On my first full day in India, I decided to dive right in and leave the meticulously planned New Delhi to explore the more historical Old Delhi. We jumped into a cab and headed for the Chandni Chowk Market and Jama Masjid. Market means shopping doesn’t it? And I was in need of shopping therapy. As we left the wide boulevards of New Delhi, we headed into traffic Indian style. Traffic in India can best be described as a free-for-all, with cars, trucks, rickshaws (both bicycle and motorized), scooters, motorcycles and bicycles all performing a chaotic dance somewhat akin to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Our cab driver managed to battle his way through the intense traffic and deliver us to an area where he was able to park and wait for us (I love that you can have cabs wait for you!). We got out of the cab and found ourselves in the middle of the Chandni Chowk Market in a section called the Meena Bazar. The market was bustling, with vendors displaying their wares on blankets and in stalls along annexpanse leading up to the steps of Jama Masjid. In this section of the market, all manner of goods are sold, with fabrics, chachkas, DVDs, CDs, vegetables and spices randomly coexisting together.
In this packed market, I got my first exposure to what would be a constant on this trip. From all sides, people approached us trying to sell us goods, convince us to get into their rickshaws or to beg money from us. A part of India that is unavoidable as a tourist and just a part of the whole experience, so I was going to have to get used to it.
We made our way through the teeming crowds and climbed the stairs to the Jama Masjid. After paying an admission fee, we entered into the giant square in front of the mosque, Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) and completed in 1656 AD, it is impressive not only for its size and architecture, but also for its perch above the busy market surrounding it on all sides.
In the relative calm of the mosque courtyard, I was becoming lost in the architecture of the mosque, when I became keenly aware of a feeling of being watched. Being the only Westerners any where in sight, people were actually following us, staring and taking pictures as we walked through the courtyard. A few people even asked if they could have their pictures taken with us, making me feel like a costumed character at Disneyland! I guess you gotta get used to the paparazzi some time!
After fully exploring the mosque, we exited by the south stairway and wandered through the narrow streets and alleys of the surrounding neighborhood that is all part of the Chandni Chowk market. Unlike the section of the market we first came upon, each street was more or less focused on a specific type of product: one for food, one for jewelry, one for books, one for saris, one for spices, etc. Although not a typical Ladies Who Lunch shopping experience, it is an interesting one and definitely the place to shop for all manner of goods. Just be ready to bargain!
For my first taste of India, it was obvious that this trip was going to be a real adventure. And, while I was more than ready to experience what this vast country had to offer, already on my mind was finding the chicer, less gritty shopping areas of Delhi and feeling perhaps a bit more in my element. There are two sides to every coin and I definitely wanted to see them both.
Watch my short video of the day’s journey!