Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Part 1: Delhi, India - at the Markets

Going to a market is like some kind of a cultural tour. As soon as my daughter and I arrived in Delhi, India, the first thing we wanted to do was just that - to get to the market on our own.

I have discovered that the markets are the best places to go to when you are traveling to a country for the first time, to get a quick cultural insight into their arts and culture. After seeing the designs, I am inspired to look into the historical influences that contributed to the distinct styles and characteristic of the artistic, decorative, and fashionable objects.

When we talk about culture, it is about taking a look at the commonality of the beliefs and the behavior of a particular group of people who create a community, and on a bigger scale - a country. From here emanates their society: institutions - family, religion, lifestyle, and occupations; language; customs - rituals and practices; mores and value systems;  artistic impressions and creations, and their indigenous products.
Colonel's Retreat Guest House

First, a word about our lodging. We were booked at a boutique bed and breakfast in Defence Colony, which is a residential section in South Delhi. Much to our delight, it felt like we had gotten "home" as soon as we arrived. Complete with most of the amenities one would find at a hotel, the guests here got to know one another at the dining table, the recreation and TV room, just like neighbors would in a housing subdivision. The staffers acted as the concierge and information center, as shopping and transportation experts. Before going on our scheduled tours, we were excited to do our own thing.
Our lunch

What a  welcome treat - lunch was ready when we arrived. We had a home-cooked meal to start our Indian escapade in Delhi. We did sit, right away, to try our vegetarian meal. To me, this was new food that I had not tasted before. This combination of Daal (lentil soup), Aloo Jeera (Potato), and Gajar Matar (Carrots with Green Peas) became a favorite and we ordered it several times more during our stay.

To make good use of our time during our free day -  more of a free afternoon, we rushed out to visit several markets. With directions in hand and a business card to show the driver where to bring us back, we flagged down a "tuk tuk." 

The tuk tuk is a popular means of transportation in India. It is a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw that can easily take you through the bustling traffic as it is small enough to go through the alleys and squeeze by busses and cars on the main road, with a two to three  passenger capacity. They are easy to spot in Delhi - they come painted in bright yellow and green, or all black. The fare is best negotiated before you board one. 
Our first market stop: Chandni Chowk

This is one of the oldest markets in India, dating back to the Mughal era (1526-1858) which was probably built during the time of Emperor Shahjahan (of Taj Mahal fame).  Legend has it that it was the emperor's favorite daughter - Jahanara, who designed this market, which is now a major destination for shop-a-holics. It is located in the area of old Delhi and is open from Mondays to Saturdays. When looking for fabric, jewelry, and electronic place, these things are all available here. 

The market is a series of narrow alleys populated by bazaars with different specialties:
Fabrics - on Katra Neel
Dariba Kalan - for jewelry
Bhagirath Palace - for electronic goods
*Delhi street food vendors serve a delicious assortment. But if you are a foreigner, be equipped to handle any digestive problems that you may have after eating them.
It's an adventure to explore up and down the alleys on foot or on a tricycle. Our main purpose for coming here was to look for Indian jewelry on Dariba Kalan.

India is one of the biggest countries in the world, and she has one of the oldest cultural heritages that has been enhanced by influences from the different invading and ruling empires. One great mark can be seen in the  Indian jewelry that has been seen and admired by a world audience, thanks to Bollywood.

Jewelry is very much a part of the Indian lifestyle. The styles have evolved from the diverse historical influences, going back to 5000 years when the people there - during pre-historic times, adorned themselves with jewelry made of crude gold, silver, unpolished semi-precious stones and gems. When the art of polishing and the mining of gem stones came about,  each region developed a characteristic style. 

Delhi is famous for Kundan jewelry.

From the Mughal era came the use of precious stones in the intricate jewelry designs, while the Rajput era brought on enameled jewelry. In the contemporary jewelry designs, a blend of traditional designs and new styles, with the use of precious stones, have emerged as very attractive pieces that are a mainstay in the fashion accessory department in the Indian fashion industry.
When we ventured into a jewelry shop, a number of ladies were shopping for their wedding jewelry ensemble. A wedding is one occasion where the use of jewelry is given much importance, to complete the bride's look. With the wedding dress in mind, the ladies also choose their sets in keeping with  their religious and cultural practices.

