Most Delhiites know of the Nizamuddin Dargah. Quite a few have even been there for a sundry Thursday evening of qawwalis. Yet, for the ones not bemused by the glitter of malls, Nizamuddin Basti - which may seem deceivingly like a ghetto - is a treasure trove. Enter from Mathura Road and you'll encounter a large building called the Markaz which has a constant stream of skull-capped men streaming out of it.
Facing the building is N Iqbal Restaurant, which in the evenings hosts Nisar's cold drinks stall. Nothing spectacular there, except the man himself and the Old Delhi firni and kheer that he stocks. Nisar can regale you with anecdotes from the time painter MF Husain used to come and spend hours at the stall. You may also be astounded by how he immediately recognises his customers' nationality - Malaysian, Egyptian, Arabic, Indonesian, to name a few - and customises his welcome in their language.
Move on, take a left and you'll find yourself heading up a slight incline. Shops here sell luggage - the basti is an embarking point for places of Muslim pilgrimage - and ittar, natural perfume oils derived from botanicals. Some ostentatiously lit, other, older ones more subtle in their display, ittar shops are outnumbered only by eateries. One of the newer ones, Al Haram Perfumers, has tough competition from its neighbour, Zam Zam Perfumers, which is the oldest in the area. What it lacks in vintage, Al Haram makes up in variety. Apart from the tried and tested ittars - the most famous among them being Jannatul Firdaus - you will find young gems like Superman, Commander and Kala Bhoot, the latter with deep tones of patchouli.
Stroll on through and you could just be enchanted by a chorus of young voices reciting verses from the Holy Quran from an upper floor. If you've worked off the firni by now, head to Ghalib Kabab Corner, which boasts of the softest beef kababs this side of town.
A word of caution - in the more crowded areas, watch your wallets, and ladies, please keep your head, arms and legs covered respecting the sentiments of the local.
- With inputs from Neyaz Farooquee