he heart of Old Delhi beats in Chandni Chowk.

Walk down any lane in this legendary bazaar and you run the risk of disappearing in its frenetic hustle and bustle, only to re-emerge hours later ... awestruck and exhilarated. Traditionally known as "Silver Street" and "Moonlite Square," the chowk (square) is not just a marketplace but Old World India at its extraordinary best.

The streets awaken early with an assortment of colorful residents who populate the market area before giving way at mid-morning to merchants and shoppers. Some wash away the prior night's sleep at curbside faucets, while others squat for a sidewalk shave from a straight-razor wielding barber. For the weight-conscious, a rupee or two will allow you to step onto the scale of another sidewalk entrepreneur.

As the business of bargaining begins, the pulse of Chandni Chowk quickens and the 350-year-old bazaar becomes charged with activity, reverberating with the movement of merchandise. From its namesake main thoroughfare, artery-like alleyways branch out in different directions, stretching the chowk beyond its original boundaries to include several smaller bazaars and katras (trade wings).

Chandni Chowk

  On the hectic streets of Khari Baoli, the wholesale spice market at the western edge of the chowk, hundreds of laborers push and haul heavy-timbered barrows stacked high with bales of goods; huge sacks of raw peanuts; and every imaginable size box, carton and crate. Topping this, wallahs ride to steady the loads.

No less congested are the sidewalks of the katra. Shoppers move from stall to stall, sampling the dried fruits and nuts from vendors' elaborate displays, while powdery mounds of brightly colored spices hang in the balance of hand-held scales. Duck down any one of the many canvas-covered corridors that funnel people and meandering livestock to different sections of the market, and the spice displays are soon replaced by grains and legumes, then fresh produce, and, ultimately, modern commodities like car parts and electronics…

Fast-paced, colorful and intoxicating, Chandni Chowk makes a lasting impression. Surely, it is the quickest way to experience the fascinating culture that is India.

James Emolo

Fruit Vendor 

All images and content within copyrighted © 2006 James Emolo