There is more to Karol Bagh than shopping and chhole bhature. The bustling alleys of the market have rows of retail shops rubbing shoulders – selling anything from clothes to spices, and mobile phones. Karol Bagh has come a long way since Firoz Shah Tughlaq planted orchard gardens here. Today, it is dotted with thriving markets, a great mix of communities and a welcoming culture.
A slice of history
To start with, forgo shopping and explore the historic splendour here. The influence of Muslim culture is spotted in monuments situated in the old area. The age-old Ayurdvedic and Unani Tibbia College was founded by Hakim Abdul Majeed Khan in 1889, re-established by Hakim Ajmal Khan, and the building was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1921. Amazingly, it is the only institution in the country to offer education and training in two ancient systems of medicine–Ayurvedic and Unani–under one roof. There is a flourishing herbal garden in the middle. It is spread across 33.5 acres. “The College is one of the oldest medical institutes. It has made great strides in the field of alternate medicine. Rauwolfia serpentina, the medicine to help recover the lunatic mind, is one of our biggest achievements,” says the Principal of the College, Dr. Yasin.
The Institute has obtained patents for 84 rare herbal formulae, such as Musafi, Sarbat-e-Sadar, Sekhon and Hebab-Kebatare. Interestingly, Karol Bagh got its name from a number of herbal gardens in the area. It was once spelled as “Qarol Bagh” – “Qarol” means “curved like green chilly”.
‘16/330 Khajoor Road’, a 100-year old bungalow at Joshi road, is another major attraction. This picturesque bungalow was the rehearsal point for a famous band, “Indian Ocean”, for over 14 years. The Band’s famous albums – Kandisa, Jhini, Black Friday, and of course 16/330 Khajoor Road, were conceived here. Although the bungalow has been renovated now, it still known for its historical value, and connection with “Indian Ocean”.
Another important historical site is Bangiya Samsad, which was established in 1958. Tucked away in the residential area of WEA, Bangiya Samsad represents the Bengali community for the last 50 years. With a library, a school, a guest house, and a medical centre, Bangiya Samsad is credited with conducting a number of socio-cultural events in Karol Bagh throughout the year. Also, it has the second largest Bengali library in North India, with over 9,000 Bengali books. One of the oldest members of the society, B.K Mukherjee, who moved to Gurgaon five years ago, says, “Bangiya Samsad used to be the major hang-out destination for Bengali youth in the 60s and 70s. Even after moving to Gurgaon, I make sure that I attend their club meetings regularly, and be a part of its activities.” He strongly feels that Gurgaon should also have a club like Bangiya Samsad, as a large Bengali community has set up base here too.
After sight-seeing, one can indulge in Shopping. Yes, despite all the malls in Gurgaon, it is difficult to beat Karol Bagh for Shopping. One can easily be dazzled by the brightness—and the low prices— offered at the overcrowded Ajmal Khan Road. So start two streets down instead – from Raigarh Pura. Named after the Raigarh community of Rajasthan, that has been living in Karol Bagh for 40 years, the market is famous for Rajasthani craft work, suit pieces with polki designs and Meenakari, and party-wear traditional dresses. Naman, who runs a small apparel shop in the area says, “Rajasthani artisans are easily available in Karol Bagh, due to which it was possible to set up such a big market here.” When asked about his customer base in Gurgaon, he says, “One of my regular customers lives in DLF Phase I. Their three generations have been buying clothes from my shop.” While the range of beautiful suit-pieces start from just Rs. 300, and Lehngas from Rs. 1,500, handicrafts are a little expensive – they range from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000. The artworks, however, reflect a high level of craftsmanship and quality.
Further towards Dev Nagar is Tank Road market, known for its wholesale denim market. However, a few shops such as GN Garments, Shiva Garments, and Flu Jeans also serve retail customers. “One can find original Lacoste denim jeans for under Rs. 1,000 here. That is what brings me here from South Delhi,” smiles Raksha, a resident of Green Park. Browsing and bargain-hunting are compulsory skills though. A shop keeper, Kapil Saini, who runs a readymade garment shop in Arjun Marg, DLF Phase I market, informs, “Tank Road is the biggest denim market in Asia. For years we have been bringing denim pants and jackets from Tank Road. The inflow has, however, recently come down, as shopkeepers now source material from Bangkok.”
