India / Thoughts

Where the Guys Give Roses

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2588November 19, 2012

This is a bit of a sleep-deprived post so apologies for any strange errors or abrupt transitions…busy week to share hopefully soon.

The sunrise in Delhi is something worth getting up early for. It’s winter now in Northern India and the sun rises after 6:30 and seems to stop and hang half-way up the horizon. It takes up so much space in the sky that it’s hard to believe its the same sun with which I’ve risen my whole life.  It shimmers in an arresting shade of reddish-gold and makes everything the light touches appears washed in a hazy, soft pink glow.

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2597November 19, 2012

This morning we set out far earlier than usual, in search of a supposedly stunning wholesale flower market open only just past dawn at the Hanuman Temple near Connaught. For anyone who’d like to cut to the chase, I’ll tell you now: that market no longer seems to exist.

A man sitting on a blanket surrounded by pairs of shoes asked me to remove mine as soon as I stepped off the sidewalk-a sign as sure as any that I was in the wrong place.  I walked barefoot through the temple crowd anyway though, carrying 15-month-old Will and his companion, “Monkey,” hoping in vain that the flower market might be found somewhere just beyond the worshippers.  I bought a wreath for the temple and wondered which of the beggars, who turn out in the hundreds here to receive free food and donations from temple parishioners, needed my money the most. I felt out of place and confused. As I tried to collect my shoes from the shoe watcher, a tall man with wearing a mangey shawl and vacant eyes came lurching after us yelling, reaching for Will and demanding money. People shouted for me to give him money, to not give him money, to give them money and suddenly everyone was watching a bewildered foreigner handing out rupees like they were flyers for a new high-rise apartment complex in Gurgaon.  I beat an embarrassed retreat back to our car, realizing suddenly that this might be exactly the sort of Indian experience that makes some people hate it here.

The truth about India though, the truth about any country really, is that you will only like the place as much as you like the people there whom you are lucky enough to meet.  And, contrary to what it might seem to any tourist trying to make their way around Connaught, there are far many more good people in Delhi than not.

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2603November 19, 2012

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2590November 19, 2012

Our new driver is one of them.  Chris and I realized that if we really wanted to see Delhi we would need not just a vehicle with which to get around, but a person with an inborn understanding of Delhi to drive it (and, quite honestly, someone to circle the block wherever we go because parking is usually quite scarce).  R is our housekeeper’s nephew and when she talks about him, her love and admiration for him practically radiates out of her face.  We are beginning to understand why.

R is one of those good-down-to-his-bones sorts of people and he’s also slowly getting used to me and my little quests around town. When I came back to the car without finding a flower market, he asked if I would like to drive clear across the city to find a flower market near Mehrauli that one of his friends had told him about.  He laughed a little knowingly when I said yes.

About 5 minutes away from Qutab Minar (still on my list to go see) and in the middle of a seemingly quiet neighborhood, we parked next to a cluster of scooters, the passengers’ seats all piled 3 feet high with stacks of  bundled stems and maroon and gold marigolds.

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2583November 19, 2012

From there I edge my way through the crowd and found myself in an open-air market, surrounded on all sides by the walls of restaurants and apartment buildings. Cast-off leaves and foliage bedded the ground in soft piles and a million and one rose petals buried the normal din and noise of a busy market beneath the whisper-soft sounds of so many flowers being bundled and moved around the small space.   Hundreds of thousands of lilies and roses and daisies, ginger flowers, gladiolas and so many flowers I’d never seen before lined the tiny walkways between vendors.  Along the walls, on a raised platform, women sat wrapped in heavy woolen shawls, delicately stringing marigolds and jasmine blossoms together to form the long beautiful chains that are used here to decorate temples and special occasions. When I lived in Chennai, women would buy miniature versions of these flower chains and wear them in their hair, leaving behind a trail of otherworldly fragrance that banished all sewer and street smells in their wake.

