Sunday, February 24, 2019

Mirza Ghalib's haveli and sheermal from Old Delhi

As a child I was a fairly frequent visitor to Ballimaran, all thanks to my father's college friend who lived there. This is long before Delhi Metro made it easy to commute across the city, and food walks in Old Delhi were less heard of. Anyhow, there came a time when I could proudly navigate my way through the labyrinth that is Ballimaran - all the way from Hauz Qazi Chowk where we would park our car, right up the narrow, steep stairway to his house. Why did I visit? Well, the food, of course. The best biryani and the best korma I have ever tasted, was in that household. But my most favourite thing to eat was sheermal, and I have never found one anywhere else that was just as good. 

Over the years, our trips became less frequent, and when uncle moved houses, our visits to Ballimaran stopped entirely. And then last weekend, all thanks to a slight case of FOMO, Len and I made our way to the old city to check out Mirza Ghalib's haveli in the heart of Ballimaran. This is the house where Ghalib spent the last phase of his life from 1860 to 1869. In retrospect I must have passed by that crumbling building many times in my childhood, but there was no museum back then. A small part of the house was converted to a museum in the year 2000, and has been open to the public ever since. 

The museum itself isn't much to write about - two rooms containing a stone bust of the poet, three dusty hand-written manuscripts, and a glass case with some clothes belonging to the great man. The rest of the haveli seems to have been usurped by settlers over the last few decades. 

Inside Mirza Ghalib's museum in Delhi
Relics of the past

Getting there

The closest metro station is Chawri Bazaar, and getting to the haveli is a piece of cake if you can brave the maddening crowd of people, rickshaws, two-wheelers, carts, and what-not! Google Maps showed us a mere 900m from the Hauz Qazi exit to the museum, but the walk seemed very, very long! 

Ballimaran streets

Between checking Google Map on my phone and ensuring I did not get run over by a cycle rickshaw, there was little time to admire the place. But even then the museum was only a part of the bigger picture. The crumbling buildings, the chaos of Lal Kuan bazaar, and the nostalgia of revisiting a place I frequented in my childhood, all added to the charm.

The Hamdard main office is one of the landmarks of the area

Finding food and reliving memories

On the way back, we snuck into a tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of a shop to pick up sheermal and tandoori roti. These were priced at Rs.25 an Rs.6 each. The latter we consumed on our way back to the metro station - a bit like a Parisian would have his baguette while heading to the subway :) This made for a delicious lunch. 

The fluffy white tandoori rotis are salted, and will melt in your mouth, while the the rich, sweet flavour of the sheermal is absolutely decadent. We had the sheermal for dinner, warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave until they were tender and fragrant. I did miss the korma though - the perfect accompaniment with these flatbreads - but I have saved that for another day. And another adventure.

They say sheermal somewhat resembles a Danish pastry! 

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