From international cuisines, Bob Marley merchandise and precious gems to cheap liquor, cheaper hotels, sleazy films and Marijuana, Paharganj, stands with open arms, magnetically pulling tourists from across the globe time and again. Home to psychedelic Hippies, this place is also known as backpackers’ district. It is considered hell by some Delhiites due to its reputation of drugs and sleaze, but for many travelers Paharganj is Delhi.
With its proximity to the New Delhi Railway Station and the centrally located Connaught Place, this area accommodates foreigners and takes care of everything they require within a small periphery. Located in the heart of the capital, this area is also called the Main Bazar and has been orchestrated to serve the enormous inflow of Americans, Italians, Europeans and Russians looking for a longer and budget accommodation. The neighborhood first became popular with foreign travelers, many of them hippies, in the 1970s. Being close to the station made it an obvious place for cheap guesthouses.
“I love this place and keep coming back here. I base myself here and travel to different parts of the country. As a researcher, my stay here is longer so I prefer Paharganj as it offers good accommodation, eating and shopping options at a cheap price,” said Adriano, an Italian researcher at a travel agent’s office while getting his air ticket booked for Siliguri. Per night tariff at the hotels in this area range between Rs 400 and Rs 2,000.
While some come for holiday, many throng Paharganj for business. For 56-year-old Pierre from France, this place is excellent shopping street and he prefers taking stock from here to his country for business. “I am into ready-made garment business. I buy large stock from here and sell it in my country. They love it there,” said Pierre who’s been engaged in business with wholesalers since 1980. Admitting to having not seen much of Delhi even in the last 30 years, Pierre said, “I have not experienced different places in Delhi because I feel it is the same everywhere,” he said, while looking at the narrow streets, adding that he can shop, eat, live, enjoy at a much affordable price here.
Paharganj may look dingy with narrow streets, chain of electrical wires connecting the rooftops, flooded by cycle rickshaws and cattle on roads, dirt and stench, but it has the best of market with a wide range of fashion goods, international liquor and food to offer. Owned by people from across the country, the shops offer latest fashion accessories to fulfill the demands of foreigners at negotiable prices. The old and famous market which was once a hotspot for street food lovers and traditional textile, has now urbanized with restaurants offering international cuisines, shops offering imported clothes, handicraft and gems much to the liking of the foreigners. According to the shopkeepers serving this locality from over decades, the face of this district has transformed with the advent of Hippies in 1970s. The place offers smooth travel services to tourists and is flooded with travel agents and currency exchange shops.
“Everything has changed here. It’s a hub of firangis so a market for their needs has been introduced. Most of the tourists are found to throng shops which offer handicraft and funky clothes. There are plenty of shops offering these goods. New restaurants like Subway, German Bakery and others were opened recently for the foreign tourists. But they also enjoy street food for which Paharganj is famous,” said N R Aggarwal, a lassi shop owner serving the locality for over five decades.
If liquor grew on trees, this place is the forest. Famous for quality liquor at cheap prices, the bars in this area are a regular among not just the foreigners, but the local youngsters. But it’s a no-no for girls after dark, say the locals in the area as zero police checking causes a storm of illegal activities here. “Kids of 12-13 years of age can be seen drinking and walking the streets after having doped, accompanied by foreign tourists who smoke pot on a regular basis,” said a tea stall owner on the condition of anonymity.
Several people refused to talk and walked away with a scared look on being asked about the drug culture in the area. However, some foreign tourists hesitantly admitted of getting Marijuana, cocaine and other drugs. “Drugs are a reality here. There are peddlers who arrange it,” said an Italian who had a sun tattooed on his right shoulder and a beaded necklace wrapped around his wrist.
With a strange appeal, Paharganj remains the destination for foreign tourists with everything to their comfort at one stop.