Old Delhi

Posted Sep 24, 2008 by 1 Comments

Yesterday I took a journey into Old Delhi to pick up some saffron for a friend. But this was a little different than heading to the supermarket…

To get to Old Delhi, I had to take the city’s relatively new subway system. The trains are as sleek and modern as in any Western city, but there are definitely still some elements of the developing world. You see, for some reason, many people here seem to think that, unless they board the train right away, they won’t be able to get on.

They crowd up against the door, waiting for it to open. When it does, it’s like a mad free for all. Everyone’s jostling each other, people trying to get off the train are pushed further in, mothers are dragging their screaming kids by the arm. Chaos. Finally, everyone settles in and waits a good half a minute for the doors to close!

To be honest, it really frustrates me quite a bit. I don’t like being pushed and shoved. But I suppose I can’t really blame them, considering how crowded everything else is here. If it were a bus or a train, they really might not get a seat!

The Delhi Metro, after the chaos...

The Delhi Metro, after the chaos...

Once at the right stop, I walked out of the metro station and began trekking down Chandni Chowk. This street has been a famous market since the days when Delhi was still a walled city called Shahjahanabad (yeah, good luck pronouncing that right on your first try!).

The street is a fascinating microcosm of Delhi itself. Once, Chandni Chowk was a bustling bazaar filled with skilled artisans and rare goods from around the world. Now it’s a rather depressing stretch of shops full of tinsel jewelry and knock-off clothing brands. Like Delhi, it has lost much of its initial wonder and charm due to encroaching westernization.

It was a bit of a disappointment, to say the least. However, once I veered off of the main road and into the heart of Old Delhi, I began to get a sense of what the city must have looked like before cars and McDonald’s.

Chandni Chowk today.

Chandni Chowk today.

The winding streets of Old Delhi still look much the same as they have for generations. Tiny mosques and temples are nestled in between crumbling havelis. Small vegetable stands provide produce for each neighborhood.

Groups of Muslim men stand around chatting, waiting anxiously for the Muezzin to call so they can break their Ramadan fasts. Children chase each other down alleys while their mothers enjoy some afternoon chai. It’s a little bit like stepping back in time.

I wanted to take pictures of everything, but I had a really hard time asking in Hindi. Don’t really know why. All I had to say was, “Kya mai apka photo ley sakata hu?” Of course, when you compare that with Swahili (“Pige picha?”) it’s a little easier to understand my difficulty!

I'll be this man can remember when Delhi was a very different city.

I'll be this man can remember when Delhi was a very different city.

Thankfully, most people were gracious enough to indulge me, and I got some really interesting shots! Once, after struggling to get the sentence out (“Kya apka… no. Kya may, wait. Mai…”), the woman I was asking answered me in English, “Sure. Why not?” Oh well… I tried.

Finally, I arrived at my destination, the spice market. As every Delhi guidebook points out, the sights, smells and sounds are overwhelming. Burning incense, pungent spices and the ever-present stench of garbage clouded my head. I wandered around in a bit of a daze, wondering when Aladdin was going to run by, chased by a bunch of turbaned men with scimitars…

Well, after 20 minutes in the market, I figured that I had punished my olfactory glands enough. It was time to leave. My little journey into Old Delhi had come to an end.

I checked my bag to make sure I had the object of my mini-expedition. It was there all right… a tiny little box of saffron.


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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Dr.samuel Inbaraja S said... 


    April 18th, 2010 at 1:24 pm  

    Hello barry, that’s a nice article.I read few of your articles today, it was fascinating.
    I am also a traveller and i was looking for ways to make my travel blogs more meaningful by putting in something that would really matter. Your writings have given me somany ideas for that. If possible you can suggest some ways so that my past travels can be some use to the work of the Kingdom.

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