Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Friday Market: West Patel Nagar

This blog is in line with our commitment to help you experience Delhi as a real Dilliwalla. Here I go..

Every locality in Delhi has a dedicated day for weekly market, though this concept is prevalent across the country in some form or the other, also known as Haat or Bazaar. In rural areas where availability of goods is not as easy, these markets serve the people with daily needs and also offer opportunity to trade locally produced goods but for the Delhiwallas only the first case applies.

                                                     A Lingerie-seller Setting up the Shop

On Fridays it takes place at West Patel Nagar. For tourists, it's more convenient to visit Monday Market at Karol Bagh (though Patel Nagar has more authentic feel). At one time, it was an event for all residents in that area, but now with the middle class getting richer, it's limited to the ones who can't afford the expensive malls and shopping centres and the old timers who don't want to let go the olden day memories.

A Crockery Seller

You get everything of daily use from home furnishing, clothing, crockery to furniture, food and spices. Most of the stuff on sale are of poor quality,  but dirt cheap and is not targeted at quality-conscious buyer. However, the spectacle is an experience in itself.

                               This Street becomes the busiest place on earth after the sunset

As the sun sets, the wave of humanity descends to this market, and you can experience some fierce bargaining taking place while the atmosphere is filled with the intoxicating smell of Chhole Bhature (a spicey north-Indian fast food)The sellers shout at top of the pitch to sell their wares while the buyers put their bargaining skills at test to become a shopping champion. You may get overwhelmed with the length of this bazaar which would easily run over more than a kilometer.

Nothing in Delhi can make your travel experience more authentic than this.

How to reach: Get down at Shadipur Depot Metro Station on Dwarka metro line. Take a man-ridden cycle rickshaw (10-20 rupees) or walk down to West Patel Nagar Bazaar on Fridays.
Caution: Female foreign travellers are advised not to venture out without a male companion or a guide. If alone, they can visit Monday Market at Karol Bagh, which is more tourist friendly. Please avoid carrying any valuables and carry minimum cash because pick-pocketing is quite common.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Anand Vihar Railway Terminal (Station)

It was my first visit to Anand Vihar Railway Terminal to see my mother off. Now, most of the east-bound trains start and end at this brand new terminal. I caught a metro from Patel Nagar destined to Vaishali and got down at Anand Vihar station. The Railway Terminal (Station) is visible from the Metro Station being at a higher level, and is connected with a bridge, which I realised only after following a longer way through main entrance. To those who are not aware, I must tell, most of the low-income residents of Delhi belong to eastern states of India and that's quite clearly visible from the railway station whom it serves. While the New Delhi railway station gets to see all types of travellers from elegantly dressed business visitors to foreigners to the shabbily dressed labourers, here you mostly see people belonging from lower middle to low income bracket.

Since the station is newly constructed, it's very well laid out with clear signages and I must tell: this is the cleanest station in Delhi. Because it's not yet utilised to its full capacity, which hopefully will change in near future, everything is easy including the baggage screening. The station has two baggage screening counters one of which is always empty. I was very happy to see the policemen diligently screening every piece of baggage and not being rude even to a single person. A part of the building is used as reservation counter, which too was quite efficient, where I picked the platform ticket from.

Suprisingly, in the parking I could see many radio taxis parked which is quite a rarity at any other station. Secondly, the auto drivers too were not as pushy as you find them at the other stations.

I put my baggage through screening and climbed the stair to reach platform number one. All the sign boards are clearly laid out, so I didn't have to ask anybody in getting to the platform. The train was already waiting at the station, though what surprised me was: next to each Sleeper coach I saw a TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) checking the ticket before people boarded. Those who were ticket-less were issued ticket upfront with penalty.

We had to walk to the end of the platform where AC coaches were parked. Though we had six units of luggage, we were able to easily wheel them to our coach on the smooth marble floor. Another interesting thing what I noticed was: complete absence of porters. I couldn't see even one as long as I stayed there.

After saying my mother Good Bye, I descended to the parking area, went past the Police Station and started walking towards the bridge which connects the Metro Station. From the top of the bridge, I could see spectacular view of the station. You guessed right.. I did click some beautiful photographs.

