When I hear the word ‘Haat’, the first image that comes to mind is of a village fair. With so many people from in and out of the city going into a trance when they speakabout Delhi Hatt– pronounced locally and fondly as ‘DilliHaat’ which sounds almost like the ‘heart of Delhi’- I had to visit it to save myself from committing the sin of having not been there. So, on a hot summer afternoon I picked up my camera and landed up at the site hoping to capture some interesting and creative frames.I quickly discovered that there were quite a few like me having the same intent!
Frankly, the brown structure of the complex did not really appeal to me standing outside the gates. There was no color, décor or lavish locale nor any publicity inviting people to come visit the place. I am sure the place would have gone unnoticed by me unknowingly.For those of you who don’t know, DilliHaatis a joint venture of Delhi Tourism (DTDC), D.C. (Handicrafts), NMDC, D.C. (Handlooms) and Ministry of Tourism and Textile, Government of India. It was setup in 1994. Spread across six acres of land, this is a little world in itself where handicrafts from across rural India are displayed. A variety of food and cultural activities add to the overall resemblance to the city of Delhi. The place also provides a platform for promoting theatrical and cultural performances amongst the rural participants.
While I paid the local entry fees, it always bothers me that why are there separate and higher fees for foreign tourists- it seems so unfriendly. But these thoughts vanished when I cleared security and entered the Hatt.It was like time stood still for a mere seconds. What was inside was a different world in itself. Turning back to the world outside, it really was like time travel.
Colours everywhere, people putting up stalls to sell clothes, another one for bangles, the next for shoes and so on. From pashmina shawls (a high quality woolen drape), to Jaipurijuttis(flat and carved leather slippers), glass bangles to Amritsariphulkaris (large colorful dresses), fake diamonds, glittery silver, shimmery silks and sparkling mirrors; there is something for everybody here, of all ages.The distinctive sparkles, patterns and styles made for some wonderful frames and I could manage to capture the unique shades of rani pinks, haldi yellow and nagpurorange in their real tones- local names given to natural colors.
Actually,DilliHaat is not that huge, it is a compact cosmos where several rural artisans are allotted ‘shops’ for display of their produce and or services. There are two parallel rows of congested shops with a walk-way in between the rows. At the end of the road, there is a small stage-like structure where enthusiastic theatrewallas– amateur stage performers- perform during festive seasons. Relative peace during the day was replaced by chaos by early evening. Women bargaining over sarees, girls trotting around with their vibrant bangles, children running around dropping their ice creams,shop owners beckoning visitors in strange taglines never heard of, foreigners going gaga over the discounted yet ‘totally Indian’ products and of course the trigger-happy photographers with their expensive cameras trying to capture memories.
It was quite entertaining to witness foreigners experimenting with new food stuff such as the innumerabletypes of paans,churans, suparis, jeeragolis and other kinds of mouth fresheners. It was amusing to see their exchange of dialogue with the local shopkeepers trying to understand what is‘churan’. Food is an important agenda at DilliHaat! And no visit is complete without visiting the several food counters, sprawled all over the place as well as at the ‘Food Corner’, savouring the typical Delhi street food delicacies. Both the aromas and the sights were equally mesmerizing. With fresh Chinese stews, tempting chicken biryani,steaming cholebature- a popular but greasy meal of chick peas- children sucking on kalakhaatagolas– a sort of sorbet- and women sipping their ginger masala chai- spiced tea–, it was truly a visual and aromatic treat. Delhi’s true gourmet spirit was at its peak.
By now, I was ready to leave, exhausted but with a smile, like the many others. Hopefully, my fellow photographers also got good shots. I had shot over the genre spectrum from people to food to clothes and jewelry.
Coming out of those fairy tale doors, I thought it was all over but by now there was a mini-bazaar lined up right outside the gates. There were still some interesting sights remaining to be explored, like a ‘return gift’ for the photographer in me. The several hawkers selling miniature show-pieces, replica jewelry and toys, girls getting their hair braided eagerly smiling into my lens, allseemed to tell me to come again soon. Booklovers at the roadside book shop outside were just too busy bargaining for their most wanted book or magazine, now made accessible to them at throwaway prices, for themselves or as gifts. I let them be. The rather sudden dusk and drop in temperature reminded me of the approaching winter. I was thirsty for more but made a mental note to revisit in the winter for a different explosion of colors and people. With a tired body, shopping filled bags, a drained camera and a heavy heart I had to leave. That evening I understood why this place needed no marketing and publicity and how Delhi Hatt can truly be called ‘DilliHaat’, the heart of the city.