Chandni Chowk, a 17th century Mughal-era moonlit square in today’s Old Delhi, is mind-bendingly chaotic. Its congested alleys are buzzing with hawkers, rickshaws, porters, strays, bikes, cars, people, and monkeys. This thoroughfare with tiny little Mughal-era bazaars is dotted with all kinds of shops that can make you run for your money. From designer boutiques to book shops, electronics, and furnishings, it is one of the grandest markets. It has temples, gurudwaras, churches, and mosques. Basically, it is everything you have imagined about India.
Furthermore, its old havelis and Mughal-era mohalla still carry the charm of the bygone era. If that’s not enough to excite the history buff in you, then Grand Jama Masjid and historic Red Fort can give you a distinctive Delhi travel itinerary. However, with so many mazed-like alleys, shops, and crowds, it is a little bit overwhelming to find your way around this labyrinth of markets.
Chandni Chowk is a 17th century moonlight square, which was founded by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Since it was centered on a pool that reflected the Moon, and that’s how it got its name. Its history dates back to when Shah Jahan shifted his Sultanat’s capital to Shahjahanabad from Agra.
In addition, it was the central street of the newly found walled capital city and a gate connected the city’s encircling outer wall to the Red Fort. The market area was designed by Jahanara, the daughter of Shah Jahan. In contrast to today’s narrow streets jammed with almost everything, it was built in orderly sections, with well-manicured gardens and palatial buildings. It also had several caravans or inns to accommodate the merchants from Asia and Europe.
In the 17th and 18th century, it rose to be one of the grandest and most popular markets in Delhi and had become a center of attraction among the artisans and professionals. They opened their business and built havelis. People used to visit the market to buy expensive jewelry, gemstones, and perfumes.
However, its glory started to fall after the death of Aurangzeb. Many structures were destroyed during the Sepoy Mutiny or the Indian Revolt of 1857. The British took over the charge of Chandni Chowk market Delhi and built new colonial-style buildings, including the Town Hall. However, it never lost its reputation as a bustling commercial hub.
Today, this congested zone has been revamped. The central street from the Red Fort to Fatehpur Maszid has been made a vehicle-free zone from 9 am to 9 pm. And the electronic wires, which once used to tangle overhead, are now placed underground. The paved footpath, public toilets, beautiful trees, and LED lighting are an approach to bring its lost glory back.
How to Get There
Being one of the must-visit markets in Delhi, Chandni Chowk is well-connected with the rest of the city. The best way to visit it is by Delhi metro, which is convenient and cost-effective. The nearest metro station is Chandni Chowk on Yellow Line. You can either choose to walk to the market or hire an E-rickshaw.
If you are traveling by a private car, you will find a parking place near Old Delhi Railway Station. From there, you can hop on an E-rickshaw.
Alternatively, public transports like cabs and buses are also available.
Places to Shop Till You Drop
Whenever it comes to shopping in Delhi, the first name that comes to our mind is Chandni Chowk. Most Delhites prefer to shop for the weddings from here. From designer bridal lehengas to gold jewelry, this market is thronged with everything. And if we don’t mention its world-famous street foods like Doulat-ki-Chaat and stuffed parathas from Parathe Wali Gali, then that would be an injustice. Here is our guide to Chandni Chowk, which is a must-visit.
Generally, shopping at Chandni Chowk means stocking up for a wedding. And Kinari Bazar is the perfect place, where you will find the much-needed accessories. Laces, stones, beads, or a wedding trousseau, name any garment accessories, you will find everything bling here. As this area is packed with an umpteen number of shops, you may find it overwhelming to choose one as you walk through the narrow lanes. Its streets are rife with zari borders, embroidered fabric, textiles, fancy varmala, menswear, etc. However, make sure you have the best bargaining skills. Otherwise, you will end up paying more than the actual price.
