Street Life : Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi India
A Man and his Goods
There are so many nuts and spices for sale in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk that they extend beyond the shops and into the streets.
India is a sensory feast: a multilayered tapestry of sights and sounds in colours that pulsate, wrapped in a rich weave of smells, where the aromas of flowers and cardamon battle with the stink of dust and refuse and the unwashed. Even the air has tangible depth.
Nowhere is this better epitomised than in Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi.
Designed by the favourite daughter of the ruling Emperor Shah Jahan in 1650, the bazaar originally featured a central pool – long since gone – which shimmered in the moonlight, leading to the name: Chandni Chowk or “Moonlight Square”. The area is still home to historic mansions and the ageing homes of tradesmen and craftsmen; old mosques, churches, temples and shrines; and shops and restaurants selling all manners of goods and foods. Said to be the largest wholesale market in Asia, the goods and services spill out of the myriad of shops and into the rabbit warren of streets already packed with boxes, people, stray dogs, and the odd car. Some of the winding laneways are positively claustrophobic, with unbroken rows of four-story shophouses closing out the sunlight, and a hot, muggy sky, tangled with electrical wires and the odd bits of tinsel overhead.
And, like everywhere else in India, it is almost as if the colour and the chaos is putting on a cultural show especially for the passing tourists. I’ve spent time in Chandni Chowk on a few occasions over the years: twice with organised photography groups, and once on my own. On each visit, I’ve discovered something different. And, each time, people have either posed for portraits, or actively invited me and my camera to play “voyeur” as they go about their daily lives.
Truly a photographer’s paradise!
Street in Chandni Chowk
The streets that make up Chandni Chowk are always crowded: full of pedestrians and people on cycle-rickshaws clutching their purchases.
From turbaned Sikhs …
Chandni Chowk Shoppers
… to beaded and pony-tailed Hindu priests – …
… there is something for everyone.
Old Woman Selling Flowers
Not everyone has their own shop. A simple burlap tent is one way of demarcating territory. Marigolds are always in demand as temple offerings.
My favourite part of any market is the fresh produce…
… and the characters who sell it.
Man Selling Vegetables
I’ll settle for a smile!
You can buy freshly squeezed juice on the street.
There is a new sight around every corner. These children were piled into their pedicab to go to school. It always amazes me how crisp and clean they always look!
Men on a Stoop
There are temples and shrines throughout the market, so flower sellers do a good business.
Chandni Chowk Gateway
There are the odd quiet corners, …
A Heavy Load
… but most laneways are a hive of activity.
Khari Baoli Street in Chandni Chowk is the spice market …
… where all kinds of spices, nuts, herbs and other dried food products are available.
Dried Foods in Khari Baoli
Dried fruits, nuts, spices and pulses are priced and on display.
Men Playing Cards
All kinds of activities are conducted in the streets; …
… the local barbers have customers lined up …
…for shaves and haircuts.
The shops are crammed full …
… with their colourful goods.
Khari Baoli Road
Shophouses and their billboards, wooden carts, pedicabs, piles of rubbish, and traffic: the wholesale spice market is a busy place.
Dog in Chandni Chowk
Street dogs just watch the scene.
Young Man at a Shopfront
I love Chandni Chowk – but I have to limit my time there. In this network of crowded streets full of shops and people, “sensory feast” can easily tip into “sensory overload”.
Like an overly-rich meal, a little can go a long way!
Until next time,
Pictures: 12April2008, 08April2010, and 04November 2013