There is a certain electric energy about Old Delhi, that is hardly found anywhere else in the world. Perhaps Djemaa el Fna in Marrakesh comes close. Purani Dilli as it is better known, was the capital of Muslim India from the 17th through the 19th century.
During the reign of Shahjahan, the city was called Shahjahanabad. Kashmiri Gate (silent witness to the massacre of the mutineers fighting the British in 1857), Ajmeri Gate, Turkman Gate and Delhi Gate are just some of the many remains of the fantastic past this city must have had. The gates are named after the directions they face. For Charlie and I, it is the presence of Jama Masjid, that makes this area so wonderfully beautiful and electric. Somehow, it seems people and shops, have all taken a different aura, because of the stately presence of this old mosque. The electricity I speak of gets help from the very dense population in the area. It is an amalgam of homes, shops, industries, street animals and street businesses. All thriving in a densely populated magical area. Wonder at every sight, smell and taste.
In a densely populated area, you can find treasures of several communities, faiths and sects of India. From Jama Masjid, Fatehpur Masjid and Zinat-ul-Masjid (Cloud Mosque) representing the Muslims of the area, to the Digambar Jain Mandir representing the Jain religion, countless temples for the Hindus, the Sis Ganj Gurdwara representing the Sikh religion, the St. James Church, the oldest church of Delhi, representing Christianity to many other places of worship, for the many different faiths, this area is a melting pot of magic, and also sectarian tensions. Perhaps this living on the edge gives it that special energy, that can be wondrous when all is well, and can be eerie and nerve tiring when in the midst of communal strife.
Raj Ghat, the memorial for Mahatma Gandhi is in the area. What makes this labyrinth of narrow lanes, service lanes, homes, shops, street carts, rickshaws and pedestrians really special is the remnants of the Havelis from the 17th century (center courtyard mansions) that are inhabited by the people that live here. A largely Muslim population, it is fascinating to see the foods, peoples, traditions and wares of many different religions celebrated in the area. It does change from day to night. During the day, I find it to have a very Hindu/Jain energy. Even as you see Islam through the dress of several people and also the urdu script in many shops and the call of the muezzin. At night, Islam shines and makes the entire area take on an energy that words cannot describe, and a very amateur photographer such as myself can hardly begin to capture.
When in Delhi, make the effort and visit Old Delhi, it will change you in ways you least expected. Enjoy the foods of the streets. The Parathe Walee Galee (the street for stuffed flatbreads), Kunwarji for Mithai (for sweets), the Lassi Walaas (lassi vendors), the Daulat Kee Chaat Waala (the vendor selling milk foam studded with silver leaf, saffron, pistachios and almonds, whom Gael Greene wrote about in Food and Wine magazine in her story about this area. Of Course no one should leave Delhi without dinner at Karims restaurant, nestled in a tiny lane near the Jama Masjid. Enjoy the lamb, the curries, the kebabs, and please save room for the Firni (rice cream pudding) served in donas (clay pudding bowls).
Remember too, that all these photos were taken between 10 and just past 11:30 at night. The atmosphere in Purani Dilli only gets better as the night transcends into the early hours of the morning.