A Shortcut to India: Delhi’s Colorful Khan Market

Delhi’s sprawling Khan Market offers visitors a glimpse into India’s rich culture, with regional dishes and eclectic shopping your reward for navigating its labyrinth of lanes.

Delhi President's House

President's House, Delhi. Image: India Tourism

As I moved through Delhi on my first day here, the city looked like a large construction site, an indication of the frenzied yet orderly preparation for the Commonwealth Games, being held in Delhi for the first time this October. “That will be the stadium,” my taxi driver explained. I saw it from a distance, but it still looked spectacular. Though there might be modern malls, chic restaurants and hotels springing-up all over Delhi, an ever-evolving cosmopolitan city, there still is a place you can go to discover an India more redolent of  the sights, sounds and flavors associated with the country’s deliriously dense culture, including brilliant concoctions of food and eclectic shopping at its very best.  Khan Market is the local treasure where in one expansive free-for-all, you can experience so much that is indelibly Indian.

Khan Market

One of Khan Market's many lanes. Image: Meera Ashish

The best time to head out to Khan Market is in the morning. Although it’s buzzing at any time of day, you’ll really want a full day to explore the ordered chaos of the market brimming with stalls, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, outdoor eateries, even walk-in beauty salons where you can indulge in a henna hand design or eyebrow threading. I started my day here reading in the Turtle Café, tucked away on the top floor of a bookstore, Full Circle Books, enjoying a fresh smoothie with papaya. (If you prefer to start the day with a crepe, head to Mrs Kaurs, or to Amici’s for a chocolate and peanut butter shake).

With the whole day ahead of me, I thought I would eventually move on to Dilli Haat and perhaps Greater Kailash next, other well-known markets in Delhi, but I underestimated the expanse and appeal of Khan Market. And while I found it to be busy and bustling, I also discovered a laid-back vibe here, a place where the crowd, comprised mostly of Delhi’s upwardly mobile and expats, mingled with an easy energy. The eclectic nature of the crowd mirrored Khan Market itself. It is full of the incredible contradictions synonymous with India: exposed power lines above your head and international brands such as Nike and Body Shop down below.

By the end of the day, my favourite shops weren’t any Western mega-brand though, but Ogaan and Atelier for Indo-western clothes, Amrapali for antique looking (and damn expensive!) jewelry, and Anokhi for cool and funky cottons.

India Bangles

Bounty of bangles. Image: Eric Hiss

After this serious bout of shopping, food was definitely in order, so I was guided by a local to Khan Chacha to have the best paneer roll I have ever tasted. Khan Chacha, which translates as Uncle Khan, had been a tiny eatery tucked away in the network of lanes that comprise the market for many years, boasting a great reputation and celebrity patrons. Just recently, however, it has transformed into a small and stylish restaurant. Its mutton seekh kebab, chicken tikka, paneer tikka and rumali roti rolls are giving stiff competition to the larger restaurants in Khan Market like Big Chill. And with each item under 100 rupees, you just can’t go wrong.

Leaving Khan Chacha utterly satisfied, it was time to head back to the hotel. The market stalls along the central spine of Khan market provided one last temptation though, boisterously colorful contrasts to the market’s luxury boutiques. Magazines of all sorts spilled from racks; another small space was filled with some of the largest and most elaborate earrings I have ever seen. And then I encountered my favorite–a small shop that was virtually a mini-bazaar of bangles. Faced with bangles of every color and description, I went into what can only be described as a bangle frenzy and did the only sensible thing one does in Khan Market in such a situation–I bought one every color.

KHAN MARKET GUIDE

Where to stay:
The Claridges Hotel
12 Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi
+91 11 3955 5000
Located in the upscale heart of Lutyens Delhi, close to Connaught Place and Khan market, The Claridges is a classic hotel with calming interiors. And while it’s right in the centre of the action, it feels like an urban oasis once inside.

Aman New Delhi
Lodhi Road, New Delhi
+91 11 4363 3333
Sophisticated appeal and only minutes from Rashtrapati Bhavan, the peaceful Lodhi gardens and many other iconic sites.

The Oberoi, New Delhi
Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, New Delhi
+91 11 2436 3030
An exquisite mix of traditional and contemporary, The Oberoi is right near Delhi’s business, commercial and shopping districts, overlooking Delhi’s prestigious Golf Club as well as the heritage site of Humayun’s Tomb.

Where to eat:
Amici’s
47, Middle Lane, Khan Market
Tel: (011)43587191

Khan Chacha
50, Middle Lane, Khan Market
Tel: (011)43680449, (011) 24633242

Mrs Kaurs
66 Middle Lane, Khan Market
Tel: (011) 42480808

Clothes & Jewelry
Anokhi
32 Khan Market
Tel: (011)24603423

Ogaan
77, Khan Market, Middle Lane
Tel: (011)41757220

Amrapali Jewellers
39, 1st Floor , Khan Market
Tel: (011)41752024

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