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Delhi 6-The Old Delhi

Old Delhi was believed to have been founded by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as early as 1639 and it was named Shahjahanabad back then. Even during those early days, this place served as the capital of the Mughal kingdom and it remained their capital till the rule of the Mughals came to an end. This place was resplendent with beautiful Mughal architecture in every building, palace and mansion. The city had some beautiful mosques, sprawling well-lit gardens and it screamed luxury and class everywhere. Today, though the place has lost much of its sheen and is almost in a state of ruins, it is still considered as the perfect representation of Islamic architecture, culture and lifestyles.

Between 1206 and 1526, this place was ruled by Sultanates, later on, the Mughals took over. The major dynasties to have ruled over Old Delhi are given below by order of their period of rule: 1206-1290 – Mamluk Dynasty; 1290-1320 – Khalji Dynasty; 1320-1414 – Tughlaq Dynasty; 1414-1451 – Sayyid Dynasty and 1451-1526 – Lodi Dynasty.


The Mughals considered Old Delhi was one of their most important places. A large number of citadels, strong and historical forts and palaces were built here during their rule. During the years between 1638 and 1649, Emperor Shah Jahan built huge walls around the city and this was the birth places of the Lal Qila and Chandni Chowk. The first ever Cantonment at Delhi was at Darya Ganj and towards the east of it, one could find Raj Ghat, which opened to the Yamuna River. 1840 saw the Old Delhi’s first ever wholesale market opening up at Chawri Bazaar. This is now basically a hardware market. During 1850, a big wholesale market selling spices, herbs and dry fruits opened at Khari Baoli. The Phool Mandi (Flower Market) was established during 1869 at Darya Ganj. Today, though the size has cramped up to accommodate other stores nearby, this market is thronged by hundreds of people every day.

During the great revolt of 1857, the Indian capital was shifted to Calcutta by the British and it was to be like that until 1911. Post this change, Edwin Lutyens developed a modern city towards the south western area of Shahjahanabad. The new city was inaugurated as New Delhi in the year 1931 and Shahjahanabad came to be known as Old Delhi. There were huge walls around the old city and therefore not many people moved outside of it. As people started increasing more and more inside the walled city, the areas in its vicinity started getting bigger and better.

Walls and Gates

The shape of Old Delhi resembles a quarter of a circle. The walls surrounding the city are encompassed around 1500 acres. These walls have 14 gates and the Red Fort is the focal point of Old Delhi.

  • North-east: Nigambodh Gate (leads into the famous Nigambodh gate on the Yamuna river)
  • North: Kashmiri Gate
  • North: Mori Gate
  • West: Kabuli Gate
  • West: Lahori Gate
  • South East: Ajmeri Gate (leads into the Connaught Place, an important area of Delhi now, and Ghaziuddin Khan’s Madrassa)
  • South East: Turkman Gate (close to Hazrat Shah Turkman Bayabani tomb)
  • South: Delhi Gate (leads into the Feroz Shah Kotla, where people were residing in the earlier days)

The walls that are formed around these gates were initially made of sand, but were replaced with red stone during 1657. These walls measure up to 12 feet wide and 26 feet tall, the gates that were kept tightly locked during nights when the Mughal kings ruled over the place can still be found even today. Most of the walls have vanished though. There are lots of houses in this region and the same can be seen through satellite images as well.

Just outside the walls, a huge door was constructed towards the south of the famous Delhi Gate, by the renowned ruler, Sher Shah Suri. This door was named Khooni Dharwaza.

Streets and Neighbourhoods

The main and most famous street in Old Delhi is Chandni Chowk. This connects Red Fort with Fatehpuri Masjid. In earlier days, a canal used run in the centre of the street.
Towards the north, there is Bhagirath Palace, Begum Samru’s palace. At the south of the street is where people reside in huge numbers and it is known as Dariba. Beyond the Dariba, one can find the biggest mosque in the country, Jama Masjid.

Then comes the Urdu Bazaar, which is the area where the language has its origin from. There are various literary works and publications in Urdu that are in practice here, due to which the language is still in existence. This bazaar has two principal arteries:

  • Leading into the north and south of India Gate; The Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg or Netaji Subash Chandra Marg
  • Leading into the east and west of Khari Bawli Road; Chandni Chowk.

