Everyday bazaars of Old Delhi have their own charm. Even when they stand along with all the history that is hidden in the lanes of Shahjahanabad or Old Delhi as it is popularly known. This is a place where people used to live and some of them continue to live. It is their space: they live and die here, eat and sleep here, trade and play here. This walk takes you through these everyday places. The bazaars selling poultry and all other kinds of meat, bakers baking all kinds of cookies and rusks, some jewelry and some Mehandi. And lots of eating joints both to feed yourself and feed others for charity.
Old Delhi Walk through the Everyday Bazaars
To begin with, there is Netaji Subhash Park bang opposite the red fort, just you start seeing red fort as you enter this area from Delhi gate side. The park is almost not visible from the road. Unless you make a conscious effort to look for it, and then try to locate its entrance.
Netaji Subhash Park
Since the park is called Netaji Subhash park, it has a huge statue of him pointing towards the red fort along with representatives from his army INA. The statue is mounted on a red colored high platform to make it visible from a distance. Next to the park is a ground and here I found a lot of school children playing cricket. Since they were in school uniform, I asked how come they are not in school and how they managed to come here to play cricket. And the quick answer was it is recess time and we come here every day at this time to play cricket. They came from multiple schools as they were wearing different uniforms. I wonder if 9:45 AM is the recess time! There is an abandoned structure
There is an abandoned structure on this ground that looks like an amphitheater. As of now, the only bare brick structure is visible. And obviously, there is no board to tell the story of this place.
In one corner of this ground, there are open air desi massage parlors. There are masseurs, with their collection of colorful oil bottles sitting under trees. Some of them are massaging their customers while the others are waiting for them. Some of them were playing cards while waiting for the customers.
Interestingly when I tried clicking a picture of the oil bottles and the masseurs, they refused to be clicked and asked RS 50/- per picture taken. A distance glance indicated that they do both oil and dry massages as some people were getting massaged with all their clothes on. Their not so friendly gesture indicates that they do not want me to ask any questions. So I could not make a conversation with them and know more about them. Probably I would have come in way of their business.
Come out of the park on the red fort side and you would see a lot of colorful semi-precious stones being sold along with old coins. You could buy them as such or stringed together in a neck piece. An aged gentleman was carefully weighing the stones using a tiny weighing scale and then putting them into various piles. I am not sure how may stones can they sell in a day. And how much money can they make selling them? But to a drab pavement, they render a colorful cover that catches many eyes. And people do stop by to have a look at these little stone bazaars.
Walk towards Jama Masjid and Meena Bazaar and from gate no 1 of Jama masjid, walk in the lane bang opposite it.
It is called Matia Mahal. This lane is full of eateries, and everywhere you look, Halwais are busy cooking something or the other. Look at the piles of yummy Sewais. There is food and food everywhere along with the Visa forms for Pakistan. Outside some restaurants, you would find a lot of people squatting on the road with their hands extended to accept the charity. At first, you would wonder, why they are all facing the restaurants. Is the chef going to give away the leftover food to these guys? Or it is the birthday of the owner’s son and to celebrate that he announced free food for people. But when you go close and talk to the restaurant owners they would smilingly say ‘It is not I but you who feed these people’.
You can buy the charity coupons and the restaurant will feed as many numbers of people on your behalf. A pretty convenient practice I guess for all involved.
Sometime down the lane, Matia mahal becomes Chitli Qabar. Probably the name was given to commemorate the person who is buried here, though no one would tell you about it. This is the place where you can buy a lot of Bangles and Henna. But more interestingly see the people engrossed in their everyday chores, buying vegetables, choosing each piece and negotiating as much as possible.
One of by lanes here would take you to Kucha Chelan. This is a surprise market for jewelry made out of animal bones. On one side of the road, there are meat shops and on the other side, the bones of the same animals are sold as pieces to be worn to enhance your beauty. There are beads of all sizes and shapes. Most of them are in the natural color of the bones. Some of them are colored in bright colors like Pink and Blue. You can buy beads or items made of beads like buttons.
We stopped by at a bakery, which had freshly baked puffs, cookies, and cakes. The shop was small, characteristic of the shops in that area. We could see the baking area from a distance and asked the bakery owner to show it to us. He asked us to be careful and step in. And what I saw was amazing. The baking oven was almost as big as a room, in an area of about 8 feet by 5 feet with 1X2 feet opening to put in the baking trays. He explained that the oven is specially made with masala bricks which do not cool off easily. There is a layer of the iron sheet below the oven which helps retain the heat for a long time. Once heated, the oven will remain heated for almost 2 days.
Then, of course, there are various types of recipes that they bake in this oven. Post this small visit to the interiors of a traditional bakery, the items on its shelf tasted even better.
Kundan Jewelry Shops
Walk around the streets and you may see some Kundan jewelry shops, who may not be interested in you unless you are a bulk buyer. One shopkeeper refused to entertain us unless we guarantee some volume of purchase. He was not even willing to show us any of the merchandise that he had. Again an attempt to keep the tourists coming in the way of their business. Or an attempt not to waste any time with people who may not yield any business. Though these lanes do not see many tourists, as most tourists restrict themselves to the more popular lanes and eating joints. Still, I admire the way these people guard their personal space.
Moti Mahal Restaurant
One of the lanes here will take you to the famous Moti Mahal restaurant and you can have the popular butter chicken here. For the vegetarians, there is nothing special here. But as you sit and eat there, you can be sure of being a part of Delhi’s legacy.
A small comfortable walk through everyday bazaars of old Delhi, that introduces you to the people who continue to live in this area, and hence it is not a very touristy walk.
Recommend you to read following travel blog on Places to visit in Delhi.