Anas Khan aka Unzip Delhi giving a heritage walk
Anas Khan aka Unzip Delhi giving a heritage walkAnas Khan

A Lifetime Too Short To Explore Delhi: Anas Khan aka Unzip Delhi

From food to monuments to the Mughals, Anas Khan aka Unzip Delhi shares his interests, origin story, and opinions on all things Delhi

If you find yourself at a heritage site on the weekend or enjoying parathas at an Old Delhi breakfast spot on a crisp winter morning, there's a good chance you might encounter Anas Khan, popularly known as "Unzip Delhi" on Instagram, captivating a crowd with his stories. As an anthropologist, Khan blends his rigorous ethnographic and historical research with the oral narratives inherited from his upbringing in Delhi. Through his celebrated Instagram posts and engaging heritage walks, he presents a rich tapestry of historical tidbits and anecdotes, making him one of the most captivating heritage walkers in the city.

A view of Moti Masjid, Delhi
A view of Moti Masjid, DelhiAnas Khan

According to Khan, a lifetime is insufficient to fully explore the history and essence of Delhi, not to mention the history of India. He aspires to dedicate himself to crafting more narratives and preserving them in oral tradition, ensuring that future generations aren't confined to textbook knowledge alone.

In a conversation with Outlook Traveller, Khan discussed the genesis of his thriving online community, his fascination with Delhi's Mughal history, as well as his preferred monuments, culinary haunts, museums, and architectural marvels, among other topics.


How did your transition from studying ethnography and examining archaeological sites lead you to embrace visual storytelling on Instagram?


Storytelling has always been an essential tradition in ancient cities known for their civilised culture, such as Cairo, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Delhi. As a resident of Old Delhi and belonging to a lineage that has lived in Delhi for centuries, I grew up listening to tales from my elders. In this age of technology, where such beautiful traditions are disappearing fast, I used this same technological boost to preserve them. Unzip Delhi is my attempt to showcase visual documentation of the history, culture, and diverse traditions that make up the metropolitan city of Delhi and the Indian subcontinent, keeping them alive not just in my city but worldwide.

The gate to Zafar Mahal
The gate to Zafar MahalAnas Khan

What sparked your interest in heritage walking tours, and what inspired your specific focus on Delhi's heritage?


During the pandemic, while the world was in lockdown, I found solace in reading more about the history, heritage, and culture of Delhi. I started writing about the various aspects that interested me and shared them in the form of stories on Instagram. I built a community of over 20k followers. During those times, there were a lot of interactions via DMs since people had more free time. When the first lockdown lifted, a group of us who were passionate about heritage decided to explore the various monuments of Delhi. However, since those times required a lot of precautions, I started hosting walks with small groups and effective social distancing measures in place. Thus, the saga began, and it has continued ever since. Every weekend is now about heritage walks.

At a heritage walk with Khan
At a heritage walk with KhanAnas Khan

In curating your tours, how do you select which facets of Delhi's rich and diverse history to emphasise?

Khan giving a tour of Feroz Shah Kotla Complex
Khan giving a tour of Feroz Shah Kotla ComplexAnas Khan

Delhi is a city with a rich and diverse history. Many parts of the city hold stories from different eras, and some places where different centuries intersect to tell a tale. I organise walks based on various themes associated with a particular place to make the most of these historical and cultural landmarks. For instance, Feroz Shah Kotla, also known as the City of Jinns, is known for its supernatural elements, so my walks in that monument focus on the different beliefs related to such phenomena in the city.


What are a few lesser-known historical details and architectural anecdotes that you aim to share with our readers?


Delhi's history is a diverse and intricate tapestry. Although it is commonly believed to have comprised seven cities, there have actually been over sixteen cities in this area. Many people associate Delhi's history only with the Mughal rule. However, it boasts a rich history of over a thousand years prior to the arrival of the Mughals, beginning with the palace of the Pandavas.

The Jamali Kamali Mosque through Khan's lenses
The Jamali Kamali Mosque through Khan's lensesAnas Khan

Every corner of the city has a story to tell. Architecturally, Delhi's monuments illustrate how our building practices evolved from layering stone blocks to utilising arches and domes. One can observe our architectural progression by examining the city's monuments chronologically from the first city to the seventh.


How do you plan for a heritage walk, encompassing historical research and logistical preparations? Could you share insights on your unique storytelling approach during these tours?

A qawwali evening at Agra Fort
A qawwali evening at Agra FortAnas Khan

I have a passion for reading, and my favourite books are those that explore Delhi's history. Initially, I used to read more about the specific monuments and eras associated with a particular walk, but my extensive research has allowed me to bring more comprehensive themes to my audiences. I strive to make my storytelling format fun and engaging because while people on a heritage walk want to enrich their historical knowledge, they are also out on a weekend to have a good time. As such, I also focus on delivering unique experiences that people will remember.


