Diwan-e-Aam Pillars

Top Attractions In Delhi – Old Delhi

Red Fort (Lal Qila)

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If you have limited time in Delhi and are looking to do only one sightseeing excursion, choose between this and the Qutub complex. This is a monument with a tumultuous past that has seen dizzying heights of power followed by a steep fall from grace and terrible tragedy.

The Mughals ‘headquarters’ was at Agra (the city of the Taj) for most of their rule but in 1638, Shah Jahan felt that Agra’s cramped streets were too narrow for his grand processions. By then, Delhi had already been the site of 6 earlier habitations, or ‘cities’ – but instead of using the previous sites, Shah Jahan decided to build a whole new city on the bank of the Yamuna river.

And thus, in the year 1648, a new city, rather modestly named Shahjahanabad, was unveiled. At its heart was the towering Red Fort palace complex. It was called Qila-e-Mualla or Qila-e-Mubarak – the Auspicious Fort. The imposing and regal edifice pays testament to the vision of its creator, Shah Jahan, the same man who built the Taj Mahal.

Before it fell into ruin, the Red Fort was an ultra-luxury palace complex and the residence of one of the richest persons on the planet. However, the name was utterly inappropriate. It was neither auspicious – given the tragedies that were to unfold here; nor was it a rugged Fort. Rather ironically, however, the name Red Fort (given by the British), with its connotation of the color of blood, would become a more appropriate name.

Red Fort – Key Information

Expected time spent:
Allow for a minimum of 1 hour if you intend to cover only the highlights
Opening days:
Open daily expect Monday
Opening hours:
Sunrise to sunset (typically 7 AM to 6 pm)
Entry fee/ Ticket price:
Indians (INR 30)/ Foreigners (INR 500) and free for children under 15 years
Cameras: 
Still camera allowed for free
Address:
Netaji Subhash Marg
Location:
Off Netaji Subhash Marg, opposite Chandni Chowk
Closest metro station:
Chandni Chowk
How to get there:
At the Chandni Chowk Metro Station, take the exit towards the Fountain/Gurudwara Shishganj Saheb. After existing, walk east past the Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) towards Netaji Subhash Marg. The Red Fort is across the Netaji Subhash Marg. The entrance and ticket counters are on the left of the imposing central structure with the national flag.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid - via Wikipedia

Jama Masjid – via Wikipedia

Across the road from the Red Fort and at the center of the erstwhile capital city of the Mughals, Shahjahanbad, stands Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. Built in red sandstone and marble, Jama Masjid is one of the last architectural works of the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan.

Jama Masjid is approachable from any one of three gates, though the one near Dariba Kalan is the usual entrance. The Jama Masjid has a huge courtyard, capable of holding 25,000 worshippers & usually fills up on Fridays, Eid, and other important festivals.

Eleven arches form the façade, a set of five each on either side of the large, central arch. Bands of calligraphy and inlay work in white and black marble form most of the decoration, mainly intricate carvings with verses inscribed from the holy Koran. Three massive white marble domes, with fine black lines of inlay, top the mosque.

Climb the 122 steps up the narrow southern minaret for a bird’s eye view of the city around. If you are interested in attending a prayer session, be there before 7:45 am when non-muslims are allowed. Visitors should be fully clothed & must remove their shoes before entering while women need to cover with a tunic that is provided & accompanied by a male (“guides” are available for a tip).

Jama Masjid – Key Information

 

Best time to visit:
Less crowded in the morning
Expected time spent:
Allow for 45 minutes to an hour
Opening days:
All days of the week
Opening hours:
7 am to noon, 1:30 pm to 6:30 pm (tourists are not allowed during prayer hours)
Entry fee/ Ticket price:
Free
Cameras:
INR 200 (Fee must be paid even if you carry a phone with a camera or don’t intend to photograph anything!)
Address:
Netaji Subhash Marg
Location:

Off Netaji Subhash Marg, West of Red Fort, near Chandni Chowk
Closest metro station:
Chawri Bazaar
How to get there
You can walk from the Chawri Bazaar metro station (1.2km), or take a 5-10 minute cycle rickshaw ride to the Jama Masjid

