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With a historical fabric as complex as India’s, sometimes the only way to understand architectural and cultural nuances otherwise lost in topography, is to wander some of the country’s most intriguing streets. For a crash course in discovering a city, meander into the oldest parts of town and see numerous stories unfold before your eyes (and camera). Here’s our pick of the best, most eminent urban areas of India.

1. The draw of old Delhi

The oldest market of the capital, the Chandni Chowk district, is yet another spectacular piece of the city’s Mughal lineage from the 17th century.

One of the most historically wholesome and gastronomically delightful experiences, the walk from Jain Bird Hospital to the Fatehpuri Masjid (mosque) presents incredible photo opportunities of the busy streetscape and weathered havelis.

Set off early and after crossing the Sis Ganj Gurdawara to your left, enter any of the narrow lanes for a kachauri breakfast. Look up for a precarious spaghetti of electrical wires criscrossing the sky. Dodge a sea of shoppers to end the walk at the unexpectedly spacious Fatehpuri Masjid.

chandni-chowk-in-delhiChandni Chowk – Photo credit: Bahnfrend [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Multicultural Mattancherry

The western part of the island jigsaw of Kochi (Ernakulum, Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, Vypeen and Bolgatty), Mattancherry is a hotspot for history and art enthusiasts. Owing to its interesting past of Portuguese, Hindu and Dutch monarchy, the area is replete with rich architectural and cultural tone.

Start walking at the Thirumala Sree Venkatachalapathy (Vishnu) Temple, down the narrow Gujarati Street. Make sure you stop by at Shanti Lal’s shop for the best ghatias in town. Trace your way to the Dutch Palace and end at the Jewish synagogue, or continue along the bay to the spice market where you can soak in the heady aromatic surroundings.

mattancherry-street-viewMattancherry street scene – Photo Credit: emmanuel dyan via cc

3. Stories of Chennai

Out of the whirlwind of sights, sounds and smells in the markets of Chennai, Georgetown seems to garner the most awe.

This network of wholesale markets owes its roots to the proximity of the trading port. Its chaotic energy soon starts to make sense as you jostle your way past historic buildings, eateries and a myriad of wholesalers dealing in surgical instruments and a host of other specialties. Walk down any of the parallel streets like Linghi Chetty Street (for hardware), Thambu Chetty (for ceramic tiles) and ending in Sembudoss (for steel). The photo opps here are massive!

Georgetown street view – Photo Credit: mckay savage via cc

4. Mumbai’s graffiti trail

Step way from the high-street vibe of Bandra and head into the colourful, graffitied residential lanes of this well-to-do neighbourhood. Modest homes here have undergone a colourful metamorphosis, exemplified on the winding Chapel Road where people are happy to lend their walls for an experiment in creativity, something that truly exhibits the amicable culture of Mumbai. Given that the seaside village of Bandra changed hands from the Hindu sovereign to the Portuguese in 1534, and then the Marathas in 1739, its multicultural pulse is still palpable.

It’s best to do this walk in the morning, when the freshly baked breads and cakes start appearing from the oven of A-1 Bakery. Grab a few cinnamon rolls or blueberry muffins and saunter into the Ranwar area where narrow, moss covered walls bisect each other, bright with graffiti. These walls of traditional Christian homes have become the canvas of choice for street artists over the years, and it’s easy to pass a couple of hours checking out the vibrant psychedelia and massive, neck-stretching murals. If you’ve worked up an appetite, let Yoga House or Salt Water Café lure you in for a late big breakfast.

bandra-mumbai-graffiti-artBandra wall art – Photo Credit: Anuradha Sengupta via cc

5. A little bit of China in Calcutta

Though the population of Chinese residents may be dwindling in Calcutta, a walk in Tiretta Bazaar (Old Chinatown) takes you back to the 1800s when the Cantonese migration to the city began.

If you arrive as early as 7am you can dig into some authentic Chinese breakfast at Chhatawala Gali where the sausages are especially worth the early start. The area also has six Chinese temples which are abuzz with the local Chinese population during Chinese New Year. Teasing passers by with its dimly lit interior is Stella’s shop, a Chinese provision store hoarding many stories of the third generation Chinese in its shadows, enticing one to sit down with Stella and pick her brain.

In Tangra, or New Chinatown, is where one can visit the Toong-On Temple in Blackburn Lane. Even though the landmark Chinese eateries like Nanking, Waldorf, Peiping and Fat Mama have closed their shutters, there is no dearth of unique Indo-Chinese food in Tangra which is, by the way, the only Chinatown in the whole of India!

calcutta chinatown tiretta bazaar marketTiretta Bazaar, Calcutta – Photo Credit: Flippy Whale via cc