These are the new roads that have been set up in Old Delhi

  • South: Gokhle Marg
  • East: Mahatma Gandhi Marg Road
  • West: Shraddhananda Road
  • South: Jawaharlal Nehru Marg Road

Historical Spots

The Red Fort and Chandni Chowk Areas seem to the hub of most of the tourist hot spots. However, the below mentioned places are also worth visiting:

  • Mirza Ghalib, the word-famous Urdu and Persian poet’s residence in Ballimaran, Ghalib Ki Haveli
  • A place quite close to Ghalib Ki Haveli and belonging to Hakim Ajmal Khan in Ballimaran, Gali Qasim
  • The first and only female ruler of Delhi prior to Indira Gandhi, Razia Sultana’s tomb adjacent to the Kalan Masjid
  • The biggest mosque in the country, Jama Masjid
  • Fatehpuri Masjid
  • The biggest spice and herb market in Asia, Khari Baoli
  • A mosque constructed in early 1710 at Darya Ganj by one of Emperor Aurangzeb’s daughters Zinat – Ul – Masjid
  • Place where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, Raj Ghat
  • The oldest church in Delhi (constructed in 1836 by Col. James Skinner), St. James Church quite close to the Kashmiri Gate

Few of the most ancient and majestic palaces are:

  • Bhagirath Palace – belonged to Begum Samru in 1806
  • Jain Palaces of 18th century at Kinari Bazaar, Naughara mansions
  • Haveli of Khazanchi
  • Ghalib Ki Haveli and Gali Qasim at Ballimaran
  • Chunnamal Ki Haveli at Katra Neel
  • Zeenat Mahal Ki Haveli at Lal Kuan Bazaar
  • Place where the wedding of Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamal took place, Haskar Haveli at Sitaram Bazaar
  • Birth place of Pervez Musharraf (former Pakistan President), Kucha Sadullah Khan, Haveli Naharwali
  • Concentration of Persian population, Kucha Chelan

Chandni Chowk

This market is one of the most ancient markets in the country. It was set up in 17th century by the great Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan and was further designed by his daughter, Jahan Ara. This can be literally translated as moonlit square or moonlit market and it is currently located in the central northern Delhi. There were canals once in this market, but now it has been removed and is India’s largest wholesale markets. It is popular all over the nation and even a movie titled “From Chandni Chowk to China” was released some years back. All the 2500 odd stores in Chandni Chowk are available online with the help of Google India. All contacts are collected and there is a generic website for all these stores available on the internet.

This is located along the lines from Lahori Gate of Red Fort to the Fatehpuri Masjid. In earlier days, this market had a canal running through this path for providing water for the area. The following three portions made up the Chandni Chowk in the earlier days:

  • From Lahori Darwaza to Chowk Kotwali – This portion of the market was in close vicinity to Urdu Bazaar, the place from where the language got its origin, name and fame. The great poet, Mirza Ghalib has made special note the gradual destruction of this market place and the consequences of the destruction in his works.
  • Chowk Kotwali to Chandni Chowk – Originally known as Johri Bazaar, this place had a shimmering pool in the centre in the earlier days. However, a grand clock tower, known as Ghantaghar replaced the pool. In the 1960s the clock tower too got destroyed.
  • Chandni Chowk to Fatehpuri Masjid – This section of the market is currently known as the Fatehpuri Bazaar.

Jama Masjid

This is the biggest mosque in the country and its original name is The Masjid-I Jahan-Numa. The mosque was created under orders from the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. Construction work started in the year 1650 and went on till 1656 AD. It is located at the entrance of the Chawri Bazaar Road and is quite famous all over the country.

Jama refers to the Friday noon prayers that are done by Muslims in huge congregations. This place came to be known as Jama Masjid due to huge number of people used to throng here for the noon prayers. The courtyard of the mosque can accommodate 25000 people at the same time. The north gate of the mosque holds some antique treasures preserved tightly in a closet. This includes some relics and copy of the holy book, Quran, written on the skin of a deer.

Old Delhi Cuisine

One can taste heavenly Mughlai cuisine in Old Delhi. There are also quite a few options for vegetarians. Gali Paranthe Wali and Ghantewali Halwai at Chandni Chowk are the places where most of the people flock for some lip-smacking delicacies.

Karim’s and Moti Mahal are some of the famous non-vegetarian restaurants in Old Delhi. The areas near Jama Masjid, Ballimaran and Chitli Qabar also offer great choices for Mughlai dishes like butter chicken, tandoori chicken, nihari, korma, kababs etc.

Street food also tastes divine in the Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazaar areas. One must get a taste of the affordable and tasty tangy chat options available here.

How to Get There

Metro: Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk station is the nearest, from where rickshaws are available.

Bus: Any bus that goes to Jama Masjid or Red Fort will take one to Old Delhi

Auto/Cab: Gate no.3 of Jama Masjid, adjacent to the police station, is where one needs to get off.

How to Explore the Area

One must first go to Red Fort in a cab or auto rickshaw and from there, must visit Shahjahanabad in a cycle rickshaw to absorb the authentic flavour of the place.


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