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2586November 19, 2012

The haze and the smell of the flowers and that beautiful golden-blush glow from the sunrise made the market feel more like a dream than a real place and Will and I both smiled.  As I wandered, vendors rummaged through their piles of orphan blossoms and, beaming, offered carefully de-thorned rose blossoms to Will and I.  When I asked how much I should pay, they just shook their heads, said something about smiles and walked away.

Markets are interesting to me, I get a kick out of seeing how they work, what’s for sale, how to pronounce what’s for sale, how it should be cooked or used or displayed.  I find that whenever I’m genuinely excited, genuinely fascinated by what’s going on around me, people respond in kind and share with me small tidbits about themselves and the places in which I meet them. These little interactions are grounding.  Like tiny threads,  each one of them gently ties me a little closer to Delhi, tugging me–if only briefly–out of the expat bubble I usually inhabit.

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2609November 19, 2012

We left the flower market with 2 dozen jasmine flowers and 7 rolls of something like tissue paper–an item I’d been desperately trying to find in Delhi for weeks and weeks now and finally found for sale amidst the flowers.  Afterwards we headed to INA market to pick up a few things for Thanksgiving.

The INA parking lot is crazy at most hours of the day. Usually R drops me off and circles the block while I bumble and blunder my way across the slick, broken tiles to find what I need. But two freshly-slaughtered chickens and a big bag of flour, plus Will in his baby carrier, is a bit much for even me to carry by myself; and since the market was still nearly empty so early in the morning, R parked and came with me.

And that’s the other thing about needing to know good people to really fall in love with a country. No matter how good I get at navigating that market, I’ll never be a native Dillite–and it’s a completely different experience to go with someone who is. The interactions are smoother, we visit specific stalls purposefully, seemingly picking our vendors based on cues of quality or relation that are invisible to me.  I learn a lot.

I ran into the chai-wallah from this post while we were buying some flour. He remembered me and offered another 10 rupee cup of chai from his traveling tankard of brew.  The shopkeepers all laughed, but I bought.  It’s not everyday that I’m at the market with a free hand to wrap around a steaming styrofoam mug of chai and in the company of good people with whom to share it.

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2612November 19, 2012

Mehrauli Flower Market_MG_2605November 19, 2012

118 thoughts on “Where the Guys Give Roses

  1. Great photos Danni and love your shares of the expat life… is so so true that it is really the people that make the place and the interactions with people that make your day………

    • Thanks Bev! You are truly one of those expats who really dives in and gets into the culture and gets to know good people, how you live your life is one of the best examples of how to do this crazy lifestyle! 🙂

  2. Spot on again! Love your observations about the Indian sun, visiting markets in early morning, and connecting with people that allows a place to settle in your heart. I am loving the way you are discovering Delhi and sharing with us. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks so much! Happy Thanksgiving to you too! I love love love all of those photos from Istanbul! Makes me want to come visit even more than I already did!

  3. I miss the flower market in BKK. I know there is one here but I haven’t been able to visit it just yet. Looks like your driver is a great find! It’s such a blessing to be sourrrounded by people who understand all about your new city and are willing to help you discover it. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • It is such a blessing to have people who know their way around here and don’t mind being patient with me! Our driver is still new but I think we’re getting more used to working with each other all the time.

  4. Lovely photos! Thank you for sharing your experience. Even if I never get to see that sunrise, I’ve seen it in your post 🙂

  5. Hi Dani,
    I’m Indian by ancestry (American by….well, everything else) and I think it’s great (if I was a little more mature I would write “respect”) that you’re taking the opportunity to see India with such an open mind. You don’t really see that in people anymore, and I know way too many people who would’ve just been grossed out or frustrated by something or the other.
    So, on behalf of my country and its people, thank you.
    Also, I love your pictures (what camera do you have? I’m looking for one for Christmas), and you truly deserved the freshly pressed.
    Last thing, (this is getting a bit long isn’t it?) were you in Delhi over Diwali? That’s a sight I tell you. If you were can you write about it?

