पगड़ी अपनी सम्हालिएगा मीर
और बस्ती नहीं, दिल्ली है ये…मीर तक़ी मीर
(Do take care of your turban, Mir
This is no ordinary place, Dilli it is…
— Mir Taqi Mir – A well known Urdu poet of 18th Century
Delhi hides more than it reveals. Between the sacred river Yamuna on the east and natural wall, the rocky ridge, where Arawali ends, on the west, thrived many cities, which over a period of many centuries become one i.e. Delhi. Kings from all ages built it and kings in different ages robed it. People from all over world thronged it and many loathed it for its glory. No matter what, it survived all – It was at the centre of first Great war of the world i.e. Mahabharat, It bled during Grand theft of Taimur and Nadir, it mourned the partition imposed by Sahebs from Britain and much more. Yet, it thrived and still do.
Everyone has his/her own Delhi, so do I.
After having spent my last 15 years in this city, I have a long list of places that I love, things I explore and food offerings I devour. Some are less known, some make the city unique and others make it bizarre. The relics uncovered in and around Delhi tell its story and history. It has more monuments than any other metropolis in the world. After all Delhi is an epitome of Delhi itself for there is no city like Delhi. It challenges itself and sets its own benchmarks making it unique among the capitals of the world. Every day stayed here and every walk taken here, makes Delhi a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
So, here comes, insider recommendations to explore Delhi.
- Meet The Djinns In Firoz Shah Kotla Fort
- Visit UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites In Delhi
- Qutub Minar
- Humayun’s Tomb
- Red Fort
- Pay Homage To Soldiers Of World War At Delhi War Cemetery
- Experience Langar (free meal) At Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
- Have Coffee With A View Overlooking Hauz Khas Lake
- Visit Lost & Forgotten British History At Coronation Park
- Pick, Smell & Choose Your Spices From Khari Baoli
- Relish King & Queen Of Indian Street Food At 137 Years Old Jalebiwala
- Taste The Food Of Mughals At Karim’s In Old Delhi
- Have Sumptuous Butter Chicken At Its Birth Place
Meet the Djinns In Firoz Shah Kotla Fort
Delhi was an epicenter of world culture and royal heritage for long and then it was the most prized asset every King wanted to own or loot or plunder. It was ruled by kings of different faiths, cultures and traditions that added multitude of texture to the fabric of this city making it different, splendid and magnificent. Since time immortal, people of different faiths and beliefs have lived freely following their rituals and customs adding layers of nuances to this ancient city. Folklores, legends and tales of knowns and unknowns have further added vibrant hues and shades to its stature.
In the middle of such a grand city i.e. Delhi, there lies a haunted place called Firoz Shah Kotla where people come to worship Djinns, which in Islam represents a spirit capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over living things. This tradition may sound bizarre but in reality exhibits a profound devotion. The ruins of 14th Century fort complex, built by the King Firoz Shah Tughlaq, is the abode of Djinns.
People visits these ruins to seek blessings from Djinns by way of writing letters to them, putting locks, sticking coins to the wall, pouring oil in the dungeons and lighting earthen pots etc. Here, Djinns have been give names; people know likings of each djinns; each Djinn addresses a specific problem. Some special djins, who are quite famous in the lanes and by lanes of Delhi are Shah Dariya, Shah Sikandar, Nanhe Miyan, Shaikh Saddu, Sadre Jahan etc. In olden days, Saddu ad Nanhe Miyan’s fame spread from Delhi to Lucknow.
The eerie atmosphere is further amplified by hanging bats making this heritage site a truly haunted place. The place co-exists with and within the hustle-bustle of modern and cosmopolitan city of Delhi and people from all religions come to share their stories, their deep secrets and their confessions. Some seek solace, some search for answers and some ask for guidance.
The stories, legends and tales from this heritage complex, a part of the fifth city of Delhi, are an integral part of Delhi’s folklore giving Delhi another sobriquet The City of Djinns.
