Jan 202013
Pulsating colors of saris drying in the narrow streets of Paharganj, Central Delhi.

Pulsating colors of saris drying in the narrow streets of Paharganj, Central Delhi.

During the first two hours of India travel, we had already seen an elephant, ox, monkey, thick smog, endless vehicles, and a good chunk of the 1.2 billion people of the country. If I tell you this article is about the third hour in India, what the heck will it cover?

Easy: The inadvertent modern art created by walls, doors, trash, and laundry in the Paharganj neighborhood of Central Delhi.

A lovely doorway in the Paharganj neighborhood of Central Delhi, India.

A lovely doorway in the Paharganj neighborhood of Central Delhi, India.

Our first activity of the day, after grinding through the riot-slowed traffic of New Delhi, was a walking tour of the Paharganj neighborhood of Central Delhi, famous (or infamous) for being a warren of budget Delhi accommodations and markets.

Paharganj, New Delhi is known for its shopping and budget hotels.

Paharganj, New Delhi is known for its budget shopping and hotels.

Since the Mughal era in the 17th and 18th century (what a romantic term “Mughal Era” is!), Paharganj was a central marketplace of the Delhi area. Now, it is a melting or mushing-together pot of locals with domestic and foreign tourists. Plus– let’s be honest– a lot of dogs and litter. And a “Hair Saloon!” See the photo below for proof of all four.

I love this photo of my 6’7″ brother, onlookers and dog! And “Hair Saloon.”

I love this photo of my 6’7″ brother, onlookers, dog, and “Hair Saloon!”

In this alleged “Hair Saloon,” I picture cowgirls in saris lassoing horses (as harming cattle is a violation of Hindu principles) while doling out buzz cuts.

So much life is packed into the streets of Paharganj!

So much life is packed into the streets of Paharganj!

Let us now discuss the inadvertent modern art created by the walls, doors, and streets of Paharganj. In college, I attended a photo exhibit by a young woman who had been adopted from Colombia. The exhibit consisted of photos of walls the woman had seen when she finally went back to Colombia, and it was this exhibit that taught me that weathered walls become… art. Just look at how this played out during our travels in India:

Tattered posters on the walls in Paharganj, New Delhi make art.

Tattered posters on the walls in Paharganj, New Delhi make art.

Isn’t that wall, with its torn, layered posters, accidentally beautiful? And the colors and religious paintings India embraces excite the inadvertent art even more, especially melded with the emerald green and hornet yellow of the auto-rickshaws like this:

Religious decorations are everywhere in India.

Religious decorations are everywhere in India.

But let us not forget the effect of the doorways. Oooh, what doorways Paharganj exposed us to! Below, check out one that would be a perfect bustier for a German opera diva. (Don’t be put off by the almost-Swastika flag. That design is originally a Hindu symbol, which the Nazis stole and flipped, both physically and in meaning.)

My little brother striding through the streets of Paharganj.

My little brother striding through the streets of Paharganj.

Some of the doorways reminded me of tales from “1,001 Nights,” with their scalloped arches and peak, and I half-expected flying carpets to come soaring out of them. Below, look how the azure paint is creeping up to kiss the golden wall behind the motorcycle!

See how the colors form magically form a painting?

See how the colors form magically form a painting?

Then there were doorways with such ornate woodwork, one could have surely chipped off a block of it and sold it as art. But that would be a jerk move to hack off someone’s door. I love in the photo below how the door is ajar and you can peer right into the room. Is it a sewing shop?

Some of the residential doorways in India are so ornate!

Some of the doorways in India are so ornate!

Now here’s a controversial question: Can litter be seen as art? As Americans, we were shocked by the volume of it in India, but let’s face it: it’s there. So, until it’s cleaned up, is it ever okay to be intrigued with how it looks? It’s almost R-rated to the American eye to see sights like this pile:

A pile of trash greeted our entrance to the Paharganj neighborhood of Central Delhi, India.

Is there any way to look at this trash besides sad?

Of course, trash is not a happy thing. But since it is there in New Delhi, is it all right to stare at it? In Paharganj, we shivered and gasped, seeing a street caked in wrappers of green, pink, and white, framed by neon signs, hanging tabacco packets, and a cobalt blue motorcycle. But is it permissible to appreciate this scene as anything besides sad? Could it be modern art?

How should we look upon the litter in parts of India?

How should we look upon the litter in parts of India?

Now let’s end this article (and thus our third hour in India) on a decidedly prettier note, though some still find it controversial: Hanging laundry. Clothes on the line are gorgeous, particularly if you’re in India and that laundry consists of rainbow-swirled saris and shalwar kameez! Gazing up at the waterfalls of color made us happy.

Waterfalls of rainbow pattered clothing.

Waterfalls of rainbow pattered clothing. With the “Hair Saloon” in back!

 Did you enjoy this walking tour of Paharganj, New Delhi? Do YOU also see art all around, sometimes in places you’re not supposed to? Or do you draw the line further back? Please share.


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  44 Responses to “Startling, Colorful Photos of Paharganj, New Delhi, India”

  1. Loved your perspectives and take on the garpage. The colors look really lovely. As a person living in Delhi, I have been to Paharganj a few time but never noticed these amazing colors.Now I could believe an old adage that one simply don’t notice that which you come across everyday. These beautiful compositions of yours have just shaken me out of that slumber.
    This photo walk of yours is really a piece of art. Thanks to you next time I’ll visit Paharganj I’ll be differently abled as in view 🙂

  2. I belong here..i am sad to see the piles of litter..but i am really happy you people appreciate the hidden art in my country.chheeerss.