While shopping for bridal lehengas and sherwanis for the wedding, you shouldn’t forget about the wedding cards. Chawri Bazaar is the best place to get them in all shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. There are scores of shops selling wedding cards, paper and copper products. This Chandni Chowk Market is always queued up by customers at the printers, and roads are loaded with trucks, motorcycles and rickshaw pullers. However, it was not like this always. It was a redlight area in the 19th century, and was known for its dancing girls and courtesans. It was established in 1840 as a hardware market and was the first wholesale market in Old Delhi.
This 350-year old Mughal-era bazaar is a hub for the buyers of expensive jewelry and gemstones. From silver, gold, and diamond, you will find everything you want at Dariba Kalan. The shops of the market sell all kinds of ornaments and some of them also deal in attar. These 19th century shops are run by the descendants of the original owners. Here you will find cute silver trinkets to gold earring, necklace custom jewelry, household silverwares, silver utensils and that too at an affordable price.
If a wedding is what pulls you to Chandni Chowk, then you should know about Nai Sarak. It is a big wholesale and retail market for all kinds of books for school, colleges, guide books for all competitive exams, and stationery supplies. The market is lined with 20th century double-storey buildings. You may also find a few shops selling cotton, silk, and embroidered sarees, and old and new musical instruments. There are makeshift stalls on the footpath, where you will find secondhand books as well.
Bhagirath Palace is all about lights. There’s no way you won’t find the kind of lighting, fixtures, lamps, chandeliers, fairy lights, you are looking for here. It is considered to be Asia’s largest market for electrical and electronic goods. Its streets are densely crammed with shops selling lighting equipment for both domestic and industrial use. The palace was built by Begum Samru, a courtesan, who married a European soldier. However, after the end of the Mughal empire, the palace was bought by Seth Bhagirath, a local trader and that’s how it got its name.
This bustling cloth market is a maze of narrow corridors, where you will find all kinds of clothes. The historical Katra Neel gate leads to an entrance of the whole new world of wholesale cloth market that was built during the fight for independence. The market is located near the Chunnamal ki Haveli and was once known for indigo traders. An interesting fact about Katra Neel is that one of the first Raymond outlets was opened here. However, the entire market is mainly dominated by wedding outfits. All shops have wedding attires to complement each function.
Did we say Chor? Yes, we did! This Chor Bazaar in Chandni Market is known for all second-hand goods, damaged goods, and stolen items. From cheap items to branded products, you will find everything at a very affordable price. You can get branded cameras, smartphones, Iphones, MacBook, branded clothes, shoes, bags, and gym equipment here. There are a few shops that even sell antique items as well. However, make sure to crazily bargain at these shops as no shopping here is complete without haggling.
You will know you are in Khari Baoli, once you start feeling the presence of spicy aroma in the air. It is Asia’s largest wholesale spice market, where you will find all kinds of spices. As you make your way through the lanes, you will find shops sellings variety of native and exotic spices, herbs, and dry fruits. Most of these shops are run by the 9th and 10th generation of merchants, who are carrying the legacy of their ancestors. Here you can experience history unfolding its pages. From freshly ground turmeric to green tea, makhana, reetha for hair, and dried plums and mulberries, and edible gold foils…the list of spices here is endless.
Fatehpuri Market located adjacent to Fatehpuri Masjid is a widely popular wholesale market for khoya and paneer. It has always been a commercial hub since Mughal-era and even today, people visiting Chandni Chowk make a point to come to this place. Apart from khoya and paneer, there are some shops that sell prayer accompaniments and all the bits and bobs required for a big fat Indian wedding. Furthermore, there are plenty of eateries where you must savor chole bhature, aloo puri, parathas, and kulfi.
Ballimaran in Chandni Chowk is popular widely for three things- its shoe market, optical market, and the residence of the 19th century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. It is one of the biggest optical markets in Asia, where you will find branded, non-branded, trendy, vintage, aviators, reflectors of all sizes, colors, and designs. Moreover, its shoe market is dotted with all kinds of shoes from jogging shoes to sports shoes to formal ones.
