Pungent aroma of Delhi as colourful as the city itself
WHEN I ARRIVED back to Toronto after six months in India, the first thing I missed was the smell of Delhi. I came out of the airport and inhaled. “Toronto smells like a parking garage,” I thought.
On the other hand, Delhi really smells. To those of you who’ve been there, or even live there now, that’s not news. Delhi is a huge, sprawling, traffic-infested city, the capital of the world’s largest democracy and a melting pot for people drawn from all over the subcontinent with hopes of a better life. Of course it smells. But the surprising thing was how much I missed the smell of Delhi.
Delhi smells like a lively mixture of acrid pollution, pungent cooking fires, tropical flowers, sewage, incense, animal sweat and heat that has been baked into the earth for eons. The smell of Delhi mirrors the city itself, an Asian megalopolis bursting with life lived out in the open, on the streets, in the markets, on the innumerable lawns and terraces where multi-generational families clad in colourful cottons spend hours together, sipping tea and talking about nothing.
How do I love Delhi? Let me innumerate the ways ….
I love the pace of Delhi, which is surprisingly slow, and the wide boulevards and open spaces, which are surprisingly green. I love the historicity of the city, the constant reminders that this favoured location on the banks of the Yamuna River has seen at least seven great dynasties rise and fall since the founding of Indrapastha in about 1,500 BC.
I love the way the sky turns pink each evening at dusk because the air is tinged with the pink sand of Rajasthan, the nearby desert state. The first time I noticed this phenomenon I was on the grounds of one of Delhi’s most treasured and historic sites, the Qutab Minar — a tower that dates from the 12th century. I was on a small hill, overlooking an ancient, ornate tomb when the sky began to turn pink and make all the evocative ruins look fantastical. That was the moment I knew I was — finally — in India. After a lifetime of longing.
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I love the way drivers slow down to carefully avoid meandering cows on major streets, and the way someone in our colony feeds the stray dogs. Delhi is surprisingly profuse with wildlife, not just cows and dogs. Wild pigs graze in garbage-strewn ditches; peacocks strut in the park; and eagles fly low overhead on their way home at dusk.
The air smelled like spices
I love the markets of Delhi. Shops and stalls filled with flowing, feminine clothes, ornate jewelry, and hand carved furniture. Each market has a different character. Khan Market has great cafes, book stores and popular clothing stores like Anokhi and Fabindi. My favourite, GK-1 N-block market, is intimate and a touch European in flavour. Lajpat Nagar is a great destination for bargain hunters and Chandni Chowk, in Old Delhi, is an ancient bazaar, criss-crossed with narrow alleys, crammed with a hypnotizing display of goods — heavy wedding saris, gold bangles, bejeweled slippers — and things that smell, like sandalwood soap, rose attar, pyramids of spices, deep fried jalebis.
I love the food of Delhi, the crisp dosas at Sagar in Defence Colony, the thick milkshakes at Keventers in CP, the spicy rasam at Naivedyam in Hauz Khas, the sweets at Haldiram in Old Delhi. The foods of Delhi are rich with spicy flavour and the aromas are half the fun.
I love the traditions of Delhi, ice cream at India Gate, Sunday walks in Lodhi Garden, drinking steaming chai and eating biscuits with friends, and celebrating festivals like Holi and Diwali together, with special treats, pujas, and extravagant rituals.
I wonder if anyone, perhaps Godrej aer, could ever create a fragrance that captured the best of the smells of Delhi?
Spices: Photo Credit: Carol Mitchell via Compfight cc
Jalebi: Photo Credit: Rajesh_India via Compfight cc
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