The history of Delhi as the capital of India reaches back to mythical ages. Its destiny shaped the changeful fate of the whole country under foreign rule: being conquered by Afghan invaders in 1193, it served as the power base of the Mogul empire until the British took over in 1803. A total of seven Islamic capitals (all names are still known by heart by every Indian scholar) was founded in this strategically important region, melting the various cultural influences over the centuries and lending each district a unique and distinctive character. ‘Old Delhi’, founded as the seventh capital in 1638 by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan, is known for its narrow, crooked alleys, the Red Fort and the bazaar quarter Chandni Chawk.
I was lucky enough to discover this labyrinth with my new friends Vikás and Rohan, who took me out already on my very first weekend in India. Some say this is ‘the true India’, but that shortcuts in a too handy manner the variety which makes up this huge country. Sure enough, this place is pure chaos. Cars honking, three wheelers bleeping, Rickshaws ringing, pushcarters shouting. Marketeers sit behind their blankets on the ground, people sleep in the streets, heads on a brick, dogs stroll around, monkeys climb on the open electrical cabling. The smoke from the coal stoves of numberless street food trolleys mixes with the parfums of the bazaar, the odours of colorful spices in huge sacks and the smell of excrements on the sidewalks. “Chandni Chawk”, meaning “moonlight crossroads”, actually ows its name to a water reservoir on the ancient crossroads whose pond reflected the moon at night. But the romantic picture has given way to the bustle of an oriental market pouring out from squeezed little stores onto the streets.
After a rich lunch with a delicious naan and dal makhani, we, in the middle of the crowd, happened to meet a desperate dhl courier on his motorcycle: “we deliver everywhere”.