We have booked a Tour of Old Delhi tonight. We travel back into town on the metro which is absolutely packed. An indian chap apologises for the fact that there are no seats specially saved for visitors. We manage to wrestle our way off the train and up to ground level where we are met by Dhruv, our host for the evening, and a young couple called Megan and Adrian from Australia who are sharing the experience with us. We are briefed on the format for the evening and told that everythinhg is included in the price that we have paid and there will be no extras, tips or baksheesh required. Nice to hear. We head along one of the busy streets in the Shahjahanabad area and are shown some of the local businesses including a man who translates Arabic documents into Hindi, wedding stationers and bathroom wholesalers.
We stop at a street food vendor's stall. All of the tourist books warn you about the dangers of street food but Dhruv assures us that he personally recommends these stalls and dishes but only these. We start with Chat Papri (spicy potato) cooked as we watch and served on small foil containers with cocktail sticks. These are followed by spicy potato cakes and then another type of tuber in a very spicy sauce. The man in the tie in the photo is Dhruv.
Next up was another stall specialising in chana puris, a very light puffed bread, served
with a spicy chickpea sauce. This was washed down with lassi, a chilled yogurt drink and a delicious sweet called jalebis, a bit like a teetotal rum baba. By the this time R says that she feels quite full, but not full enough to turn down the carrot halva cake that came next.
In order to work off these excesses Dhruv sets a blistering pace as we head further into the maze of steets. Megan (originally from Canada) is amazed to see cows wandering the streets and cannot believe that they are just allowed to roam at will. She is determined to have her picture taken with one but the pace is relentless. A visit to a working flour mill was next followed by a vegetable seller's pavement stall. We then stop at a hand painting stall where the ladies are treated to having one of their hands hennaed. R is an old hand at this and is able to provide suitable aftercare advice for the novice.
Dhruv is soon ready to move on through a maze of back alleys (called galis) and it gets
quieter and quieter until we turn into a blind alley and are invited to pose for a photo in front of an imposing pair of wooden doors. This turns out to be his home where we are
greeted by his wife and daughters. The house is a traditional haveli, built round an open courtyard and unusual in that it is occupied by only one family. We take our shoes off, as is traditional in a Hindu household, and take a seat.
Dhruv explains the history of the house, which has been in his family for 6 generations,
before we are ushered into the kitchen for a demonstration of how to make pakora. Mrs Dhruv cooks both onion and paneer pakoras. The paneer (Indian cottage cheese) is home made and much nicer than the stuff on the trains. After the demo R stays in the kitchen asking technical questions while the rest of us retire to the sitting room to learn a bit more about Old Delhi. Dhruv's grandfather was a highly respected scholar who specialised in the translation of Sanskrit writings, and who was honoured by Prime Minister Nehru.
We were taken on a tour of the rest of the house, pausing for a game of Karoom (?), a cross between draughts and billiards, where the cue piece is flicked with a finger in an attempt to knock other pieces into the corner holes on the board, R turned out to be a wizard at this.
Next stop was the three level roof terrace where we had a great view of the night skyline and we flew kites. This was followed by an inpromptu firework display until we heard the call from below that supper was served.
This was an excellent vegetarian meal with all of the regulars such as daal, rice, spicy
potatoes and puris but also with, joy of joys, some salad that we felt would be safe to eat. So welcome after 10 days without. Our hosts didn't eat with us but entertained us with stories while we ate. We couldn't do justice to everything but we did manage to save a bit of pudding space for some wonderful rose flavoured kulfi.
It was by now after 11 p.m. and the metro had stopped running. Dhruv and Mrs D walked us
through the alleys and sorted auto rickshaws out for us. Our guy was pretty good and we only had to stop him taking a wrong turning once. When we got home the Quartermaster-General was having a disco in his garden. His taste is pretty retro as we listened to Dion & The Belmonts, Cliff Richard and Chubby Checker before falling asleep.
A truly splendid evening.