Mehrauli Walking Tour - Exploring Delhi's Oldest Neighbourhood

Posted by Anna Schaeble • Friday, June 29, 2012 • Category: People and Places
When I booked myself on a Historic Mehrauli Walking Tour I was really excited, was really looking forward to go. Why was I so excited about this walking tour? I had arrived in India only two weeks before to complete an internship as part of my studies in Germany. And of course, everything still felt completely new and adventure-like to me. It was my first time in India, as you may have guessed. You must remember your first time being here and can imagine how I felt.

(c) by Anna Schaeble

We started out on the Historic Mehrauli Walking Tour on a very early Saturday morning in late May. One of the reasons to start so early was that the temperature rises quickly around this time of the year. The burning sun would soon come up and make our heads spin and the sweat run down our backs. Another reason was, as our guide Gautam explained us, to see the empty streets in the early morning change later into busy places, when everyone wakes up and gets ready for their every day’s work. We were about to see how the khanawallas prepare bread pakoras and sculpt samosas out of dough and potato filling, before they throw it into the boiling oil, how diligent housewives sweep the house, and how children in uniforms walk to school in the morning.

Our meeting point was at Adam Khan’s Tomb. It was not too big a challenge to find the place. Although, Qutub Minar metro station is not very close to the main square of Mehrauli, every rickshaw driver knows the place. I haggled down the price from Rs. 80 to Rs. 50 and felt really proud of myself, but not for long. During the tour, Gautam told me that the regular price for the ride between the metro station and our meeting point was Rs. 30. Then I realized that I am still acting as if I was an FOB (fresh-off-the-boat).

(c) by Anna Schaeble

Upon reaching the place, the first moment of suspense hit me: What will the group be like? I hoped it would be just fine. When you book a tour one of the major questions is: what kind of people will you end up sharing those few hours with? Enjoyment of the tour depends so much on the company! But the reason for booking this Historic Mehrauli Walking Tour was that only an experienced guide could introduce me to all the secrets of Mehrauli!

When I got there two German ladies were already waiting; I immediately recognized them from their comfortable walking shoes and characteristic sun hats. The next person to arrive was John, a tall and crazy, but hearty American guy. As well as Anil from Delhi, who has been living here for quite a while, but never made it to Mehrauli and finally we were joined by Martina from Italy. As soon as I saw the assembled group, my concerns were gone completely. We were a nice lot, an interested and likeable group of people, and I was sure we would have a good time together in the next four hours, exploring this enchanting area together. Our guide Gautam was the last to arrive, but he was still on time, if you’ve been guessing otherwise.

Then the walking tour started! We plunged into the sightseeing tour to discover one of the oldest parts of Delhi! Gautam explained to us the historic and architectural facts and figures and he showed us around the place. I will not disclose any of that information here. You better go on this walking tour yourself. I will rather write about the things which left the deepest impression on my mind!

(c) by Anna Schaeble

My personal favorite of all the places we saw was the famous sabzi mandi, the vegetable market, already bustling at such an early hour. The market does not occupy a lot of space, but it is stacked with vegetable sellers and their merchandize. Some of the sellers have their own carts, while others put their stock on blankets or in huge bowls on the floor. What were they all selling, vegetables I have never seen before, such as the funny looking bindi, also called ladies finger, as Gautam tells me. It is dark green in color and has a really wrinkled surface. I had no idea about this vegetable’s taste or how to cook it, so I asked our guide. He told me that the taste is actually quite bitter, so before cooking it together with other vegetables, you have to cut it and leave it in salty water, for an hour or even overnight, to get rid of the bitter taste. To try some new taste I bought 200 grams of the funny bindi.

We were surrounded by all kinds of vegetables in all forms and colors, stacks of red and green chili, cashew nuts and almonds all arranged in neat piles. I could smell lemon and ginger in the air, pepper got into our nose, made Martina and Anil sniff quite hard and I also had to sneeze. The sabzi wallahs were screaming across the whole market to sell their stuff, piercing my ears. Others were carrying heavy sacks of onions and potatoes from one place to another. Walking through this scene was the best experience of the day!

(c) by Anna Schaeble

While getting from one sight to the other, we walked along the bustling main road as well as through little lanes, which was really enjoyable because it keeps cool longer in there. In the meantime we all started to sweat a fair bit. Was it because of our red faces, or he just wanted to show us another highlight of Mehrauli, Gautam made us stop in front of the oldest and most famous sweat shop in Mehrauli. If you don’t know the place, you might miss it because it is hidden in a lane just off the main road. So we ended up standing in front of a shop window filled with all the fine and hand made confections one can imagine, and I could almost hear them screaming at me, “Try me, try me”. My sweet tooth lead me to choose the spongy looking rasgulla, which has a strange consistency when you chew it, but is very tasty. I also recommend the pistacchio and the coconut barfi. I have to admit I would die for sweets anyways.

Anil of course loved “his Indian sweets” whereas John took one bite of the barfi and we all had to laugh heartily about his funny grimace. He really didn’t like it, “Far too sweet!”, he exclaimed. Gautam went on to explain to him that we are in India and that in this country sweets have to be sweet. As we were leaving, the seller received a delivery of fresh milk to produce more sweet masterpieces.

After this welcome refreshment, we were all ready for the last part of the tour. We crossed the main square where the rickshaw drivers drop off the people and went down the street. Before we reached the peaceful archaeological gardens, we took a sneak peak and saw a mass being held inside a church. That was quite a change of scenery, from the busy Mehrauli streets to this green retreat, where squirrels cross our path and young Indian couples are holding hands, under the trees, in the shade. We walked together to the Jamali Kamali compound. John and I climbed the steep stairs up to the top of the ancient mosque inside the compound, to get hit by the great view over the Mehrauli area and even further down South Delhi.

I have to tell you, we had great fun taking part in the Mehrauli Walking Tour, I would very much recommend you to do it as well. Why? Because you can see so much more than when you are looking through a car window. Your experience is so much stronger and deeper if you walk through the place. You can see things you would never see, you can hear things you would never hear and you can smell things you would never smell if you had been sitting in the car all this while. So please take my advice and go on a walking tour, you will have a terrific time!

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PS: Just write a quick email to info@travel-must.com if you like to experience the marvels of Mehrauli yourself!

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