The Beautiful Nizamuddin Basti Walk in Delhi: a hidden gem
This post is about Nizamuddin Basti and the Nizamuddin Basti heritage walk organized by the Hope project in Delhi. The Hope project is an excellent NGO providing social welfare services for the people in Nizamuddin Basti. They have also developed the Nizamuddin Basti walk for tourists.
Why visit Nizamuddin Basti in Delhi?
The narrow alleys of Nizamuddin is my favorite part of Delhi. One of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. In the 12th century, Nizamuddin basti was just a small village around the sufi shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya. However, over the centuries it slowly became part of the larger city of Delhi.
Nowadays it’s at the outskirts of Delhi, but the neighbourhood still feels like a village within a city. Nizamuddin basti managed to keep its own characteristic rural atmosphere. Inside you will find a lot of hidden gems that even most Delhiites are unaware of.
Islam in Nizamuddin Basti
Nizamuddin Basti also kept its spiritual essence. The majority of the people who live here are muslim, but they practice a specific branch of Islam called Sufism.
The area is full with mosques, tombstones and shrines. At the heart of the basti is the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya. The oldest and most important religious shrine in Delhi.
Every thursday and sunday night thousands of people come here to listen to the qawalli’s when Sufi devotees perform religious songs with passion and faith.
The Hope project in Nizamuddin Basti
The best way to discover all the secrets of Nizamuddin basti is a walk with the Hope Project in Delhi. Sufi teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan wanted to so something about the poverty of the people living in Nizamuddin.
In 1980 he founded the Hope project in Delhi. His vision was to translate the sufi ideals regarding service to humanity into practice. Currently they run a public health center, vocational training courses and women micro-enterprise units.
We started our Nizamuddin Basti walk in the community center of the Hope project. We first visited their own bakery where several women were busy baking cookies for the German embassy. The smell was delicious and the taste even more so.
We could also see the children’s day care center and the evening computer classes. The center was very lively and many people seem to benefit from it. It’s a small NGO, but even after a short visit you can feel they make an impact and play an important role in this community.
Things to do in Nizamuddin Basti
The Nizamuddin Basti walk with the Hope project
After our visit to the Hope project community center it was time for the Nizamuddin Basti walk. Without our guide we would never have seen the area as we saw it now. Nizamuddin basti is a maze of narrow lanes and it is easy to get lost.
It was great to have a guide that would point out the hidden shrines and tombstones that I would otherwise have missed. I was intrigued by our guide’s stories and explanations of the long history of the area and the role that Sufism played in it. This tour turned out to be one of the most interesting things I did in Delhi.
For example, I learned that the guys at the market selling white twigs were actually selling meswak, a herbal stick used to clean and brush the teeth. Because the prophet Mohammed recommended the use of meswak, it is quite popular among muslims in south Asia and the middle east.
Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya
The Nizamuddin Basti walk by the Hope project is a great introduction to the oldest neighbourhood in Delhi. Just make sure you leave some extra time to explore the area further as there are quite some things to do in Nizamuddin Basti.
One of the top attractions is the sufi shrine (dargah) of Nizamuddin Auliya. This is one of the oldest and most important sufi shrines in Delhi. Unlike mosques where people gather to pray, shrines are dedicated to a particular holy person that is often buried at the site.
Nizamuddin Auliya was a sufi saint from the 13th century that believed love was a means to get to God and that love for God also meant love for humanity.
Every thursday evening after the evening prayers, Sufi devotees come here to sing spiritual devotional songs called Qawalli’s. For a preview you can watch some beautiful Qawalli’s shot at the Dargah from some Bollywood movies like Kun Faya Kun, Aawan Akhiyan Jawan Akhiyan and Arziyan.
It can get very busy with crowds of people trying to push themselves inside. If you are travelling as a woman alone this is maybe not the best idea.
Dargah of Inayat Khan
Most people will only visit the famous shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya, but there is another shrine nearby. The shrine of Inayat Khan is devoted to the 19th century sufi saint Hazrath Inayat Khan who played a large role in the foundation of the Sufi order in the West.
This shrine also performs qawalli’s on friday nights, but without the crowds. Therefore it is a much more quiet and peaceful experience.
Nizamuddin Basti market
The Nizamuddin market is a colorful affair and sells lots of unique religious items such as alcohol free perfume, meswak tootbrush twigs and rose petals to throw on the shrines.
It’s interesting to browse around for a while, but the best part is the delicious street food.
Street food in Nizamuddin Basti
Together with Chandni Chowk, Nizamuddin basti is one of the best areas in Delhi to try out street food. It is a true foodie’s heaven with delicious kebabs and unique sweets. All influenced by the famous Mughlai cuisine that was prepared for Delhi’s royal families.
Mughal cuisine is a traditional cuisine of the Mughal Empire, which ruled India from the early 16th century to the mid-19th century. The cuisine is known for its rich, aromatic and complex flavors.
Some of the famous Mughal dishes in Nizamuddin include biryanis, kebabs, kormas, tikkas, and curries. Biryani is a popular rice dish with meat or vegetables, saffron, cinnamon, and other aromatic spices. Kebabs are marinated meat or vegetables, which are then grilled on skewers. Korma is a rich, creamy curry with yogurt and nuts, and tikkas are small pieces of marinated meat in a mixture of spices and then roasted.
I planned my visit in the afternoon on purpose so that I could have dinner here. If you worry about hygiene, my suggestion is to look where its busy. The most popular places have long lines of customers. They are worth the wait. Not only is the food great, but its probably safe to eat as well. I tried several things and luckily didn’t get sick.
For the best kebabs in Nizamuddin Basti you can head to Ghalil kebab corner or the kit care kebab corner. I had lovey mutton kebabs at Ghalil. For a sit down restaurat you can try Al Quresh or Iqbal. Both have mouthwatering curries. The paneer shahi korma is a great option for vegetarians.
Nizamuddin is close to the famous Humayun’s tomb. This tomb was built in the 16th century as the final resting place for Mughal emperor Humayun.
Humayun’s Tomb is an important architectural masterpiece of the Mughal era and is one of the earliest examples of Mughal architecture in India. The tomb was designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, a Persian architect who was brought to India by the Mughal emperor Akbar.
The construction of the tomb was commissioned by Empress Bega Begum, who was also known as Haji Begum. She was the first wife of Humayun. She took on the responsibility of building the tomb as a tribute to her husband’s memory and also to showcase her own wealth and power.
The tomb features a grand entrance with a large central dome, several smaller domes, and intricate carvings and inlay work. The gardens are also a notable feature of the site. They were designed in the traditional Mughal style, with fountains, pools, and pathways.
I recommend to combine your visit to Nizamuddin Basti with a visit to Humayun’s tomb.
Nizamuddin Basti Travel tips
The Hope project runs the Nizamuddin Basti walk. The suggested donation is between 600 and 800 rupees. It is best to call them in advance to arrange a time and pick up from a meeting point.
The nearest metro station is the Jawaharlal Neru station on the violet line. From there it is a 2 kilometer walk to Humayun’s tomb and Nizamuddin.
The tour takes between 1,5 to 2 hours, but I suggest you spend a bit more time on your own to visit the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya and try some of the local streetfood. The best time to visit is in the afternoon.
As this is a muslim area it’s best to wear modest clothing. For men this means no shorts. For women this means you should cover your legs and shoulders.
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