I apologize at the start for misleading you a little bit with my head photo above. Obviously, this is neither Chandni Chowk nor the Jama Masjid. This is a picture of my lovely wife Therese’s newly-hennaed hands. But you see, she got the work done the previous day during our leisure day in Udaipur. And anyone who has had henna work done before knows that you have to wait about a day for the crust to peel off and reveal the intricacy and beauty of the work, which will then last I guess about a couple of weeks. So that morning at breakfast on our first full day back in New Delhi was my first chance to see Therese’s henna hands in all their glory.
After breakfast, we were off for a full day of sightseeing in India’s capital. And if you have been reading these posts since the beginning, you may remember that on our first time in New Delhi, which was really just one day, our guide Preem mapped out a plan for sightseeing in New Delhi. And he assured us that he would inform our guide for these last two days of the plan, so that he would pick up where Preem had left off. Well, this worked out very well, since our new guide was none other than Preem’s brother, Vijay.
We started out the day with a drive to the Presidential Palace.
The Presidential Palace is not of that much interest to me. It was built during the time of British occupation, and thus represents that to me more than it’s continued use as the home of India’s president. But there is a grand street that leads up to it, and it has a feeling very much like our White House. So there it is.
After that we left the British, new part of New Delhi, and went north to the old part of the town. Specifically, we visited Chandni Chowk, which is where the markets are. This is where the Red Fort and Jama Masjid were built by our old friend Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor who also had the Taj Mahal built. This section of Delhi was his capital, Shahjahanabad, which was built in 1639. Now it appears on the one hand incredibly old, on the other hand terribly dilapidated, but it continues to be one of the most vibrant parts of Delhi.
We couldn’t get much of anywhere in Chandni Chowk with our driver, so we left him and Vijay directed us to a place where we could get a bicycle rickshaw. For most of the rest of the day, until we left the Chandni Chowk area, that was how we got around.
First, we went through the markets, that look a lot like the souks we had seen in Marrakesh. Then we drove to a spot, and got out and walked to the Golden Horse Tea shop, which is one of the great sources for spices in Delhi.
Golden Horse was a treasure trove of spices, and we spent several minutes picking out different marsalas and cumin and curry powders and some darjeeling tea. We bought them and the check out clerk sealed our purchases in a small plastic pillow, I guess so that we would be able to get it through customs. We were pretty excited about our purchase, and went on our way.
Our next stop was at Karim’s Restaurant, which is famous for its Mughal-style food. It is said that the cooks there are descendants of the people who worked in the kitchens of the Mughal emperors. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly is popular. Rather than a restaurant in the way we think of it, it is more like a series of rooms surrounding a courtyard – one room is the bakery, one is the kitchen, one is a dining room, and so forth. And like much of Chandni Chowk, it is a sight – there are bundles of electrical wires hanging off of buildings, crumbling stone, the occasional ancient looking doorway, but where the food is made and where you eat is immaculately clean.
The food wasn’t bad. The fresh nan bread was probably the best part of it. My tummy was still up and down at that point, so I steered clear of spicy food as best I could, munching on a little fatty lamb and a little chicken.
Part of the reasoning for eating lunch at Karim’s was that it is very near to the mosque in Chandni Chowk, the Jama Masjid. When we had first arrived in Chandni Chowk, it was time for prayers at the mosque, so we had gone and seen the spice store and so forth. But now we were allowed to enter, and so we walked over, and I paid a fee for a photo permit, and we entered, removing our shoes as usual, and we entered.
There is no question that the Jama Masjid is an incredibly beautiful sacred space. What strikes me about it, though, is that the vast majority of the space where the faithful kneel to pray is concrete, and completely open to the elements, with no roof over their heads. It’s like a vast courtyard, with a covered section only large enough to hold a small handful of people. That being said, even though it was not prayer time, there were still a huge number of people there, demonstrating that the mosque is part of an active community.
Having experienced Shah Jahan’s mosque, it was time for us to get back on our rickshaw and rejoin Chotu, and then head back to the New Delhi Oberoi. It had indeed been an eye-opening day. Not since our time in Marrakesh had we seen a market place that was so vibrant while appearing so close to utterly crumbling into the dust. Remarkable.