A vast sprawling metropolis and the capital of India, Delhi is the home to more than 26.5 million people. It is one of the most interesting and culturally diverse cities in the world but will challenge even the most hardened traveller. From the narrow alleyways of old Delhi with its incredible street food and hole in the wall shops, to the modern suburbs of new Delhi with its affluent educated young locals, western brand retail outlets and coffeeshop culture.
My flight arrived in the morning into Delhi airport which seems impossibly close to the centre of the city. It’s an easy cab ride into the city but make sure you take the prepaid option from just outside the arrivals entrance as overcharging is a sport for the Delhi taxis drivers.
I’m staying Paharganj, right in the centre of the old city. It has been the hub of the backpacker scene since the first hippies came through Delhi in the ’60s. All the old hippy trail cities have or had a street which became home to the westerners. Bangkok has the Khao san road, Kabul had ‘freak street’, Delhi has Paharganj. As the years have passed the hippies have faded away and the backpacker scene took over.
Paharganj isn’t for everyone, its loud, chaotic and full of smells and sights that bombard your senses as soon as you arrive but if you want to get straight into the real India then this is the place to start. Paharganj is actually a long street that’s surrounded by a network of alleyways and passages that its extremely easy to get lost in, in fact, that’s half the point of being here, setting out with a few places to visit and slowly getting completely lost as the day goes by.
The area is famous for its diverse street food culture, everywhere you look there are vendors cooking out on the street in huge open pots and giant woks. Little bread ovens sit outside the shops and there is a constant flow of fresh bread being kneaded and stuck onto the walls of the kiln like ovens. There is a huge variety of vegetarian food on offer and the area has some nationally famous shops which draw in crowds of people before the doors are even open. The best advice is to try as much as possible and especially aim to eat where you see lots of locals hanging out. The street food is generally very safe, just make sure they are busy and use common sense. It can be a bit scary at first but once you get involved and feel less intimidated or worried you will truly love the amazing food on offer here.
In the middle of the street is a small market square around which are a number of rooftop cafes and restaurants, it’s a good spot to gather your thoughts and as it turns out, the best place to find a smoke! The Charas was surprisingly good quality for around 2000 rupees a Tola ($30 for 10 grams) Extremely fresh and fragrant, it was a little sticky and gave a nice warm body buzz with a strong head high
I visited most of the cafes while I was on the square and I was quietly offered charas at most of them, in fact, you’re going to get offered hash constantly throughout your walk in the area but avoid the street dealers as there is way too many negative outcomes that can happen buying in a city you’re not familiar with off the street.
The secret code to gain an extra entry in our travel competition is 504839.
I should point out that cannabis is still illegal in India despite its widespread cultural and religious use and the vast majority of Indians not seeing it as a dangerous or bad substance. The punishments can be harsh if you get involved in dealing or smuggling but in most areas, small personal possession is normally dealt with by way of bribes to the police who catch you. Of course, cities and tourist hotspots are always the worst places to search out a good smoke and it’s there where the police are most active.
The strange hypocrisy is that there are still government licenced ‘Bhang’ shops where you can buy a weed Lassi (sort of like a sweet milkshake that gets you high as a kite) and edibles seem to be more tolerated in general. You will also see religious devotees of Shiva happily puffing away all day on chillums. I’ll talk more about the current legislation and the government’s attitude to production and cultural issues in a later blog but for now, just be aware that the laws as they stand mean you can be arrested for possession of cannabis in India.
After spending a couple of days exploring the alleyways and getting over my jetlag, I’ve booked a bus ticket to Himachal Pradesh, a state in northern India dominated by the Himalayas and home to some of the best hash production in the world. It should take around 14 hours overnight and the roads get steadily more and more dangerous as you go higher up. The journey is a bit arduous but the rewards at the end are more than worth the hassle. It’s possible to fly up but it is expensive and the road trip is really all part of the magic of going up into the mountains and getting away from the hustle and bustle.