  3. No, I don’t see litter as art. We stayed in the Paharganj area when we were in Delhi and it’s not nice, it’s not pretty and it’s terribly polluted. I feel for the people of India who have to live in filth and trash.
    It’s good that you showed this though, too many tourists close their eyes to problems but to answer your question, I don’t look at trash and say that it is art and I don’t find filth intriguing, I just find it sad.

  4. So I recently started taking photos of alleys on my travels (and have started a whole blog series about it) and I have to say that the first photo in this post is EXACTLY what I was going for. Fabulous photos! I can even see past the garbage in the garbage photo to the riot of color that surrounds it. Love this.

  5. Wow – beautifully captured. What an assault on the senses – thanks for taking us along!

  6. Beautiful photos. I love how even normal everyday stuff is just so colourful!

  7. Wow! That all looks so amazing! It looks so crowded and some parts look very diirty, but overall it looks like fun!!!!!

  8. Actually this part belongs to old Delhi which is very crowded area but this is very famous for it’s taste. Did not you try Samosa and Parantha there?

    • No, we did go to Old Delhi later in the trip, and I will post photos from there, but these photos are not Old Delhi. We did, however, eat Samosas and Parantha! 🙂

  9. Gorgeous shots! This really made me start pining for India… Now I’m going to spend the next hour reading through the rest of your India posts!

  10. Wow! Gorgeous photos. About the trash, it’s a bit depressing and sad to see people living in such a state, but it’s how it is and somehow it’s still beautiful.

  11. The colors are amazing, yet the conditions still boggle my mind…

  12. Stunning! I feel like I’d end up exhausted in more way than one from a trip like this!

  13. such beautiful colors – you have such an eye!! that trash -YIKES!

    • Thanks, Jessie! I’m proud of how I’ve developed as a photographer through sheer practice over the years since I started this blog in 2009!

  14. India is so colorful! Love the streets there – even when things can look so bleak, there’s much beauty to be found in the details.

  15. It is a pity that that you have had to spend so little time in India and judge India on your brief experience in Delhi.

    You must come back and explore further afield. Delhi is of generally little, or no, interest to most travellers – more it is mainly a demarkation point for those wishing to go to the more popular destinations of Rajastan, Agra, Goa and Kerala, etc. But even these places do not satiate the true Indiophile!

    Come back to India and spend a few months getting to ‘know’ a different universe!

    It will be educational.

    • Mark, you are absolutely right, and luckily we did have time after Delhi in Jaipur, Agra and a few other towns. More articles and varied photos to come.

  16. Great photos! You have made the mundane poetic 🙂

  17. i loved the ‘hair saloon’ signs too! at first i thought it was a typo, but they’re all over India!

  18. I too love the art that can be found on walls. Bright colored paint on concrete and brick combined with non-English writing makes for a great subject matter. When putting together GEEO programs I have had to think about my position on whether we should tour slums, aka “Poorism.” We always have mature groups of educators so I can count on the group behaving respectfully. I want our participants to learn and gain understanding on our programs and only seeing palaces and temples would give our groups a very incomplete view of India. Seeing sites completely removed from our daily lives, like piles of trash in the street, can be beautiful. As a former professional photographer, I have always felt that the best photographs are ones that cause a strong emotional response and poverty certainly will cause that. (On that note, I highly recommend this book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_Lucida_(book)) Showing your students these pictures will give them a better understanding of how other people live in India and the challenges they face. Thank you for another great article Lillie. If you keep writing like this I hope you will cover in detail all of the roughly 200 hours of the trip!

    • Jesse, great insights! And yes, India articles will keep coming for months and month. Hoooo we saw a lot in that short time!

  19. I loooove the old tattered posters photo. I don’t know why….maybe it is symbolic of the layers of the city or some such metaphysical nonsense. But that photo especially struck a chord with me. Thanks.

    • Yes, what a great way to put it: Layers of history! I am forever thankful to the woman who taught me to look to old walls for art!

  20. Man, I love India! Yes, so it’s full of rubbish and rats and filth in places but it’s so darn… alive. Love your pics 🙂

  21. Yes, I did indeed enjoy this walking tour, as you did what most travellers (including me) don’t do so much: not turn the viewfinder away from questionable objects, but take it all in and own it most artfully:). Except for the trash, maybe. Oh, the trash. Have read a few posts on that topic, don’t quite know what to make out of it. I hope you investigate further and find out how this problem (but maybe it’s not even really seen as a problem?) is viewed by the Indians themselves! Would be quite interesting… Looking forward to read about hour number 4;).

    • Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, our guide explained that trash is regularly collected, but in between those collection times, the piles are very visible. It is a fascinating and important topic that merits much more research.

  22. Wow – not sure if I want to visit here or not! Although it seems like time has just forgotten the place.

  23. Fantastic photos of your third hour in India. You saw so much — the colorful, the dirty, the real world.

  24. Wow it looks really hectic… I think I would be overwhelemed… especially after a long flight! Might need to hide in the hotel room for an hour or two while I adjust haha!

    • Yes, in many ways, our first day was the most intense, and we collapsed into bed with fatigue right after dinner. Subsequent days were more focused on famous buildings and historical sites, but we had to flip around the order of the sightseeing because the protests in the center of the city cut off our routes.

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