In the mystic alleys of Delhi – Paharganj

पहाड़गंज से मेरा रिश्ता बहुत पुराना है और ये कुछ इस तरह से शुरू हुआ.

It was the summer of 1947 when Paharganj saw the bloodiest Hindu-Muslim riots during the partition of India – a metamorphosis for Paharganj – with one community forced to desert its roots and flee to Pakistan and the other fled from Pakistan to make a new beginning here.

During those fateful events, our family including grandparents, parents and uncles shifted from Lyallpur (now Faislabad) to Delhi in August, 1947 and found abode in a three storey building at Street No. 1, Multani Dhanda (the property has since been converted into a hotel). Being displaced persons (unfortunately everyone including the local administration called the persons coming from the “other side” as “refugees”), our family was also allotted a shop at Motia Khan, where my grandfather pursued the only trade he knew – sale and purchase of timber and firewood. Being in the close vicinity of our house, I studied at DAV School, Chitra Gupta Road and completed my higher secondary in the lap of Paharganj.


Ramakrishna Ashram established in 1927

Paharganj of those days was not what it is now. It was more close to the days when it was a suburb of the walled city of the Mughal empire with a small touch of Lutyens’ Delhi.

Interestingly, during the days of the Mughal Empire, Paharganj was an important suburb. Located just outside, the Ajmeri Gate of the Walled city, Paharganj was one of five main markets of the Delhi, and the only one outside the walled city. It was the principal grain market of the city, in the 17th century; it was also an important centre for collecting taxes for the emperors. Paharganj also finds a special mention in the mutiny papers of 1857, when it was also known by the name of Jaisinghpura and Shahganj.

It gets its present name ‘Paharganj’, literally meaning Hilly neighborhood, owing to its proximity to the Raisina Hill, where the Rashtrapati Bhawan stands today.

We shifted from Paharganj to Bara Hindu Rao (close to Filmistan Cinema) while I was doing my higher secondary. Since our family business was located at Motia Khan, Paharganj, my visits to the area were still very frequent and many sweet memories of the bazaars of Paharganj are still afresh. I will share with you a very tale of our childhood follies.


Imperial Talkies

There used to be two cinema houses in the main market of Paharganj – The Imperial Talkies and Khanna Talkies. Though Khanna Talkies was considered a “down market” cinema hall, the fact that one could get an entrance ticket, provided a bicycle was parked at their parking lot, was a great attraction for the students. Now I and my cousin Bahadur Singh (may God rest him in peace) shared one bicycle for going to the school. How do both of us see the film with one ticket was a big question. Bahadur came out with a brilliant idea. Our classes finished at around 1.30 P.M. He would bunk the last two periods, go to the cycle stand, get a ticket and watch the movie till interval. He would then meet me at the entrance, hand over the ticket and cycle token for me to see the second half of the movie. At home he used to announce of the “special classes” as a reason for my delay in coming back home. Next day the same exercise was done in the reverse order enabling both of us to watch the movie in two stages.

This carried on for a couple of months and we were happily merrily watching the new releases, without any advance booking. Suddenly one day at the cycle stand, I saw my father standing and was caught red-handed (He had received a report of the absence from the classes). You can imagine what would have happened. Both of us got a good bashing. And that was the end of this unforgettable incidence.

When we look back, we laugh at ourselves and remember Ghalib’s “ Jawaani Ki Badkariyaan”.

Suddenly in 1975, emergency was imposed in the country and the administration, which had an eye on abandoning the Motia Khan Timber Market, got a tailor-made opportunity to shift the market to Kirti Nagar. Meanwhile, we had also shifted to Rajouri Garden and my visits to Paharganj became very infrequent.


The hippie movement of late sixties took India by storm.

The hippie movement which was slowly creeping into the country, found a haven at the budget hotels of Paharganj (some of which were already there owing to the close proximity to the New Delhi Railway Station). Let me first talk something about this significant event.
In the early seventies, with the advent of Hippie Movement, the area on account of its close vicinity to Railway Station and Connaught Place became a regular part of the Hippie Trail, for hippies and backpackers., besides the college students and the regular business visitors to the wholesale markets of Sadar Bazaar, looking for budget accommodations, a legacy which continues even today, with its streams of budget hotels, cafes and restaurants, specializing in global cuisines and ever increasing number of cybercafés to meet the requirements of the tourists as well as the student community.

