Khari Baoli Delhi - A travel guide to Asia's largest wholesale spice-market

Located at the western end of Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli usually escapes the radar of most travellers to Delhi. In fact many residents of the city have also never been there, even if they have faint recollection about the name. In fact, even I had never quite planned a visit there and ended up there only on a chance visit to Fathepuri Masjid.

Inside Khari Baoli in Old Delhi

So what is Khari Baoli?

Well, the name literally translates into salted (khari) stepwell (baoli), which suggests a fairly useless kind of stepwell as it provides no fresh drinking water. However, we can't be sure about it as no remains whatsoever of the baoli remain now, it's all lost over the last few centuries of it's existence. Yes, that's how old it is - in fact, completed in the year 1551, the area is more than 400 years old.

History of Khari Baoli

The work on the baoli was started during the reign of  Islam Shah (Salim Shah), the son of Sher Shah Suri. However, he was already dead and his son and successor murdered, and Delhi was under the rule of Muhammad Adil Shah.

Khari Baoli Delhi spice market
A couple :)

Delhi was very different back then. What we know of as Old Delhi today (Chandni Chowk and the areas around) didn't even exist, even in someone's imaginations. There was no Chandni Chwok, no Jama Masjid, no Red Fort, and so on. In fact, during this time there were no Mughals as well in Delhi - the second Mughal king Humayun had lost to Sher Shah Suri and fled to Persia.

Interesting fact: Did you know that it was Sher Shah Suri who introduced the Indian currency Rupaiya during his reign? It was not only a currency in the Indian subcontinent, but also used existed as Aghan Rupee and Tibet rupee in these respective countries.


Khari Baoli today

From the rather tumultuous beginning to a non-existent present, I am convinced that the baoli saw better days in the past. Today the baoli doesn't exist, but in it's place exists Asia's largest wholesale spice market. The key spice traded is actually red chilli, but you can literally find any possible Indian spice at this market at an excellent price, especially if you are buying it in bulk.



Not just spices, you can buy a host of other things as well - flowers, sweets, hair-care products and so on. Plus you don't even need to know the specific shop that you want to buy from - just go out there an explore. Beware though, the spices are so strong that it's fairly common to cough due to the chillies in the air.

Khari Baoli - a favourite with Instagrammers!

However, as a traveller in Delhi, I wasn't there to buy spices. I was there to get a view of Old Delhi from there. Fatehpuri Mosque looks ethereal, and so does the rest of Old Delhi. You have a direct line of sight all the way to the other end of Chandni Chowk till the Red Fort.

In fact, it's quite a popular spot for international instagrammers who come to Delhi. I love how the raw beauty of the place has been explored so beautifully in the image below.

A post shared by Tara Milk Tea (@taramilktea) on


I was surprised to find a bunch of foreigners on the top floor of the baoli taking pictures and getting intimate with stories of Delhi as part of a heritage walk. The views from the terrace are great, but the terrace itself is quite dirty, especially in some corners - be careful when you walk, you might inadvertently smash some fresh poop.

Here's another from my own gallery. What you see are the domes and minarets of Fatehpuri Masjid.



To reach Khari Baoli

The closest Metro stations are Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazaar, and you can easily walk to the baoli if it's not too hot. I won't recommend it during the daytime in summers.

Khari Baoli Delhi spice market
On the way up to the Baoli

Men getting ready for the day

To get the best view take the right turn at the Fathepuri masjid, and then the first left. Walk ahead and ask for directions to go up on the Khari Baoli terrace and people will guide you - the way up is not obvious and you can easily miss it. It's not a pleasant walk, but a very interesting one. At each level you can see the back-side of the market area where men from across North India live and work. It's like an ancient chawl (in Mumbaiya language) which somehow still exists in modern Delhi. It's fascinating to see the early morning life and take pictures too.

There are many more things to do around the step-well, and if you are in the neighbourhood, you must check them out. Here's a guide to help you plan: Cultural Heritage of Hold Delhi.

And if you like to do off-beat things like me, here's another great guide: Offbeat things to do in Delhi

Comments

  1. Nice info. I have been to delhi but never heard of this place. Next time I will surely visit it.
    Thanks

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    1. Thanks Devashish! If you plan to go, make sure you go early morning or early evening...the views are gorgeous then :)

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  2. Nice to read about Khari Baoli. Interesting post and awesome pics.

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  3. Thanks for this, Sid. Never knew about this place.

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  4. Well, I missed it too! Sounds like a hidden gem in the truest sense of the word. It's very photogenic, so I'm not surprised it is popular with Instagrammers! The market looks great as well - much to see, do and buy here :-)

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    1. It's known yet a hidden gem of old Delhi - those who are looking for off-beat experiences come here, and others it doesn't exist at all. In fact Delhi is just so full of places like these...

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  5. I grew up in Delhi, but never made my way to Khari Baoli. It's popular with tourists but not with locals, you see. ;) Now that, I have come out of it, I wish to visit it one day... and many more gems of Delhi.

    I didn't know either about Indian currency Rupaiya being introduced by Sher Shah Suri.

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    1. I always learn something new about Delhi in every visit and I am so so fascinated with it. Maybe that can even be a reason to move to Delhi...haha :)

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  6. This is great info! Glad you shared them, also, great photography :)

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  7. Great info. it will help anyone wanting to buy some authentic Indian spices when in Delhi. It's not so easy for everyone to travel through the streets of old Delhi and arrive at this market, if they are not already familiar with it

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  8. I have been reading a lot about the Indian stepwells recently. Khari Baoli is another one added to my list, especially to check put the spice market active here. Thats for the info and also the fun fact about the origin of Indian currency (rupaiya) :).

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