Sunday 26 July 2015

The Langar in Sis Ganj Gurudwara, Delhi

Langar is a Sikh tradition that probably has roots in the Sufi tradition of sharing.

Langar at Sis Ganj Gurudwara, Delhi

Big and historic Gurudwaras in Delhi like Sis Ganj, Rakab Ganj, Bangla Sahib, Damdama Sahib and some others have reserved a separate hall for the community kitchen where food is served round the clock to devotees. This too is a sacred space. Till some decades ago Langar was served on leaves stitched together and people would take a small part of it home for the family members but now there are steel plates and spoons. Everything from pealing, cooking, serving and dish-washing is done by volunteers. 

The kitchen in Sis Ganj Gurudwara

No one is turned away from the Langar. It always amazes me that the Langar is so well organised when everything else in India is so chaotic. The sangat (congregation of the faithful) sits in a pangat (line) and they partake in the Langar which comprises of chapatti (Indian bread), rice, daal (lentil) and a vegetable. Hundreds of kilos of lentils and vegetables are cooked in super-size vessels. Food is cooked in Desi Ghee (clarified butter) and the kitchen is there for devotees and tourists to inspect. There are no signs outside the kitchen saying ‘No Entry’ or ‘Entry Restricted’. The Indian bread, Chapati or Roti, has always been made by hand, again by volunteers, but now there is also a huge machine in the kitchen of the Sis Ganj Gurudwara that makes/bakes the chapatis. One can easily make out the difference between hand-made and machine-made rotis. The food is fresh and vegetarian. It is simple and delicious. In fact, it is in bad taste to pick faults with the Langar because it is sacred. For the same reason one should not waste it. Eat it, or take it home for your family. 

The day I visited Sis Ganj Gurudwara in Old Delhi, pumpkin was being peeled and chopped for the evening Langar.

Pumpkins under preparation for the Langar at Sis Ganj Gurudwara

What is the intention behind the tradition of Langar? The idea is not to feed the poor. The idea is that all are equal and to prove this the rich and the poor, so-called low castes and high castes, men and women, children, sit together in a common space and eat the same food. Has the Sikh project of equality succeeded? That is another question. Equality is, all said and done, a utopian concept. Theoretically it sounds good, but in praxis it fails to materialize. The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution could not create equal and just societies. But what is the harm in imagining for half an hour that we are all equal?

Thursday 23 July 2015

Pundit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan Paranthe Wala Restaurant

Rocky and Mayur have ventured out to explore food from all parts of India and curate videos on I'm contributing my part by relishing my favorite dishes at Restaurant Pundit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan Paranthe Wala and sharing my views with you all!

You can also upload your video review on AskMe and stand a chance to meet Rocky and Mayur.

I recently visited Chandni Chowk area in Old Delhi and how could I miss Paranthe Wali Gali. It was morning time and I was with a group of 15 blogger friends out for a photo-walk. We decided to check on Pundit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan Paranthe Wala. They have been serving since 1872 i.e. for nearly 150 years! As the name suggest they specialise in Paranthas (an Indian flat bread) of various kinds. In fact you will be amazed to know that they serve more than 25 different kinds of paranthas. Unlike paranthas elsewhere here they are actually deep fried and that also in Desi Ghee (Clarified butter). 

Paranthas are deep fried here

I tried their Gobi (cauliflower) parantha, Rabri (dish made with yoghurt and flour) parantha, tomato parantha and Nimbu (lemon) parantha and all of them were yummy. In the plate they also served two different kinds of Chutni, along with Chole and two vegetables.  

Gobi Parantha at Pundit Gaya Ram Shiv Charan

Along with the paranthas their Gajar (carrot) and Muli (Radish) pickle in vinegar in itself was so tasty that even before the parathas arrived we had attacked the pickle. 

The carrot and radish pickle in vinegar is very tasty

As it is a very old place it has a seating capacity of only 25 persons or so. And on weekends there is a long line of people waiting to be seated. If you stay in NCR and still have not visited Paranthe Wali Gali to savour the paranthas then do so now!

Sunday 19 July 2015

Places to visit in Delhi: Mirza Ghalib ki Haveli

I have been to the Chandni Chowk area in Old Delhi a few times over the years but this is the first opportunity I had to visit Mirza Ghalib ki Haveli in Ballimaran. Unfortunately very few Delhites are aware of Ghalib ki Haveli. Or they don’t care. The indifference to the cultural past is amazing. 

The arched entrance to Mirza Ghalib's Haveli

Mirza Ghalib is arguably the best known poet in Urdu and Persian that Delhi (and arguably again India) has produced. I was part of a photo-walk in the lanes of Chandni Chowk. Mirza Ghalib lived in this Haveli (though Haveli normally is supposed to be a grand structure this place is not big). Before Delhi government took over, the house was in poor condition and it was actually being used as a coal dump. 

The bust of Mirza Ghalib along with his poems

Now the place has been finally converted into a museum. The locals in Ballimaran are proud of their heritage. Ask anyone there the way to ‘Ghalib ki Haveli’ and their eyes light up in pride. “Ghalib Mia ko hamara aadab kahie ga!” (please greet Ghalib on our behalf) said a shopkeeper to us in chaste Urdu when we asked for directions.