Insider Tip – To feel the intense atmosphere, one must visit on Thursday which is the day of Djinns
Visit UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in Delhi
If history and heritage, old monuments and edifices are your obsession, Delhi is the place to go for it has three World Heritage Sites built over a stretch of 500 years from 12th century by different dynasties of Delhi Sultanates each contributing more shades and layers to Delhi’s political significance in second millennium.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Site In Delhi – Qutub Minar Complex
UNESCO’s World Heritage Site In Delhi – Humayun’s Tomb
Read more – PHOTO WALKING HUMAYUN TOMB AT GOLDEN HOURS
UNESCO’s World Heritage Site In Delhi – Red Fort
Pay homage to soldiers of World War at Delhi War Cemetery
We live in a world of peace because many millions gave their life to protect it for the future generation. We the people of those future generations are dutiful to those brave hearts to remember their sacrifices and respect their deeds. Delhi War Cemetery evokes such profound emotions when you stand in front of neatly placed tombstones to commemorate soldiers of Indian, British and Dutch origin who lost their lives in World war one and two.
Read more – HIDDEN & LITTLE KNOWN PLACE – DELHI WAR CEMETERY
Very few know that Indian soldiers played a pivotal role in both the wars under British Commonwealth at many important theatres of world war like Salonika, Neuve Chappelle, Monte Cassino, Somme, Dunkirk, hence this war cemetery is less known. Established in 1951 and maintained by UK government’s Commonwealth War Grave, it has graves of soldiers, who lost their lives in upholding humanity and its core values of liberty and freedom. Throughout the year, people from across the globe visit this cemetery to pay respect to martyrs, who are worth remembering for their sacrifices.
The UK embassy in Delhi organizes Remembrance Day every year, which is attended by a large number of people from different nationalities across UK and the Commonwealth including India. Interestingly, it also houses a rare tombstone of a female soldier, Maureen of Dutch origin from Women Auxiliary Services.
Do visit this place when in Delhi, for it will remind you that today’s life is a privilege built on the lives of many lost in the past and it must never be taken for granted.
Experience Langar (Free meal) at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Located in the heart of Delhi, in the periphery of iconic Connaught Place, Gurudwara Bangle Sahib is an significant religious center of Sikhism representing true human values of tolerance, compassion, and empathy. This is grand structure, with a holy pond inside it, was Built in 1783 and dedicated to 8th Guru of Sikhism Guru Har Kishan Sahib. The magnificent architecture is built on the principles of Sikh school of architecture boasting of a grand golden dome like the one seen in Golden Temple, Amritsar and a huge flagpole hoisting holy flag of Nishan Sahib. Every visit to this serene setting of the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib is solace giving and fills the mind with the supreme happiness and purity.
After having paid your visit to Guru Granth Sahib under the dome, make sure to visit its massive Langar Hall, which serves free meal to hundreds of devotees and also to people in need regardless of their belief system, cast or color. Langar, an old custom of Punjab region, means a community kitchen serving free meal. This quintessential Sikh tradition is propagated by Sikh Gurus to uphold the value of equality and mutual respect. Food, here is prepared with much devotion and served with absolute love. The food, when devoured with hundreds other sitting on floor, transcends you to a world of tranquility and peace, where there are no barriers or no preconceived notions.
To uplift your spiritual quotient, it would be even better if you could contribute your labor of love in this spiritual service, by fetching water, taking a hand in cooking, serving food or cleaning utensils. While having a meal here makes you humble, contributing in the process makes you human. Witnessing this unique spiritual service ensures a great sense of satisfaction as you become one with so many others deserting your superficial ego and mundane sense of superiority.
Have coffee with a view overlooking Hauz Khas Lake
Amidst the noise of ordinary and routine life, there is place in Delhi to unwind and rejuvenate your all senses. Things inside you change when you hold a cup of coffee or a can of beer and overlook a lake spread next to the ruins of a medieval fort. Fresh air and smell from woods uplift the mood making you feel fabulous.
The lake called Hauz Khas, where Hauz stands for lake and Khas for Royal, was built in 14th century by emperor Alauddin Khilji to ensure year around water supply to his subjects of the capital Siri Fort, which is the second city of Delhi. These days, locality around this picturesque lake is a vibrant urban spot and famous for umpteen cafes and restaurants. This bustling hangout spot of Delhi has few roof top restaurants that offer mood elevating view of lake and a verdant surrounding. Once Sun sets, roof top arrangements offer brilliant view of the city lights giving you more reasons to feel the perfect vibes of a metropolitan.
Hauz Khas Village is the preferred place for young millennials, foreigners and expats to get soaked into contemporary and cosmopolitan life of Delhi amid a peaceful natural setup. As the place boasts of may top rated food joints, you may have to stand in queue to enter such hot spots like Hauz Khas Social or Mia Bella to indulge in the luxury and experience the tranquil view.
Visit lost and forgotten British History At Coronation Park
Delhi is a treasure trove of history as it was built, plundered, ravaged and rebuilt several times but it always stood by its ruler ensuring glory to each of one of them. British Empire also found its glory days in this city, when India was their crown jewel. Coronation Park is also the birth place of New Delhi as during the Third Grand Durbar in 1911, George V announced to shift Capital from Kolkata to Delhi and laid the foundation stone of New Delhi, the seventh city of Delhi.
Coronation Park is a sprawling stretch in north of Delhi which exhibits the story of Empire’s glorious past. The park stands exactly on the site of the three great Delhi Durbars (Imperial courts held in Delhi), which used to be the ceremonial climaxes and biggest events in the heydays of British Glory. As per the old accounts, the last Durbar in 1911 was a show of great extravaganza attended by who is who of Indian subcontinent and beyond. It is documented as one of the biggest show of human history which could never be replicated as world order changed drastically after soon to be declared World War I.
Post independence, all the leftovers of British Empires especially statues, that used to adorn Delhi at various places, were hauled into retirement and now stand here in this garden telling the tales of past. The most prominent of all is a 60 feet tall statue of George V, the King Emperor, which is surrounded by many impressive statues of British generals and viceroys for it seems he still holds his Durbar.
Pick your spices from Khari Baoli
Over centuries diverse cultures melted in a pot of culinary extravaganza and thus incarnated flavorful Indian Food. Careful and colorful mix of spices gives Indian food a distinctive aroma and taste, which lasts longer in your senses than the food inside your body. Every dish in India, no matter if it is prepared on street, at home or in a five star hotel, is perfected not by tasting the food but by smelling the flavors that oozes from it during concoction.
If you have a tongue that craves for famed Indian curry making you curious to know what goes inside it, you must head to Khari Baoli, which is Asia’s largest and oldest spice market as here you can see the eclectic mix of spices, herbs and nuts used in Indian cuisine. Running since 17th Century, this market is a treasure trove of exotic condiments, which once was a part of the Royal Kitchens and was also the epicenter of Indian Spice Route. The trade here is continued by the seventh or eighth generations now and whole market is heritage worthy, where each and every shop spells a magic laden with heritage and history.
Read more here- THINGS TO DO IN & AROUND KHARI BAOLI, OLD DELHI – INSIDER TIPS
In the mist of utter chaos and full of sounds, this famed spice market let you pick your choice of spices from a variety of spices both sourced locally from various parts of India as well as from various parts of India. It’s a unique experience to enter a shop and choose your spice while conversing about spices, its origin and even usage. Here, every shop owner, if in good mood, may turn into a storyteller showing his own love for what he sells and how he procures it. With shops selling the widest variety of spices from far lands, this is truly a heaven for chefs and home cooks alike.
If food is your love, a stroll through this market will take you closer to the delight called Indian Food.
Relish street food at 137 years old Jalebiwala in Old Delhi
The narrow lanes and by lanes of old Delhi, also known as Shahjahanabad, are home to some of the best food in Delhi. Many food items especially street foods that we have now, were invented here to cater to the royal taste buds. These famous food joints, many still following the old age recipes, offer you not just delicious food but also a peep into tradition and history.