    • Hi Deb, thank you so much for your kind words! I think India is one of those places that people sometimes need some time to get used to. I’m lucky in that I’ve traveled here before and know some wonderful people here from my old job that have helped me see the best sides of India. I use a Canon Rebel XS, the one without video. It’s a great starter DSLR and I’m still learning things I can do with it 3 years later. As I tell everyone who is considering a DSLR and decides to buy the Rebel, go ahead and by the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens right away as well. Its an incredibly useful little lens for shooting both people and things close up and its great in low light. The Rebel is very good in low light for the price but there are better, more expensive cameras that are much better and the 50mm is a great, inexpensive way to improve your photos without spend a ton of money. Hope that helps!

  6. Lovely post. I don’t think there has ever been a flower market there. There is, however, an excellent bangle market.

    You are absolutely right about needing to know good people to appreciate a place. I miss that corner of the world very badly.

    • Yes, there does seem to be some debate as to whether a flower market ever existed/does exist still, etc. I don’t know but you are exactly right: there is a wonderful bangle market there! Thank you for reading!

  7. This post brought back fond memories from my childhood – We used to visit the flower market at Connaught Place on Sunday mornings. I’ve been planning to write about that – this post has subtly reminded me of that!
    I am a complete dilli-wali, and it makes me happy to know you also like the city 🙂

    • Ah ha! So there was a flower market at Connaught at one time! 🙂 I can’t wait to read your post about it! Always wonderful to hear from people who love this city. I’m so new here but it seems there is just so much to enjoy.

      • I read a few news articles which said that the mehrauli flower market has been closed. I’m just curious to know when you visited it… Its been a couple of years since I went there, and was wondering, if it is still there, I might go have a look – It is a very old market, with an interesting history.

      • Hmmm it could be that we were just outside mehrauli but very nearby. I’m going to go back soon and I’ll be sure to ask around!

  8. Beautiful! I’m going to India in January (flying into Delhi on the 6th) and I hope I can find this flower market during one of the days I’ll be wandering around.
    Also, I completely agree with your thought that most people are good. I think traveling helps one to believe this in ways previously unimaginable. It’s so easy to fear the unknown, with endless stories of wrongdoings, but the truth is that the people who do those things fall into about 5-10% of the world’s population. I like to believe the other 90% are good, trustworthy, even kind people who mean no harm.

    • You are exactly right Jessica! Do let me know if you need any help or ideas when you get to Delhi. How long will you be in town?

      • Hmmm there is so much to see in Delhi its hard to know where to start! I think, more important than where to go is when to go. If you can get out the door by 8am you’ll have most places all to yourself. The historical sites open at dawn and that is a lovely time to see them, as is sunset but the traffic will be crazier. Chandi Chowk and Old Delhi are incredible but you will probably enjoy it more if you can get there early in the day the first time (before 11 basically) and then maybe go back another time at midday just to get a feel for that different atmosphere. Lodhi Garden is absolutely stunning and great if you want to go for a jog while you are here without being stared at strangely. I don’t particularly like Connaught because there are just so, so many touts but there are a few shops there worth checking out. Haus Khaz is a great place to combine some really fun window-shopping with a little bit of historic sight-seeing and there is a food cart there with the best gelato in town (the almond flavor is the best). Since restaurants here don’t open for dinner until 7 and our son is usually getting ready for bed at that time, I don’t know anywhere near as much about the restaurant scene as I should, but my favorite street food snack here is chole bhatura. Deep fried dough with a side of chickpea curry. There’s probably no reason to go INA market but across from INA is a place called Dilli Haat full of mostly really cheap textiles. Its ok if you need to do some souvenir shopping but the real draw are the cultural performances that take place out front on most evenings. They can be hit or miss but if you are in the area it might be worth swinging by to see what’s going on.

      • Wow – this is loads of fantastic information! Thank you so much. I’ve already copied and pasted it so I can research them all further and remember where to go. I’m definitely going to try Chole Bhatura – sounds delicious! Cheers.

  9. lovely photos we miss the beauty of a place we have been to but for another purpose like studies so i failed t see the beauty of Delhi only noticing its smoke filled polluted starless night sky.

  10. I’ve lived in Chennai as well and I can visualize what u’re trying to say, this post made me nostalgic :), the flowers look beautiful, I wish I could visit an Indian flower market again!

      • I was in Chennai from 2006-2007, i just realized it was a long time back. Chennai is a beautiful city although I was quite frustrated by the weather and food in Chennai (I am from Nepal). I don’t particularly wish to live in Chennai again :P, but I do wish to visit some parts of South India again 🙂

      • Chennai can be a nice place but yes, happy to be living elsewhere I agree! Any recommendations on where to go in Nepal with a toddler? 🙂

      • Hmm, you can go to Kathamndu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur Durbar Square for sight seeing located around the capital city. Among these Bhaktapur is the most beautiful and pollution free, great place to take a toddler. Besides this, you can go to Nagarkot and Dhulikhel to take a glimpse of the mountain range, its few hours drive from Kathmandu. Outside of Kathmandu, you can visit Pokhara where you can see Annapurna mountain range and beautiful Fewa lake. You can go upto Sarankot to see the sunrise. When I was a toddler, my parents used to take me to my Dad’s hometown being carried in a Nepali basket, it used to be a 10hrs walk on foot. Since Nepal is famous for trekking, you could give it a shot if you want to be really adventurous :). Do update if you visit Nepal. The air tickets are really cheap from Delhi though, I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.

      • Thank you so, so, so much for these suggestions! We are hoping to go sometime this spring so will keep the blog updated for sure! Don’t be suprised if you see a few of your suggestions in that post! 🙂

      • Oh Congratulations!!! My parents will be in Delhi so we wo n’t be able to travel to Nepal then but wishing you so much happiness and adventure in your marriage! 🙂

  11. I live right next to the market near Qutub Minar… it’s quite a beautiful morning u have captured… congrats and this really is quite recent as well…! Loved your post… just to give you an insight, these flower vendors run out of their flowers by early noon as the sellers from all over the nearby areas have bought all their flowers!

  12. Lovely post ! There used to be a flowermarket in connaught place , I think behind all the state handicraft showrooms…close to the bus terminus, but it has been years since I visited. Glad to get a flavor of a place where i grew up from your perspective! Congrats on being freshly pressed!
    You can always order tissue rolls online via amazon or other similar websites…they do deliver to india. can’t you? …. LOL

    • Thanks for the information, it seems there’s some debate over the Connaught-area market which just makes me eager to go back another morning and see if I just went to the wrong place! Thanks for taking the time to share your info!

      • Oh ! i have a suggestion… might want to visit the gardens in the presidential house “the rashtrapati bhavan” which are open to public in february-march …built in mughal style , they are a good sight and would make for another exciting post!

  13. I love getting a glimpse of the flower markets around the world…have been to several of them in different countries myself but not in India yet…

      • In NYC…I was in that market 2-3 times a week in the mornings due to work and it is a fun place. Friendly vendors from all over the world. Dirty streets…well NYC right? I love NYC though.
        In Downtown Los Angeles…very very large Warehouses with tons of vendors. The variety of plants is fantastic. My now homecity Berlin…also big warehouses…very organized and clean…not as big as the LA one. Even though I order flowers from Holland a lot, I have not been there yet. Definitely on my list and many more countries to come.

      • Oooh Holland! I bet those flower markets are just out of this world. I can imagine how organized the warehouses are in Berlin! What a difference change of pace from NYC or LA!

      • Oh it certainly is!!! Well LA is a pretty slower pace then NYC…Berlin is not as fast as NY and a bit faster then LA…It is definitely an adjustment returning to Berlin. I am a New Yorker at heart though.

