Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spice Market: A Smell-o-Vision Report

Today we visit the spice market on Khari Baoli road in Chandni Chowk, a section of Old Delhi. In this case, the old adage that "Getting there is half the fun" is very true. We take the metro partway, with the girls, my mother, and sister-in-law enjoying the air-conditioned spaciousness of the Women's Only car. Yes, the metal detector is just to go on the metro.

Then, the real fun begins with rickshaw rides for everybody for a few hours, weaving in and out of traffic, through the narrow and highly redolent/odiferous alleys of Old Delhi at 70 rupees ($1.40) per hour, per rickshaw.

To fully describe this site and, frankly, all of India, the girls and I have decided that we need to have Smell-o-Vision -- a camera that will record and transmit smells. First off, in the spice store itself, we smell and buy lots of cumin, cardamom, star anise, tandoori and tikka coatings, and masalas (a word which simple means "spice mixtures").


Nearby, my brother leads us through a narrow, dark back alley, up some extremely questionable and clearly-condemnable stairs to a rooftop for a view down into the spice market. And into the showering, sleeping, and living areas of many presumably poor families. Of course, given the state of this country, these people could be considered middle class for all I know. But if so, it really can't be more than just barely.


The alley itself smells so strongly of frying hot chili peppers, it makes us gag and cough and sputter. I can manage the return trip only by breathing through the fabric of my sleeve -- my elbow crushed against my face. It's as painful as actually eating the chilis but in a different way. Instead of the burn in your mouth, it's in your lungs. Not for the faint of heart. Or the heavily asthmatic. My kids continue to amaze me: They run this gauntlet with flying colors and not a whimper. Although the rail-less, rubble-filled, and sometimes poop-covered stairs do give them pause. And rightly so.

Other candidates for Smell-O-Vision we wish we could "Odorgraph" and send you:
  • The waterways in Delhi, even in the "good" part of town (strong smell of sewage)
  • The temples (incense burning, smoky and intensely perfumed)
  • The streets (choked with exhaust fumes, and also not for the highly asthmatic)
  • The streets, fields, and anywhere there are cows. Which is everywhere (ever-present odor of cow manure)
  • The masala chai (is there any other tea that can compete with this? Not in my mind. Or nose, anyway)

1 comment:

  1. Spice Souk
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