Walk through Kashmiri Gate today & the place is a thriving market for automobile parts, old shops selling all kinds of hardware, including guns! It is hard to imagine how it would have looked three centuries ago. I study in the same neighbourhood & every time I walk through it I wonder about its evolution. The traces of the past are everywhere to see: old lodges with colonial architecture, shops with English names, remains of some Mughal monuments. Our heritage walk this Sunday, gave me an opportunity to share my thoughts & questions with an enthusiastic audience.
In about two hours we walked through the Kashmiri Gate, Bara Bazaar and Lothian Road talking about people who lived here in the 19th century & specifically the year 1857, an important one in the history of the subcontinent. The rebellion that broke out in 1857 against foreign rule is still considered the greatest ever challenge to the British Empire, even though the British prefer to call it the ‘mutiny’; rather than a rebellion. During the four months of revolt there had been a massive tussle between British and Indian sides.
Our walking tour started with Nicholson Cemetery which is named after the Brigadier General John Nicholson. He is one of the most well known British heroes of 1857, known for his fierce temper & swordsmanship. Many sepoys were fighting under him to quell the rebellion although he did not like them very much. The same graveyard has the burial of Master Ramachandra who remained a popular figure in Shahjahanabad (old Delhi, now) till 1857. He was a professor of mathematics in Delhi College which was famous for publishing and translating numerous texts from various languages like English, Arabic and Sanskrit in Urdu. As he was a Hindu who converted to become a Christian, he remained a victim of hostility from Indian rebels who were threatening each and every possible thing associated with the British. After the rebellion, he was subject to the same hostility from the British who saw him as a ‘native’. The Delhi College building was not spared either- its books getting torn and library looted during the rebellion.
From there we made our way to Kashmiri Gate, one of the gates for the walled city of Shahjahanabad. Although built in seventeenth century by the Mughals it was reinforced by the British. Kashmiri Gate is today peripheral to the daily chores of this neighbourhood but once, the road through this portal was the thoroughfare. The lane along the Kashmiri Gate is the market, Bara Bazar which is known to be built by rich merchant Lala Sultan Singh in 1890s. The most attracting building here is a 1728 AD mosque, Fakhr-ul- Masajid or Pride of Mosques. It was built by lady Khaniz-e-Fatima in the memory of her deceased husband Shujaat Khan, who was commander in chief under Emperor Aurangzeb.
We then saw two prominent landmarks of the area, that is the MCD office and Election Commission’s building. Interestingly these are nineteenth century campuses of Hindu College and St. Stephens College respectively. The two are well known and most sought after colleges in North Campus of Delhi University. Opposite old St. Stephens building is the St James Church built in 1836 and is the oldest surviving church of the city. James Skinner was a person with mixed blood parentage (Anglo-Indian) and so could not find a fixed position in British Army. Hence, he led his own mercenary military band called Skinner’s Horse. We visited Skinner’s family graveyard, his friend-William Fraser’s grave and moved to William Fraser’s House which is now a Northern Railway Office building.
Passing our way through University campus shared by two institutes Ambedkar University Delhi and Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology we reached Dara Shukoh Library. The building is now under Delhi Archaeology Department and displays artefacts dating to 400 AD. Interestingly, this was also the residence of important Mughal noble Ali Mardan Khan in 1640s and also of first British Resident David Ochterlony in 1803 apart from being the library of Dara Shukoh, the eldest and most loved son of Emperor Shah Jahan. However, he could not become the emperor and was killed by his younger brother Aurangzeb who then ruled for next fifty years.
We covered two memorials, the British Magazine and Telegraph Memorial towards the end of this walking tour. The Magazine was blown away by British so that it could not fall in hands of the sepoys while Telegraph Office memorial remembers the loyalty of the British signallers who remained on duty and kept informing Punjab government about the happenings of Delhi so that similar situation could not erupt in important province of Punjab.
It was fun interacting with all who joined the walk. Thanks for joining us.
(posted by Niti Deoliya & Pushpa Mandal, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)