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Past Forward in Old Delhi

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Old Delhi and the past seem to be locked in a symbiotic embrace; an eternal clinch. One won’t let go of the other and the most powerful symbols of this union are the awesome Jama Masjid, the country’s largest mosque, and the Red Fort built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan that dominate the skyline with their sheer girth. Both unravel on the horizon – the Jami Masjid with a solemn spiritual delicacy and the Red Fort with a show of brutal might. Yes, this is the wondrous capital that Shah Jahan built in 1638 and which was once called Shahjahanabad.

And the best way is to explore its colour, mystery and medieval charm is to weave through its tangled of spaghetti-like streets is in a cycle rickshaw as you see everything from a superior elevation. So what if burly bulls mill around with sloe-eyed cows that lumbered down the streets to their own unique time table. The tiny lanes were lined with peeling havelis where men and women sit on their haunches staring vacantly into space, seemingly unaware of their neighbourhood, thick with history.

Peel back the layers of the city as you duck into the vast courtyard of the Jama Masjid which can accommodate up to 25,000 devotees, and let the peace and awesome proportions of the edifice envelop you. One could imagine how this awesome space must reverberate at the time of the azaan; the devotion of the believers settling like a thick cloud over the last of Emperor Shah Jehan’s major architectural projects.

Outside the masjid one is virtually sucked into a vortex of colour – vendors of bangles, saris, marigolds and fireworks jostled for space while men stir huge pots simmering on wood fires. In Jama Masjid, one feels the presence of God; but outside, there is the rank smell of commerce and a sense of blaring chaos which was charming too.

To the west lies Chawri Bazaar gleaming with copper and brass icons and to the south unravelled Churiwali Galli, the lane of bangle sellers. The yellow façade of the British era Town Hall, the gold domes of the Sisganj Gurudwara, St James Church, the oldest in Delhi, a Hindu temple and a Jain one rub shoulders in religious amity.

Soon you are wallowing in the multi-sensory experience of Chandni Chowk, the street that runs from the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid. Here you will stumble on some of the most vibrant chaotic markets in the world with an over-the-top atmosphere. In the spice market (the largest in Asia) the collective aroma of spices, ginger and other herbs assaulted your senses while the textures and colours of the sari and jewellery stores that line the street are almost like a canvas of abstract art.

Take a fuel break at Parathewali ki Galli where one can get parathas of amazing variety. There’s multi-layered tomato, aloo, mulli, paneer, gajar, mewa, rabri, and kaju parathas and many more… all hot and off the stove.

As dusk gathered the city in its soft embrace, make one last stop – at the Red Fort whose majestic battlements rise from manicured lawns. Here is the Diwan i Am and there the Diwan i Khas where the bejewelled Peacock Throne once rested to be subsequently whisked away by the Persian plunderer Nadir Shah; the hamam for pampered queens, the private chambers of the king … The Red fort built by the great Mughal Shah Jahan also presided over the death of the Mughal Empire and the ignoble exile to Rangoon of its last poet-king Bahdur Shah Zafar. The Sound and Light show though a trifle passé brought history to throbbing life, gilded it and nurtured it. Indeed the past always comes a-calling in Old Delhi.

Fact File

Delhi airport is a major international and domestic hub. The city has three major railway stations: Old Delhi, New Delhi and Nizamuddin. It also has a modern underground metro system.

The city has a wide range of accommodation from 5 star hotels to budget lodges. Delhi which is the apex of the famous golden triangle that includes Agra and Jaipur, also serves as an ideal launching pad for the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.