What are your thoughts on the current trend of heritage walks and historical narratives in urban areas superimposed on contrasting contemporary social contexts? Could you outline the advantages and disadvantages for city residents?


Historical narratives are not being emphasised enough despite the important lessons they carry. Learning from the past is always beneficial, and historical narratives should be superimposed more often. Even when historical content is presented, marketing experts often do it subtly. The internet is a free world, and those who engage with historical content and opt for heritage walks are those few who are actively interested in the same, and it's a tiny fraction.

Humayun's Tomb in a vintage postcard
Humayun's Tomb in a vintage

What is your perspective on the preservation and restoration initiatives undertaken by the government in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh?


The concept of good and bad instances can exist in the same context. Recently, the government launched a new scheme that permits organisations or entities to adopt a monument and be responsible for its maintenance and restoration. This is an excellent initiative.

Renovated Sabz Burj
Renovated Sabz Burjzubair._.zuby/instagram

What is your opinion on the renovations and sculptural additions made to the city for the G20?

Safdarjung Tomb lit up at night
Safdarjung Tomb lit up at nightTwitter

There have been both positive and negative instances when it comes to the preservation of monuments. While the lighting of the monuments in Delhi has been executed beautifully, and the projection arts are remarkable, some restoration projects still need to catch up to expectations. In these cases, the monuments were whitewashed, completely destroying their essence, look, and feel.


Exploring Delhi's diverse architectural styles, can you highlight key features and influences people can expect on your tours? When transitioning, which architectural styles or historical periods, aside from the Mughal era, will you uncover?


One of the most exciting things about architectural influences over the centuries is the ongoing battle between tradition and innovation. Whenever a new dynasty came to this city, the first few years of construction were torn between what had been done before and what was new. I particularly love highlighting the journey from building with stone in a Lego-like style to using brick and mortar. Another favourite is the evolution of the arch from the age-old corbel to the true arch with a single keystone.

Old Delhi through Khan's point of view
Old Delhi through Khan's point of viewAnas Khan

Additionally, I feel that even if I dedicated my entire life to it, I wouldn't be able to do justice to the vast expanse of historical research and storytelling that can be drawn from the Mughals. However, India has such a diverse heritage that I keep shifting gears to different epochs since all of them are pieces that complete the puzzle.


Could you provide a list of your preferred monuments and museums in the city, as well as across India, for our readers to explore?

Agra Fort
Agra FortUnsplash

I have several favourite monuments in Delhi, including Humayun’s Tomb, Safdarjung Tomb, and Zafar Mahal. When it comes to India as a whole, the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are both wonders. I also find the diversity in Rajasthan's forts fascinating, with Amer, Mehrangarh, and Jaisalmer being my personal favourites.

British Museum
British MuseumWikimedia Commons

I look forward to my next excursion to explore the equally diverse Deccan area. When it comes to museums, I recommend visiting the British Museum in London.


As a food enthusiast, particularly of Old Delhi's street food, do you integrate culinary experiences or food-related heritage into your tours? Could you recommend specific places and dishes for our readers to enjoy?

Khan's Old Delhi breakfast platter
Khan's Old Delhi breakfast platterAnas Khan

Old Delhi is known for its culinary delights, with Jama Masjid being the go-to place for non-vegetarian cuisine and Chandni Chowk for chaats. However, I believe that breakfast in Old Delhi is a very underrated and unexplored affair. I offer breakfast tours that are extremely popular, featuring both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.


For newcomers to Delhi, what recommendations do you have for delving into the city's heritage beyond the usual tourist spots?

Baoli (stepwell) in Mehrauli Archaeological Park
Baoli (stepwell) in Mehrauli Archaeological ParkTwitter

Delhi boasts of a rich heritage scattered across the city. Although I would love to recommend plenty of places, most of them are secluded, and it's better to explore them in a group. For this reason, some of us organise heritage walks frequently in such locations.

A traditional haveli in Old Delhi
A traditional haveli in Old DelhiAnas Khan

However, a few places one should notice are the Mehrauli Archaeological Park and Zafar Mahal. Also, there are many haveli trails in Old Delhi worth exploring.


Lastly, what has been the most rewarding part of your role as a heritage walker? What are your plans to continue supporting the conservation and promotion of Delhi's heritage?

Tomb structure inside the Jamali Kamali complex known for its rich frescoes
Tomb structure inside the Jamali Kamali complex known for its rich frescoesAnas Khan

Over the past 4-5 years, I've noticed a significant shift in people's attitude towards history. What was once considered a dull topic has now become fascinating, and I find it gratifying to know that I've played a role in this transformation. I intend to continue leading heritage walks for as long as possible to preserve the oral traditions gradually being lost over time. Delhi, which is truly a melting pot of cultures, must be tasted by one and all.

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