We started our visit to India in New Delhi, where we stayed in the lovely Bloomrooms Hotel close to the New Delhi railway station. This gave us the opportunity to explore the area. So we got up early the first day and walked over to the railway station, where we saw hundreds and thousands of travellers getting ready to board or depart from the trains.
It was a busy railway station – lots of people running around, some carrying luggage in their hands and others balancing it on their heads. It was early morning and we had high hopes to catch some good light, but unfortunately it was very hazy. The guys at the hotel said that this was because of all the firecrackers of Diwali, but it could have just been a bad smog day!
After a while we headed back to the hotel for a quick breakfast (we tried idli for the first time, a steamed rice cake with de-husked fermented black lentils that’s eaten with a light curry sauce) before going out to the old quarter Chandni Chowk.
We walked through the narrow streets and just looked at all our surroundings. It was so different to Hong Kong with its high rise buildings and clean streets. The back streets of the old quarter are narrow, with lots of cables hanging overhead, little shops in every corner, bicycles and scooters parking everywhere and so many different smells and noises.
We quickly realised that every time people gathered somewhere, it tended to be a local tea store, selling hot, sweet and spicy chai masala tea. This quickly became a serious addiction for all of us, we kept sipping little cups everywhere we went!
Some of the shops were still closed, because of Diwali, but it did not bother us – we still found some interesting vegetable sellers, lots of barber shops, old men baking cookies on a coal stove, other men rolling betelnut leaves and much more. Lots of interesting characters.
Most of them were really friendly and let us take pictures – some even chatted with us. They were all intrigued to find out where the ten of us were coming from. Every time we said ‘Hong Kong’ they just looked at us – none of us looked Chinese. So we had to explain that we all came together for a photography workshop and that our countries of origin range from Poland over France, Indonesia, Australia to Germany and Great Britain. This always caused a lot of laughter and confusion – but it was a nice way to break the ice and get talking.
For lunch we had to visit the famous Paranthe Wali Gali, or “The Alley of Flatbreads,” a twiggy, fragrant passageway buzzing with small shacks squeezed serving freshly-baked flatbreads, or parathas. We visited Parawthe Wala, established in 1875, which is known to be the oldest and most famous paratha shop in Old Delhi.
They make the parathas fresh in the front of the shop, one team member rolls our the dough, the next one stuffs it with every conceivable ingredient from potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, lentils and ladyfingers (okra) to green chilies, rabri (reduced, sweetened milk), paneer and green peas. It’s then sprinkled with spices, rolled flat and fried it to golden brown in a bubbling wok of melted ghee.
The shop was very crowded when we went there, so I did not take any great pictures – but I found a great video on YouTube to show you the famous Parawthe Wala shop: