Modern Delhi is actually the conglomeration of successive cities built by different ruling dynasties over the centuries. Each ruler wanted to make his mark by building a new capital city, all within the area now known as Delhi. The neighborhood now called Old Delhi is the former city of Shahjahanabad, built by Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) in the 1600s.
While others will surely dispute me, I would say that Old Delhi is the historical center of Delhi. It is a must-do on any tourist circuit of the city, housing important historical, religious, and cultural sights as well as market areas where you can buy everything from electronics to clothing to spices. And for Westerners, Old Delhi gives you a taste of "real" urban India, with its crowds, colors, smells, sounds, and overall hustle and bustle.
I recently ventured into Old Delhi to visit Jama Masjid, which translates to Friday Mosque. It is India's largest mosque (some say) and was also built by Shah Jahan. It has a massive courtyard that can accommodate 25,000 people. The prayer hall features an exterior hallway designated for worshippers, but curiously, it did not appear to have any entrances, for worshippers or tourists.
|Erica in the courtyard of Jama Masjid|
The highlight of a visit to Jama Masjid is climbing to the top of the minaret. The stairway of the minaret is a tight spiral staircase that barely accommodates its two-way traffic. I also noticed none of the ubiquitous signs in the US warning of a 120-step climb in claustrophobic, dark conditions. But I reach the top without incident and was treated to a new view of Delhi. I was struck by the view of tightly-clustered buildings, of roughly similar height, with no significant features to break up the expanse - an urban plain stretching out towards the horizon.
|Erica on the minaret's narrow spiral staircase|
|Delhi - from above|
As you may be able to tell from the above picture, a final adventure awaited me. Just as I exited Jama Masjid, the dark grey skies opened up into a downpour. I ran towards an auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) but the wily driver quoted an outrageous price, citing the pouring rain. Refusing to be taken for that kind of ride, I plodded along several blocks to the metro stop, arriving completely soaked to the bone, but triumphant in the experience of my Old Delhi outing.