Delhi’s spice market lies in Khari Baoli road in the old city. It is the quintessentially touristy picture of a bustling, crowded, colourful Eastern bazaar. I think it’s probably the original model for all bazaars of the world! Called Khari Baoli, the name has nothing to do with spice. The place got its name from khari or khara (salty) and baoli (step well). There used to be a salty, brackish water well in the area. It was used for bathing only.
You need to have dancer’s feet and the alertness and agility of a cat when you go down to Delhi’s centuries old spice market. It is crowded and busy; a narrow street made narrower with sweating men pulling or pushing long, narrow barrows filled with sacks of produce. You better watch your toes or you will have them trod and your elbows bruised.
The place is amazing, as sweaty labourers lift and carry sacks of stuff up dark, narrow stairs on to carts, long barrows and other transport vehicles. In a way, Delhi’s Spice Market – Khari Baoli – is a sensual place that strikes the nose and eyes. It is a place of kaleidoscopic colours and thousands of unrecognisable, exotic, exciting smells.
Khari Baoli is Asia’s largest spice market. It came up around 1650 when the Fatehpuri Masjid was built by one of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s wives. The marvellous thing is that not much has changed in the centuries since. It is still manpower intensive. The trading methods are the same. The suppliers, traders, sellers and buyers have been in the trade for generations.
There is plenty of history here but of the hard-nosed kind. Transactions in this seemingly old-world, low-tech market run into the millions of rupees (or dollars). Even today, businessmen and traders come here from as far away as Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Everyone is looking for a good deal and the best bargains and get them. Technically it is a wholesale market but one can still buy small quantities for the home.
Occupying the western end of historic Chandni Chowk and the Red Fort, Khari Baoli is filled with the colours and aromas of myriad spices, chillies, lentils, chutneys, pickles, nuts, lotus seeds, dried mango slices, dried mushroom and teas. Items that, for centuries, have been transported to other parts of Asia and Europe by camel, horse and heaven knows what other transportation means. Just to add a bit of more spice to the locality, Delhi’s red light district (G.B. Road) operates at one end of the market.
Photo Credit: *_*