Now walk down 500 metres to visit the famous Gaffar market. It is a favourite one-stop-mart for youngsters who are seeking ‘imported’ goods at less than the ‘market prices’. Most of the shops in the market have no names. So if you want to visit the same shop the next time, ask for its number. This is the only place in the country where one can get a wide variety of gadgets and gizmos much before they are launched in India or even abroad. Iqbal, a regular buyer, puts forth an example, “After just two months of the launch of iPhone 4, it was available in Gaffar Market. My cousin, who lives in Poland, was struggling to get a glimpse of it.” From mobile phones and play stations, to LED TVs, refrigerators, crockery, cosmetics, shoes, and watches, almost everything is available here.
Before you cross the jewellery street and make your way to Ajmal Khan road, stop at Roshan Di Kulfi, and savour their famous kulfi. Although the shop now serves all kinds of food, including pizzas and pastas, the traditional delicacies such as chaat, chhole bhature, lassi, and kulfi are the specialities. Also, you can relish pakoras at the little-known “Pakore Ki Dukan”, which is two lanes further. The outlet offers an assortment of pakoras – cauliflower, potato, onion, bitter gourd, and green chilly. If you are not a fan of Punjabi food, try out authentic South Indian food at Shudh Annapurna, near Faiz Road. One can sample other Indian flavours at Aangan, Bikanerwala, Raffles, or Haldirams.
As you walk through Ajmal Khan road, you will find swanky showrooms, that give prime appeal to the market. This road is the favourite shopping destination for brides-to-be,and their relatives, who come here for trousseau shopping. Zohra, Meena Bazaar, Ushnak Mal Mool Chand, Jain Sons, and Harnam Singh Bishan Singh are famous for party wear. “In Karol Bagh, shoes shine forth in every known colour, and display of shiny blouses is never ending,” says Jain, owner of a popular apparel mart – Jainsons Westend, that was set up in 1950s.
Another old shop in the market, Roopak Store, is famous for selling fresh spices. Besides retail selling, Roopak Store today supplies spices across the country. “We get orders from South India, and even abroad,” says one of the store managers. When asked about the availability of Roopak spices in Gurgaon, he says, “The Millennium City is a premium market for us. That is why we have made our products available at Le Marche and Needs stores in Gurgaon.”
South Indian vegetable market, at a lane behind the Ajmal Khan road, is another not-to-be-missed shopping destination. “In the late 70s, a major chunk of land was owned by Sikhs in Karol Bagh. They moved to Thailand, after the anti-Sikh riots, and rented out their lands to South Indian families, who later settled there,” explains Prof. R. Krishanan, who shifted from Karol Bagh to Sushant Lok in 2005. Fluent in three languages – Punjabi, Bengali, and Tamil – Prof. R. Krishanan gives credit to his stay at Karol Bagh. “Despite Gurgaon having better infrastructure and comparatively being more ‘serene’, I miss the close-knit community feeling and multi-culturalism found ‘only’ in Karol Bagh. It was a pleasure watching kids playing cricket in the evenings, and having Punjabis attend Durga Puja during the Navratras,” says Prof. R. Krishanan.
After you are done with shopping, don’t forget to pay a visit to Hanuman Mandir – famous for having the world’s largest Hanuman statue. The 108 foot tall statue, that stands tall between Karol Bagh and Jhandewalan Metro station, is awesome!
Learning from each other
Sakshi Chaudhary, a young Rajasthani lady who lives in WEA, travels regularly to Gurgaon. She feels that Karol Bagh lags behind when it comes to security and infrastructural development. “It took Gurgaon just 10 years to become a Millennium City from a ‘Gaon’ (village). However, in Karol Bagh, everything happens at its own pace. Sometimes construction of a pavement takes more than two years. Moreover, security in a mall is better than that provided by police in the crowded areas of Karol Bagh,” says Sakshi. “Issues like land acquisition and mushrooming of shops in the residential areas have made Karol Bagh a poor place to live in,” feels Joginder Singh, who runs an apparel shop on Ajmal Khan road.
Karol Bagh is full to the brim with history, and is a multicultural society. “Being a modern city, Gurgaon has a completely different view of tradition. Here, Durga Puja is celebrated in an air-conditioned hall, and finding a lady in typical Bengali attire is a rare sight. On the other hand, in Karol Bagh, not just Durga Puja but all Bengali festivals—Naba Borsho, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, and Jagddharti Puja—are celebrated in a traditional manner. It is commendable that all communities there exist peacefully, and yet are closely attached to their roots,” says B.K Mukherjee.
While Karol Bagh scores higher on shopping and the
spirit of multiculturalism, gCity can be proud of its buzzing modern culture.