Hot and steamy, crowded, noisy, constantly moving, Delhi may seem like a virtual madhouse, both overwhelming and smothering, but it’s also colorful, exotic, full of energy and never dull.
Central New Delhi is home to Parliament and other government buildings, the iconic India Gate and Connaught Place, but to get a real feel for the city, the country and its inhabitants, head to Chandni Chowk. Located in Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk includes India’s largest mosque, shops selling everything imaginable, one of the city’s most famous Mughlai restaurants and one of Delhi’s first street markets.
To say the Jama Masjid mosque is impressive is an understatement. In the mid-17th century, more than 5,000 workers helped build it using marble and red sandstone. Its massive courtyard can hold up to 25,000 devotees. When there isn’t a religious gathering, the courtyard plays host to people just hanging out, kids playing and flying kites, and flocks of birds lured by dishes filled with birdseed.
Immediately upon exiting the peaceful mosque, you are assailed by commercial activity. Carts and pedicabs piled high with boxes and building materials tear through the narrow streets. Indian shopkeepers lounge on couches and chairs outside their establishments, reading the paper or gossiping. Shops sell everything from magazines and handicrafts to fireworks, fabrics and dental supplies. Street vendors set up curbside kitchens, and delicious aromas waft through the air.
The Chandni Chowk neighborhood is touted to have some of the best street food in Delhi, but if street food sounds too risky, consider a trip to Karim’s. Serving up authentic Mughlai food since 1913, this is one of the city’s most iconic restaurants. The grandfather of the present owner opened the restaurant, and closely guarded family recipes include such tantalizing delights as sumptuous curries, perfectly grilled meats from the tandoor and an array of flavorful rice biryanis with dried fruits and spices.
Street market devotees won’t want to miss Chawri Bazar. One of Delhi’s oldest markets, it is jammed with people and alive with frenzied activity. Though primarily a wholesale market specializing in brass, copper and paper, much of the merchandise is also sold retail. Particularly interesting are the plethora of beautiful paper products that range from gorgeous wedding invitations to interesting wallpapers as vibrant and varied as Delhi itself.
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