What we call purani dilli or old Delhi today was the capital city of Shajahanabad in the middle of 17th century. The Mughal Emperor built the Red Fort as his palace complex and the city as his capital. For them, the Mehrauli area would have been ‘old Delhi’. This heritage walk starts from the Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, opposite Red Fort. It is the oldest Jain temple in the city and a charitable bird hospital functions in its premises. The shrine is contemporary to Shahjahan’s time but the building we see now is mostly from middle of 19th century. Adjacent to it is the Gauri Shankar temple, a large white building. It is an early 18th century temple built by a Maratha nobleman. Walking along the Chandni Chowk we passed the State Bank of India building, one of the better surviving colonial buildings and the Central Baptish Church, a church built just after 1857. This entire stretch would have been the estate of a lady popularly known as Begum Samroo. She is one of the characters in Indian history who have many romantic or otherwise stories associated with her. She married a French mercenary, who was of such a serious bearing that he was nicknamed ‘le sombre’. ‘Samroo’ is a corruption of ‘sombre’ or ‘somber’, hence the name. The street of silversmiths, Dariba Kalan, is one of the famous shopping areas in this area. At the entrance to the street is the ‘old & famous jalebiwala’ who sells huge jalebis for an equally huge price! Next stop was the fountain chowk which has a number of landmarks around it. The most prominent is the Sisganj gurudwara built at the site of martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur. The fountain at the chowk marks the spot where the Guru’s 3 followers were tortured to death. There exists a museum in their memory now. Bang opposite is the original location of the famous ghantewala halwai, the oldest sweet shop in Delhi with associations with the royal Mughal kitchen. The chowk also has the Sunheri masjid, from which terrace Nadir Shah watched the massacre of Delhi’s citizens when he raided the capital and took away the Kohinoor & the peacock throne. Adjacent to it was the Mughal kotwali & now its location is part of gurudwara Sisganj compound. A little ahead a narrow lane to the left leads to the parathewali gali popular for its stuffed fried bread (parathas). Where the Town Hall stands today, was originally the gardens and sarai of Jahanara (Shahjahan’s daughter). The square had an octagonal pool which actually gives the name ‘chandni chowk’ or ‘moonlight square’ to the street. We then walked towards Katra Neel with Lala Chunnamal’s huge haveli (mansion) on the main street itself. Inside the katra, we visited a small shivalaya or shrine dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. At the end of Chandni Chowk is Fatehpuri Masjid, built by one of the wives of Shahjahan. We managed a completely breathtaking view of the masjid courtyard and domes by climbing to the top of Gadodia Market. This ealt 20th century complex is a storage place for spices traded in bulk in the Khari baoli. From its rooftop one can see right down the Chandni Chowk up till the Red Fort itself. Ghalib’s haveli in Ballimaran was the last stop for this heritage walk in old Delhi.
(posted by Rajesh Ranjan & Kanika Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)