The famous Jalebiwala at Dariba is one such heritage food shop which was established in 1884 and since then dutifully satiating taste buds of people. This heritage shop, located in Chandni Chowk is very famous for the piping hot, thick and juicy, freshly made Jalebis, which is the undisputed queen of Indian Street Food. Here, It’s a visual delight and an engrossing experience to see the whole process of Jalebi making. Jalebi making is an exquisite art here, which finally creates deep-fried golden-coloured rings, soaked in sugar syrup that fills your mouth with divine sweetness.
Now run by 4th generation, it has evolved with time without compromising their commitment to quality. They have served their toothsome Jalebi to who is who of Indian politics and film industry making it earn its place in the great echelon of top places to try not just in Delhi but in India.
Although the name of the shop is derived from their supreme offering i.e. Jalebi, however, they also dish out amazingly delicious Samosa which is undisputed King of Indian Street Food. Recently they have added a dairy delicacy also known as Rabri. This corner of Old Delhi is a culinary land mark of Delhi making it a must visit place to pamper foodie in you.
Taste the food of Mughals at Karim’s in Old Delhi
For the lover of Indian food, Delhi is the go to place where chefs have experimented with food while serving to royals for more than a century, traders flocking from all over the world, international visitors, travelers and explorers alike. Family of one such chef that prepared food for the Royal Family of Mughals, started a restaurant in the walled city near iconic Jama Masjid with a well defined aim to make food of royals available to commoners and named it as Karim’s after Haji Karimuddin, who was the son of Mughal Chef Mohammad Aziz.
Karim’s, the mecca of Mughalai food, has always been at the top of all the-things-to-do-in-Delhi lists, when it comes to serving authentic north Indian food that evolved under multitude of influences from food styles of Central Asia, Iran, Rajasthan, Punjab and Turkey topped with the native Indian art of mixing spices. Well after the sorrowful end of Mughal Dynasty, families of Royal chefs who were the custodian of many secret recipes fled from Delhi but then this one family came back to Delhi to start Karim’s in 1913. Soon, it was patronized by people of Delhi and over a period of times, its delicacies became legendary spreading aroma of Indian food all across world.
Run by fourth generation, it is a simple old styled restaurant near Jama Masjid that serves Mughal delights like Kabab, Kheema, Mutton Korma, Chicken Jangari, Biryani, and varied dishes of cottage cheese for vegetarians. The food, the aroma and old style ambiance will open all your senses satiating not just your hunger but also touching your soul.
Have sumptuous Butter Chicken at its birth place
If food is what fuels your travel lust, you must visit vintage Moti Mahal in Old Delhi that is credited with inventing Tandoori cuisine with dishes like Butter Chicken and Tandoori Chicken. Moti Mahal is a legend, a living one and a pride of Delhi. This simple and spartan restaurant near the famous Red Fort was established in 1947 by three men who reached Delhi after India’s partition. Moti Mahal changed the Indian food scenario by introducing a live Tandoor (clay oven) inside a restaurant and then dished out its first Tandoori chicken and subsequently invented the butter chicken.
In later years, high profile visits by Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, the Shah of Iran and many others put it on the food map of the world. The patronage of such VIP clientele truly spread the aroma of Indian curry across the world from the Kitchen of Moti Mahal. Now, though, it is not what it used to be and many more serving similar food are all over, still it’s a places to go to feel the nostalgia and live the story of Tandoori Chicken and Butter Chicken that began from here and spread all over the world quintessentially as the flag bearer of Indian food.
I, being a pure vegetarian, have not tried its flagship dishes but their veg versions have been good to my palate. So, based on the stories, folklore, legends and experiences of my friends, I recommend you to try the famous Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala, Dal Makhani (lentils) and their juicy Kebabs (skewered meat).
Delhi is a celebration of the kings who built it, of the people who loved it, and of the visitors who made it legendary . Forts, walled cities and bazaars come alive everyday in old forms and new forms telling the ode of a city whose history has been told and lived many times. Delhi was always there and will always be there, to survive at all cost and thrive in full glory. Be here and explore it, and enjoy the celebration called Delhi for here the age old traditions and new age aspirations find equal place.
Would love to know your story of your Delhi. Comment with what you love & hate about the city.
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