offering for the gods!

Polished lamps await butter for readiness of
Polished lamps await butter for readiness of lighting at special prayer sessions!
Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi
And the Butter Lamps once lit, will remain un-touched through 8-10 hours at a stretch!
Inside the temple, the Altar remains lighted throughout the day and even at night!
Inside this temple, the altar remains lighted using electricity! The bowls contain saffron infused water act almost like air-freshners inside these old temple rooms

Defining the concepts of how Buddhism is practiced around the world, Gelek explained the meaning of ‘Boddhistava’ and ‘Buddha’ and how each of us can also walk on the path to liberation from ‘Samsara’ (cyclic existence of life and birth) to attain ‘Nirvana’ (Enlightenment).

Budh Purnima Walk Buddhist Colony in Delhi
Gelek, DBF’s walk specialist throws more light on finer nuances of prayers and the rituals of Buddhism!

Ironically, Buddhism which was started by Buddha in India and was popularised by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC has flourished in countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, Burma etc before coming back to the country of its origin through Tibetan and Japanese Buddhists.

The Tibetan refugees who in the early 1960s followed His Holiness the Dalai Lama into India, to escape Chinese oppression in Tibet, were a boon for our country as it was largely these people brought back the basic philosophies of Buddhism – to lead a moral life; to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions; and above all, to develop patience, deeper wisdom and understanding.

Lamps and ready for lighting!
Lamps, ready for lighting!

We also discussed Tibetan Buddhist practices, including the Honourable Dalai Lama’s personal teachings, the philosophies of Ladakh’s Buddhists and how the Tibetan people are fighting peacefully to free their homeland from China which continues with human rights violations in Tibet.

However, the extremely congested lanes, dearth of civic amenities and lack of employment opportunities for Tibetan refugees in India told us another sad tale of our country’s neglect of these culturally rich and proud people.

We continue our chat on Buddhism, Tibetian people in exile and Spirituality inside one of the many, very interestingly laid out cafes!
We continue our chat on Buddhism, Tibetian people in exile and Buddha’s Spirituality, inside one of the many, very interestingly laid out cafes!

Another eye-opener was that the largest teaching centre for Tibetan Buddhism in the world, Namdroling Monastery is actually situated in Karnataka, home to approximately 5,000 Tibetan monks and not in places usually associated with Buddhism like Dharamsala, Sikkim or Ladakh!

This walk not only connected the dots on the heritage front, it also empowered me to engage in enriching conversations with like-minded people on how Delhi is the melting pot of people and cultures from all over the world.

To check out more pics from the walk, click here

Buddhist Walk, Majnu Ka Tila Delhi
An almost 12 feet tall Prayer Drum inside the Majnu Ka Tila colony

Diwali Bazaars in Delhi – Exploring Purani Dilli

Guest Post and Text by Ayandrali Dutta, an active DelhiByFoot community member. This post originally appeared in the Times of India online blog of TimesCity here.

Tea Junkie, Die hard Romantic, Amateur Cook and perpetual Bhukkad, is how Ayandrali describes herself in her Travel Blog. A journo by profession, which brings the bread and butter to the table, she wishes that her gypsy feet will soon travel across every corner of the globe!
Diwali Bazars in Purani Dilli
With Diwali just round the corner, city markets were buzzing with action. Delhi’s streets were witnessing choc-a-bloc traffic. In tune with the Diwali spirit, IndiaByFoot organized a walk Dariba-Kinari Diwali Raunaq: A Shopping Exploration in Chandni Chowk. And I geared up to explore these crowded markets.As we navigated the chaotic bylanes of Shahjahanabad (Delhi-6) and made our way to the mad frenzy glitzy bazaars, we found some of the best deals in the market. Beautiful artwork, diyas, crackers, handicrafts, and decorative items – you name it and it was there.Firecrackers, Sadar Bazaar:

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dilli
In Sadar Bazaar, the markets are flooded with varieties of firecrackers

Sadar Bazaar’s fame lies in being Delhi’s biggest cracker market. Age-old shops stock up Kalisawari Fireworks (Cock brand) and Standard Fireworks where you find all kinds of crackers right from chakris, anaars, phooljhadi’s to everything that is latest, all at reasonable prices that will not burn a hole in your pocket – literally. Other than these, one can also spot multiple makeshift shops near Sadar Bazaar railway station and more than two dozen shops just behind the majestic Jama Masjid. A bag full of crackers with a mix of all varieties might just cost around Rs 700-Rs1000

Gifts Galore, Dariba Kalan to Kinari Bazaar:

The narrow lanes of old Delhi were super crowded as the bazaars buzzed in Diwali madness with everything from earthen diyas to figurines of gods and goddesses and candles to household decoration items to pick from.

