What to absolutely see in Old Delhi
The beating heart of Delhi remains the old city, Old Delhi, where the newly arrived traveler can easily understand what cultural shock means: thousands of people in constant motion, with every means of transport of possible imagination, cows, dogs, monkeys that swirl between the cobwebs of electric pylons, shops lit by low lights, bursting with merchandise of every color and smell, so that you can cause dizziness; saints, lepers, pariahs, merchants, orphan children, politicians, women in saris; in short, a chilling melting pot.
The Red Fort
I suggest starting the visit from the most impressive and popular monument that is the Red Fort or Lal Qila, named for the high crimson red walls. The Red Fort is an example of a castle in Mughal architecture, built in the seventeenth century by the ruler Shah Jahan. Designed both as a place of defense and as a private space for the marajà with his family, the nobles, the councilors, the harem … It is worth visiting the museum inside which contains ancient illuminated manuscripts from the 14th century century, of Mughal origin and, for those who are passionate, ancient weapons and handicrafts of various kinds.
Inside the spacious courtyard there are small refined buildings among which are those of white marble, rich in phyto-decorations in Islamic style; connected by a network of water channels called “Streams of Paradise”. The functions of the buildings were varied: from the throne room to the harem.
Once out of the Red Fort, I invite you to continue walking along one of the busiest and colorful streets of India: the Chandni Chowk. Surely you will be stopped by rickshaw drivers who will offer you a trip on their two-wheeled vehicles. Be aware that they are asking for prices that are much higher than usual, so negotiate accordingly. I prefer walking on foot and getting lost in the maze of narrow alleys, looking for shops overflowing with spices or high quality tea. This is one of the best places to stock up on Indian spices.
Just outside the Red Fort it stands the Bird Hospital in the Jain Mandir Laal Temple, known for its compassion for animals. About 30,000 wounded birds are hurled here every year. The structure can be visited and a donation can be made.
Going further, you arrive at the Sikh Sisgany Temple. The presence of the faithfuls who wash outside in sinks so white to contrast with the surrounding “ground” and who prostrate themselves on the worn steps of the entrance so harshly had made me want to visit the structure, open to all.
The interior is covered with Persian rugs on which a mass of practitioners prays fervently under a multitude of golden chandeliers. Men and women of high middle class pray next to half-naked faithfuls. The mystical environment does not leave the visitor indifferent.
Continuing the walk in the old town, you can not miss the largest mosque in India: the Jama Masjid. I have often taken refuge in the courtyard of this mosque, sheltered from the suffocating noise of the capital, observing entire families who gathered in kiosks along the perimeter to relax in the company of friends and have a quick picnic.
However, entering the Mosque is not easy: the present guardian does not have much sympathy for foreigners who are often expelled. If the call of the muezzin is not in progress with the prayer, insist that you can enter. If you have a camera, you have to pay a small amount, as it should be, otherwise admission is free, except for the visit of the minaret open to the public.
The dimensions of the monument are remarkable: the internal courtyard, which has a length of almost 100 meters, can accommodate up to 25,000 people. The tricuspidate interior in perfect Moghul style has measures of 27 meters by 60 meters in length. Here teachers and students are gathering to study the Koran. The mosque was built in the seventeenth century by the ruler Shah Jahan and was once reserved only for rulers and nobles. The red sandstone contrasts well with the white marble in geometric games typical of the period.
I recommend a visit to the minaret of 40 meters from which you can admire the wide panorama of Old Delhi, including the Red Fort.