Coolest Ethnic Hubs Around Delhi
By Chaitali Aggarwal
All photos by the author; Copyright: Right Impact Media Inc.
A microcosmic India promises to fill to the brim your appetite for the finest Indian handicrafts, stately and regional cuisines, rural art, endless sights, folk music, dance and ethnic appurtenance in a rustic ambience all year through in this makeshift village of sorts.
Enter ‘Dilli Haat’ 365-days and you get Indian culture to relish and handicrafts are all yours to pick for a decent price. There are over 75 kiosks dressed as huts in this safe gated compound that will also overwhelm you with fresh, cook-to-order cuisines from most states. And, indeed, some fine bamboo and rosewood furniture (the latter can be expensive) is usually available on sale.
If you are looking for more refined Indian wares and artefacts from Indian states then visit the various plush, air-conditioned Indian state-specific emporiums/boutiques on Baba Kharak Singh Marg, closer to Connaught Place. These house a variety of specialties. The more sought after being sandalwood carvings at Madhya Pradesh emporium, shawls at the Kashmir emporium, intricate embroidered linen from West Bengal, fine tea from north-eastern states, delectable pickles from Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, Madhubani paintings and other artistic works by a myriad renowned craftspersons at the Bihar emporium, silk sarees from Uttar Pradesh, brass and silver jewelry by artisans from Odisha to name a few. These emporiums are conveniently located in a row and accessible by the Delhi metro and taxi-cabs.
(A File Photo).
The last but not least to fathom Indian culture in all its grandeur is the Surajkund Mela (a world famous Indian ethnic crafts carnival) the yearly celebration of crafts that is spread over an expansive land adjoining Delhi. The Surajkund Craft Mela is organized by the Department of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism and Culture-Government of India in tandem with Haryana Tourism, in February, every year.
However, for being open to public all year through at a nominal entrance fee, in the otherwise traffic-ridden a visit to the capital of India, this serene cultural hub (Dilli Haat) in the heart of south Delhi does leave the local visitors, domestic and foreign tourists in awe and wonder The refreshing, colorful village ambience and delectable cuisines promise a breather to the fatigued soul.
The first Dilli Haat was established opposite the INA market on Sri Aurobindo Marg in south Delhi way back in 1994. Subsequently, a few years later, another Dilli Haat came up in Pitampura (north Delhi) and recently, another one opened in Janak Puri (west Delhi). However, the original one in south Delhi holds the most charm for visitors and tourists in the finery galore it offers.
One is spellbound the moment you enter the magnificent gates of the sprawling complex. The polluted-cacophony of the city’s traffic a few yards outside this compound is soon replaced with the refreshing serenity of what could well be termed a village marketplace, albeit a permanent one. The brick stalls and hut-like structures carry with them the authenticity of a HAAT – or simply a rural marketplace.
The shopaholics love it; the college-goers consider it a cozy hideout to escape from the humdrum and unsafe hangout places like the shady ruins to sneak into this aesthetic landscape where the entry ticket costs barely Rs 20 a person. The place is guarded with many a sentry and a good presence of security personnel. Inside the ‘Haat’, there are no beggars or louts, thankfully so.
Local artisans and craftsmen from all over the country bring their works of art to be displayed and sold here. Stalls are allotted to them for 15 days on nominal rent basis. With the theme changing every 15 days or after a month, more often in line with the season or festivities going on at the time, there is a new look and feel adding to the charm periodically. Cultural programmes, theatres and folk dances add a special flavor to the festivities at the ‘Haat’.
Handicrafts may be the main allure of the ‘Haat’, but the variety of ethnic wear, paintings, jewelry and home décor articles are appealing and satiating for the lovers of culture, art and tradition. With goods from every state attractively displayed, walking through the Dilli Haat is like walking through a mini India – vibrant, colorful and soulful!
A veritable fashion house of ethnic designs – the reason why a large number of students from leading fashion schools of Delhi throng here on assignments and for inspiration - to ‘play with fabric’. “We get a lot of assignments for design- related subjects where we need a large variety of handicrafts. Dilli Haat provides us with so many options with its different stalls from different states. Every visit here gives me the insight that I need to complete my tasks and you can always pick up something on the way”, says Shrishti Anand.
Dilli Haat also attracts a lot of foreigners from different countries who come here for shopping and to relish Indian cuisines. For Elif from Turkey, it was a wonderful experience to be cherished. “We are in love with Dilli Haat as it has stuff from so many places like Sikkim and Rajasthan. We like the food stalls too but sometimes the Indian food is too spicy. This place is great for shopping for souvenirs too.”
The folk dancers prancing around and singers performing to traditional music in beautiful and colorful attire as they adorn the traditional lehengas with heavy jewelry embellishing their shapely bodies is another big attraction for the foreigners.
This fascinating one-stop destination for lovers of Indian ethnic stuff enraptures not just compulsive shoppers but also foodies. Dilli Haat is popular for the food stalls - think about food and you do get a whiff close by. Cuisines from different states of the country are aplenty. There is a drawback though - the food stalls do not accept credit cards, however, the ATM inside the premises compensates for replenishing the wallet.
Some famous food and beverages available here are the fruit beer from Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The state’s food stall Momo Mia is a favorite among the youngsters, while the Gujarat stall draws crowds for its best-known freshly made snack ‘dhokla’.
The aroma of sumptuous kebabs from Kashmir, the biryani, phirni and Awadhi curry of Uttar Pradesh and the dosas of Tamil Nadu wafts through the ‘Haat’ pulling in the visitors towards it.
Fnbworld's intern reporter spoke with Kumar Lama, manager at MOMA-MIA – the famous Arunachal Pradesh food stall. About his business, he said “this has been operational since the last 15 years. Our momos (dumplings) are the best selling snack in the menu as the place is named after it! On weekends, we’re chock-a-block full and it gets difficult to manage.”
With an exotic variety, it gets difficult to decide which stall to try out. Satiated with delicious food and armed with the yields of a good afternoon’s shopping, I thought I had seen the best of Dilli Haat. But what came thereafter threw me back in an era before I was born. I was stunned and excited to see a bioscope – a vintage contraption that was used in the 1970s where music blurted out regional reel of movie posters and kids used to put their eyes on an eye-hole to see the show put up via hand-rotating by the showmaster’!
The ‘Haat’ has well kempt washrooms, while those for the physically weak are located at the center of the complex to be easily accessible from all sides. There are ample ramps for the physically challenged and wheelchairs are available for the asking; making the experience pleasant for the elderly and for the physically challenged. Nobody can possibly be satiated with a single visit here. Take it from me - for 'Haat's' sake...