Cheap hotels, small restaurants, shady shops of all kinds, traders, street stalls, rickshaws, cows, backpackers, Indians, smell of incense, taste of chai… we have arrived in Paharganj, the backpacker epicentre of Delhi and one of the most authentic neighbourhoods of the country. If you’re about to land in this chaotic place, you’d better take a look at this article, because this is India at its purest: chaos and contrasts that short-circuit any Western brain.
A little bit of history
Despite its current atmosphere, Paharganj was one of Delhi’s main markets only a couple of centuries ago, in addition to the city’s main grain market, where grain was transported across the Yamuna River from wholesale markets and warehouses in Patparganj and Shahdara.
Sacks of rice in Paharganj, a remnant of what was once
The construction of the New Delhi train station was the trigger for that market to turn into what we know today, largely due to the influx of travellers. It did not take long for hotels and restaurants to appear gradually to cover this demand until what we know today.
Eating and drinking in Paharganj
Today Paharganj has an extensive network of restaurants, many of them on the rooftops of the buildings, where you can taste food from all over India as well as international dishes. The quality of the food is usually acceptable and the best thing is that there are many to choose from. Many of them are not licensed to sell alcoholic beverages, so they serve you beer in a teapot, or wrapped in newspaper, or directly serve it to you in a porcelain cup and hide the bottle.
Restaurants in Tuti ChowkCarme on the roof of a Nepalese restaurant
It is worth sitting on one of the restaurant terraces surrounding the Tuti Chowk, a kind of square in the middle of the Main Bazaar that will hypnotize you with the coming and going of all kinds of people and transports.
On the other hand, you’ll run into some chai vendor every few months, one of the most popular drinks in India. We recommend that you sit on the small wooden bench that is usually in each of them and ask for one of them. Just seeing how they do it is worth the stop.
The ubiquitous chai
And remember to also try a lassi, the typical refreshing yogurt shake. There is a very famous corner in the middle of the Main Bazaar where they serve dozens of them every day.
A kid serving lassiThe lassi in this corner is quite popular
Hundreds of small shops will offer you thousands of items to buy, from clothes shops, jewellery shops, handbags, saris fabrics, shoes, home accessories, mobiles and a long etcetera. Prices are dependent on your bargaining skills, as few stores will have fixed prices.
One of the typical shops at the end of Main BazaarStreet vendor of belts
The Main Bazaar Street is the artery that crosses the entire neighborhood of Paharganj. Starting from the New Delhi station, you will find everything imaginable on both sides of the street. Take a walk on it while you dodge rickshaws and cows.
Where do we start?
Fruit, vegetable and spice market
One of the streets parallel to Main Bazaar is a small market where you can find fruit, vegetables, paneer, meat, spices… of all kinds of food. It’s on the second street on the left past the Tuti Chowk. Every time we go, we end up taking a walk and taking pictures.
The food market streetVegetables
It’s worth stopping in front of a kid who makes ground spice preparations on the spot. You tell him which dish you want to cook and he’ll make the mixture for you.
The spice guy
Although if you want to buy spices in bulk you will always find shops with sacks full of them.
Where to sleep
If there is one thing that has characterized the Paharganj neighborhood, it is the number of hotels (to call them something) that are cheap for the traveler with the tightest budget. Now, don’t expect anything more than a small windowless room in a narrow alley. If you have time, look, compare and choose from the great offer, but we already told you that expecting something half-decent is asking a lot. The rooms are basic and the cleanliness is usually on par with the rest of the country…
Looking for a hotel?
The only word I can think of to describe each and every accommodation we have stayed in on our repeated visits to Paharganj is decrepitude, even when we have decided to pay a little more… Building maintenance is not very common in India. Good luck!
Decreased hotels in Paharganj
We left you a few that are at least okay.
Take a walk around the neighborhood
But beyond Main bazaar, the whole neighborhood is, at the very least, interesting. In its smaller streets, narrow enough so that you won’t be hit by a car (but you will be by a bike, rickshaw, motorbike or cow) you will find places to taste Indian street food or simply walk, listen, observe and let yourself be enveloped by the everyday life of the neighbourhood and its inhabitants.
One of the alleysAnother alleyAnd morePharmacies, restaurants, shops, richshaws…Street food everywhereVehicles…Shaving that is gerundPosing for the photo
And their smells. The air smells of a mixture of spices, chai, incense and in some alleys of urine and shit, both human and animal, so be careful where you step.
Garbage will eat India one day
In conclusion, you may like Paharganj more, less or not at all, but what you can’t do is get bored. For the first-time user it can be very shocking or overwhelming, and even more so when certain characters stand next to you eating your ear offering you their products (or anything else) while you walk.
Paharganj, the kaos made into a neighbourhoodA fruit seller unaware of the hustle and bustleCows? You’ll see them in droves
For those who come back and know “what’s what” over time they get used to it and stop paying attention to what. Although we can also say that, in the end, Paharganj always continues to surprise us.
Paharganj, are you ready for it?
How to get to Paharganj?
The first thing you have to do is to get to New Delhi station, either by metro from the airport or by train (if you are coming from other cities). From there and just by crossing the avenue in front of the station you will reach the Main Bazaar Road, the main artery of Paharganj.
If you arrive by subway to New Delhi station and want to avoid crossing the tracks at the station and then the walk to your hotel (believe me it’s a 20 minute walk loaded with your backpack) you can stop at Shivaji Stadium (the subway stop above) and get an autorickshaw to Paharganj. You can either go with 50-80 rupees or get an Uber.