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
Diwali Special Gift: 24K Gold Plated Playing Cards

Diwali is all about lovely gifts and these gold plated playing cards priced at Rs 400 are sure to make heads turn. The pack claims that the cards are made of 24 carat gold dust and they come with an authenticity certificate too!

Silver jewellery and Artifacts

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
Silver idols of Lakshmi-Ganesh or Radha-Krishna are quite popular during Diwali

If you are looking for some silver artifacts then Dariba Kalan in Old Delhi is the place. This ancient market, Delhi’s jewellery ‘adda’, is full of options.

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
A silver jewellery shop in Dariba Kalan

Dariba Kalan literally translates to ‘the street of the incomparable pearl’. This place was the trade hub for pearls and rare gem stones. Once here you are going to be spoilt for choice. Economically priced, the shops here offer hefty discounts on jewellery during the festive period.

Clay idols

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are worshiped as they bring peace and prosperity

Craftsmen, few of them selling their wares all the way from Kolkata can be seen selling clay idols of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh.

Home décor – Art and Craft

Kinari Bazaar, Delhi’s wholesale hub for designer home-decor and wedding paraphernalia is also primed and prepped during the festive season. Shops are seen lined up with candles, lampshades, decorative items, designer gift boxes, paper craft and various other items of home décor and accessories.

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill

In this mid-17th century bazaar, one can pick up unique stuff like stonework, gold/silver jewellery, accessories, garlands, borders- embellishments and more. It’s an ideal place for shopaholics.

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
Kinari Bazar shops carry a wide variety of festive decorations and innovative Diwali lamps and lighting accessories

A final shopping tip: Stay alert, follow the crowd and you will find what you seek in this land of festive cheer and discounted prices!

Diwali Bazars in Purani Dill
Ramit Mitra, founder of DelhiByFoot not just guided us around the best bargains in the nearly 400 yrs old Bazaars, but also threw light on the heritage aspects of this Mughal-era Bazaars as we shopped

Homecoming on Durga Puja

Delhi’s Pujos through the eyes of a Dilliwaali

Guest post and pictures by Jayati Ghose, an active DelhiByFoot community member. (Additional pictures by Ramit Mitra

Jayati is a writer and journalist, who has been penning short stories for many years, specialising in ‘Thriller’s! Her recent ‘obsession’ includes a random exploration of the city she proudly calls home – Delhi, through her blog www.ginovertonic.com.
Dussehra
Pushpanjali (offering of flowers to a deity) and prasad (food offered to gods) at a 100 year old puja followed by every Bong’s favourite food – biryani. Then hopping on to the metro and an electric rickshaw to see a Tibetan thangka inspired puja where the goddess is adorned in rich royal shades of purple, this Durga puja I am a tourist in my own city!

I am not a foreigner to the city or the festival, but for today I am being taken through the riotous, boistorous festivity of Durga Puja by Ramit Mitra (founder of DelhiByFoot which conducts heritage and food walks within the walls of India’s capital for curious explorers), and as I pretend to be a tourist, I get the audacity to exclaim at the sweetness of a labangalatika (a common fried Bengali sweetmeat), the fragrance of the dhoop (incense) and the frenzy of the dhaak (drums).

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It is said that if you rush through life, you end of missing out on some great experiences. While that may be true, in my case any rushed or unplanned expedition has always turned out to be a great event.

Continue reading “Homecoming on Durga Puja”

“Pujo Aaschhey”- Cultural heritage explorations in Delhi’s ‘Mini Bengal’

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Courtesy: Vaishali Ahuja

Guest Post and Text by Vaishali AhujaAdditional pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.

