‘The beating heart of Delhi probably resides in Old Delhi, where historical monuments spanning centuries sit alongside bustling markets and delicious food’
In the Indian scheme of things, Delhi has always held prime position. Much before it became the capital of independent India, it was at the centre of power for almost a thousand years, thereby also becoming the historical, architectural and cultural capital of the country. It was ruled by various kingdoms and hence has a plethora of monuments. At its heart is Old Delhi, which was known as Shanjahanabad, with an abundance of breathtaking forts, monuments, mosques and other historical buildings as well as shopping bazaars and eateries dishing out delicious food. Called Purani Dilli, it is in complete contrast to modern Delhi with its wide streets and stately buildings. Exploring old Delhi’s charming streets and monuments can be immensely satisfying.
Among the most recognisable places in old Delhi, the Red Fort was the official seat of Mughal rule and authority from 1648 onwards. This was when Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, decided to move the kingdom’s capital from Agra to Delhi. Built of red sandstone, from where it gets is name, construction on the fort began in 1639 and took eight years to complete. The complex consists of several royal buildings, apartments, meeting halls, bathing enclosures among others and is considered to be the zenith of Mughal architecture in India. Many of these have been converted into museums and can be visited. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
In the heart of Delhi, amidst the noise and chaos, and yet a symbol of peace and calm is the beautiful Jama Masjid or the Masjid-I-Jahan-Numa. Built by Shah Jahan in the mid 17th century, this is the troika that he is known for after Taj Mahal and Red Fort. Built with red sandstone and white marble, the sprawling structure has three gates and two towering minarets that rise 40 metres into the sky between which lie three beautiful domes. The whole structure has exquisite carvings and inlay work as well as balconies and beautiful arches. There are other interesting elements such as a sun dial. An estimated 25,000 people can pray within the premises.
Nothing epitomises Delhi, especially the old and traditional part of the city, quite like Chandni Chowk. Despite its name, it is actually an amorphous shaped area rather than a square and can be called the beating heart of Delhi. Considered to be the city’s oldest trading centre, it continues to be a bustling place teeming with people, establishments and eateries. Its warren of narrow lanes and bylanes are the best places to buy traditional and exquisitely embroidered clothes, wedding finery, jewellery, trinkets, souvenirs and an eclectic assortment of things. This is only complemented by delicious street food and tiny eateries which dish out aloo tikki, chole bhature, kachori, dahi bhalla, kababs, halwa, jalebi, lassi, masala tea and so much more.
Words: Anita Rao Kashi