In New Delhi I lived in Connaught Place, a relatively ordered, leafy area with wide roads, roundabouts and very few traffic jams. By contrast, to describe Old Delhi as chaotic would be an understatement.
On one occasion I remember sitting in a traffic jam that hadn’t moved for several minutes so I decided to get out of the taxi and walk the rest of the way. When I got to the crossroads I realised that there were four streams of traffic arriving at the same fixed point and having to battle past each other. No traffic lights, no police directing drivers, just everyone for themselves, as I came to learn is the Indian way. My advice is to take the metro into Old Delhi, and then walk or get a rickshaw to where you’re going as the streets in the central area are too small for cars.
Everywhere I mention is on my map.
The main tourist sight in the downtown is the Red Fort, the former royal palace of the Mughal rulers. It was constructed by Shah Jahan (who also built the the Taj Mahal) in 1639 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are a number of pavilions in the compound inside such as the Rang Mahal or Palace of Colour which was a part of the imperial harem of Shah Jahan and later a mess hall for the British.
Another is the Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audiences, which was used by Shah Jahan to receive state guests.
A third, the Mumtaz Mahal, serves as a mildly interesting museum.
In the west of the grounds is a more thought-provoking museum, the Swatantrata Sangram Museum, which has displays about India’s history from Colonial rule onwards but with an emphasis on the first war for Independence in 1857. Particularly shocking to me was learning about the martyrdom of the Namdharis, a Sikh sect, members of which the British executed by canon for taking part in the Kuka rebellion.
The fort still serves as a military installation and has a garrison.
After the fort you can continue your sightseeing along Chandni Chowk Road. If you are an animal lover, the first stop could be the Charity Birds Hospital charitybirdshospital.org which is attached to Shri Digambar Jain temple, immediately opposite the fort.
Jain Dharma is an ancient Indian religion which has a particular respect for animals.
About a third of the way along Chandni Chowk Road, take a detour to Naughara Gali, an alley just off Kinari Bazaar, where you can see nine houses with colorful doorways (naughara means nine houses and gali is alley in Hindi). These Jain havelis (townhouses) were built in the 18th century and give you an idea of what Old Delhi used to look like.
At the end of Chandni Chowk Road and along Khari Baoli Road and Swami Vivekanand Marg, you’ll find the spice market.
Another sight not too far away which I’ve lost my photos for is the Jama Masjid www.delhitourism.gov.in, a famous mosque, although I think you have to be a believer to go in.
Near the mosque is Karim’s, Old Delhi’s most famous restaurant, which should certainly be included in a tour of the old town. More about this and other food establishments in the downtown next…