Delhi’s Dilli Haat – A Gem In The Artisan’s Crown
Delhi. The buzzing, vibrant capital city in India’s North. A metropolis of the modern on one side and the epitome of old on the other. While the number of travellers that grace India during the year are in the millions, many, be it because of business, time, or otherwise, never make it past the bustling city boundaries. There is, however, one experience from inside the very heart of Delhi that will not only transport you across the desert planes in the North-West to the Kerala waters of the South-East, but also enchant you with a crown of wonders in craft, cuisine and cultural activities… and its name is Dilli Haat.
Located in one of the most important commercial centres of South Delhi, opposite the INA market, we discovered this collision of culture with the help of Seek Sherpa and our lovely Sherpa guide Nandini. Foreign tourists pay a fee of Rs.50 (0.75 cents USD approx.) for adults and Rs.15 for children over 12 and free for those under 12. As we entered we were greeted with a magical panorama of Indian heritage.
I feel it important to mention that this place is the Indian government’s initiative to showcase the rich cultural heritage from all parts of the sub-continent, and while you are bound to find a well-negotiated bargain, it is not a bargain basement. It is a place where true artisans come to display and share their talents and wares with the world, so please be respectful when bargaining. Nandini our Sherpa Guide, a university student in New Delhi explained that if you’re looking for that something special, not just that run of the mill souvenir for loved ones, then Dilli Haat was definitely the place to visit. Nandini explained that here you can treat yourself to a traditional Indian sari or an ensemble of extraordinary henna tattoos, as well as dine on all the fares of the Indian sub-continent.
While we were there, we visited one of the most venerated Indian artists, one of Nandini’s friends. He called me over and within a moment, with the speed and stealth of a cheetah and the panache of Henri Rousseau, the swishes of his steady hand and ultra fine haired paint brush, was creating a miniature work of art on my thumbnail. His booth had the most exquisite of hand painted works depicting a wide range of animals, flowers and Indian gods on a variety of parchments in all sizes and shapes. When I looked down at my nail, the minuscule detailed masterpiece seemed almost impossible to fathom with my naked eye. Nandini was the expert local host and we would seriously recommend using Seek Sherpa, as they engage knowledgeable local people, providing them the opportunity to share their secret knowledge of the city and bring every experience to life.
We made our way down the aisles of silk saris, bedazzled slippers and carved stone statues to a stall where Dad was goaded into participating in a hand made wooden lock box, puzzle challenge. According to the vendor’s standards, he made it all the way to Level 4, falling just short of the ultimate prize of level 5 🙂
Another interesting fact about Dilli Haat is that it is like a carousel. The booths (save for the established restaurants) are required to rotate every 15 days to make way for new vendors to come and sell their wares. This ensures visitors get to buy authentic wares at prices that have not been inflated by the cost of having to maintain a regular establishment and it means you can always be sure of a unique experience inside the walls of Dilli Haat. It is the thing that always keeps Nandini and her friends coming back.
After exploring the booths and stores that lined the stone walkways, Nandini led us over to have our very first taste of Rajasthani cuisine. The restaurants here offer a full glimpse into the North, South, East and West of India’s seemingly limitless choices of cuisines. Here we tried Pyaaz Kachori, (a spicy filling of herbs and lentils wrapped in a deep fried pastry, most popular in Rajasthan) Gatta Kari (a very spicy green chilli curry) and Masala Dhosa (probably the South’s most well-known fare, with that crispy thin crêpe-like fried pancake and the delicious curry contents it holds). While I left with my mouth entirely numb with spice… it was set in a smile.
As the sun began to set we rounded the stalls one more time with Nandini, soaking in the synthesis of craft and food as twilight merged into night.
It was only our second day in India but already we were captured by the radiant, bubbling culture of this country and its people. And if the food was as good as Dilli Haat’s everywhere…
I am sure we would never want to leave.
Our time in Dilli Haat drew to a close and after we said goodbye to Nandini and thanked her for being our amazing guide for the afternoon, we made our way to the exit where by the steaming light of the roaring Tuk Tuks, a local lady showcased a traditional dance. The melody of the flute of the man beside her filled my ears and for a second, the horns and shouts of the street above us drowned down and all I could see was the flying silk of the woman’s dress. The beat of the people’s clapping around us pounded through my head all the way to the metro station where the four of us squeezed into an airtight can of metal and sweat.
Then we sped off into the night.