Charming & delightful, the 7th city named Shahjanabad is still synonymous with Old Delhi even today. A fascinating mélange of the different eras of Delhi’s history with a throbbing life in the present. I was lucky to get a chance to explore this beautiful city like a local in specially designed Rickshaws by When in India tour. I was waiting excitedly to hop on to my rickshaw & enjoy the surprises laid out for me.To add to my excitement I learned that my meeting point was right where India’s probably only hospital for birds stood which was set up way back in 1929 to bring in injured or ill birds! Wow I sure was impressed. It was inside the oldest & the famous Digambar Jain temple built in the early 1700’s known for its three red painted spires that loom behind the trees & traffic of Chandni chowk.
On our opposite side stood the magnificent Red Fort which was built by King Shahjahan & was named for the deep red sandstone walls that surround it.Today only a part of the Red Fort’s original buildings remain as the rest was destroyed during the period after British troops occupied the fort in 1857.However there is a lot of grandeur left to explore of this splendid citadel.
My exciting rickshaw tour started with lovely breeze hitting my face and enjoying the crisp old Delhi morning. We were all given a live commentary with wireless audio headsets, breathing life into the history of one of the greatest heritage cities in the world. This sure made it easier for me to understand each & everything. I noticed with every passing second of the morning the market became busier & I was surrounded by a bustling sound. As we heard an insight into the history, heritage and culture of the city, my enthusiasm was at its peak. My first stop was at the Jama Masjid (Mosque), another focal point located on a natural rise in the ground constructed in 1650-56 by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan, patron of Islamic architecture whose most famous work is the Taj Mahal in Agra. Jama Masjid, now the second largest mosque on the Indian subcontinent, is also an impressive example of Mughal architecture. As I walked up the steps to a royal mosque, I was given a robe to wear which is nice as every person inside looks the same in different bright colored robes as we walk inside. This is a major place of worship where visitors from all walks of life come & pray. I was amazed to see the beautiful architecture of Redstone decorated with carvings & inlays in white & black marble. I gathered that one can get a truly magnificent view from the top of the minaret, as you can see how architect Edwin Lutyens incorporated the mosque into his design of New Delhi – the Jama Masjid, Connaught Place and Sansad Bhavan (Parliament House) are in a direct line. I was there on a Friday so we had to hurry up as soon there were going to be around 25,000 people assembling inside for their weekly prayer. The sound of the prayer can be heard from all over old Delhi creating a calm of spiritualness which felt truly divine.
Next stop was at this house in the middle of a tiny lane with shops on each side. We walked up a flight of stairs which I found pretty interesting as I witnessed small godowns full of bright artificial accessories. I have always loved little markets since childhood & the old Bazaars (markets) have been my favorite. As I reached the top, I found myself on a terrace which was at a home to 125 Pigeons. The birds seemed very busy practicing for their soon to be Pigeon Flying competition on the 26th January (Republic day).It was a great sense of liberation to see batches of pigeons flying right above your head with the help of their talented master who successfully used great technique in making them fly all at once & then calling them back all at once again. I loved holding them in my hands and to my delight; I noticed that each one wore a blue anklet which made them stand out even more.
Right after that I walked in the tiny lanes of Chandni Chowk which means “Moonlight square” which was in reference to a large tank which reflected the moonlight. It was fun to go through the various markets such as Kinari known for the wedding market which sells traditional outfits, Dariba kalan known as Silver Street and Ballimaran market famous for the gorgeous bangles & footwear.
While I went around in the rickshaw, I must compliment the fact that I found it convenient to appreciate the Heritage havelis, old palaces in the populated markets as it is easy to miss minute details due to the crowd & the traffic which also adds to the experience. I marveled at the old exquisite architecture, multicolored facades & decorated shops. My next stop was at the famous spice Market: Khari Baoli (Salty Stepwell) Asia’s largest spice market. I saw shops & shops full of different types of display of nuts, spices, huge jars of chutneys & pickles, different flavors of teas, rice, lentils and bright colored Chilli powder sacks.
Various things which were completely new to me too & I learnt how to choose them depending on their quality. I felt I went back to the old times as I watched laborers hustle through the narrow lanes with huge sacks of herbs and spices on their heads. I also had to cover my face from time to time as there is a strong smell in the air & one has to protect their eyes & nose. Despite it being a wholesale market, I picked up Almonds & pistachios for myself. Finally went and enjoyed some yummy eateries served in century old shops serving the famous Old Delhi delicacies. I had a fantastic day & I can only say that every day in Shahjanabad is like a new experience waiting to unfold.