Simple plan for the day. Go to the Red Fort in Old Delhi, head to the famous Karim’s for lunch, then head over to the Spice Market, maybe via Chandi Chowk . After all what could be more relaxing than exploring one of the world’s largest surviving forts/castles, travel through back street crowds to find a back street restaurant for which only have vague directions, then head along one of the most crowded shopping areas on the continent, but where it’s all out door.
What can be said about The Red Fort in Delhi. It’s arguably India’s second most famous landmark behind the Taj Mahal, and is the location for all major governmental announcements. It dominates the skyline of the old city and in theory is under tight security (it’s understandable that it should be, but I wasn’t convinced the armed guards could keep out a determined suicide attack like at the Mumbai hotel. On the scale of things it’s large, not necessarily high like Himeji-jo in Japan (which is on a hill), but it’s main wall is high and imposing and then there’s the fact that it covers such a large area.
You enter through the Lahore Gate (it faces the direction of that city and maybe the old road there) and in true latter period castle design, turn 90 degrees before another high wall and imposing set of gates. The next part is slightly surreal as you now find yourself in a line of shops – the Chatta Chowk – these days very much a tourist trap, but apparently pre-British Raj days the shops sold luxuries to the princes and visiting dignitaries.
Inside you are guide by ropes and a few armed guards, not that there’s much to see off the main area as there’s a major reconstruction program going on at the moment and part of the enclosed area is now a building site. Still the main areas are accessible, through an entrance gate and on to and around the main audience pavilion. Round the back of that is an entrance way to a military memorial museum (on the top floor of the pavilion), however I found it a waste of time – worth skipping. From this point on you’re in the inner grounds which once upon a time must have been spectacular. One can only hope that among the parts being reconstructed and repaired will be the water works as there is a myriad of water ways and a pool house , plus the baths and cooling stream that flows through the palatial pavilions at the back, including where the Peacock Thrown once sat.
It’s strange that while I was not disappointed with my visit and while also having spent more time there than anywhere else in Delhi (or at any other UNESCO World Heritage site as far as I can remember), my over all impressions were that I was non-plussed. I can now say that I have visited all three of Delhi’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, but come lunch time I had decided that if I’d not managed to see the fort it would not have been a big issue. Certainly Humayun’s Tomb and Qutab Complex are far more worth the visit if you’re short on time in this city.
Next up was lunch. I’d been tipped off (plus all the guides mention) a legendary eatery in Old Delhi, Karim’s. A hard to find place near the rear of the big mosque. I had been given directions, and they were not bad. The only sign posts you see are once you get to the final street which it’s just off. So despite touts, beggars and cycle rickshaws, I made my way across the busy, chaotic road outside the fort and crossed over then head down the road past some stalls, a bus stop and some more chaos, before turning right in to the street that goes down to, and then around the mosque. At the entrance is a market for Himalayan Refugees – i.e. where they can sell their goods, plus some food sellers (check my pictures for some street shots). With the attitude of ‘when in Rome’ I found myself walking along the road, around traffic, and any where I could find space. Eventually, and post some map checking, I found the restaurant.
Karim’s actually fills 3 large rooms all off a hotel courtyard, with the kitchens in another part. It’s just like your typical Bangladeshi cafe you’d find down Brick Lane in London, except a lot cheaper. To be honest, while it was an experience, the food was too oily and I’d only say it was average, still at least I can say I’ve been there.
Post lunch (which was a late one) my aim was to walk to the spice market (Khari Baoli). Leaving Karim’s I stepped in front of a cycle rickshaw while trying to dodge a beggar and took him up on his offer a ride – I knew which way to go but I suspected I’d get the tour. To be honest he was a young cheeky chap and quite fun, plus as soon as he suddenly complained about the traffic and said he was going to take another route I knew what was going to happen. Thus a tour of all the markets up Chandni Chowk ensued, before being dropped outside a spice stall where he obviously knew the owner. New negotiations over price occurred as he wanted extra for the tour so we came to a rate neither of us was happy with and then he was further put down by the fact I did not want to buy anything from his friends (or more accurately where he had a pre-agreed commission set up). I thus wandered on in a semi random way past stalls of spices (though no saffron alas) until I felt it was time to turn left to get to the Chowri Bazaar metro station. Alas I had gone far too far and I do mean FAR TOO far and ended up walking the very long way round. Still I got there in the end and took the underground 6 stops to the Race Course station (nearest one to all the embassies) from where I then got an auto-rickshaw back.
So not necessarily the longest of days as I was back by about quarter to five, however there was an awful lot of walking involved and I can now say I’ve done the cycle rickshaw thing as well. Tonight we’re eating in then drinking the bottle of Dows 1980 Vintage port I brought with me, or rather myself and Ruth will be drinking it, Simon’s on antibiotics for a bad cough for another 2 days – suppose we better leave him some.