I have been in Delhi for the last 23 years and have visited old Delhi countless times. But, it has never occurred to me to visit this gem of a place. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Old Delhi, is “old”, “crowded”, “noisy”, and more. But, over the period of time this place has been transformed into a beautiful location for both Indian and foreign wanderlusts.
We were traveling to India in the summer of 2019 to celebrate my daughter’s 10th birthday with family and friends. I never thought that I would have much time to explore my city. But, I was determined to take some time out and scout some nearby attractions.
Not expecting much, I planned my trip to Old Delhi. One late afternoon, I got ready, packed my bag with camera and accessories, and started the journey. In half-hour I was in front of the famous Red Fort.
A quick fact…The Red Fort is a historic fort in the city of Delhi constructed during the regime of Emperor Shah Jahan, when he decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi. Since then, this beautiful fort has been the main residence of the Emperor Shah Jahan and the Mughal Emperors who followed him.
Although, the fort is beautiful, I couldn’t spend much time there due to a massive influx of locals and tourists. I decided to come back to it some other time. Instead, I started my quest to explore the “world reflecting mosque”. As I was not familiar with the route and google Maps was not of any help I made a wrong choice of opting for a rickshaw ride from the red fort to the masjid. A bad decision! Firstly, it was just opposite to Red Fort (1 km or less than a mile), secondly, the lane was crowded, uneven and at the same time, it was chaotic (due to an evening market). I asked the rickshaw guy to drop me off before I could reach the destination as I wanted to walk the local streets.
In a jiffy, I was in front of this beautiful, architectural brilliance, a prominent landmark, and one of the top tourist attractions in Delhi, Jama Masjid. I should have been feeling excited about this correct? But, no – the first impression was different. The 250 yards journey from where the rickshaw dropped me off to the main entrance made me a little nervous I am walking in a packed street holding my camera (Nikon DSLR) definitely made me stood out of the crowd. As I got close to the entrance, I could see the reasons why people would call it a beautiful mosque.
The entrance to the mosque is free. But you pay service tips. I removed my shoes, paid this guy Rs. 10/- to take care of my shoes, Rs. 300/- for the camera. Finally, I entered the mosque. I was overwhelmed by seeing the mosque, people, and the liveliness inside.
As I entered through the east entrance of the masjid, I was welcomed by an amazing display of colors by Mother Nature. The mosque looked just amazing as the sun sets behind it. The time for the day was running out, so I headed straight to the counter to get my ticket to get on to one of the minaret. If I remember, only one of the minaret is open to public – Southern Minaret.
The Masjid was originally called “Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa” literal meaning “mosque with a commanding view of the world”. And, you can feel it when you are on the top of this minaret. It opens up to a remarkable view of Old Delhi.
It was already sunset, and I could hear the announcement to start our way down to the courtyard. Everyone has to rush down, no exceptions, they close the minaret door by 6:30 pm. As I started to descend, I met “chacha” who was there to lock the main minaret door. He has been doing this job for as long as he remembers. Such a noble soul, it felt so nice to meet him and he graciously posed for a click.
It was a memorable experience, I wish I had more time for exploration. I was in awe to see people from all walks of life but with the same purpose to surrender and to pray to the almighty. As I was wrapping up my photoshoot of this serene place I had already decided to come back to visit the next morning.
The next morning, I got up at the crack of the dawn, booked an Uber, and was at the South entrance at 5 AM. This is the only entrance open for the public in the wee hours. I was lucky that I was the first few to enter the courtyard. The early morning atmosphere was completely different than what I had just experienced 12 hours back. It was so calm, and quiet that I could hear and feel the cool breeze touching my skin.
As people kept coming in for prayers, I was busy capturing the beautiful mosque and the morning serenity.
Watching the birds soaring the sky as the sun rising on the horizon it made me realize the importance of living in the moment and cherishing every sunrise as it is the last one.
While I was quietly capturing these lovely moments, I felt someone approaching me. But, I didn’t pay much attention and was focused on my composition. I hear a soft voice “Are you from the film industry?” He was a middle-aged man, dressed in old worn-out clothes with a bandana on and a gray beard and long hair that was not well-groomed. I politely said “no, I am just a photographer taking some pictures of the beautiful mosque”. The next question was “What is your purpose in life?”. I was shocked, I had no answer for him. I was just spellbound. I gave some answers, which I was not sure of myself. But, I was surprised that someone out of the blue asks that question to you. Then we had a little conversation, and he humbly told me his story, his quest for a miracle.
He told me his name is “Tapan Das” (please don’t quote me for his last name) and he was from a small village somewhere in Bengal. He is a struggling artist and aspires to be part of Indian Cinema – he writes, sings, acts, and performs in his village. He has been a hero in his village, everyone wants to see him perform. I have suggested him to explore other avenues to promote himself, asked him to see if he can publish something on YouTube and other social media platforms. Not sure, if he has the capability to do so, but he was interested and said he would.
A surprise…The surprising part for me was when this simple and humble person told me that he is a friend and classmate of a famous director, screenwriter, producer, music composer and playback singer – Vishal Bhardwaj. Yes, “Omkara”, “Kaminey” and “Haider” fame. He has one regret that he is not able to contact and be in touch with the filmmaker friend. I sincerely hope that these two collaborate somehow and Tapan gets a big break of his life.
Such is life, you get surprises at every corner, you are tested in every way. I sincerely wish for Tapan that his dreams come true, he becomes a hero and role model for others from his village and to whoever is struggling to make an impact.
As we parted our ways, I asked him if I can take a photo of him. He happily agreed and gave an amazing pose. He told me that this is his trademark pose in his village. I was happy to take this picture of him and I wish him all the best.
Tips1. Make sure to dress conservatively, it is a place of worship so be careful what you wear. You should try to cover your head, legs, and shoulders. This is the same as visiting Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Shoes are not allowed inside the mosque. Either you can carry it with you in the bag, or leave it outside (at your risk). But, there are keepers who can watch your shoes for some nominal fee.
There are three gates to enter the mosque. Gate 1 (South), Gate 2 (East) and Gate 3 (North). Gate 2 is the most popular and the main entrance for the public. Use Gate 1, if you are planning to go early morning.
The nearest metro station is Jama Masjid – which is 300 meters to the main entrance (Gate 2).
For timings, entry fees, and location details please use the helpful links below.
Some Helpful Links: