DAULAT KI CHAAT, Old delhi, India

My Delhi Diary

The roots of Delhi go deep into the Mahabharata era. Modern history says Delhi is an amalgam of seven cities but some historians say Delhi could be made up of 15 cities. Now, with the satellite towns–Noida, Gurugram, Faridabad, Ghaziabad–in its ambit as National Capital Region, it’s a megalopolis.

Delhi has always been the seat of power and dynasties have fought over the crown here. The ancient city of Indraprastha (1400 BCE), mentioned in the Mahabharata, was the bone of contention between the   Kauravas and the Pandavas. Later, the Tomars, Khajlis, Tughlaqs, Sayyids, Lodis, Mughals, Britishers  invaded during different centuries and built their own cities. Experts theorise that the name Delhi probably comes from Raja Dhilu (1st century BCE), who built a city near the site of the then future Quṭb Mīnār tower (present-day southwestern Delhi). With many variations over the centuries, ‘Dilli’ and ‘Delhi’ have lived on. In the current political system, the President, Prime Minister and Parliament are based in Delhi and all Central government offices are here.  

Ambica Gulati inside Fatehpuri Masjid, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India

The Delhi I knew inspired awe among fellow countrymen. Born in Old Delhi and then living in South Delhi, studying in an Anglo-Indian school, Delhi seemed like paradise. Wide roads with greenery, a sparse number of Ambassadors and Fiats, few DTC buses, yellow and black taxis and the infamous autos made driving a pleasure here. Cycle rickshaws and horse carts were found in Old Delhi.  This was the 1970s, the horse carts vanished soon, but cycle rickshaws are still there.

Horse cart near Delhi Stock ExchangeTurkman Gate, Old Delhi, India
Horse cart near Delhi Stock Exchange, Turkman Gate, Old Delhi, India

As I grew older and travelled across the country and to different parts of the world, I realised that Delhi was not one person, it was not one colour, it was not one whole—it was a planet unto itself. Every area in this city is different. While there are broad distinctions such as North, South, East and West, the quality of life varies in each area. And then within each area, there are more pockets.

From the 1970s-2020s, the city has changed drastically. The green is laden with dust and pollution. The Metro changed the game for commuters. DTC buses have many colours and commuters call them a better experience. Yellow and black taxis have been replaced by Ubers and Olas. The autos continue to irritate and thrive. In many parts, the cycle rickshaw has been replaced by e-rickshaws and e-cycles are around too.

Once a river, the Yamuna is now a dirty stream marred with concrete and landmarks such as the  Commonwealth Games Village and Akshardham Temple on its plains. Then there are the bridges that connect metro users and the burgeoning road traffic. The width of the roads has disappeared with the enormous numbers of cars on the roads.

In the five decades of my existence, Delhi changed. The old nostalgic me wanted to see if something of my past was still alive. I decided to explore the city as a tourist, well, I had been a travel journalist for over a decade.  This seemed like a perfect way to get reacquainted with the city.

Old Delhi

Old Delhi gained popularity as Delhi 6, thanks to the movie. And yes, the pincode is 110006. Old Delhi is a maze of narrow alleyways and katras and kuchas. This was created by the Mughals in the 17th century.

Chandni Chowk entrance, Old Delhi, India
Chandni Chowk entrance, Old Delhi, India

I was born in Kasturba Gandhi Hospital, opposite the majestic Jama Masjid. There used to be fish market there, which has now disappeared. Meena Bazaar is still there. I remember going to get music tapes of old Hindi songs there. Jama Masjid can be viewed from the Red Fort. During the Mughal era, this was a seamless stretch for the royals.

Food being cooked on firewood in Old Delhi, India
Food being cooked on firewood in Old Delhi, India

We had a shop of wholesale sewing machine parts in Nai Sarak and lived in an old haveli in Chawri Bazaar. Since, I had spent the first three years of my life here, I didn’t recall anything much except for the shop. This is the area where the foodies can dig in till they can’t walk.  You do get awesome Indian sweets, biryanis, kebabs, moong dal halwa, chana kulcha, kachoris, rolls in this part.

