Old Delhi

Compared with the planned streets of parts of New Delhi, Old Delhi seems more typically Indian, packed with people, traffic, and noise, a much livelier experience. A rickshaw ride was an entertaining introduction to the narrow streets of the Chawri Bazaar, though the speed and lack of light made photography challenging. The sheer quantity of overhead cables was impressive if a little worrying.

The neighbouring Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque) was built by Shah Jahan, along with the Red Fort and Taj Mahal in the mid 17th century. It is one of the largest mosques in India, up to 25,000 people can pray in the enclosed courtyard, though in August the floor was very hot on bare feet.

I proved unexpectedly popular inside the mosque, with literally dozens of youths wanting a selfie with an exotic looking white guy. Apparently many of them were visiting Delhi from surrounding towns and villages where tourists are less common.

A couple of months later I had a longer than expected stopover in Delhi, allowing me to return and spend more time in Old Delhi. It is a maze of narrow streets, only a few people wide though that doesn’t stop scooters from driving down them at speed, making liberal use of their horns. I’m grateful for Google Maps as otherwise I would have gotten completely lost, though wandering without a plan was part of the attraction.

It was easy to get there from the airport, taking the comfortable and cheap (50 rupee each way, about NZD1) metro which runs every ten minutes and takes twenty minutes to travel what could take over an hour by road.

It is hard to walk for more than ten minutes in any direction without coming across a temple or mosque. Masjid Mubarak Begum was an attractive small mosque set back and above one of the wider roads.

A number of the streets supplemented the usual hanging cables with fairy lights.

Bala Ji Mandir was an unexpected random find, an courtyard temple home to plenty of monkeys.

The endless small shops are clustered by what they sell. Soon after wandering through streets full of bathroom fitting shops I came to the wedding card area, close to the back of the Jama Masjid, where literally dozens of places were selling elaborate cards.

Vaishno Devi Mandir was a small but colourful local temple.

Khatu Shyam Mandir, as with seemingly all the small temples and mosques was closed on a Saturday afternoon, but it had an elaborate door.

Things got more colourful around Kinari Bazar, and I saw the first other tourists of the afternoon.

Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib Ji is a sizeable Sikh temple, one of the first that I’ve visited. To enter you need to remove your shoes and socks, wash your feet, and put on a headscarf. No photos are allowed inside. Next to it was the well organised food hall.

Photos did appear to be allowed in Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, which looked completely different on the inside to the outside.

The Red Fort is an iconic image of the city, with epic red sandstone walls enclosing a huge area, the scale of which I didn’t grasp until I entered.

Inside are a multitude of buildings from the Mughal to British eras. Few were spectacular in their own right but there were plenty of them to explore.

After four hours walking 15km in the heat, humidity, noise and crowds, I gave my feet a rest by taking a tuk tuk back to the colourful New Delhi Train Station before returning toward the airport on the metro.

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