Old Delhi, popularly known as Chandni Chowk was formerly known by the name Shahjahanabad, the walled city built by Shah Jahan from 1638 to 1649, containing the Lal Qila and the Chandni Chowk. It was the capital of the Mughal Empire during Shah Jahan’s reign. It is presently referred to as “Old Delhi“.
Old Delhi streets might appear chaotic and it’s senseless traffic but the unique charm of Old Delhi lies in its narrow lanes and its people. Transport yourself into a bygone era as you move around in the lanes and corners of old Delhi, laden with its remarkable history.
The best way to experience the essence of Old Delhi is to start early in the morning. Old Delhi comes in its full glory during winter. Some of the famous places to explore in Old Delhi are the Jain Temple, Fatehpuri Masjid, Jama Masjid, Ghalib ki Haveli, the Red Fort, Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib Ji.
What to experience:
Old Delhi streets are a complex and intricate web. A few suggestions to soak in the essence of Chandni Chowk area in different ways are, mentioned below.
Photography– Delhi is famous for its street photography. There is a frame to make, an image to capture on every corner. Sometimes it really becomes difficult to choose.
Food– A bit overrated but certainly you have to try the famous Old Delhi delicacies. Need to have a strong belly for that.
Spices– It is a challenge to pass through without buying anything from Asia’s largest spice market in Khari Baoli
Architecture – One hardly has the time to look upwards and marvel at the amazing architecture of Old Delhi buildings.
Wedding shopping – People from all economic strata in Delhi and even from outside Delhi flock into the area for their wedding Shopping.
All these activities may appear a bit daunting to be covered in two days but if you can manage to start early morning, say 7 a.m, you can cover quite a lot in two days. Yes, I have personally experienced and done it.
Practical tips to experience Old Delhi
Start from the Red Fort, famously known as Lal Qila. This historical site was the main residence of the Mughal Emperors for nearly 200 years. You can spend 2-3 hours wondering around its buildings and grounds.
On the opposite side of the road is the Jain temple of great historical importance.
The Jama Masjid is next. The reason I suggest it for the early morning is that later in the day it becomes crowded with busloads of tourists arriving to visit Jama Masjid. You can see the Red Fort from Jama Masjid and it is a sight to behold.
Next is Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib Ji. The Gurudwara was constructed by Baghel Singh Dhaliwal to commemorate the martyrdom of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Perfect place for a meal not just feeding your stomach but your soul too. Sumptuous food (Langar) is served free to anyone throughout the day. Eat to your heart’s content, sit in the prayer hall. Let the spiritual atmosphere of the place envelop your senses.
It is up to you if you prefer this harmonious community lunch or eat out at some retail outlets.
After lunch head towards the market, stroll around, soak in the whole atmosphere. After Jama Masjid if you are still inclined to visit another mosque but in an intimate environment then Fatehpuri Masjid is for you. Much smaller and quieter compared to Jama Masjid. But before that, you will definitely cross an area because for which Old Delhi is known as Chandni Chowk. There is a roundabout, probably the widest area in old Delhi. It is an intersection point.
Finish your day here with Fateh Puri Masjid.
An early start not required but it is always advisable to start early.
Paranthe Wali Gali, a narrow street in Chandni Chowk, famous for its paranthas (Indian bread). The variety of Paranthas(cooked in ghee/clarified butter) you can taste here is unbelievable. I personally avoid it as I feel the Paranthas are overrated there. But as a one time experience, it is must to understand what it is.
Head towards Chawri Bazaar (Chawri Bazaar metro station) and experience the spice market in Khari Baoli. Khari Baoli is Asia’s largest wholesale spice market. Give that tingling sensation to your sense of smell and immerse yourself into the thin spice-laden air.
Up next is Ghalib ki Haveli. This place is a tribute to India’s foremost and most popular Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. I love this place for it is a stark contrast to everything that is happening outside on the streets. The place is a peaceful haven and you will certainly experience great calm around you. With Ghalib’s personal belongings and poems, this place is a must visit.
Ghalib ki Haveli provides a perfect calming influence for your senses amidst the chaos outside. A good way to finish the Old Delhi tour.
There is not hard and fast rule that you have to experience places in the order mentioned here. It is entirely up to you and the experience you wish to seek. You can skip a place or two if you do not feel the need to visit it. Everything is flexible, that is how I travel.
- Walking: Walking is the best way to experience Old Delhi and soak in its essence. If you want and require it at all, manual and battery operated are readily available. Be ready to bargain if you are in the mood and have extra energy.
- Water: Keep yourself well hydrated. Always carry a bottle of water
- Small bag: It is always recommended to carry a small bag or a backpack for your essentials and valuables.
- Head Gear: A scarf or a hat to protect yourself from the scorching heat if you are here in summer and to be worn in places where heads have to be covered. Always a good thing to respect local culture.