A set of jewelry may include pieces for different parts of the body. There can be a varied number of pieces such as a headpiece worn from the top of the head - from the parted hair to the forehead   - Shringar patti or Mangtikka ; an ornate necklace with a matching pair of earrings, preferably in gold and silver; a nose-ring piece - nath - with a chain connected to it and attached to the hair above the ear;  bangles which are worn by most women in different parts of India; rings and bracelet to adorn the arm. 

In bridal jewelry sets, the added pieces are a bejeweled belt or waistband; a toe ring and an anklet. It's a very distinct look that make the Indian women stand out. Toe rings are only worn by married women, on both feet.

From the jewelry collections, subtle differences can be noted. Women from the north like carvings on their sets; women from the west go for stones and mirror styles; in the eastern part, the women prefer beaded ones; while the women from the south prefer the temple jewelry style.
As for us, we were just looking for what was pretty! I chose a gold setting with pearls and amethyst stones, and the bracelet was re-fashioned out of the Shringar patti  - the head piece. 
 And another set we purchased was less ornate, with clear and emerald stones.  Let me tell you, these jewelry sets are made of gold or silver plated metals, with faux stones, and are relatively reasonable. They are classified as costume jewelry.  If you want to buy the real thing, you will have to go to another part of town.
For daily wear, we rummaged through this box to choose some silver jewelry which were sold by weight.

With not much time left, we were back on the tuk tuk to drop off our purchases, then, we continued the ride to the other markets which were in close proximity. We decided to stop and walk around Sunder Nagar. It looked clean and interesting, with nice stores carrying silver jewelry, art pieces, textiles, carpet and furniture, and antiques.
Some of the shops looked like art galleries.
Tea products from all over India
Indian delights

Nathus Sweets traces back it's origins to 1939. Three generations have refined their recipes of sweets and "namkeens" now being retailed and exported, as well. Namkeens are made out of flour, cooking oil, kala jeera (black cumin seeds), salt to taste, which is shaped in preparation to deep-frying.

At Sunder Nagar, New Delhi, India, the pastry shop and restaurant is being managed by a husband-and-wife team, Navita and Anand Gupta. Development continues as new recipes are created. When the fourth generation takes over, it will draw from more than seventy, successful years of catering to the sweet tooth of the Indians and foreigners, alike. Quality and taste are foremost in their company's tradition, to please each client who comes to experience a sweet encounter with every piece they eat in the pastry section. It's a broad selection to choose from, as they produce, daily - more than five hundred items, from the traditional Indian sweets called "Mithai" to the food items such as pizza, burgers, and sandwiches for their food service in the restaurant.

Some mithai sweets

 is a sweet creation made from a mixture of butter, milk powder, and condensed milk that is cooked, cooled a little, and then shaped into balls and semi-flattened.  Each piece is finished with a  touch of colored sugar, a piece of nut, or dried fruit.
We chose the ones that were made with natural-looking ingredients, but still sweet, nevertheless.

Our last market to visit was the Khan Market.

Located in the most expensive, commercial real state in Delhi on Mathura Road, the Khan Market is ranked among the costliest retail sections in the heart of the city.
This market is not exactly the place to go to if you are bargain hunting. The shops carry a variety of goods or services - books and music; designer clothes; reputable tailors; Ayurvedic foods and cosmetics, plus more. It's a relatively small U-shaped market in South New Delhi.
Fabindia was a store of interest to us because of their Indian products that are produced in the traditional technics and skillfully hand-made. The company provides the opportunities for rural communities in the business of harnessing the local populations who engage in the production of handicrafts as a source of livelihood. 

Imagine what you can find here, all locally made - from fashion, home furnishing, to food ingredients and products, at affordable prices. Fabindia is a window to the world of what Indian handicrafts are, with their online marketing set-up.

It was here that we found the ingredients to make some of the Indian foods we grew to like. With thoughts of preparing our home-made Indian meals, we took home some packets of mustard powder, cumin seeds, and turmeric powder. 

The market visits were done with. With what we had seen of the city - so far - we had to strategized on how to deal with the overflowing, local population, the poverty, and sanitation.  But by nightfall, we were still thinking of the other things we wanted to buy. We were hoping that, maybe, we could be dropped off near a market after our day tour the next day. I tell you, shopping in a foreign place is never enough. But we had to remind ourselves to pace ourselves and to stick to our budgets.

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