Last weekend, on a whim, a couple of friends and I set out to visit Old Delhi. Old Delhi is not to be seen; it is to be experienced. It is the rarest, most charming experience the city can offer; the swanky malls of New Delhi are replaced by quaint little shops housed in the ground floor of old brick-bare houses, and big luxury cars make way for hand-pulled rickshaws – it’s the closest thing to time-travel you’ll ever witness.
We took the metro to Chawri Bazar, and walked down the narrow lanes of the old city to get to Jama Masjid. A beautiful, pristine mosque of the 17th century, its vast compound offers unsurpassed tranquility. At any time of the day, you’ll find hordes of people sitting around the area, basking in the sun or resting against the cool marble walls. For the more adventurous, there is also the option of going up to the top of one of the minarets that offers a grand view of the entire old city.
While the sign outside the ticket booth reading “Unaccompanied women not allowed” ruffled my feminist feathers, I knew I could achieve little by protesting here. Glad to be in the company of two male friends, I begrudgingly paid for my ticket and embarked on the long climb up a dingy, winding flight of stairs. At the end of this Herculean task, a spectacular bird’s eye view of the old city, complete with the Red Fort sprawled across the middle, awaited us. The top of the minaret is actually a tiny little round area which can barely hold 5 people at once. Precariously balanced on the edge of the platform there, I clicked away quickly before the next batch of people arrived, and we had to move out to make space for them.
A trip to the old city is, of course, incomplete without a food extravaganza at Karim’s. We made our way from Jama Masjid to Karim’s a little after noon. A small restaurant tucked away at the end of a narrow winding by-lane, it’s quite easy for the untrained eye to miss it. Established in 1913, this is arguably the most famous eatery in Delhi, and boasts of authentic Mughal food fit for the emperors! The Tandoori Rann (roast meat, Indian style) is not to be missed here, as are the variety of breads on offer. The hygiene of the place and the service of the staff may be questionable, but once the meat platter larger than your table for 4 arrives, nothing else matters. Seriously.
After the royal meal, and filled with new-found energy, I took my friend up on his offer to take a stroll down Delhi’s bustling lanes and experience life in all its color, while we made our way to the Red Fort, about 2 kilometers away. Chandni Chowk is one of Delhi’s oldest and busiest markets. Ask for anything, and chances are Chandni Chowk will not only have it, but also offer you 10 different colors to choose from. The highlight of the day? We boarded a rickshaw when our legs started to give way. Steering through the tapering streets, dodging cars, humans, cows, what have you, it is Delhi’s very own “hand-made” roller-coaster experience – you have to see it to believe it, and trust me, you don’t want to miss it!