In one of those years, an English friend’s brother joined one of the hippie groups and came to India in search of peace and tranquility. He almost lost contact with the family and to trace him, the father, an eminent medical practioner met me and we came to Paharganj looking for him at the various hotels. Waving Bob’s photograph, we started moving from one hotel to another. With around 100 hotels in the area, it was an uphill task. After checking at ten better known hotels and getting negative feedback, we thought of spending some time at Metropolis, which is known for its continental food (they serve Indian food too). Waiting for something to turn up, we spent an hour there. Suddenly Bob’s father asked me to take him to the office of American Express, to enable him to encash travelers’ cheques (those days this was the safest mode of carrying money). While doing the transaction, he showed Bob’s picture and asked the concerned officer if Bob visited the bank for exchange of money. As if remembering something, he asked us to wait for some time. He came back after fifteen minutes and showed us a piece of paper, a requisition for exchange of currency, which carried Bob’s signature and local address – it was a hotel at Fatehpuri.

We headed for Fatehpuri and contacted the receptionist, who to our great satisfaction confirmed that Bob was staying there. We waited at the reception for four hours. At around ten, we saw Bob entering the hotel. Seeing his father, he wanted to retract his steps, but ultimately came and embraced his father. It was heartening to see the father and son re-union and the next day they took a flight back home.

Having enjoyed the good quality of food at very reasonable rates, I along with my office colleagues went there occasionally, as our office at Connaught Circus was almost at a walking distance.

Walking through Paharganj.

The best way to explore Paharganj is to walk down the crowded streets, though it is not very inconvenient to drive your personal car / scooter.


Statue of Swami Vivekanand right outside Ashram


New Delhi Railway Station

There are two important landmarks of Paharganj – New Delhi Railway Station, and the Ramakrishna Mission.

I suggest, we go through the Ramakrishna Ashram route.

One can reach the Ashram through Delhi Metro, bus or through your own vehicle. There is absolutely no parking problem outside the Ashram, which is located in the neighborhood of the Metro Station – “Ramakrishna Ashram Marg” of Delhi Metro.


Metro Station

Being in the close vicinity, I used to visit the Ashram often during the school days and have many fond memories of this revered place. The Ashram has so much to be talked about and thus, in all the fairness, would require a separate post giving the history of the Ashram and Mission itself, which I would submit one of these days. Presently, I would restrict to the activities of the Ashram.

Ramakrishna Mission Ashram was established in 1927 as a branch of the Ramakrishna Mission founded by Swami Vivekanand in 1897, with its headquarters at Belur Math, Howrah (WB).

The Ashram conducts various spiritual activities including daily worship, aarti, etc at the temple located close to the main entrance. Regular discourses on religious scriptures are also conducted in the Ashram premises.


Library at the Ashram

The Ashram runs a well stocked library (perhaps one of the oldest and biggest), with books on almost all the streams. Students can borrow text books too from the library. It is well supported by an extensive reading room. The mission also imparts computer training and value education and personality development programs. It has a medical center, homeopathic dispensary, mobile hospital and the first T B Hospital in India, which I used to pass through often as it was close to my residence.

The bookstore located on the left side of the entranace has a large collection of Ramakrishna – Vivekanand Vedanta literature. I could spot a few interesting titles for children too.

There is a strict adherence to visiting hours to the Ashram and these are 8-12 in the morning and 4-8 in the evening.

Let’s move further. A few paces from the Ashram, stands the ancient Chitragupta temple. Take a right turn at the T point towards the main bazaar and you will reach the famous Metropolis Hotel and Restaurant. The proprietor. Mr. Sharma, initially a bit hesitant for a small conversation, became little friendly, thanks to our being from the same school. The restaurant was established by his father over 80 years back and is considered one of the best eating places. The ambience of the bar looked very impressive. It’s a little more costly than some of the restaurants in the area – main meals average around 250 rupees ($6) — but the quality and variety of food is a definite step up from the other eateries. Both Indian and western dishes are prepared. Service is friendly, fast, and efficient. Reasonably priced alcohol is also served, including cocktails.


The fabulous interiors of Metropolis Restaurant and bar

Turn left from Metropolis towards Chuna Mandi and you will find the whole lot of budget hotels. The major landmark of the area is Imperial cinema, which owing to the influx of state of the art multiplexes in the city, is virtually going into oblivion. Fifty paces ahead of Imperial, close to Roxy Hotel, stand the pride of Paharganj – the famous Sitaram chole bhature shop – Sita Ram Diwan Chand. There is something interesting about the first owner of the eatery – Mr. Sita Ram. He used to put up a stall on his bicycle bang outside the gate of our school. With over 2000 students in the school, the footfall at his stall during the recess was simply uncontrollable. Bahadur Singh, my friend and cousin helped in managing his cash collections during the short break. I have no shame in admitting that during the last week of the month, when our pockets were almost empty, Bahadur did help us in enjoying exorbitant discounts.

