Unexpected Adventures in Delhi

Since PHFI is located in Gurgaon, a city that is basically an extension of New Delhi, Varshini and I explored Delhi extensively. Even then, it still felt like there were so many things we wanted to see there that we never got to do. We went to different parts of Delhi, ranging from traditional markets to monuments to modern shopping areas, but one of my favorite Delhi experiences by far has been our spontaneous exploration of Old Delhi.

Some people think that besides being a hub of business, government, shopping, etc, that Delhi doesn’t have that “culture” that they’d expect to see in India. While I don’t disagree that Delhi definitely is a large metropolitan city that functions and feels much like other similar cities around the world, there is a whole cultural and historical side of Delhi that I think many people don’t see – Old Delhi.

Old Delhi was the walled city of Delhi and was the area that Shah Jahan built up when he moved his Mughal empire’s capital from Agra to Delhi. Delhi, both Old Delhi and other areas of Delhi, have an unimaginably rich history, being ruled by a variety of empires and kingdoms, serving as the sight of and being captured during battles between groups, becoming the capital of British India, and being host to numerous important religious events, monuments, and pieces of history in Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, among others.

We didn’t exactly plan out our trip to these areas in Delhi, and decided where to go the morning of, since we were first going to a school field visit for an internship.

First up, we went to Jama Masjid, one of the largest and well-known mosques in India. The area around Jama Masjid was filled with chaotic vibrancy, but the Jama Masjid itself was much more serene, making it impossible not to take it in its immense beauty, significance, and size.

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A panoramic view of Jama Masjid

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Next, we went to Red Fort, which is understandably a very popular tourist attraction. Red Fort was the home of many of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty in India. Its real name is Lal Qila, meaning red fort. The British popularized its name as Red Fort, when they occupied the fort during their rule of India. This is especially interesting because there are British barracks and buildings at various spots throughout the massive sprawling grounds that juxtapose the Mughal architecture.

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View of a small part of the fort from the outside.

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One of the gates inside the grounds

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After this, we went to Chandni Chowk, which is a name that a lot of people can recognize even if they have never been to Delhi. Chandni Chowk is one of the largest and busiest markets in all of India. There are hundreds of small stores here that sell traditional items such as spices, cloth, shoes, jewelry, dried fruits, food and snacks, sweets and desserts, books, and anything else you could think of. Chandni Chowk is also known to be a popular destination to go wedding shopping in India for clothes, shoes, ornaments, gifts, jewels, etc. It has been around for almost 400 years, and merchants from Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East used to come to Chandni Chowk. The food here is amazing – we ate samosas from a small stall and drank chai from a streetside chai guy, and standing in line with all the locals waiting for the steamy cup of deliciousness was a memory I’ll cherish forever. Then, we went to Parathe Wali Gali, meaning “the lane of parathas”, which is an Indian bread. We chose a hole-in-the-wall shop amongst the many, and relished the parathas that came stuffed with a range of things from potatoes and mixed vegetables to paneer and desserts. Chandni Chowk’s diverse vibrancy, hustle and bustle, diverse people, and history drew me in and I have been talking about it to everyone ever since!

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A view of the street from the top of a temple in Chandni Chowk, showing all the people, activities, and life that fills the streets.

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The hot and sunny, and later very rainy, day in Delhi left us hungry and looking rough. Here we are in Parathe Wali Gali ready to eat our parathas.

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A store in Chandni Chowk that sells a type of decorative thread and border that adorns and decorates traditional Indian clothes

It makes sense that many people who come to Delhi don’t realize there is vibrant history and diverse cultures in Delhi, because this part of Delhi is not exactly the first thing you see when you arrive. In fact, parts of that area, specifically Chandni Chowk, were losing their popularity amongst the main markets and easily accessible malls in recent years, until the Delhi metro expanded and created stops at prominent points, including one right at Chandni Chowk.

If you’re ever in Delhi and it seems like it doesn’t have the same culture and history that you expect from places like Jaipur and Agra, you’ll change your mind quickly when you explore some of the cultural, religious, and historical places in Delhi. This was an amazing day-long adventure and a memory that I will never forget.

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About Hareena Kaur

Class of 2020, majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Health Care Management. Intern at Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Gurgaon, India, in summer 2018.