  • Mango lassi, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India
  • Jalebi with rabri, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India
  • Kachori wala, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, Inndia
  • Dahi Bhalla, Natraj,, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, Inndia
  • Gole di Hatti, palak chawal, Old Delhi, India

My first walk, though, on this trip was a food walk in Chandni Chowk. Some of the old food shops have withstood the onslaught of changing eras. Among them are Natraj Bhallas, Old Jalebiwala, Lassiwalas, Palak Chawal, Poori-Kachoris, Khari Boali with its spice shops, Daulat ki chaat, parathas and snacks.

Chandni Chowk was designed by Jahanara, Shahjahan’s daughter. This is where the moon shone and canals marked the then beautiful market area. It had gardens and important people lived here. Now, it’s a nostalgic walk through the renovated pathway, that does not even come close to the finesse of the Mughals. The good part is that cars are not allowed and you can take a rickshaw to explore the alleys. Unlike many old towns in the West, this one is densely populated, narrow (you can can’t see the sun in some streets), and you need a native to find the address.

TOWN HALL, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India
TOWN HALL, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India

The walk begins from the Red Fort, goes past the Gauri Shankar Mandir, Bird Hospital, Jain Mandir, Sis Ganj Gurudwara, past the shops selling wedding accessories and clothes, Town Hall, eateries and ends at Fatehpuri Masjid. This mosque was built in the 17th century by Fatehpuri Begum, one of emperor Shah Jahan’s wives who belonged to Fatehpur Sikri. The mosque at Taj Mahal is also named after her. It has three doors and is in a dilapidate state, but entry is free and you can enjoy sitting away from the humdrum for some time.

Woman praying inside Fatehpuri Mosque, Old Delhi, India
Woman praying inside Fatehpuri Mosque, Old Delhi, India

You can have the famous Karachi halwa right outside the mosque. At this T-junction, one street goes to Mirza Ghalib haveli and the other one towards Khari Baoli.  There is a flea market on Sunday, the official market holiday. There are treasures unexplored here still because you need a week to find your way through the maze.

Bust of Mirza Ghalib in his haveli, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India
Bust of Mirza Ghalib in his haveli, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India

Mirza Ghalib was a celebrated Urdu poet when the Mughal era was on the decline. His couplets have a deep longing and a TV series was also made on his life. The home is now a heritage museum with his books, personal belongings and a glass chandelier. The entry is free.

Namaaz inside Raziya's tomb, Old Delhi, India
Namaaz inside Raziya’s tomb, Old Delhi, India

The walled city also houses the tomb of Razia Sultan, the first female Muslim ruler of South Asia. That walk began from Turkman gate, which is near Kashmiri Gate. This side offers another shade of time. There are old mosques, homes of sufi saints. Razia belonged to the slave dynasty. She was the daughter of the third Sultan of Delhi Iltutmish and his favourite wife Terken Khatun. Her rule lasted from 1236-40, the patriarchal society did not like her.

Ruins of Feroze Shah Kotla Fort, Old Delhi, India
Ruins of Feroze Shah Kotla Fort, Old Delhi, India

In the vicinity is Feroze Shah Kotla Fort. The fort is known to be the home of djinns. With gardens, a living mosque and the Ashokan pillar, it is popular with devotees or the distressed ones, who seek the help of these invisible beings. They leave food and incense offerings and write letters to the djinns. The fortress was built in 1354 by Feroz Shah Tughlaq to house his version of Delhi called Firozabad. He ruled from 1351–1388.

Behind this fort is Raj Ghat, where Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation’s pyre was lit. You can visit the museum, listen to the bhajans and a diya is lit 24X7. The area also houses the memorials of the late prime ministers of India.

E-rickshaw in Paharganj,  Old Delhi, India
E-rickshaw in Paharganj, Old Delhi, India

Coming back to Old Delhi, there is a decrepit market for cheap goods, Paharganj. This is near the New Delhi Railway Station.  This 17th century market was among the primary five markets of Shahjahanbad (Shah Jahan’s Delhi comprising Chandni Chowk, Red Fort, Jama Masjid). Despite the history, it’s not an area to be alone in. You could explore with a group.

New Delhi

Surprisingly, when you come out of Paharganj, you enter Connaught Place, now the heart of Delhi. Here, the colonial influence is strong. This iconic marketplace was designed  by architect John Wood the Younger. This Georgian architecture circular area is modelled after the Royal Crescent in Bath and was built between 1767 and 1774. From there on, comes the Rashtrapati Bhawan, India Gate and more areas designed by Sir Edward Lutyens.