Located at a distance of only 210 m, Jama Masjid Chandni Chowk is one of the largest mosques in India. This massive religious site was constructed between 1650 to 1656 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. This prominent landmark is one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture in India. It was the central place of worship, when Shah Jahan shifted his capital from Agra to Shahjahanabad. It was built using red sandstone and the imposing tall minaret towers and protruding domes are distinctive features of the mosque. It houses sacred relics of prophet Muhammad and an ancient transcript of the holy Quran.
Located 10 minutes walking distance from the main market, Red Fort once served as a royal residence of the Mughals. Its construction began in 1638 and took ten years to complete. It was built on the banks of River Yamuna by Shah Jahan, when he decided to shift his capital to Shahjahanabad. The 18-m tall walls of the fort were built using red sandstones. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is now a popular historic tourist site. Every year on India’s independence day, the Prime Minister of India addresses the nation from Red Fort and hoists the national flag.
Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib
The Gurudwara is one of the nine historical gurudwaras in Delhi, which was constructed in 1783 to commemorate the martyrdom site of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. It is here, where The Sikh Guru was beheaded by Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to Islam. There is a kotwali (police station) near the Gurudwara, where the Guru and His disciples were imprisoned. The tree, where the Guru was beheaded and the well where he used to take bath, are well-preserved here.
Sri Digambar Lal Jain Mandir
It is the oldest Jain temple in Delhi, located across the Red Fort. The main deity of the temple was of Tirthankar Parshva. Later, it was renovated and extended and housed three marble idols. The temple was built with red sandstone and consists of a Manastambha column on the right, a small courtyard, and a devotional area on the first floor. Today, the temple houses many Jain deities, Lord Mahavir and Lord Parshvanath being the main deities. Its intricate carvings and elaborate paintings are a sight to behold.
Street Food Affairs
Chandni Chowk is a foodie’s paradise. Its streets are lined with all kinds of age-old restaurants, modest stalls, and alleys crammed with eateries that have been serving the city for generations. From stuffed parathas at Parathe Wali Gali to Daulat Ki Chaat at Khemchand, classic jalebis at Old Famous Jalebiwala, this place is a gastronomic delight.
Shree Balaji Chaat Bhandar
If you want to relish typical Indian chaat flavors, Shree Balaji Chaat Bhandar is the best spot. This roadside eatery serves regional Indian snacks, gol gappe, dahi bhalla, and more. However, patrons love to relish their papdi chaat, served with sweet and sour chutney.
Parathe Wali Gali
Chandni Chowk and Parathe Wali Gali are synonymous to each other. No trip to Chandni Chowk is complete without having a scrumptious Paratha meat at one of the eateries in Parathe Wali Gali. These eateries are affordable and have been serving the shopkeepers and visitors since ages.
Old Famous Jalebiwala
If you have a sweet tooth, this place has to be on your list of famous food in Delhi. This open-fronted food stall is often packed with visitors, who come here to have bites of its samosas and jalebis. Pair the jalebis with a dollop of rabri. Leave some space for a cup of lassi though.
Khemchand’s Daulat Ki Chaat
Ask any Dilliwala about this sweet dish, and they will tell you to visit this spot. This mysterious dessert can be devoured only during winter. Moreover, its preparation is a lengthy process. It uses the wintry dew drops to sit atop the milk and it takes half a day and an entire night.
You may find this prominent thoroughfare overwhelming due to the sheer number of shops and eateries it has. But you can’t ignore its charm which still reflects its glorious past. Whether you have an upcoming wedding or you want to shop for expensive gadgets at an affordable price, or you are looking for a book to prepare for a competitive exam, it has got it all. However, while shopping here, don’t forget to make a beeline to its historic places and relish the drool-worthy dishes from its century-old eateries.