One often hears the word ‘New Delhi’ and one might wonder there would be an ‘Old Delhi’ too. Well, I found that there indeed is an area called ‘Old Delhi’ and in fact it is a very interesting place. Hence on a Saturday afternoon, I and my travel partner did a half day walking tour of old Delhi.
It’s the oldest part of the India’s Capital and it’s a walled city in Delhi founded in 1639 by Mughual Emperor Shah Jahan. Old Delhi offers mouthwatering food, a rich culture, diversity and architecture, all at one place.
The breathtaking beauty of ancient buildings’ grand structures, the experience of walking in narrow yet lively lanes, the flow of humanity, the finger licking taste of various food items and the hustle bustle of metropolitan city life can all be experienced in Old Delhi.
Humid weather, the crowd and traffic jam are not something new for urban city like Delhi. So, the best way to explore is the mix of walking and riding rickshaw/three wheelers around. We took a rickshaw from car parking to Nai Sarak to start our walk. The crowd and the street stalls alongside made traffic jam, but we enjoyed our rickshaw ride by looking around at the old buildings and the colorful sights of the markets. An occasional breeze while riding the rickshaw kept providing us much needed relief. Below are some highlights of the tour.
Nai Sarak (India’s Largest Text books Market)
‘Nai Sarak’ means ‘new road’, although it was constructed in 1857. It is a linking road which connects the main Chandni Chowk road to Chawri Bazzar. It’s a bustling road full with old shops. It has a very big wholesale and retail market mainly for school and college books.
It is lined with 20th century architecture double-storey buildings. The lower storeys are filled with shops which are selling mainly text books, children’s books and books in different languages. Some shops are selling stationery items. Apart from the shops, the footpaths are also filled with small makeshift stalls where second hand books are arranged on tables. The road is pretty busy with customers of all age, who are heading towards the shops for their needs. The road has also a few wholesale saree shops selling colorful silk and embroidered ones with many varieties.
There are a lot of street food stalls. It’s a common sight to have a group of giggling girls enjoying spicy ‘Panipuri’ or a group of students having tasty ‘Choley kulchey’ during their shopping break, or a trader eating delicious ‘sweet potato chaat’ for lunch. It is a good place for food lovers who can enjoy their favorite street food while shopping in this textbook market.
Another factor which I noticed contributing to the chaotic nature of these lanes was a mesh of overhead electric/telephone/cable TV/Internet/?!? wires hanging dangerously low. I am not sure which wire is for what but they look menacing.
The old shops looked wonderful, with some of them established in 1925, 1934 or older. Even their sign boards were pretty old and looked like they have never been changed since their shops’ opening. The buildings were a mix of Mughal architecture and British architecture. The doors, the stairways and the lanes were pretty interesting and they drew our attention more than the text books. Some old wooden doors had very pretty carving done on them. Some lanes were so narrow that only one person can pass through them at a time. An interesting old style stairway took us to an upper storey but ended up being a store house for old books.
Although the main road was pretty busy, we enjoyed the quite narrow lanes more.
On the main road, there were all sorts of people and vehicles from pushcarts to cycles to rickshaws. Everybody seemed to be in a hurry, everybody was honking and everybody was yelling at other person to move aside. This noisy environment and humid weather did make us sweaty and a bit uncomfortable.
Our walk through Nai Sarak was awesome. After passing Nai Sarak, we reached a junction but we were not sure where to go next. We asked a rickshaw driver and he took us to spice/dry fruits market. On the way, our rickshaw passed through narrow lanes with old walls, carved wooden doors and different shops.
Khari Baoli (Asia’s Largest Spice Market)
As soon as we approached the spice/dry fruit market, the smell of air changed, and our nostrils were filled with an overwhelming mix of spices smells. We understood that we had reached Khari Baoli, the place is said to be Asia’s Largest Spice Market operating since the 17th century.
Khari Baoli is crowded with traders and shoppers looking for the cheapest deals and bargains in the numerous spice stores. Counters were filled with all kinds of spices, nuts, herbs and dry fruits. The shop keepers were trying to persuade us by calling out in English. The products selling in all shops are almost the same and there were some shops selling kitchen items too.
I found a flower shop from which I also bought a jasmine garland for my hair. The jasmine smell did help in covering us from the spice smells. We don’t eat too many spices so we didn’t buy anything from there.
Being located near the center of Old Delhi makes this place a tourist attraction, offering excellent photo opportunities for everybody. Here shoppers can enjoy wholesale spices shopping, traders from various places across the country can do bulk commercial deals and common people can buy their daily needs.
After going around spice market, we decided to try famous old Delhi snacks. Old Delhi itself is famous for having an overwhelming variety of food to offer.
(To be continued in Part II)
Tips by Chaw
- Please bring water bottles to keep yourself hydrated.
- It’s advised to wear modest comfortable clothes to cover from sunlight and heat.
- Always keep an eye on your bags and camera.
- Take a rickshaw and enjoy the view while slowly passing through the market lanes.