Old Delhi

Old Delhi (6 km [4 miles] north of Connaught Place), or Purani Dilli, is also called by its original name of Shahjahanabad, for the emperor, Shah Jahan, who built it. The havelis that line the gullies are architecturally stunning but irreversibly crumbling. Old Delhi's monuments—the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort that anchors the Old City—are magnificent, and the main artery, Chandni Chowk, should not be missed. It’s a convenient metro ride to the Old City from Connaught Place.

Old Delhi is crowded and hectic, and the roads and footways are poorly maintained. It’s best to chalk up all the bustle to added charm and just immerse yourself in the experience. It's one of the most incredible places to shop and eat, with lots of specialty markets crowding the area on both sides of Chandni Chowk (literally the "silver crossroad" but also meaning moonlit market or square). Kinari Bazaar and Katra Neel are two others, and are a tight squeeze with their maze of alleys. Gorgeous, intricately embroidered fabrics and appliqué materials, lace, bangles, spices, herbs, and Indian sweets can be found in all of them. Watch out for Khari Baoli, Asia's largest spice market, toward the western end of Chandni Chowk (after Fatehpuri Masjid). You'll smell it before you see it.

Jama Masjid is the principle mosque in Old Delhi, and was built by Shah Jahan as well. It's the largest mosque in India, a colossal structure beautifully constructed out of red sandstone. The courtyard of the mosque can be reached from the east, north, and south gates by three flights of steps, all of which have religious significance. The northern gate has 39 steps, the southern side has 33 steps, and the eastern gate, which was once the royal entrance that Shah Jahan and his entourage used, has 35 steps. Arched colonnades and minarets surround the mosque itself, which rests on a platform. Apparently, the courtyard can hold up to 25,000 devotees.

The Red Fort, or Lal Qila, is another Old Delhi institution, and was also built by Shah Jahan as the main residence of the royal family. It's an important top attraction, and combines Indo-Persian architecture to perfection.

If you find yourself daunted by the throngs of people or just need a break after a few hours, try a cycle-rickshaw tour: for about Rs. 100 you can be carted around in a cycle-rickshaw (which seats two slim people) for about an hour. The rickshaw-wallahs (drivers) in front of the Red Fort are serious bargainers, but they know the city well, and many can show you places you wouldn't discover on your own.

The variety of traditional Indian food that can be found in Old Delhi is heavenly. Try the kulfi (a flavored frozen milk dessert) at places like Lala Dulichand, which serves the treat inside fruit. The aam (mango) and anjeer (fig) versions are to die for. Karim's, a restaurant right around the Jama Masjid, is another stop. Make sure you have cash on hand, because many of the smaller shops and stalls don't have credit card machines.

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