We passed out from the school and moved to the university. Sita Ram also graduated from the cycle stall to a small shop on the pavement just opposite Imperial Cinema. He left for his heavenly abode several years back, but the legacy and goodwill left by him and of course, the hard work put up by his children has turned the shop into a restaurant where the footfall is simply amazing. If you are fond of the most famous fast food of Delhi – chole bhature, I assure you this is the best place in the town.


The mouth watering delicacy – Chole bhature

Some of the other very reasonably priced restaurants in Paharganj are:

Malhotra Restaurant , an intimate restaurant that serves good Indian and Continental food. Step inside and you’ll find seating for around 30 people, wooden and tiled walls, and lighting that sets the mood nicely. Service is courteous. It is located at Laxmi Narain Street, Paharganj, Delhi (opposite the Hotel Cottage Yes Please and Imperial Talkies). A meal for two costs around Rs.300 ($7).

Gem Bar and Restaurant located in the Main Bazaar is in the real sense of term a gem. This narrow, relatively new place is modern and decorated in warm tones inside. The sports lovers would find it all the more interesting as the restaurant has put up a wide screen TV. You’ll find a wide range of cuisine on the menu and is a decent place to have a drink or two.

Diamond Café also located in the Main Bazaar (opposite Vivek Hotel) is another place that offers everything from Indian to Israeli food. Most of what’s on the menu costs less than 100 rupees ($2.50) and is quite appetizing..

Sam’s Café at Vivek Hotel is another popular restaurant. The Café serves a variety of Israeli and Italian food, as well as steak and burgers. There’s also barbecue from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.


Madan Cafe

Madan Café: Close to the crossing near Metropolis, you can find a very small shop, Madan Cafe which serves all kinds of dishes – Indian, continental, Chinese, Israeli and what not. Being very reasonably priced, all through the day the tourists throng the place.

Some of the other most sought after eating joints are the German Bakery, Khosla Cafe and Pahelwan Da Dhaba. Right opposite Hotel Metropolis, a bar sells beer for Rs. 75 and a small drink (30ml) of whiskey, rum, gin or Vodka for Rs. 20 only
.

If you are fond of books, you can find a good variety of books and magazines – both used and new at Jacksons Books located opposite Medicos Opticians. I was told by the owner that the shop keeps books in over twenty languages.

Khanna Talkies about which I have mentioned above, is located in the main bazaar, which has over 1000 hotels and tourist friendly shops and culminates at New Delhi Railway Station, the nerve center of railways. Take a right turn and at a distance of less than half a km, stands the famous Connaught Place, with some of the best shops, hotels, banks and offices of major corporate. The famous Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospital is also located in the same area.

Paharganj extends towards Desh Bandhu Gupta Road and Nabi Karim. Close to Nabi Karim, you can find Dargah Qadam Sharif, the famous historical edifice of the Firozshah Tughlak days. As per the legend, it is believed that Feroze Shah Tughlaq built the large square tomb here for his own use, but when his son prince Fateh Khan died, it was utilised for interring the latter’s remains.

The emperor later built a mosque and a school here and enclosed the tomb within high battlemented walls. There are also several graves and tombs inside the enclosure.

The budget hotels

If you’re looking for a cheap and clean hotel in Delhi, Paharganj is the place to come. This chaotic tourist district is full of budget accommodations. Some are cleaner than others, and it pays to be selective when choosing. These decent Paharganj hotels are inexpensive, clean, and offer good value for money. Some of the preferred hotels are:

Hotel Cottage Yes Please

This hotel with a quirky name is located in a relatively quiet street, just off the Main Bazaar and is managed by Malhora Group. There’s no shortage of marble or courteous staff in the hotel, and the rooms are kept clean and nicely decorated. The fully air conditioned hotel offers unlimited wireless internet in the lobby, TV, refrigerators, 24 hours room service. The tariff for a double bedded room is Rs. 1000 and for a suite, which can easily accommodate four persons is Rs. 2000. The hotel also has very similar, but newer, sister hotel called the Cottage Crown Plaza located just around the corner on the Main Bazaar. This is also a very decent place to stay.