Jamali, Kamali Moque, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, New Delhi, India
Jamali, Kamali Moque, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, New Delhi, India

One day, an acquaintance and I decided to explore Mehrauli Archaeological Park. This 200-acre park is located next to the Qutub Minar Complex. And this was the first of the seven cities that make up Delhi. This is now part of South Delhi. This park houses several monuments from the 11th century, built by the Tomar dynasty.

RAJON KI BAOLI, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, New Delhi, India
RAJON KI BAOLI, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, New Delhi, India

Entry is free and there are many stray dogs inside. It’s best to go in the day with a group. You can see ruins of Lal Kot, Hauz-e-Shamsi, Jahaz Mahal, Gandhak ki baoli, Rajon ki Baoli, Delhi sultan Ghiyas ud din Balban’s (r. 1266-1287) tomb, Jamali Kamali Mosque, Madhi Masjid, Mughal Tombs. You could also visit the Dadabari Jain Mandir⁠, Dargah of Kaki.

This isn’t the end of my Delhi discoveries. I sometimes get lost in Delhi, but I have learnt more about my country living in the chaotic cosmopolitan city. After all, Delhi is a planet unto itself. And I have seen only fragments till now.

How to reach Delhi


By Air: There are three airports– Indira Gandhi International Airport and two Domestic Airports.

By Train: The three important railway stations are New Delhi Railway Station, Old Delhi Railway Station and Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station.  

By Road: Three major bus stands are Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) at Kashmiri Gate, Sarai Kale-Khan Bus Terminus and Anand Vihar Bus Terminus.

Best time to visit Delhi: September to March

BlogchatterA2Z Alphabet D

This blog post is part of #BlogchatterA2Z 2023 challenge.

Read previous posts A, B, C


28 thoughts on “My Delhi Diary

  1. I devoured this and bookmarked it too! Living in one of NCR regions, I don’t know what to say when people ask where I’m from, so its always been “I’m from Delhi” but I’ve never seen the Qutub Minar or the treasures you wrote here, like this, all I’ve heard are the glorious stories from my parents, they say pretty much the same things. One day I hope to explore it all and will be keeping this me as a handy guide!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s so nice to read about a place from a local, especially to someone who’s never been to India. I never knew there was an old Delhi, so it was interesting to read about it. I would like to see the fort and try some of the delicacies you mentioned, they sound nice!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Missing New Delhi! Sadly, I’ve never been to the Old Delhi area so I can’t say much about it. Lots of places to see and explore in New Delhi and architecture is one of them. The architectures in New Delhi is rich in history. From the fortress, tomb and modern temples are all worth the visit.


  4. You have covered old Delhi so beautifully. I wish I had read it a month back when I was here sightseeing. I definitely am up for the walk that you have described from Red Fort. And I always wanted to do Ferozshah Kotla too. I did not know that Chandni Chowk was set up by Jahanhara.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ambica, Your article has me dreaming me with nostalgic thoughts. Having lived there for several years it does evoke some emotions , you will agree. I agree that things have changed. Even in chandni chowk lot of eateries have given way to mobile shops etc. Still I make it a point to visit Old Delhi every time I go there : )

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have visited Delhi three times, and never experienced that charming city you grew up in, back in the 70s. I would have loved to see it, as for me Delhi was a busy concrete jungle full of noise, pollution, and beautiful monuments in between. The only place that I’ve seen that broke this pattern was Humayun’s Tomb, which felt very peaceful.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating to read that Delhi was the amalgamation of so many different cities. So I can understand why it might feel like a planet unto itself. We certainly would want to visit both New and Old Delhi. I loved reading about it from your local perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. After reading this post, I developed a desire to visit Delhi. I was eager to explore Old Delhi’s winding streets and sample some of the cuisine there. Chandni Chowk seems serene and ideal for relaxing. Additionally, I would adore touring the Mehrauli Archeological Park. Future trips here are something I’m hoping for!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I never heard about Old Delhi, but I think it made sense now since Delhi is an old city. It must be hard to see today’s Chandni Chowk compared to what Jahanara had in mind. But, sometimes that’s what happened when a city is developing and more people moved in.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks so much for sharing so much insight, I would really love to visit Dehli one day and I had no idea that there was a distinct old and new area of the city, but it makes sense as the city gets bigger and busier. I love how there is so much history here to explore and I would definitely want to visit the tomb of Razia Sultan. Also the food – that Mango Lassi looks delicious!
    Laura x


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