View from the Main Entry/Exit

The Baggage Screening Counter

Train at Platform No. 1


Police Station

Connecting  Bridge to Metro

View of the Terminal from the Bridge

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Arrival at New Delhi Airport (Terminal 3)

At 0300 hrs, the Qatar Airways flight from Doha landed dot on time. I was apprehensive of infamous Delhi fog, but fortunately it was a clear sky in November end. After exiting the aircraft and walking over the jet bridge I noticed a couple of beautiful ladies from airport welcome service draped in white and blue waiting for their privileged clients. As I walked past, a series of travelators welcomed me on the maroon-carpeted floor. I also saw free golf cart service to ferry the passengers, but didn’t opt for it since I wanted to walk after a tiring flight journey. Everything was spic and span. As I descended to the lower floor by escalator, the Buddhist design in copper above the immigration desks demanded my attention. The hassle-free immigration hardly took ten minutes before I reached the conveyer belt for the luggage.  I pulled out one of the free trolleys, loaded the luggage and moved towards the exit. On the way I saw a maize of shops selling same duty free items from liquor to perfumes.  The liquor deals assured me that one need not take the pain of carrying alcohol from overseas.  I followed green channel to exit and walked to the waiting area. Man! This is the first introduction to the country of over a billion people. Tens of placards among the crowd of at least a hundred was ready to welcome.

                                                                      Waiting Area

On the left hand side Plaza Premium lounge is located which offers five star sleeping, shower and massage service, well worth the money (that’s what it looked like.. Shower for Rs. 500), if you want to take a nap before checking into the hotel to save early check in charges.

                                                              Plaza Premium Lounge

As I moved ahead, I saw a few kiosks lined up selling hotels and cars on the right.  One of these kiosks is Delhi Police run prepaid taxi counter (the cheapest taxi option to reach the city). Besides, it also has India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) and Make My Trip counters for hotel and car booking.

                                                    Delhi Police run Pre-paid Taxi Counter

I took a prepaid coupon from Delhi Police counter and moved towards the main exit. On the way I saw Costa Coffee, a telephone booth and a few other shops. As soon as I exited, a fleet of air-conditioned Taxi welcomed me. Now they have removed the prepaid counter for A/C taxis (Meru and Mega cabs) and you need to pay by meter on arrival. These cabs cost 30-40 per cent more than Delhi Police run taxis, but are well maintained, far more spacious and drivers are better trained. Since its run by private players, sometimes they follow a longer more exotic route to your hotel, still it’s cheaper than the hotel transfers.

                                                               Costa Coffee

To my surprise, I also saw beautiful red a/c buses waiting to transport the travelers to the city.  Though, I didn’t bother to check the fare, it should not be more than 100 rupees and is the best option if you’re travelling on shoestring budget.

                                                               DTC run Airport Buses

                                                         A/C Taxis waiting in queue

Since I opted for cheaper black & yellow non-a/c taxi, I had to cross the road to reach them. The parking stand number was written on the booking slip, soon a black and yellow cab arrived and the journey began.  It was an old Maruti Van, the driver was patient, polite and zero in English but he ferried me comfortably to Dwarka sector 18 where my friend Satyam was waiting at home to welcome me.

                                                    Non-A/C Black & Yellow Taxis
Away from the middle-eastern bland desert wind, the smell of sweet morning breeze was quite pleasing. It was indeed a hassle-free arrival in New Delhi.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hazrat Nizamuddin Station: Easy Cabs Prepaid Service

One of the most challenging things about Delhi is bargaining, you need to do this almost everywhere, and this is what I hate the most about the city.

That day I was to pick an elderly relative from Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station. After reaching the station, I was quite relieved to see the Easy Cabs counter at the eastern exit of the station, next to Comesum restaurant. Upon being asked I was sure I could book an air-conditioned taxi without hassles. Great! I did feel sorry about the scamsters who thronged every time I needed a taxi before.

                         The Easy Cab prepaid booking counter at Eastern Exit, next to Comesum

After picking up my relative when I was about to reach the counter to book a cab we were intercepted by quite a few guys. They were auto drivers, and black and yellow taxi drivers, but I didn't give in.  I went ahead to the counter and booked a cab till Connaught Place (CP). They asked me to pay 200 rupees which appeared quite reasonable for an A/C taxi. 
                                                                   Me inside the car

The driver in grey uniform helped me load the luggage and we sat into the car. I was not expecting it to be that great.. since the condition of car I last availed from the airport terminal one was average. But, to my surprise, this cab was very well maintained. Bravo! These guys have got it right.

                                                               The Interior of the Car

It was an afternoon on a weekday and we reached CP without encountering much traffic. The A/C was effective driver was well-trained and drive was very smooth. I noticed that the GPS was not installed in the car.

