Housed in a tiny street in one part of old Delhi is Asia’s largest wholesale market of spices. Known as Khari Baoli, this small street running adjacent to the Fatehpuri Mosque up till the western edge of the main Chandi Chowk road in old Delhi, can be easily identified as the street that smells of fresh spices and condiments. Named after a step well or ‘baoli’ that was inaugurated during the reign of Salim Shah, the son of Sher Shah Suri, this market is believed to have been set up sometime in 1650 with the construction of the Fatehpuri masjid by Fatehpuri Begum, one of the wives of emperor Shah Jahan. The well was so named because of its saline water (‘Khara’ in Hindustani) that was used for cleaning animals. Today, the actual well remains confined to the pages of history and in its place is this thriving market which contributes nearly 300 crores of yearly revenues to the Delhi government.
On any given day this tiny lane is full of activity, thronged by cycles, porters and traders. Wherever one looks, one can see a whole range of people completely focused on conducting their business. The haggling is usually quick with shopkeepers spending little time over bargaining. Experts in the trade, most of the shops are now run by the ninth or tenth generation. Take for instance the ‘21 Number ki Dukaan’ (Shop number 21). It was established in the 17th century A.D., is now run by the tenth generation and is still known by its serial number which was given to it many years back. Such is the quality of business conducted in this market that it has become not only one of the key points of trade in the whole of North India but also the biggest wholesale market of spices in the whole of Asia.
Khari Baoli has a lot to offer to the ordinary visitor who is looking for some spices. One can choose from a wide variety of items like nuts, herbs, pickles, amlas, makhana (puffed lotus seed which is cooked with ghee to make the Indian version of popcorn), reetha, shikakai, different types of jaggery and khoya (milk solid), dry fruits like pistachios, almonds, walnuts, raisins and cashews, red chillies, lentils, rice and tea! Together these spices form a riot of colours. Best for quick photo walks, spices shopping for the house and stocking up on traditional Diwali gifts.
Where: Khari baoli road, adjacent to Fatehpuri Masjid, Old Delhi
Nearest Metro: Chandni Chowk Station (take a rickshaw from the station, or if you are a walker, explore the by lanes of old Delhi on foot and look for the Fatehpuri mosque)