It was my 3rd walk with DelhiByFoot and indeed just as pleasant as the other ones. The previous walks I participated in were more of historical heritage events while this one was a experience of the rich cultural heritage of the melting pot that Delhi is.

The event notice mentioned we will be witnessing the age-old traditions of the Bengali community as they prepare for their grandest festival, Durga Pujo in Chittaranjan Park (popularly called CR Park), which is home to the largest concentration of Bengali residents in Delhi NCR. The opportunity to experience the stories and shoot pictures of artisans making the Durga Pratima (Durga Idols), eating traditional foods and unique shopping as activities in our 3-hr walk was what had piqued my interest. So 8am on a Sunday morning, I hauled myself and my husband off for a exploration ofMini Bengal,’ as most Delhizens refer to CR Park.

I must say that the preparations by DelhiByFoot (DBF) were no less than the preparations for the Durga Pujo celebrations. Although most of us, the participants were eager to go and check out the artistry of the ‘Kumhars’ (Idol Makers) right away, DBF began the morning with a small round of orientation of the locality and its history. A short walk later through the streets of CR Park where we saw many workmen busy in erecting mammoth ‘Pandals’ (Tents set up for the actual 5-day pujo) in big open grounds, we took a break. Here we were served with a scrumptious Bengali breakfast in smartly packed boxes which I really enjoyed and the timing was perfect since by now all the participants were feeling the strong pangs of hunger!

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RadhaBallavi (Puri with filling of Urad Daal), Aloo Dum and Bengali Sweets, the quintessential Sondesh and Kheerkodom. Pure Vegetarian Bliss!

Over breakfast we were introduced to our ‘Story-teller’ of the day, Mrs. Indrani Gupta who herself is a Bengali and has lived in this area for many years and also has been part of one of Delhi’s oldest Bengali community Pujo celebrations at Kashmiri Gate. She carried with her intricate details about the festival, essentially the how, where, when and why of everything related to Durga Pujo. Having witnessed the preparations of this festival since her early childhood she was also able to share the deviations of how things have changed over time in the fast paced world, where people are hard pressed to take out time for all the rituals and traditions. She pointed out alterations that have now come about, be it the setting up of the pandals to the way the idols are created to how the 5 days celebrations are done inside the pandals.

After breakfast was over we headed towards the Shiv Mandir (a large temple complex in the area) where the idol makers or the ‘Kumhars’ temporarily live for 3-4 months as they prepare the clay idols. The moment we stepped in the artisan’s compound, the buzz of activity was palpable.

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The workshop of the Artisans (Kumhars) Pic Credits: Suvendu Das

Indrani Didi, as we all addressed her, was truly engaging in her story telling technique and I thoroughly enjoyed her stories which were embellished with the different mythological and practical philosophies related to the origin of Durga Puja celebrations. One being of how Shri Ram prayed to Goddess Durga for her blessings before he began his attack against Ravana, which actually helped me figure out how closely the story of the legendary battle of Lord Rama and Ravana  ending on Dussehra, matches the culmination of Durga Pujo with ‘Visarjan’ (immersion) of the Durga Idol on the same day when rest of North Indians celebrate Dussehra. While the other one was that during this time of year, Goddess Durga killed the Mahishasur, the Buffalo Demon, who started to destroy the world after getting powers of invincibility from Lord Brahma. Hindus worship all forms of the Divine Goddess Shakti by observing fast during the 9 days of Navratra.

The idol makers do not use many tools while making these idols. Just the brush and the required glazing clays do enough over the base skeleton of bamboo and hay.
Vegetable dye-based, water-soluble colours are applied using brushes and then a bit of glazing is enough to create the masterpieces of clay!

