For decades, central Delhi's backpacker-haven Paharganj has been battling a reputation for being an infamous hub of drug-abuse and prostitution, which formed a backdrop in some scenes in Dev D. From the many bakeries and restaurants serving continental fare at reasonable prices, to junk jewellery, clothes and footwear that have kept many a college student afloat, Paharganj has a lot more to offer than a maligned reputation.
Known as Shahganj during the Mughal era, the place seems frozen in time. The Havelis, reminiscent of old Delhi, behind Imperial cinema, are juxtaposed with the old film posters plastered on their walls.
Much has changed in Delhi with the Commonwealth Games, though, and Paharganj is possibly one of the city’s most evident cosmetic do-overs. Almost overnight, the bizarre bazaar went from a narrow, ramshackle lane to a broad main street and properly constructed stores — the crumbling houses, constant chaos and backpacker chic stores pushed back to a presentable distance.
The chaotic array of jewellery, bags, clothes, shoes, incense, textiles, and handicrafts still has a lot to unveil. There is more to Paharganj than Sam’s Café, Smoker’s corner, dreadlocked tourists, heckling shopkeeprs, Bindi wali gali and bakeries. There is also Malhotra Eatery, and its delectable lamb preperations, Badri pakode wala or Satyam Restaurant famous for its Israeli and Spanish breakfast or the 90 years old jalebiwala without a name. In all the fabled mayhem of the main bazaar, lie a few treasures, worth digging deeper into the grime for.