        Holland flower market is on my calendar for next year….

    • THank you Kiran! I’m still very confused about whether the flower market is truly gone or just moved a little or if I just went to slightly the wrong place, that’s been the silver lining to being freshly-pressed—so much new information from so many dilli walis! Thank you so very much for the article, it makes me sad to read but I am grateful to you for sharing the information!

  14. Great photos. Love all those stunning flowers! What a fascinating market! I always think of food when I think of markets…but I love walking through the flower markets….all those heady scents of fresh flowers

    • Yes! The flower markets are just so dreamy, especially in juxtaposition to the places they exist–crowded, dusty roads that sometimes smell pretty horrid–especially in comparison to all of the flowers!

    • Ha, a driver sounds crazy doesn’t it? At least until you live here and then it’s easy to realize why so many people considering having a driver a necessity! 🙂 India is lovely but Russia does sound interesting!

    • I definitely feel very lucky to be here for as long as we have here–though honestly 2 years will likely not feel quite long enough! THank you for reading!

  15. I was an expat for three years in Taiwan and Hong Kong. I want to be an expat again. It’s true that life abroad depends on the people you meet, as well as your own sense of adventure. Amazing photos. Great blog name! Am following. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting Jessica! Taiwan and Hong Kong? Oh my I am so jealous!! I love Hong Kong and hear such great things about Taiwan! What were you doing while there?

      • Taiwan is wonderful. I was there for two years working for the New Taipei City English Wonderland program. It was a program set up by the government to promote English education at the 5th grade level in the greater Taipei area. So, basically, I and a bunch of other Americans got a new group of 5th graders each week at a remote location and tried to make English learning fun. It was, overall, a blast.

        In Hong Kong I was the homeroom teacher for 4th-6th grade at a small Christian school. It was daunting because of the differences in my students’ English ability, but wonderful because my class was very small (only 8 students), and by the end of the year we felt like a little family.

        If it weren’t for the humidity, I’d love to spend the rest of my life in both places! 😛

      • Sounds like a wonderful, wonderful experience! I hera you ont he humidity though! Thank goodness Delhi’s heat is a dry heat!

  16. Who would think that in an area full of smog and damp, there are so many bright and wonderful colors! Very nice impressions. Reminds me of my trip to New Delhi a while back where it was nearly the same. Bright colors and smiles in the middle of poorness and misery. Thanks so much for your post and congrats on the freshly pressed 🙂

    • I agree, I don’t think you can get to know a few good people in a place and not come to like the country at least a little bit. Where did you visit in India?

  17. I spent the morning walking round a market in Thanjavur (although the market I spent time in was a fish market – I suspect yours had a sweeter scent!) and this blog piece made me smile. Thank you, glad you were freshly pressed!

    • Oooh fish markets are so so fun too! They definitely smell different but I love the atmosphere with all of the ice around! THank you for reading and commenting!

  18. I haven’t really ever been travelling but this sounds like the sort of thing I’d love to experience. Beautiful post.

    • The best traveling experiences always happen far away from the tourist sites it seems. Thank you so much for commenting and reading!

  19. Next to the fact that I loved the post I also love the photos you make! Awesome… India is for sure on top of my ‘ to visit ‘ list and your post + photos remembered me why =) Thank you for sharing!!

  20. Great photos! I love the market places too. And we have a great driver who I think adds to our enjoyment of the city. He’s a “fixer,” so can get anything done. He can find any product we ask for. He’s proud of Hyderabad and loves showing it off and telling stories. And he learned early on that we are game to go just about anywhere so I think he’s really liked showing his city to us.

    • Your driver sounds fantastic! This is the first time our driver has ever worked for Americans and he’s definitely getting used to us and our weird requests to go all the places his former Indian passengers never wanted to go. He’s a really wonderful guy though and I think he’s starting to get over his nervousness and enjoy the quests a little bit more! 🙂

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