Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Delhi Day

“What you had never been to Karim’s ?” was the surprised reaction when I sheepishly admitted that I hadn’t been to THE famous Karim’s. Neither to the one in Old Delhi nor in Nizamuddin. Not even once in those 3 years I spent in Delhi and after that in all those countless visits. So it was decided that we would go and have lunch at Karim’s and then go to Kunzum Café. Of course Kunzum Café is yet to achieve the cult status of Karim’s but it is definitely one of the interesting places in Delhi which have recently come up.
Thus begun an interesting day in Delhi, a city I thought I knew pretty well.

Among all those numerous travel shows on TV or the travel guides highly recommend; a visit to Old Delhi is definitely high on the list. It is different from the swanky New Delhi which is full of Malls, Super Markets and Multiplexes. The crowd, the narrow lanes and the madness can actually drive one insane. But behind the Jumma Masjid, hidden amongst the lanes, old buildings and rickshaws is a place which over the years has achieved the status of an institution. A wrong turn and you will miss this. That’s where Karim’s is located. This is the restaurant which finds place in almost all the travel guides, shows, recommendations about India. But beware; reaching Karim’s, braving the maddening Old Delhi traffic and crowd can be quite intimidating.

The place is always packed to capacity. My friends who accompanied me used to be regulars 10 years back as students of Delhi University. After a decade, they swore that it was the same. The menu hasn’t changed that much. The prices also hadn’t changed drastically. Most importantly the taste; it was as delectable as 10 years ago. Of all the items on the menu, Burrah Kabab is definitely recommended. The juiciest, most delicious kabab I had till date. Though some dishes are rather too spicy and full of oil, it’s the naans and rotis which are too good to be missed.
The origin of this iconic restaurant dates back to the Mughal Era. The owners are the descendants of the Royal Chefs of the mughal monarchs. After the British dethroned the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, the royal chefs left Delhi. But the art of cooking royal mughlai food was passed on from generation to next generation without fail. Thus in 1913, one of the members of the royal chefs family; Mr. Haji Karimuddin started Karim Hotel behind Jumma Masjid in the small lane in Old Delhi with the motto “of  earning money and fame by serving the royal food to the common man”. After so many decades, numerous awards and recognitions Karim’s is a place where one should eat atleast once. Sorry vegetarians; this is hardly the place for you.

From Old Delhi we came back to South Delhi specifically to Hauz Khas village, a “designer village” in the midst of the hustle of New Delhi. This place is very interesting with many cafes, show rooms and boutiques around, besides the ruins of the Mughal era. Actually the ruins by a tank are of the madrassa founded by Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq in the 14th century. The tank turned into a lake still remains beautiful. There, hidden in a small corner, is Kunzum café. Kunzum travel café to be precise. The café is named after a high altitude pass in the Lahaul Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh. And they themselves say “the inspiration behind the brand that is all about memorable travel experiences.”
Kunzum café is a place to hangout with likeminded friends, meet fellow travelers or just laze around using the FREE wifi and occasionally sipping a cup of coffee or tea. The damage for all those..” Pay what you want”! Yes, Kunzum is not any ordinary café. It is the brainchild of Ajay Jain, a photographer and a travel writer. Kunzum was started in 2007 as a travel blog by Mr. Jain and in 2010 the café came up. The place is small but cozy. The walls adorn some fantastic images captured by Mr. Jain during his numerous journeys across the abroad. My personal favorite is the photograph of a female monk in some Himalayan Monastery. Even with her clean shaven head and the maroon attire of a monk, there is something in her eyes which speaks a thousand words. There are travel books all around. You can sit back and spend the whole day reading as many books as you want. too. In their own words : This is what the Kunzum Travel Café is all about. A place for travellers to meet, exchange travel stories, make friends, even connect with future travel partners –while spending the day bumming around over coffee and free Wi-Fi. Also on offer are opportunities to attend interactive talks and workshops by travellers, photographers, writers and other relevant personalities. Or they can simply sit back and enjoy as musicians jam around.”
The best part: you are not obliged to buy anything. And when you have coffee, you may choose to pay what you like. Beat that.
There is a box near the door where one pay what he/she wants. There are many who DONOT want to pay anything. Still  Kunzum café welcomes all with the motto “ We Travel.So should you”

Delhi continues to hold a special place in my heart. Yes, even with that rather infamous tag of being unsafe for women. But I love the roadside chole – kulche, momos, paratha, the Delhi winter, India Gate, Ice cream in winter, Dilli Haat and now Kunzum and Karim. Oh Delhi you never cease to surprise me.

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