The idol makers do not use any fancy tools while making these idols. Bare hands create a base skeleton of bamboo, hay, hemp and clay. Multiple layers of fine clay is used to sculpt the features and painstaking effort goes in making these clay idols in separate stages over many weeks. The most primitive philosophy of making these idols of clay is that they come from and go back to the Earth after ‘Visarjan’ (Immersion of idol in water)

A 3-pic collage shows the It was a great experience shooting them, knowing how the idols are made in stages, how they are beautified
A 3-pic collage by Ramit, co-founder of DelhiByFoot and my husband Mohit shows how the basic skeleton of the idol gets its multiple layers, and the idol’s finer features and expressions become easily visible as each stage progresses.
Sheer experience of many years of idol making gives the senior-most Kumhar, usually the Head Kumhar, the privilege the Head Kumhar creates the faces of the idols. of
Sheer experience of many years of idol making gives the senior-most Kumhar (Idol maker), usually the Head craftsman, the privilege of carving the idol’s faces and heads; and their devotion shows in the benevolent and beatific expression on the Divine Mother’s face!

Bengalis celebrate these 9 days as the arrival of Goddess Durga to visit her parental house from her heavenly abode of Kailash where Lord Shiva resides. She descends on Earth with her children, Goddess Saraswati and Lakshmi and the Gods Ganesh and Kartik to live amidst the people. Before these 9 days, devotees pray to her through songs that welcome her imminent arrival and on the 10th day, Dashami, they bid adieu to her with farewell prayers at the Visarjan ( idol is immersed in any water body).

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I was amazed with the details of the features of the idol, that too done on base coat of simple ‘mitti’ (clay). After the remaining layer of polishing clay is smeared, followed by painting, enameling and ornamentation, it will be a lovely sight!
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Beheaded ‘Mahisha’ (literally Buffalo in Sanskrit) the form in which the mighty ‘Asura’ (Demon) changed into before he was finally killed by the Goddess. This I believe signifies the winning of battle by Good over Evil.

DelhiByFoot ended the walk at the local CR Park bazaars which sell all things Bengali- from daily groceries to special things which are considered necessary for the Puja, for example traditional clothing attire and cotton sarees. Me and my husband had been enjoying listening and clicking pictures so much that we hardly realised how soon the 3 hours had elapsed! Some of us bade adieu while others stayed for a luncheon of Bengali delicacies. I left the place wondering how beautiful this area would soon be, as in the second week of October, thousands will come to worship the beautiful idols inside aesthetically themed and designed Durga Pujo Pandals and the people will all be enjoying the festive fervor.

The Story-teller at the market. Pic Courtesy: Papiya Banerjee
DBF’s Story-teller explaining a finer point at the market. Pic Credits: Papiya Banerjee

I really like the concept of such walks where they have specialized people who can narrate you the stories with their experiences and references. I had a great experience, learning more about my countrymen of a different state and I will be back surely this year during the Durga Pujo to actually experience the festivities first hand!  Kudos to DelhiByFoot for organizing this wonderful walk and sharing such a rich aspect of Delhi with the lucky few!

Did the blog make you all interested to be part of such an unique cultural heritage experience, then join us here.

Celebrating Womanhood: Kanjake Puja then and now in Delhi

Guest Post & Pic by Shweta Luthra                 Additional Pic by Priyanka Bhaskar

Kanjake Prashaad Thaali
My mother’s Puja Thali this year in Canada

My childhood memories of Kanjake Puja (celebrated on Ashtmi or Navami Puja during Navratras as per beliefs of a particular family) are of getting up early morning to the smell of Suji being roasted in desi ghee for making Halwa. It used to be one of the very few days when my 2 brothers and I would wake up early, take a shower and get all ready before 8 am on a school holiday.

I remember the morning was full of action. My mother doing a million things in the kitchen at the same time- making halwa, boiling Kala-chaana, heating oil for frying pooris. My elder brother would be sent off to invite minor girls or the Kanjakes to our homes. Kanjakes are minor girls who are seen as ‘swaroop’ or ‘incarnations’ of Ma Vaishno Devi and thus the Puja rituals are associated with worshipping the little girls as the ‘Devi Incarnate’. The Kanjakes or girls from around the neighbourhood are invited home and a ritualistic washing of their feet, applying tilak, garlanding them and after worshipping them, giving away gifts and Prashaad is the usual routine of the Kanjake Puja.

