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Walking through Old Delhi

Old Delhi is where you go for those 'Incredible India' photographs that make it to magazine covers. Peel off layers of modernisation from the crisis-crossing network of electric lines, the mushroomy satellite dishes from every window and the cell phone toting merchants to discover bustling ancient streets straight out of an Arabian Nights story!

Shahjahanabad as Old Delhi was once called is the erstwhile city of Shah Jahan when he decided to shift offices from Agra and is the best place to understand how the Mughal times were.

Start your exploration from the Red Fort with its impressive frontage where the Prime Minister hoists the flag every Independence Day. Move on from the deceptively humble looking shops that trade in lakhs of rupees in Chandini Chowk selling spices, books and textile, to glittering Kinari Bazar and its wedding paraphernalia for the Great Indian Wedding and end it all at the Jama Masjid, the biggest and grandest mosque in India.

If you are brave enough to take in the various smells of the area (not all good) and look past some of the filth you will spot regal looking men in beards with impeccable manners going about their daily life around the shops and the mosque. Discover beautiful women in veils riding rickshaws on their way to the ‘Choodi Bazar’, an area filled with bangles for sale.

Like most ancient places the best way to travel is by foot or rickshaw pulled by a man on bicycle who will lead you to an old still preserved Haveli or mansion. Walks in Old Delhi can take you to the forgotten and strikingly humble grave of Razia Sultan, one of the greatest emperors, who despite being a daughter took over the reins as 'Sultan' and administered the masses with immense skill. Bump into menacing looking huge goats with large udders and bored eyes in the narrow lanes here and take in the Mughal facades of the old buildings and filigreed balustrades albeit in a rundown state.

A trip to Old Delhi is a culinary delight if you can stave off the infamous ‘Delhi Belly’ curse with some magic pills. Savour the vegetarian dishes and paranthas in ‘Paranthewali Gali’ in Chandini Chowk, the non-vegetarian biriyanis, haleem and kababs and the sweet rabris and murabbas (preserves) of the Jama Masjid area, which is a treat like no other! Most of these little shops are still run by the same family with same age-old recipe passed down to every generation. Expect to be ignored by the busy Rabri Faloodawala who has to cater to snaking queues outside his shop. However, try Karims for the best mutton seekh Kababs, Paranthewali Gali for dry fruit paranthas and 36 other kinds, Jawahar Hotel for best biriyanis and Lotan for best Kulcha Chole. Keep in mind that many of the eateries here once served emperors who would stop by for sweets on their elephants! Imagine what a sight that would have been in this warren like walled city!

You will see that mornings and evenings in Old Delhi are filled with cries to pet pigeons that are fed on rooftops, but end your day at the Jama Masjid, which has spectacular views of Delhi to offer from its minarets.

Hop on the Delhi Metro rail to reach Chandini Chowk or Kinari Bazar or hire an autorickshaw or try a cycle rickshaw tour of the place.

This is a place that is crowded cheek to jowl and you need to keep your wits about with personal belongings, but don’t forget the camera! Every possible clichéd image of India can be found here in its beggars, hole-in-the-wall eateries and its people who are descendants from great Mughals, Sikhs and Jains still dressed in their ethnic attires in this labyrinth that is Old Delhi.

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