Old Delhi Markets

Chhatta Chowk: India’s first shopping mall

As you see the shops on either side, you’d be forgiven for berating the Indian government – after all, why would they allow such a historic monument to be desecrated with these shops selling trinkets of dubious authenticity? But wait, you are actually walking through a 17th Century market, which was built by Shah Jahan as part of the Fort Complex. Why build a market in a Fort complex? There was a large retinue of women in the Mughal palace, who were relatives of the Emperor and other nobles. Shah Jahan was keen that the ladies have a place to hang out, gossip and basically have a blast. The natural choice: A nice market to shop in. But Mughal royal women seldom ventured outside, to visit public markets; so, Shah Jahan decided to build the market within the Fort walls. But, with an innovation as markets in India in the 17th century were open air. But Shah Jahan was inspired by the great covered markets in Persia. And thus, the Chhatta Chowk Bazaar was born (Chhat means roof) – the vaulted arches giving a regal look to a market that would be frequented by royalty. In fact, you know what? This was India’s very first shopping mall! Today, the market has 40-odd shops selling artificial and semi-precious jewellery, embroidered bags, hand-painted wall hangings and ‘antiques’ with dubious authenticity.

Chandni Chowk: Experience the sights & smells of India along with a bit of souvenir shopping!

From the main entrance to the Red Fort, head down the principal street to the Chandni Chowk market, one of the oldest & busiest markets in India. This chaotic market built in the 17th century and designed by Jahan Ara (Shah Jahan’s favorite daughter) was once visited by merchants from Turkey, China and even Holland. During Shah Jahan’s reign, a tree-lined canal ran down the market’s centre, shimmering in the moon light, hence the name Chandni Chowk, or ‘moonlight place’. Best explored on foot, Chandni Chowk’s specialty is its variety: roads/ bazaars with many shops specializing in certain types of products/ goods – sarees with chikan & zari work (Kinari Bazar), spices & dry fruits (Khari Baoli), jewellery/ gold & silver shops (Dariba Kalan), shops selling books & stationery (Nai sarak), brass/ copper & paper products (Chawri Bazaar), Daryaganj (Sunday book market), clothing (Katra Neel), electronic, consumer goods (Bhagirath palace), shoes and leather goods etc. Most shops do not accept cards so keep cash handy and take care of your belongings as it gets really crowded.

Chandni Chowk: A microcosm of India’s different religions

Along this busy commercial street, you can experience a microcosm of India’s different religions – mosques, a church, and a number of temples. First up, opposite the fort, is a Digambar Jain Temple, established in 1656 by Agarwal Jain merchants invited by Shah Jahan to come and settle in the city. This temple is the oldest of its kind in Delhi and easily recognizable by its red sandstone material. It is surprisingly simple compared to other Jain temples, which are renowned for the intricacy of their carvings but has some attractive paintings related to Jainism. If you visit this temple please make sure you do not carry anything related to leather as leather goods (purse, valet, belts) are not allowed inside. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the temple. However, you can take snaps outside the temple. Also attached is a bird hospital established in 1929, where injured birds brought in by locals are treated before releasing them again.

If you’re pressed for time, skip these and proceed to vibrant Gauri Shankar Temple (built by a Maratha general Appa Gangadhar in 1761), which has an 800-year-old lingam. You have located it if you see mounds of marigold being sold to worshippers. Or stop at Sisganj Gurudwara, an unassuming but superbly atmospheric and welcoming Sikh temple, which marks the spot where Guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th Sikh guru and his followers were executed by Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to Islam. The Gurudwara in the form of a memorial was built in 1783 when the then Mughal capital Delhi was captured by the Sikhs. You need to wash your hands and feet at the cheap taps plumbed right at the temple entrance. You are then briefed on what is and is not permitted in the temple. All visitors, both male & female are required to cover their heads. Before leaving the site, do take time to visit the community kitchen which feeds thousands of people across religions/ communities three times a day. Then, either turn left into Kinari Bazaar or head the length of Chandni Chowk to Fatehpuri Masjid, designed by one of Shah Jahan’s wives and built in 1650.

Chandni Chowk – Key Information

Best time to visit:
Less crowded on Sundays when most shops are closed

Expected time spent:
Allow for at least 2-3 hours

Opening days:
Monday to Saturday

Opening hours:
10 am to 7 pm, except eateries which are open late

Entry fee/ Ticket price:
Free

Cameras:
Free

Location:
Near Chandni Chowk Metro Station

Closest metro station:
Chandni Chowk

How to get there:

The best way to reach the markets is by Metro either to Chawri Bazaar or Chandni Chowk stations, and then explore on foot.

