Like Delhi, like Lahore

February 18, 2024

Like Delhi, like Lahore


t was 6 in the morning of November 1, 2023. After a good few hours’ sleep, I opened my eyes wondering if we had reached our destination. I quickly glanced out of the train window. I could see a yellow signboard that said, “Delhi Junction.”

After a nightly travel from the bordering city of Amritsar, our train had finally arrived at the old railway station in the heart of the Indian capital. I was in disbelief, as I alighted from the cabin. I almost tapped on the shoulder of the person next to me in the queue, wanting to make sure that it wasn’t a dream.

I was trying to process the reality. I was in Delhi, India, after all. Visiting India had been a long cherished dream. Though, as for most Pakistanis, it always seemed impossible, thanks to the volatile relations between the two neighbouring countries. But there I was, standing on Indian soil, and it wasn’t a dream any longer.

I was visiting Delhi as part of a delegation on religious tourism visa. We were destined for the annual urs celebrations of Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya happening in the first week of November. What I saw in Delhi, reminded me so much of Lahore; and that’s what this article is going to be about.

First of all, I’d definitely like to compare Jamia Masjid, Delhi, with Badshahi Masjid, Lahore. I visited Jamia Masjid and the surrounding area many times during my week-long stay. It was crowded all the time, and mostly had Muslim migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There were all kinds of shops in the area, and barely any semblance of order as far as traffic is concerned. Quite like the old Lahore.

Jamia Masjid is in the heart of Delhi. It stands tall. But unlike Badshahi Masjid, it is not cordoned off, nor is it surrounded by the green sprawl. It stands amidst chaos, to put it like it is. You can take your vehicle up to the gate of the mosque, which is a typical Mughal-era mosque. It is smaller than Badshahi Masjid, and its domes are also different in both size and style. It has a huge pond in its centre, for people to perform ablutions. When I was visiting the mosque, I was thinking of 1857 and the iconic address by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. History was right in front of my eyes.

In front of Jamia Masjid’s Gate Number 1, we have the Chor Bazaar, which is Delhi’s most famous flea market. Here, lies the grave of Maulana Abul Kalaam Azad in a small garden setting. It seemed quiet, and far less crowded, which was quite surprising for me, and I remembered how we have Allama Iqbal’s tomb, and they have Maulana Abul Kalam’s, but the number of visitors to these places varies dramatically. I don’t know why.

Red Fort and Chandni Chowk are two iconic places which must not be missed due to their historical importance. Red Fort, a beautiful construction made with red sandstone, has witnessed many historic incidents, including Nadir Shah’s invasion; the Rebellion of 1857; and the Partition of 1947.

There’s something to be said for the old city of Delhi, or Dilli (in local parlance): It is different from Lahore’s old neighbourhood, in the sense that Lahore was always a single city whereas Delhi is a collection of at least 15 cities. Different rulers at different points in time built their palaces in different parts of what comprises the modern-day Delhi. What we recognise as old Delhi is basically the Mughal Delhi.

I visited the old city as part of a food walk organised by Tales of the City, led by my friend and a wonderful food historian Sadaf Hussain. We roamed the Chawri Bazaar and enjoyed the delicacies of the old city.

Dilli is similar to old Lahore in many respects, except that the former has mosques and Hindu temples and gurdwaras that are very well managed.

After Agra, Delhi was Ghalib’s home. The great Urdu poet’s tomb and haveli are important places to visit when in Delhi. Also, the famous Sufi shrine of Nizamuddin, which reminds you of Lahore’s own Data Darbar. (Please note that Nizamuddin’s shrine is a small, congested place, in comparison.)

Delhi has a huge population, far bigger than that of Lahore. Its old city is very chaotic, unlike the Old Lahore which is more peaceful. Delhi has its own food specialties and delicacies which distinguish it from other cities. It has embraced so much from other cultures and cuisines. There’s a vast variety of foods available to ignite your taste buds; the most famous of these include Daulat ki Chaat, Nagori Halwa and Chholay Bhaturay.

New Delhi, or the developed part of Delhi, like Lahore, mostly comprises colonial-era monuments: India Gate, Indian Parliament, Connaught Place, All India Radio etc. At India Gate, I saw tourists from all over India and also a lot of foreigners. The place has lush-green lawns, fountains and sitting areas where friends and families can sit together and enjoy their time.

Class differences are much bigger in Delhi than anywhere in Pakistan. On the one hand, you find upscale shopping malls and the world’s most famous brands; on the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of wretched and homeless people sleeping by the roadsides or living in the worst conditions imaginable.

What most people in Pakistan believe as India’s economic progress comes at the cost of scores of marginalised communities.

Overall, Delhi was a wonderful experience. The love I received from common people was just unbelievable. I faced no discrimination or hate comments from anyone during my stay.

I would like to especially thank Arnab Bhattacharya, Rajesh Singh, Mukesh Asija and family, and Kanika Gupta for making my trip memorable. I hope the time comes when issues between India and Pakistan will resolve, and people will be able to move freely between the two countries.

The writer is a graphic designer and an activist. He writes on environment, politics and culture. He can be reached at

Like Delhi, like Lahore