We got down at the Park where my uncle was waiting for the two of us. The driver pulled out the luggage, I collected the bill, made the payment and bade good bye. It was indeed a pleasant ride. 

To book Easy Cabs in the city, you need to call 011 43434343. For tele-booking, an extra charge of 30 rupees apply. If you book using Internet at easycabs.com, you save this money.

Delhi Radio Taxi Scam

I had heard great things about Radio Taxi (Call a Cab) service in Delhi which is being provided by Meru Cabs, Mega Cabs, Easy cabs and NCR Taxi.

Now they have removed the prepaid counter for Meru cabs from Terminal 3 and as you come out you see the air-conditioned cars waiting in queue. A guys makes note of your name and phone number and tells you the number of the taxi you can board. The driver is enthusiastic and he loads the luggage in the car.  All this happened very smoothly, and the car started moving. Even in the past I had used the service (although from the prepaid counter) and it was hassle-free. So, expecting the same thing, I was peacefully chatting with my wife about Delhi weather, beauty and the flyovers.

While we were on flyover next to Varuna, Naval Officers Mess, the driver took a turn for RK Puram instead of Dhaula Kuan which surprised me. Upon being asked, he reasoned the heavy-traffic on Dhaula Kuan while hardly a few cars were plying on the road. Imagine, traffic at Dhaula Kuan at 04:30 in the morning. Now, I was sure he's fooling me. I warned him not to play around and he probably understood. When I probed why he was not using GPS, he said it's not yet operational. He stopped for gas and then drove us to Ginger, New Delhi Railway Station through RK Puram, Moti Bagh and Chanakyapuri. Guess what? The meter has clicked 30 kilometers, which ideally should not have been more than 22 kilometers.

I insisted that he must not charge for extra 10 kilo meters. By then I had already clicked a couple of photos of   the car and number plate, which probably was good enough for him to take me seriously. Surprisingly, he agreed. I paid him 600 rupees including the night charges which is 25 per cent extra, while the actual bill was 828.00 rupees which included 30 kilometer of ride at night and 80 rupees airport parking fee.

While talking about this to one of my friends who lives and works in Delhi, I came to know this is quite common among the radio taxi drivers.

So, to be sure that you're not ripped off, you must tell the route you want him to follow before starting the journey.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ishana Spa: Get Pampered Before You Take Off

After checking in and immigration at Terminal 3, we were bored of visiting the shops selling designer watches and perfumes (are they any different?), so my wife decide to take a nap before the Emirates flight to Dubai and we headed towards the departure gate.  As soon as we went past the shopping area, a giant shaped Surya (the Sun) statue held my attention, which was a sheer delight to the eyes. This 4 meter tall statue, made of copper pieces is designed by Satish Gupta and its splendor could be described by the fact that it took my wife’s sleep away, so, we decided to take a stroll to the corner shop which looked quite exotic from the distance.

As we reached closer, a beautiful roll up read ‘Ishana Nature Spa. Now Open.’ It’s a Souvenir Shop cum Spa with mystical appeal. Most of the goods on sale command your attention and not to say, they are quite heavy on pocket. We took quite some time to closely see and appreciate every piece of art in the store. The curtain made of square tiles was so enticing that we didn’t waste time in asking if we can have one in our living room, but to our disappointment: It was NOT ON SALE!

By now the live performers had set up their instruments and the classical music was seeping into our nerves while the fountain was already creating a trickling sound and the fresh flowers were floating in the pool. Dozens of bells were hung above the pool which did add an appeal to the ambiance. The set up is so soothing that you forget all the airport hassles which you went through few minutes back.

Now it was time to look at the Spa offerings and I moved to the counter where a well-groomed smiling lady was waiting for me to answer. The most noticeable point was: they were not pushy at all, which is quite uncommon in Delhi. I browsed through their menu and surprisingly the service was quite reasonable. A 15-minute foot massage is priced 600 rupees and full body massage which lasts for 45 minutes was available for 1500 rupees. Not Bad!

Before we could decide to give foot massage a try, I heard the boarding call. Alas! The thought of relaxation slipped into stress before I could realize.  We collected the brochure and rushed to the gate thanking the girl.

YOU shouldn’t miss this opportunity.

