Chandi Chowk: Old Delhi

12 October 2007 / 20 Mizan 1386

Chandi Chowk is now the name of the road that leads due west from the Red Fort (Lal Qila) through the the core of Old Delhi. I know “chowk” from Dari as ‘crowded central commercial area,’ so I apply the term more generally to the whole commercial area around this central street.

Main street

Here, unlike most of the urban fabric of New Delhi, the city is compact like an Italian urban core.

21st century chowk

Note that there are also Chinese here, and this is a 21st-century chowk, with satellite reception.


In the distance you can see the West Gate of the Red Fort. As in Kabul, the pedestrian traffic has appropirated a full lane of a very busy arterial. This is in part because of numbers, but also because hawkers and shopkeepers have appropriated so much of the sidewalk space.


Chandi chowk is a popular Western tourist destination. As any urban economist will tell you, that is generally good news.

Urban pile

One thing I love about dense urban fabric is the “pile” effect. You can see urban activities literally heaped one upon another. It is very exciting.

Entering the maze

From the main street I took a right into the narrower commercial side streets. It looks like a maze; but as in Venice, the number of path choices is very limited, so you are unlikely to get lost. However you might get disoriented by excessive visual stimuli.

tourist in the maze

And yes, more tourists! I wonder if Indian retailers position Western-oriented goods a little higher so that tall Euros can see them more easily.

Side alley

A lovely side-alley off the retail path. It is actually wider than the main route, and marked off by a stone portal so that you immediately know you are in a space that is claimed by a local neighborhood. Alas, the commercial zone encroaches here, in the form of a public toilet (on the left in the photo).

action photo

As it got dark, it was difficult to avoit blurring while getting a decent exposure. So instead I went for what I call the “National Geographic” shot, following the movement of one person and letting the others blur. You get a sense of how busy this area is.


I like prayer beads, so this shop was very distracting for me.


Infrastructure tends to be more noticeable in South Asia. Putting all these wire underground, and then maintaining them, would be a huge cost and hassle.


For those of you who will receive a postcard from me from India, this is where I dropped them. The setting of the mailbox itself is more interesting than any photo I could find on the cards themsleves.

side alley

Many of the residential side-alleys off the commercial path are less than 1.5 meters wide. I also like the name of the electrical store.

entry stair

When houses have stairways that access the main commercial path, they are even narrower. This one is about 65 cm wide. It seems to work fine.

end of chowk

200 meters further on, the commercial route suddenly opens up as it approaches the roads adjacent to the Friday Mosque. Here I am looking back into the chowk.

Masjid from street

Looking the other way (south) you can see one of the main entry stairs to the Friday Mosque of Delhi.

Masjid entry

The air of enthusiasm at the mosque was very high: Eid is approaching! The boy in the middle is one of many carrying in food to the great courtyard for a massive Iftar feast.

view back to chowk

Looking back north again from the top of the steps, you can see the edge of the chowk in the distance.

view from masjid entry

From the top of the steps the view is excellent, because most of Delhi is very low. In this view towards the east you can see the southwest gate of the Red Fort a kilometer away. There are large roads and markets between here and there, but as in so much of Delhi, you just see trees.

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