The roof is not part of the original Haveli

The museum displays some of the poet’s handwritten poems, portraits and also a bust of Mirza Ghalib. He stayed in the Haveli from 1860 till his death in 1869. The Haveli has been aesthetically renovated even if it is surrounded by commercial enterprises on all sides. Old tiles are clearly visible. It is not the complete haveli but only a part of it. One must remember that India is not Europe. It does not have a tradition of converting houses of great poets and writers into museums. We spend a lot of tax-payers money and precious space in the capital of India on building and maintaining ugly samadhis (memorial) of politicians. This structure is an exception to the rule and we should be grateful that it exists at all. The house has undeniably the aura of the medieval period. You get goose pimples standing in the Haveli where the great poet of the melancholy once walked. 

The walls are adorned with Ghalib's writings & in one room it seems like he is writing his poems

Several of his poems have been further immortalised by the Bollywood as film songs. Couple of his poems that I remember are-
Hazaroon Khawhishen aisi ki har khawhish pe dum nikle
Bahut nikley mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle...

And another one-
Yeh na thi hamaari kismet ke wisaale yaar hota
Agar aur jeete rahte yahin intezaar hota...

With the portrait of Ghalib

How to reach: Mirza Ghalib ki Haveli is open on all days except Mondays and public holidays from 11 AM to 6 PM and the entry is free. Located in Gali Kasim Jaan in the Ballimaran area of Old Delhi one can reach it by alighting at the Chandni Chowk Metro Station and either walk (10-15 minutes) or take a rickshaw. Taking the metro is advisable at it frees you from the hassle of parking in this congested area but if you do want to go by car then park it near the Red Fort and then take a rickshaw from there.

Also read:
Places to Visit in Delhi: Humayun Tomb
Places to visit in Delhi: The Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb
Places to visit in Delhi: Ugrasen ki Baoli
The Changing Moods of Hauz Khas Lake

Thursday 9 July 2015

Birds in my Backyard

It so often happens that in the city life we hardly observe birds either due to the kind of life-style that we lead or due to their dwindling numbers. But when I went to my farmhouse I had the time and opportunity to observe them at close quarters. And mind you I am no bird expert but I did see several birds for the first time and others that I had seen before but not observed their calls or style that closely.

Pied Myna

Noticeable among them were Pied Myna or Indian Pied Starling. It was seen by me for the first time and it has strikingly black and white plumage. 

I also saw Purple Sunbird. Here it is seen drinking the nectar of the pomegranate flower. I even saw it just hovering around in the air and drinking the flower nectar like a stationary hummingbird or like a chopper! 

Purple Sunbird

I also saw for the first time Neelkanth or the Indian Roller Bird. 

Indian Roller Bird or Neelkanth

Brahminy myna or Brahminy starling is normally seen in pairs and seems as if it is wearing a black cap. 

Pair of Brahminy Starling

Woodpecker – have very strong bills that can drill in wood in search of food or for making their homes. 

A Woodpecker

Jungle Babbler - as they flock in a group they are also called the Seven Sisters and jointly they can create quite a racket by their combined chirping noises. 

Jungle Babbler

Peacock is quite common to this area and they generally become quite friendly and can even come and pick food grains from the palm of your hands. 

A Peacock

This Indian Magpie Robin was sitting on a pipe. 

Indian Magpie Robin

Red-vented Bulbul has a dark brown colour and even darker head and as the name suggest it has a red vent. 

Red-vented Bulbul

Of course there were several Rose-ringed parakeet or Indian Ring-neck parakeet or parrots in the area. 

Rose-ringed Parakeets

I was not able to recognise a couple of them. Maybe the readers of this blog may help me in identifying them?

Wednesday 1 July 2015

A Natural Reservoir in Nalhar, Nuh

When I was visiting the Cenotaph of Chui Mal I was suggested by Mr Chander Bhan who manages the cenotaph and the pond to also visit Nalhar (also pronounced as Nallad) a nearby village where there is a natural reservoir.

Ceremonial Gate to Shiva Temple, Nalhar

Nalhar is located in the foothills of the Aravallis and also has at its base a Shiva temple which forms the starting point of the trek to the reservoir. There is a big ceremonial gate at the temple. 

The Climb to the Nalhar reservoir

There are more than 250 steep stair-steps to be climbed to the place and the last bit is a bit slippery and one has to hold on to the tree roots and branches to climb. It is a good climb if you are looking for some good exercise and once you reach the top it provides a view of the whole area. 

The view of the Mewat area from Nalhar reservoir

I was expecting a big reservoir but when I reached there I found that the water was trickling directly into a hollow created (natural) in the tree from the rock. This reservoir is about 2 feet long and maybe a foot wide only. 

Last part of the climb

The water keeps flowing round the year into this hollow and this is the reservoir that people locally talk with veneration as it is believed by locals that it is some ‘chamatkar’ (miracle) of the gods that water is flowing out of the rocks in this arid region. Of course we as geographers know better! 

The Nalhar reservoir in a hollow of a tree

It is also believed that the Panadavas stayed there and drank this water during their 14-year exile. Lot of locals travel till the Shiva temple but only the more determined and fit people climb up to the reservoir. 

One has to hold the tree branches above these stairs to climb

How to reach: From Rajiv Chowk in Gurgaon take the Sohna-Nuh-Alwar highway till Nuh for about 47 km. From Nuh it is about 3 km to the Nalhar Shiva temple and the road ends there.

Also read:
The Cenotaph of Chui Mal in Nuh
Chui Mal Ka Talaab in Nuh
Shaking Minarets in Nuh