Location: Terminal 3 International Departure Lounge
Price: 600 to 1500 rupees

You can find more information & pictures about Ishana at http://www.newdelhiairport.in/ishana.aspx

P.S. On my last visit at Ishana on 03 September 2011, I noticed a steep rise in prices. Now, the services cost between 900 and 4800 rupees.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Camera Shopping in Delhi

For me buying a camera is a long and tedious process. Almost one and a half years back, I planned to upgrade to an SLR. After doing months of research I zeroed down to Nikon D5000. Nikon was my first choice despite being advised to buy Cannon by some of my friends, I just find the name and logo more appealing. I was waiting for the price to fall, and finally when it happened, I did another round of research. Guess what? Now I was not impressed enough with D5000, I wanted Nikon D90 now, that too at the right price. A friend was coming from the US, but the online price was far lower than off-the shelf price there and she had only 3 days to fly. So, I finally decided to buy it in India.

The first stop was Nikon India web site, which quoted the price Rs. 58950 with Nikkor 18-105mm lens. I was not impressed. So, I started hunting the web space for a good deal and the next point was JJ Mehta. The web site didn’t quote the price, although they asked me to drop a mail (who has time to wait?) of course! I didn’t. Then, I thought to try ebay, again, all the sellers who offered company warranty, didn’t differ much in pricing from the Nikon web site. The best quote was 58500 rupees. I also called a few dealers and to my disappointment, they didn’t appear to be in mood to bargain.

Still I didn’t give up hope.

One morning while browsing I came across a thread on IndiaMike, where I got a clue about Pritam & Sons, Chandni Chowk. I instantly made a call, and to my disbelief, the price they quoted was 51000 with invoice and 2 year warranty. I was not sure whether I’m going to get the right stuff, so I asked my brother to recheck, since I didn’t want to get into a shady deal. He too confirmed and reconfirmed, everything is going to be WHITE, nothing grey.

Chandni Chowk, to be honest, is not the best place to shop a high value camera, but the price was tempting. Next morning, I left auto at Jain temple and started walking inwards. Just a few meters away, was the cycle market where Pritam and Sons is located. It could be seen from the main road. When I reached, I found it a busy shops where many people, mostly the photographers who were waiting for their old cameras to be repaired. Another reason for my radar to stay active. However, I asked if they have D90 and the gentleman asked his sales person to show a packed unit to me. Just to be on the safer side, I wanted to check every bit of it.  The box was opened and I clicked a few shots and was convinced. But, I was not happy with Nikkor 18-105mm lens which would limit my photographic ambitions. When the gentleman came to know, he offered me a few other lenses, among them, Tamron 18-250mm was most suitable. Finally, I decided to replace the kit lens with Tamron. Obviously, I made full cash payment (because credit card attracts extra charges)and a few minutes later was carrying a huge kit box in the busy streets of Chandni Chowk.

It’s been two month and I have enjoyed every bit of it. By the way, Pritam & Sons also repairs the cameras.

You can see photos shot by this camera at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vivekvpsingh

By Vivek

Monday, March 7, 2011

Paraathewali Gali (Paraatha Lane)

Location: 2 minute walk from Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) Sis Ganj, Chandni Chowk (Ask the rickshaw walla or a shopkeeper for direction)
Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Best time to Visit: Morning 8 to 10 am