Dariba Kalan

This is a 17th-century street in Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi or Shahjahanbad connecting the market to Jama Masjid. The street witnessed the bloody massacre of Delhi, ordered by the Persian invader Nadir Shah, when hundreds of innocent civilians and soldiers were killed and the gold shops were looted. The year was 1739 – it was 33 years since Aurangzeb’s death and the throne had already seen 7 occupants. The well-oiled military machine of Nadir Shah easily defeated the much larger, but ineffectual Mughal army in a battle near Delhi. The triumphant Nadir Shah entered Delhi with the captive Mughal emperor, and took residence in the Khaas Mahal in Red Fort. While Nadir Shah and his generals were inside the Red Fort, there was unrest in the city streets outside. In the unrest, some Persian soldiers were killed by a mob. The next day, an enraged Nadir Shah showed up at the main market, Chandni Chowk, to enforce discipline. He may have carried his battle axe, which now is displayed in Delhi’s National Museum! Apparently, when Nadir Shah was addressing the crowds, some mischief-makers shot at him from the rooftops, injuring a soldier standing by him. Nadir Shah completely lost it, and ordered a total, merciless massacre. The soldiers went berserk in their annihilation of the ordinary citizens, slashing and burning everything that came in their way. Today, Dariba Kalan is famous for costume jewellery – make sure you bargain hard for the gorgeous baubles.

 Kinari Bazaar

Turn into the jam-packed street, adjacent to the Gali Paranthe Wali, near Gurudwara Sisganj and stop to admire the zari, zardozi trimmings, lacework and cheap gold (mostly tinsel). This bazaar is known for its wedding shopping – all kinds of Indian wedding dresses like Kurtas, Sherwanis, Lehenga Dupatta, Salwar Kameez & groom’s turbans are available here. During the wedding season, there are hordes of eager shoppers flocking in locally as well as from far & distant places. After shopping here, you can try the famous Paranthe Wali Gali for some piping hot fried Paranthas and Natraj for its thick ‘n’ creamy Dahi Bhalle chaat.

Khari Baoli: Asia’s biggest spice market

Situated adjacent to Fatehpuri Masjid and operating since the 17th century, Khari Baoli sells all kinds of spices, nuts, herbs and food products like rice and tea. Reputed to be Asia’s biggest spice market — the colors, textures, and aromas are worth the side trip for a different experience. As an added incentive, though it is a wholesale market, you can buy smaller quantities of any item with great choice, quality & price unmatched anywhere else in the city.

Chawri Bazaar: Wholesale market for brass, copper & paper products

Chawri Bazaar, originally known as Chawdi (wide road) Bazaar, was established in 1840 and runs along a long stretch with Hauz Qazi Chowk at one end and the backyard of the Jama Masjid at the other. Chawari Bazar’s paper market is said to be the biggest paper mandi in the world and has grown from 7 paper merchants who set up shop in 1911, to over a 1000 merchants today with some of them tracing their lineage as paper suppliers to Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb. In the 19th century, Chawri Bazaar was a promenade of the Walled City, a place for the rich and the young to enjoy their evenings. The ground floor comprised shops occupied by merchants and the floors above were kothas, a place where courtesans lived and performed mujras (a dance form). As the British rule became stronger, particularly after the 1857 mutiny, the mujra culture faded away and the upper floors of Chawri Bazaar were reduced to brothels. Eventually, even these were closed down by the British including five other “red light” areas of Delhi. Cluttered with electricity wires today, the market is famous for its hardware shops and paper market that sells wallpapers, decorative/ gift wrapping paper, office stationary and more. You can also head up to Nai Sarak, a popular book shopping and stationery destination in Old Delhi. Back then, this market was popular for watchmakers and tailors. Even today, a number of tailors have their shops in this market, also popular for showrooms of lehenga-chunni, salwar suits and second-hand books.

Churiwali Galli: Lane of Bangle sellers

Ask for the Churi Walan Chowk where most of the bangle shops are, dismally few in number though, as compared to the ancient times where the bangle sellers were known to have accessorized even royalty! Make a final stop at Karim’s to sample the authentic Mughlai cooking that has kept patrons coming back for over 100 years.

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