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.


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