Not many would know that women of the royal family of Mughals were instrumental in building of the city of Shahjahanabad. Today it is old Delhi for us, know for the Red Fort & Jama Masjid & all credit goes to Shahjahan. But patronage of architecture seemed to run in the family. There are many historic buildings in old Delhi built by women of the family & our heritage walk in Chandni Chowk highlighted some of these. Our heritage trail begins are the Digamber Jain Lal Mandir, the famous Jain temple opposite Red Fort. The temple shrine is as old as the city itself & now it is the best known landmark in the old city, know also for the charitable bird hospital in its premises. Right next to it stands the Gauri Shankar temple dedicate to Shiva & Parvati. On the other side of the road is a small flower market. We continue down the Chandni Chowk towards Dariba Kalan. This street famous for its jewellery is one of the most popular markets among shoppers. At its corner it the ‘old famous jalebi wala’ a well known shop for street food in old Delhi. On the other side of the road, stands the SBI building & the Central Baptish Church. The McDonalds adjacent to the Church is a rather jarring presence. This entire estate was once part of Begam Samroo’s property. Whatever little is left of her mansion is known by the name of Bhagirath Place, an electronics market. Further ahead is the historic gurdwara of Sisganj & the shrine at fountain chowk. It was here that Guru Teg Bahadur was beheaded. At the fountain chowk, 3 of his followers: Bhai Sati Das, Bhai Mati Das & Bhai Dyala were tortured & killed. The roundabout also has a large museum on Sikh history in their name. Before 1857, the Mughal kotwali & Sunehri Masjid stood adjacent to each other. The kotwali is no longer extant & its land is now part of Sisganj complex. The Sunheri Masjid still stands although its ‘golden’ domes wear a faded look. It is said that Nadir Shah when he raided Delhi, stood on this very terrace & watched the massacre of citizens of Delhi. A small detour from here through Parathewali Gali & Kinari Bazaar took us to Naughara, a group of havelis which still retains their traditional appearance. These havelis have brightly painted gateways & carving done on stone which still retains its delicate patterns. Next we walked through Kinari Bazaar back towards the main street of Chandni Chowk & headed towards the Town Hall. The space before the Town Hall is which originally held an octagonal pool during the time when the city was Shahjahanabad. Besides, there was a canal running through the middle of Chandni Chowk, through its entire length. The presence of clear, sparkling water was what gave the street its name: the water would reflect moonlight & hence the name ‘chandni chowk’ for moonlight square! When the city was built, Princess Jahanara, daughter of Shahjahan had her estate here. It comprised of gardens, public baths & a caravan serai for travelers. These buildings were demolished by the British after 1857 & the Delhi railway station & Town Hall built in its place. The neighbourhood of Katra Neel follows the Town Hall area. It used to be the richest quarter of Delhi n the 19th century. Chunna Mal’s haveli is a dominating presence on the main road. In Katra Neel, we look at one of the numerous Shivalayas or Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. We visit Kunni ji Maharaj Shivalaya where the temple area is a public space but the house where the temple is located is a private one. The gateway to Katra Neel was the site of killings of nationalist protestors who were fired upon by the British in the year 1942, the height of Quit India Movement. The next stop on our heritage walk was Fatehpuri Mosque, built by & named after one of the wives of Shahjahan, Fatehpuri Begum. The much needed restoration work at the mosque is underway & one hopes that the mosque will come better out of it. Another mosque built by a royal lady has been in news recently. The Akbarabadi mosque was built by Akbarabadi Begum, another wife of Shahjahan. The mosque was demolished by the British after 1857 when they cleared a vast area around Red Fort to create a firing range. Now the remains of the mosque, it is claimed, have been found during digging work for Delhi Metro. And in no time has the site become a point of controversy with a illegal mosque coming up there & then Hindu groups claiming it as a site of an ‘ancient’ temple! Carrying on with our trail, we walk behind the Fatehpuri Masjid into Khari Baoli, the well known spice market in old Delhi. Here our walk ends at roof top of a warehouse (Gadodia Market) which offers an excellent view of the city!
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)