My father would get the house mandir ready. There will be Mata ke Bhajan playing on the tape-recorder (there were no CD-players in that era!) in the background. My grandmother doing her routine morning pooja (7 times Hanuman Chalisa, reading Sukhmani Saheb Jap) at home, which was always followed by a visit to the temple and gurudwara. As Punjabis we had never been taught to differentiate between Hindu and Sikh traditions

Kanjake, for us kids had another significance. It marked the end of 8 days of fasting and abstinence from non-vegetarian food. At that age, those 8 days of foregoing even our favourite egg omelette sprinkled liberally with onions & tomatoes seemed like an eternity! And not a day of the Navratris would pass by without my mother and grandmother having to answer each of the three of us queries of how many more days before we could eat normal food (read that as chicken, eggs and fish)!

Well, things haven’t changed much since then. We still celebrate the day with its trademark Kanjake Prashaad- Chhole, Poori and Halwa. I still play my favourite bhajans in the morning. It’s still a very happy day.

But some things have changed because of our new lifestyles in a urban city like Delhi. As a working woman, it has become difficult for me to manage all the rituals and thus I have cut down on the gamut of the activities involved. But the parts we loved then, I still do follow very rigorously and the special food of the day, the Kanjake Prashaad is a must-do for me! Alhough we get the prashaad ready, due to lack of time in the mornings we don’t invite the Kanjakes. We instead give away the prashaad and small gifts to the people who help us in our community and day-to-day life, like the local laundry/washerman bhaiya, or the didi who helps cook at my home or the lady that picks up the garbage etc.

Another change is that earlier we used to abstain from onions and garlic along with all types of non-vegetarian food during Navratras. But now since we spend most of our day in our offices, in meetings, travelling at odd hours out of the city on work and more, we have compromised on this to some extent. We for example don’t eat non-vegetarian foods, but don’t mind eating food that has the essential Indian garnishing of onion and garlic.

And bestest of all changes nowadays is the Special Navratra Feasts available in various restaurants. Be it the corner Food joint or a trendy chain of restaurants in malls, during these 8-9 days a variety of ‘Vrat Bhojan’ or ‘fasting foods’ are available widely. While traditionally it used to be Kuttu ke aate ki poori, potato curry and paneer. Now you get Kachche Kele ki subzi (Curry made of unripe Banana), Kadhi, different types of kheer, Khatte vrat wale chawal ki khichdi and what not! And all made with mouth-watering spices and recipes that just do not make you miss the onion/garlic or the non-vegetarian. Another funny thing is that for the last couple of years, it is my better half who has been keeping the Navratra fasts on all the 8 days, while I gorge on all the feasts at restaurants!

For me these Navratra rituals are some of the ties to my childhood. For me the joy of celebrating Kanjake lies in revisiting childhood memories by doing some of the many rituals and practices that my mother and grandmother used to do! By celebrating the girl child, by paying our respects to the ‘Goddess Shakti’ and by ‘initiating’ my Bengali better-half into some basic Punjabi culture, I feel I am still keeping my traditions alive. After all, I might have forgotten the religious aspects but I most certainly haven’t forgotten the happiness this day brings.

Let me share my easy-peasy-working-woman’s recipe for the Prashaad. It is a really simple and easy one that takes very less effort and time to get some steaming hot Halwa, Channa and Poori.

Halwa:

1 cup sooji

1 cup sugar

4 cups water

Roast Suji in desi ghee or vegetable oil (for the calorie conscious!) till its brown. Then add sugar and water while stirring. Bring it to a boil and then cook it well on low flame.

Chhole:

Soak kala chana overnight. In the morning boil till it i tender. In a Kadhai put 2 spoons of oil. When the oil heats up add half a teaspoon jeera. When jeera starts crackling, add little salt, lal mirch, dhania powder and haldi. Then add boiled chana without water. Cook for 5 minutes till its completely dry.

To serve to Kanjake and do the Puja in your home mandir, put 2 poories, a little bit of halwa and chhole. Keep some money and a chocolate handy as a gift, to give to the little girls that you can find in your family and your neighbourhood!

Happy Navratras & Kanjake Puja!

Kanjake Prashaad