Paharganj, Delhi

We travel from Agra to Delhi by National Highway – on broad, open, empty expanses of toll road, where our bus can drive fast all the way.  On the approach to Delhi we drive through two entirely new cities, being built from the ground up.  These are vast developments emerging on the open plain.  There are hundreds of huge buildings in different phases of construction, all uninhabited.  We drive through the two embryonic cities for twenty minutes or more, everyone on the bus in quiet awe.  Evidently India needs more cities, and its economic growth is transforming this need into physical reality.

As the bus pulls in at our destination, a melee of touts awaits us.  After collecting our backpacks, we negotiate with a driver to take us to Paharganj.  We cram amusingly into one of Delhi’s bright green and yellow auto-rickshaws, the three of us and our multiple huge bags.  We drive through New Delhi, with its broad, tree-lined boulevards, large white buildings set back from the street in spacious grounds, and on roads with clear signposting and the large traffic lights that project out over the lanes.  What surprises us the most is that people actually stop at the traffic lights when they are red!

New Delhi is laid out in an inspired geometric street pattern, centring on a large roundabout called Connaught Place.  At Connaught Place, we turn down some increasingly narrow streets until we arrive in the jumbled alleyways near the Main Bazaar in Paharganj.

Paharganj

After finding and checking into our hotel, we take a walk through the bazaar in the fading light.  In the dusk we weave our way between cows and cars, cycle rickshaws, pedestrians, hand-carts, fruit stalls and book shops, plus all kind of curio shops and market goods.  Like for Taj Ganj in Agra, my liking for Paharganj is immediate.

Cow in Paharganj

Despite seeming chaotic, it actually feels very relaxed, and is so varied as to be endlessly interesting.  One of the best things about the Main Bazaar is the group of cattle who appear every evening, here in the midst of the capital city.  Where they come from I don’t know, but they are away somewhere else during the day, and appear in the Main Bazaar at night.  They tend to congregate around the electricity sub-station where several roads form a junction, but can also be seen wandering up and down the main street, quite at ease and not at all bothered by the close proximity of cars, people and rickshaws squeezing past them, oblivious to and disinterested in their causing obstruction to the flow of the narrow streets.  But this is India, and nobody minds.  Everything has the same right of way and entitlement to be on the road (or anywhere), no matter what they are.

Cow and car

As I am walking along the street, I become trapped by this cow that is standing and gazing at a passing car.  While I am waiting for one of them to move, a man comes out of an adjacent clothes shop and we begin a friendly and amusing conversation.  He asks if I would like to buy the cow, and I reply that it is a very nice cow.  Then he says he is sure that my brother and I have some Indian heritage, and we are pleased but say we don’t.  He then remarks that I have picked up a local way of speaking, and accent, and talk in broken English, and I think, ‘Oh damn’, because I hadn’t realised I’ve started doing this, although at some point I must have automatically adapted as the easiest way of making myself understood.  We all laugh together and pet the cow.  After saying goodbye to him, we wander on as darkness falls, and Paharganj is sunk in the glow of street lights, strings of fairy lights, and bright neon signs.  Past second-hand book stalls, shops displaying walls of colourful fabrics, carvings, belts, fresh juices, and a myriad other things.

 

The next morning we eat breakfast at one of the rooftop restaurants, where we dined the night before.  It has a great view out over the Main Bazaar.

Then we take a cycle rickshaw through Paharganj towards Connaught Place, the start of New Delhi.  The cycle rickshaw in itself is quite an experience.  My brother rides on the back, on a precarious and very narrow wooden seat, projecting him slightly upwards.  He gets a close-up view of the traffic – cars and auto-rickshaws – driving up close behind us and honking, as the streets are jammed up with fruit stalls, taxis, people walking, and wandering cattle.  Sabrina and I are in the front behind the driver, being jolted up from the hard seat at every bump and rut in the road.  But at least we can see the potholes coming, unlike Richard, whose back feels like it is breaking.  Most of our combined sympathies are for the lean and aging cyclist, who takes us at a slow meandering pace through the back streets.  As we enter New Delhi, the potholes and ruts in the road change to speed humps, which are no better for the back.

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6 Responses

  1. WelshGirl says:

    Great photos, especially love the pictures of the cows in the road 🙂

  2. Great blog, I had a wonderful time reading your post. You have very well portrayed the streets of Delhi through your post. It looks like very regular and realistic Indian journey. I think your blog is very natural and highly engaging. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Lalit. It makes me happy to know you have enjoyed reading it! Thank you for visiting my blog and for leaving such a nice comment 🙂 I hope you continue to find posts on it that you enjoy.

  3. Ruth Pannell says:

    I am off to India soon to meet my partner, for a month, beginning at Delhi and then going to Agra and to Varanasi, further to Darjeeling and then to Sikkim. I am really wary of Paharganj because I’m told it’s quite the culture shock with crowds and chaos and feared getting groped or robbed or hopelessly lost. I like your attitude and has allayed a lot of my fears. I’ll check out your other pages. Thanks for all the photos too.

    • Hi Ruth, thanks for your comment! Your planned trip sounds absolutely amazing!
      I’d say it really depends on where you’ve been before as to how much culture shock you might feel. I had been to Africa and nothing in India shocked me, in fact I was really impressed by how well everything worked. There are crowds in all Indian cities and people tend to live much closer together in terms of space than we are used to in the West. The main effect of this is it strengthens communal living, and it also affects the ways people communicate – touch is important and people may touch you, as you pass, or if you are talking to them on the street. They might stand close around you because this is part of the culture of less space and separation from others. However – you are NOT likely to be groped or robbed – you’d have to be very unfortunate indeed for this to happen. People are generally very respectful and I’d say the risk of being a victim of any crime, even in the big cities, is much lower than in many places in the West.
      I’m really glad my post helped you feel more confident about your upcoming trip to India, and specifically visiting Paharganj. In parts of India where there is a tourist trade there will be people hassling for money. My advice is just to say no, firmly, as a default. Keep smiling and try not to let it get to you – they’re just trying to make money but I know how annoying it is. Is your partner Indian? If so, many of these things you won’t have to worry about as your partner will be able to help and advise you 🙂 Good luck, and enjoy India! Thank you for reading

  1. June 26, 2015

    […] Together, women are helping other women walk the streets at night. (Photo: DarkHarte Travel) […]

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