New Delhi, Sep 22 (IANS) Talk of Paharganj in central Delhi, and typically what springs to mind are crowded roads cramped with shops selling every conceivable merchandise, small and often seedy hotels and restaurants, crazy traffic, wandering cows and backpacking budget tourists who come to savour the 'real India' here.
What greets you now is a de-congested road connecting Paharganj to the New Delhi railway station, refurbished lodges, new signboards and a uniform design for its many shops. The area is after all expected to play host to hundreds of Commonwealth Games visitors.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has almost finished overhauling Paharganj - known to be popular among low-budget foreign tourists in the capital - at a whopping cost of Rs.80 crore ($17 million).
'We are prepared to play host to the tourists who would come here at the time of the Games. Bookings have started and the business seems to be brisk,' Paharganj guest house association president Daljeet Singh told IANS.
A narrow lane running in front of Shiela Cinema has now been turned into a service lane facing the theatre by realigning the flyover towards Ajmeri Gate.
'We have been getting tremendous response from visitors in Paharganj about the new look given to the hotels. Even commuters are appreciating the expansion of roads,' MCD spokesperson Deep Mathur said.
Paharganj has around 705 guest houses which are expected to provide over 17,000 rooms during the international sporting event Oct 3-14. Some 7,000 participants and officials from 71 countries and territories are expected to attend the Commonwealth Games - India's biggest sporting event after the 1982 Asian Games.
The civic body had hired Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) as the consulting agency to work on the main bazaar street in Paharganj.
Eight major roads and 49 internal roads in the region were targeted for improvement. Sandstone sidewalk and brick pavements have helped in paving space for rickshaw and auto stands.
'Paharganj is a prime spot for the Commonwealth Games due to the guest houses and also because it faces the New Delhi railway station,' MCD works committee chairman Jagdish Mamgain said.
Traders are also content about the makeover. They had initially resisted the demolition work conducted in the Main Bazar, Ram Nagar market and Amrit Kaur market in Paharganj. But shops in Amrit Kaur market have been given a uniform design to decongest the area.
Public spaces have been developed and facilities such as dustbins, maps and toilets have been welcomed by those headed for the railway station nearby.
'The station has undergone massive changes. We wanted to upgrade the existing facilities and introduce new features as well,' Northern Railway Divisional Manager (Delhi) Ashwani Lohani said.
'The station caters to a daily footfall of 550,000 passengers. Infrastructural changes were budgeted at a cost of Rs.20 crore,' he added.
Resurfacing of platforms, relaying of walls with granite and stainless steel staircase railings have also been installed at the station.
Overhead cables have been partly removed from some parts of Paharganj and a separate duct has been developed to provide space for wires and pipes of different services to the locals. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and power distribution companies were a part of the cable-removal task.
'A major change that we have witnessed is the removal of overhead cables which is a relief to residents also,' said Neeta Munjal, a resident of Paharganj.
However, peak hours still see traffic jams in the area.
'The road towards Paharganj is much less chaotic now. But at peak hours it seems full of vehicles, making it difficult to go through,' said Sandeep Mukherjee, a regular commuter.
(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)