Postcard from Old Delhi – 1

December 28, 2023

It was a travel plan in the making for quite some time. As a travel storyteller, I suffer withdrawal symptoms if I don’t travel frequently out of town.

This time around, I was traveling to New Delhi and I decided to take the train.

A long-distance train journey

There is something magical about a long-distance train journey.

I was taking the Rajdhani Express from Bangalore to New Delhi. I had some client work to attend to and an Alumni Network meeting to attend. In addition, I was planning some travel writing focusing on Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi.

It had been a long time since I had taken a long-distance train. Lately, most of the long-distance travel has been by flight while the shorter ones have been by road – I love to drive.

As I had decided to take the train, I didn’t even attempt to check for the flight tickets. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, the only fixed events being my meetings with my clients and the Alumni Network meeting. Else, I was to be a master of my own time and plans.

I also wanted to experience the Indian Railways’ story of transformation. Although I was not traveling in one of those new Vande Bharat trains, I had heard so much about infrastructure development in and around the railway stations, the design and upkeep of the coaches, the quality of food, and the courteous staff. It was high time that I got to experience these.

Inside the Rajdhani Express

As per my well-worn habit, I was at the station much ahead of time and therefore the first in the compartment to occupy the berth. Anyone who has traveled in trains across India knows of the first-mover advantage. One gets the most preferred space for one’s luggage before the other passengers come in. I was traveling for about 10 days and therefore had a large bag with me in addition to my backpack with my laptop.

A super-senior citizen with a disability occupied the berth in front of me. He was in a bit of a spot trying to place his luggage under his berth. I quickly volunteered to help him and also secured his luggage with the chain and the padlock that he had brought with him.

More passengers joined us and they settled down.

A batch of Armymen came in with lots of luggage.

No problem!

All of us pulled out our respective bags from under the berths and re-arranged them most optimally. Most of the bags including those of the Armymen could be accommodated now.

As we settled down, my co-passenger, a young boy, heard another co-passenger – a young girl – speaking into the phone in the Marathi language. As soon as her call ended, he introduced himself in Marathi and…a long conversation ensued well into the late night. I was wondering if these train companions will end up being life companions as well. Happy imaginings!

Here’s where I wish to point out a stark difference between air travel and long-distance train travel in India that I have experienced.

I am no social scientist but I do feel that air travelers end up being individualistic while train travelers appear more collectivist. No one is to blame – I think it has to do with the setting.

For instance, I have rarely spotted any co-passenger helping another to stuff his bag into the overhead compartment of the airplane. Most people have to wait for help from the air hostess.

I was wondering if, on a flight or at the airport, the same Marathi boy would have introduced himself to the girl in the Marathi language as soon as her conversation had ended. Firstly, the girl would have spoken softly in a whisper and at a distance from everyone else. For the boy, such a Romeosque overture could have been considered downright ‘cheap’. The girl may have considered the boy’s comment as an invasion of her privacy. It has to do with the setting, you see!

Therefore, we travel on 20-hour flights in long silence and with equally long faces. We are physically separated from our co-passengers by just a few inches but socially, we are miles apart.

If you want to experience human connectedness, take a long-distance train…in India. But then, for train travel, you need to be a no-mess, no-fuss person, willing to take the rough and the tumble in your stride and view everything as an adventure. The higher your expectations, the more your disappointment.

Food inside the train

Inside the Rajdhani Express, we were served piping-hot food.




I found the food to be tasty and hygienic.

Incidentally, my son, Sid, says that even small things can make me happy. He has a point. By the way, that’s also my secret to enjoy Life.

Ah! Delhi!

I am no stranger to Delhi, having lived there for 4 decades before relocating to Bangalore.

As the first leg of my travel was to visit Chandni Chowk for my travel writing, I had booked an Airbnb accommodation at Daryaganj, Old Delhi. Daryaganj is located close to Chandni Chowk.

Again, I am no stranger to Daryaganj, having worked there for about 5 years when I was with The Times Of India in the early 1990s. By the way, I happened to visit my workplace building. What used to be a significant address with a lot of hustle and bustle during the 90s had been reduced to a decrepit ghost building. I am not known to be an emotional person but looking at the building, made me feel sad.


There was something about Daryaganj that I always loved. Daryaganj was and continues to be home to small businesses and residences with absolutely no sense of separation. This mix of permanent and floating populations lent the area a certain character. Many of these businesses engaged laborers and casual workers daily and one could always spot hordes of men hanging about in front of these business establishments awaiting a call. Consequently, there were scores of tea stalls, paan, and cigarette kiosks where ordinary people would hang around and engage in serious business or playful banter.

