We woke up early on our first day determined to explore the neighborhood. Partly driven by hunger but also driven by a desire to make the most of our short time in New Delhi.
We saw many vendors with fruit and vegetables spread out on the ground and in carts, but we looked up an alley and saw a massive vegetable market. Person after person was walking out with massive bags of onions, or greens, or garlic over their shoulder and marched out to different neighborhoods. This was a source of vegetables for many of the neighborhood vendors.
All food was in baskets, or spread out on burlap or plastic tarps as people haggled for deals and stuffed bunches of every kind of vegetable into their bags. In the middle of the whole show a small band of renegade goats crashed through the market sampling vegetables from each vendor. Most vendors tried to shoo them away while others just let the goats have their fill. “Keep away, they are very dangerous” one person told us. The goats were clothed in Delhi’s cold whether, so clearly someone owned them; however no one seemed to be able to control them in the market.
Old City Gates
Delhi has been the site of various empires for a long time. The Delhi Sultanate controlled the area from ~1200 to the mid 1500s for five successive dynasties. After this the Mughal Empire controlled Delhi for another three centuries until losing portions to the Maratha and Sikh empires, then being conquered by the Nadar Shah of Peria. In the early 1800s, Britian formally colonized the area (Source). During each of these periods, walls and gates went up or were fortified around the city. We visited three of the gates: Delhi Gate, Turkman Gate, and Martello Tower.
All of these gates were within walking distance of our hotel. At Turkman gate, the keeper encouraged us to come in and look around. He rarely received visitors: “I’m lonely, come in.” We around and inspected the architecture and snapped a picture with him.
Delhi gate was in the middle of a busy intersection, so we looked on from the road.
Both Delhi and Turkman gates were built in the 1500s.
Martello tower was built to hold cannons by the British. It was abandoned and unattended.
This place was distinct and different from other parts of Delhi. The streets were narrow and curved and seemed like arterial pathways rather than thoroughfares. Most were narrow and could barely squeeze two tuk tuks side by side. Roads were filled with bicycle rickshaws, scooters, tuk tuks, hand push cars, horse drawn carts, and pedestrian traffic. Herds of goats were either tied up with horses, or roamed the street picking at garbage, eating compost handouts, or huddling to keep warm. Kids in uniforms ran off to schools in neighborhood madrassa or private schools. Men wore a variety of head gear ranging from none, to ghuthras and turbins, to chechias. Women wore colorful dresses, hajibs, veils, and scarves. People in fine suits hustled off to work, next to old men wearing dhotis. Men bathed in public showers in their boxers, using spigots attached to exterior walls, or using buckets of water. Offerings of milk and prayers were made to stray dogs. Giant swarms of black kits circled over head while rats hustled on the ground getting all they could before the stray dogs got to it. Some dogs donned clothes, while others roughed it in the cold. To avoid the cold ground, some dogs took to sleeping on roofs of cars. From time to time, a macaque would hustle along the roof line looking for an opportunity to snatch something. Open air butcher shops neighbored pubic dump sites with food shacks. Soupy puddles of blood, garbage, human waste pooled nearby. People sold bricks and sand out of their houses, while their neighbors fixed scooters. Bakeries, textile shops, and all sorts of neighborhood shops lined the streets. I had difficulty taking in the surreal juxtaposition of old and new.
Delhi boasts 3 of India 38 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Red Fort was just down the street and we couldn’t pass it up (Red Fort UNESCO World Heritage Site). Built in the mid 1600s from red sandstone, it was a marvel to behold. We spent a good part of the day exploring the various buildings inside. Like other capital city fortresses we have seen (The forbidden city, Hua Lou, the Citadel), buildings were added over time. While some were ancient, others were newer. There were museums inside (that cost extra), a lot of renovation and upkeep going on, as well as a visitor center being built. Even though quite a few of the areas were off limits, we enjoyed much of what the site had to offer.
This was a massive street market across the street from the Red Fort. We dropped by the electronic center to pick up supplies and cruised by the edge, weary of going in as we didn’t really need anything. We did pick up fingernail clippers! Stalls were narrow but tall. Everything one needed could be found in this place. Sales spilled into the street sidewalks where people setup shop selling pretty much everything. Hoards of people poured in and out of the market on this day before Christmas.