When it comes to food, Delhi is a paradise, and no Delhiite is less than a God. Delhi food is highly influenced by Punjab, so an 8 inch ghee-dripping Paraatha is considered incomplete without a tablespoon full of melting butter on it. Damn the health tips you received on TV show, if you want to explore real food in Delhi.
We exit metro at Chandni Chowk and came to the main road nudging humans, cows and rickshaws through a 3 feet wide street good enough only for humans to pass. Just opposite was Paraathewali Gali without any signage with a snack shop in front. As soon as we entered the alley, we noticed open air cooking in progress while people were enjoying paraathas inside the shop. We deliberately ignored the invitation which we got from the shops, just to show that we knew where to go. The aroma of pickles and multiples curries in open containers was seducing our senses, so we decided to ask someone where to eat. The Paan-chewing security man at a clothing shop next to us was our target. Upon being asked which is the best place to eat, he said, “All are same, get into any of the shops.” Pandit Dixit Ji, owner of the next paratha shop overheard us and invited into his shop with a smile and we could not say ‘No’. The three of us secured the corner seat in the corner shop. As soon as we sat, a twelve year old guy brought plates with four compartment out of those three were already filled with Potato curry, Mixed curry and Chutney. We presumed the fourth one was for Paraathas, but when we saw him bringing the bowl of mixed pickle, it was clear that compartment was to be shared with and pickle too.
The menu on the wall was overwhelming with a clear note: ‘You must order minimum two paraathas.’ You imagine a vegetable being sold in Delhi and you have a Paratha named after it. Some interesting ones were: Mirchi (Chilly) Paratha, Paalak (Spinach) Paratha, Tamaatar (Tomato) Paraatha, and Mawa (A kind of sweet) Paraatha, Karela (Bitter gourd) Paratha etc.  and all of them were price between 30 and 45 rupees each. We were in no mood to experiment, so we stuck to traditional Aloo (Potato), Gobhi (Cauliflower), Daal (Lentils) and Mixed Paraathas. The diameter of each paratha was close to five inches. The stuffing was not evenly spread in some of them, so my wife took some time to reach the filling after giving a disgusted look at the waiter, who happily ignored her. Mind it! You don’t go to such places for service. Fortunately, I didn’t find a reason to complain.
 The parathaas here were fried and were not topped with butter, unlike other places. The curries tasted amazing and freshly prepared mixed pickle was mouthwatering. After tummy-worship with two paraathas and a big glass of Amritsari Lassi each, we were fully loaded for the hectic day ahead. For three of us the bill was Two Hundred and Eighty Five rupees.
If you are not used to of Delhi food, then try food at refined, more hygienic places before trying this out. Otherwise, you tummy may not be able to take such load. Moreover, a glass of Lassi is always welcome if you are not ready to take the risk.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Delhi Metro Airport Express

I was almost sure to use Radio Taxi to reach Terminal Three from New Delhi Railway Station, but my friend persuaded me to use newly opened Airport Express. Now, I can’t thank him enough. Here are a few facts before I get into the details:

Starts at 0600 hrs and operates till 2200 hrs (hours likely to be increased)
From: New Delhi  To: Airport Terminal 3
Frequency: 20 minutes
Travel Time: 18 minutes
Inaugural Fare: 80 rupees

You can make direct comparison with Heathrow/Gatwick Express. To be honest, I found it better, because it’s new. Right after I pulled out luggage from Taxi at the New Delhi station, I found a smiling guy waiting with trolley. He charged me 50 rupees and handed over a bill, which came out of his electronic device. No bargaining with coolies anymore.  Now, my job was just to buy a token and walk in to the train, rest was his. Wow! I could see flight information at the metro station displayed on multiple LCD screens too.

Besides the option of buying tokens from the counter, they have installed vending machines for travelers’ convenience.  The assistants were available to help with vending machine. First the machine rejected my hundred rupee note and after I replaced it, it fell short of change. I should not complain as testing was in progress on the third day of operation and the guys were trying their best. The assistant requested me to buy token from the counter. I saw some plastic cards at the counter, upon being asked I came to know those were monthly passes for frequent travelers. The monthly passes are available for 60 one way trips at the price of 1300 rupees.

The station is undoubtedly world class with generous use of glass and steel and a treat to the eyes.  I got in to the brand new train waiting for us. Right next to the door, I found luggage shelves. The seats are front-facing with four seats in a row and aisle at the centre.  All the staff were uniformed, well groomed and properly trained. A plus size person might find the seat cramped, but that is manageable for a twenty minute ride.

The train started dot at 12 pm racing towards Shivaji stadium (the station name for Connaught Place). There were no frequent audio announcements like Delhi Metro which I found logical since Airport Express has very few stoppages.  I could very well see the progress on the LCD Screen and lit up route map. It stopped only at Shivaji Stadium before Airport because other stations are not operational yet. If fully operational, there will be three stations between New Delhi and Airport: 1. Shivaji Stadium 2. Dhaula Kuan  and 3. Delhi Aerocity.

Just a couple of minutes after Shivaji Stadium, it came out of the tunnel and this was the most beautiful view of Delhi, the miles of greenery on both sides of the track. Far away I could see hotel Taj Palace and Maurya. Then, it crossed Dhaula Kuan, Airforce building, Shakar Vihar and again went into the tunnel. Exactly after 18 minutes I was at Delhi Airport Terminal 3 to exit. The running time is 20 minutes, since a few stations are not yet operational, it took 2 minutes less.

I pulled out the luggage, loaded them on a trolley and started pushing towards Terminal 3 gates. The signages are very clear, so I didn’t need anybody’s help. Just after five minutes, I was at the airport gate showing my passport to the security men.

What more could I have asked for?