From a mere stepwell to the largest spice market in Asia, Khari Baoli has come a long way. First inaugurated in the 17thcentury, the market has changed beyond all recognition since its humble beginnings, but still retains an antiquated charm sure to transport you back through the ages. Whether you’re interested in buying spices in Delhi, experiencing an integral part of the city’s heritage or simply looking to add to your Instagram account, Khari Baoli simply can’t be missed.
This illustrious spice market in Delhi can trace its origins back to 1650, when it was built by one of the five wives of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. At the time, the location was notable for the saline stepwell (or shallow pond reached by descending steps) which travellers used to bathe in and to slake their animals’ thirst. As such, the market took on the name of Khari (“salty”) Baoli (“stepwell”), though there is no such pond in sight nowadays.
Indeed, the site has undergone a complete transformation over the intervening centuries. As its reputation became more widespread and more and more vendors flocked to its locale to sell their wares, it gradually grew to become the largest spice market in Asia. Today, some stalls are run by tenth-, eleventh- or even twelfth-generation storeowners and the bazaar caters to traders from all over North India, who make the journey from as far as Madhya Pradesh with the specific purpose of buying spices in Delhi.
As you’d expect from any spice market, Khari Baoli is a smorgasbord for the senses. As well as the vibrant colours of every shade and hue imaginable, you can also expect your olfactory receptors to be assaulted with pungent aromas from all angles – don’t be surprised if you suddenly suffer a surprise sneezing fit or two! Other than the eponymous spices, there are also plenty of dried fruits, herbs, nuts, teas, grains, rice and pasta, meaning there’s something for every palate.
And while Khari Baoli is a bustling hub of commerce that attracts buyers from all over the city, it’s also been a firm favourite with casual tourists for decades for good reason. Every shopkeeper arranges their produce in an aesthetically-pleasing manner, meaning it’s every bit as picturesque and photogenic as it is functional. Amateur Instagrammers and professional photographers alike will be enamoured with the sights, sounds and smells on offer at this incredible location.
After weaving your way around the stalls and immersing yourself fully in the hubbub, it’s highly recommended to escape the crowds by ascending to the hidden rooftop. For a truly unique vista of Old Delhi, the spice market’s rooftop affords spectacular views of the Red Fort, the Fatehpuri Mosque and other important landmarks in the surrounding area of Chandni Chowk. After the chaos and the clamour of the marketplace below, the rooftop is a welcome oasis of calm and tranquillity.
Those wishing to visit Khari Baoli can take advantage of the excellent public transport links which connect it to the rest of the city. The closest metro station is Chandni Chowk, a mere 15-minute walk from the market, and the market is operational from 10am to 9pm, seven days a week. When visiting the land of spices, it only makes sense to stop by the country’s (and continent’s) largest spice market. Delhi as a tourist destination just wouldn’t be the same without it.