Hotel Grand Godwin

For those who are willing to pay a little more for a comfortable stay in Paharganj, but are still on a budget, Hotel Grand Godwin is a good proposition. The hotel is located very close to the New Delhi Railway Station on Ara Kashan Road.. It has a decent ambience and is well managed. The staff is friendly and efficient. It also has a 24 hour rooftop restaurant that serves an expansive buffet breakfast. Room tariff start at Rs.1500 with a complimentary breakfast.


Double bedded room in Hotel Hari Piorko

Hotel Hari Piorko

I was impressed with the interiors of this hotel located in the Main Bazaar. The rooms are elegantly designed. The Fire & Rice rooftop restaurant with a village theme presented a good look. The tariff is also very competitive and ranges between Rs. 1200-2100.


The rooftop restaurant at Hote Hari Piorko

Hotel Legend International

This is another good hotel located at Arakashan Road and is noticeably more up market than most of the Paharganj hotels. Guests can look forward to a high standard of customer service, as well as large, clean rooms with spacious floor plans and comfortable beds. The hotel is also suitable for business travelers.

And if you are looking for a still cheaper and clean Hotel, then walk into Rak International. It has a wide range of rooms, all of which have street views. You may also check out the new Hotel Gush International next door. Room tariff range between Rs.500 – 1000.

The tourists have many more good options like Hotel Roxy, Hotel Relax and Virat Tourist Lodge . A number of hotels like Hotel Namaskar, Major’s Den and Hotel Vishal have found a mention of credence in the prestigious “Lonely Planet”. All these hotels have their respective websites through which one can get all the information and make bookings on line-

To conclude, I think Paharganj has a peculiar characteristic about it which makes it very different and unique. A seedy underbelly section of Delhi, it has seen a constant cavalcade of life in various stages of evolution. Delhi Metro has done a great service to the tourists by providing world class connectivity with Connaught Place, Chandni Chowk, Akshardham Temple, Mehrauli and Chhatarpur Temple. The way development is taking place in the area, we can expect many more things happening in the coming years.

Thank you for being with me on this emotional journey to Paharganj.

63 Comments

  • Mirza Azeem Beg says:

    Ram Sir,

    Again a masterpiece……. with such intense knowledge about the area and the real play with words.

    Take care…

    Azeem
    9911779393

  • Sunil says:

    I felt like roaming with you in Paharganj.
    Many Thanks.

  • ram dhall says:

    Thanks Sunil ji for liking the post.

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Dear Ram,

    Nice writing about Paharganj.

    Regards

  • ram dhall says:

    Dear Surinder ji,

    Thanks for liking the post.

    Regards

  • Mahesh Sharma says:

    Could you please tell be how to reach to the burial place of Urdu poet Ibrahim Zauq in Paharganj somewhere near Qdam Sharif.
    Thanks

  • ram dhall says:

    My sincere apologies for inability to give you the exact information on this.

    Kindly visit Dargah Qadam Sharif and check up with the local residents there.

    Regards,

  • Mayank Saxena says:

    Thanks for the deep insight n first hand experience of our very own Paharganj sir…

    I am becoming a fan of this blog site.. One genuine place to take reviews…

  • ram dhall says:

    Thanks Mayank for liking the post. Please do keep on visiting the site and sharing your views.

  • raj says:

    Your blog brought back old memories. I was born in 1960 and moved out of Paharganj after 37 years. Paharganj has metamorphosed, and I saw all that happen in front of my own eyes. Most of the landmarks are gone I believe, except the Ramakrishna Mission, Imperial Cinema and Khanna Talkies. I did go to Paharganj sometime in 2008 or 09 and did meet up with some of the people I remembered and they remembered me too.
    Thanks very much.

  • Evocative! I was in Delhi in 1974 and stayed in Pahar Ganj for some of that time in a place called Mukesh Guest House. I wonder what is on those premises now. Much must have changed and yet it all seems familiar. I have such good memories of India. I felt a sense of peace there! Even in the madness and bustle of Pahar Ganj or Chandni Chowk and the terrible poverty and disease I encountered there was still a pervasive spirituality in the air throughout India and in many of the people I met. I miss India and I hope to visit it one more time before I am too old. Thank you for your writing.

  • KD Mishra says:

    Dear Ram sahib, Great article and great piece of information, I went to paharganj several times but did not noticed the things described by you.

    Now I will make trip there to see the places described by you

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