As the temperatures rise and Delhi-ites rush to get their ACs serviced and start to dread the long, sweaty slog ahead, we have been granted a few days’ reprieve in the shape of unseasonal chilly squalls. This, we are informed by every daily newspaper, is thanks to the ‘Western Disturbance’, a term used in this part of the world to describe a sudden cold snap caused by extratropical storms in the Mediterranean.
The cold winds and swirling leaves are making me think back to some of the lovely book-related Old Delhi outings of the past few months that I never got round to blogging about. Winter is such a great time for Old Delhi pottering, when the city is warm and cheering rather than exhaustingly hot.
Back in January, for instance, on the day of the Lohri , I went for a stroll in the area which specialises in gajjak – a jaggery/nut brittle eaten and gifted during this winter harvest festival. The gajjak shops turned out to be not too far from Chawri Bazaar metro towards the Khari Baoli end of Lal Kuan, and seemed to envelop the area in a tantalising nutty, jaggery aroma.
In Frashkhana, there was a cluster of shops overflowing with nutty delights and doing a roaring trade. It was a street I hadn’t explored before and was keen to keep going but Rahul my rickshaw driver stopped after about 100 yards and said it wasn’t safe to go any further as the end of the gully marked the beginning of G.B. Road, Old Delhi’s red light district.
I wanted to linger, though. Luckily I spotted a busy food stall snuggled up to an old Mughal archway. Bathed in the soft winter sun, Khan Hotel was crowded with workers in their cosy woollen tank tops, an old man was making bread and all seemed well with the world.
The shop’s young proprietor, Chaman Khan, looked astonished when I strolled up and ordered a plate of mutton and potato – I suppose not many foreigners stray into these parts. One of the workers ushered me to a bench in the gully under the arch where I sat and dipped my fresh tandoori roti into the gravy, studiously ignoring Rahul’s rising twitchiness. The meal was simple and homely with none of Old Delhi’s signature spicy pyrotechnics – also on offer was potato and spinach and dal, each served with the freshest of bread for 20 rupees a go.
Eventually, I gave in to Rahul’s constant reminders that this was not a good area and got back on the rickshaw. Returning via Lal Kuan, we stopped at Lal Ramkrishan Das and Sons where a huge crowd was blocking out a beautiful display of gajjak. I sampled a few – a perfect chaser to the savoury meat – then watched sugar being spun at the back of the shop. (unfortunately I’ve managed to delete a video I made of this!)
Just looking at these photos makes me feel winter is already a distant memory but if the Western Disturbance troubles us for just a little bit longer, we can enjoy a few more leisurely Old Delhi strolls.
Khan Hotel, about fifty yards up on the right of Frashkhana coming from Lal Kuan
Lal Ramkrishan Das and Sons, gajjak shop, on Lal Kuan next to the opening for Rodgran Gali