This trip was also to serve as a walk down memory lane. Signs of growing old, you’d say!


I checked into the Airbnb accommodation in Daryaganj. It was an old 2-storey home in one of the alleys of Daryaganj. Typical to the area, this original residential area was peppered with small businesses everywhere. The landlord’s family stayed on the first floor while the Airbnb rooms were available on the ground floor. The house must have been considered fashionable during its heydays but now – even to me – it seemed so anachronistic. The floor was constructed of marble with its black and white wavy design. The fixtures were made of expensive teakwood except that by today’s standards they appeared clunky. The furniture was heavy and unwieldy. However, the accommodation, apart from being comfortable, served another purpose for me. In keeping with my overall theme of walking down memory lane, I seemed to have time-traveled to the past – to the 70s and the 80s. I was so much at home here…in my young self.

Daryaganj & food

During the early 90s, along with my colleagues, I would go around Daryaganj for a leisurely post-lunch stroll and occasionally stop at a small nondescript shop selling lip-smacking, viscous Lassi. The shopkeeper in a Pathan suit would serve us a tall glass of Lassi topped by a drizzle of Roohafza Sharbat, an iconic product of yet another iconic brand, Hamdard Dawakhana. After consuming the glass of Lassi, we would stagger back to work in a stupor. Due to this debilitating after-effect, I used my careful discretion to choose such Lassi-drinking afternoons. By the way, as I sauntered about Daryaganj, I spotted the same shop. As always, there was no signboard. A younger man – not in a Pathan suit – presided over large freshly-washed stainless steel utensils, a puddle of water collecting on the narrow street just like in the olden days.

Daryaganj is a hub of great food too. This part of the town also serves UP-style cuisine – in the form of Poori, Kachori, and Chaat in addition to the Punjabi cuisine which Delhi is anyway known for.

Down memory lane

On one of the days, for breakfast, I decided to have Butter Toast and tea at one of the local joints, Chauhan Sweets. Although there were a few seats available inside this eatery, I wanted to sit at one of the makeshift tables located outside on the pavement. The weather was just lovely with a nip in the air and sitting outside made perfect sense. However, that was not to be. As soon as the plate of Butter Toast arrived at the table, two black dogs – not exactly strays – came too close to me for comfort, seeking my generosity. I tried sitting in a way as to convey to them my reluctance to break bread with them. But they were extremely persistent and finally, the owner of the eatery addressed me, ‘Saab, yeh yaheen ke hain. Aap ko chain se khaanay nahin denge. Aap andar aa jaiyay!’ (‘Sir, these dogs belong here. They will not let you eat in peace. Please come inside!’). As I left Chauhan Sweets, I didn’t have the heart to look the dogs in the eye.

On another day, as I walked leisurely, I was trying to locate the eatery run by a young Himachali where I would enjoy Rajma Rice in the 90s. I was disappointed to note that an unexciting printing shop had taken its place. But then it dawned on me: I was trying to locate an eatery after 3 decades. So much – including Covid 19 – has happened. Wasn’t I becoming unreasonable?

But then I was able to locate Nand Lal Dhaba. We used to visit Nand Lal Dhaba for some great food. During those days, if my memory serves me right, it was a pure vegetarian eatery. When I visited Nand Lal Dhaba this time around, it served both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

One of the two kitchens of Nand Lal Dhaba

Many of these famous eateries of the yesteryears do not boast of any great cleanliness standards. Also, the kitchen is open – sometimes opening into and/or encroaching upon the street – and visible for the customers to see. They have nothing to hide. However, in today’s world, anyone who has been visited by modern cleanliness standards – even remotely – will find it very difficult to enter these eateries. But then there is a steady stream of loyalists who swear by these eateries. I happen to be one of them.

Delectable Aloo Methi (in gravy form), Dal Fry, and Tandoor Rotis and their signature Mint Chutney at Nand Lal Dhaba

I was also able to locate Jain Saab Bedmi, a kiosk that had opened just at the time when I had moved out of The Times of India, and therefore away from Daryaganj. I enjoyed their fluffy Bedmi Pooris, Aloo Sabji, Seethaphal Ki Chutney, and Kheeray Ka Achaar for breakfast (seen in the featured image of this post). It cost a mere 45 rupees. So filling…and so reasonably priced.

I also tasted their Moong Dal Halwa. It was so delicious that I took a long time savoring it. I gathered that it is so popular that they ship it overseas. I got 2 packs – one for a family that I was to meet in a few days and one pack for my wife, Jyothi, back home.


Coming up next: Mission Possible! My visit to Chandni Chowk with my college friends whom I have known for 46 years and still in close touch. Read my rendezvous with history!

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