It is a truism that the city never sleeps. Not only is it always alive, it is constantly changing. People who live in an area, in our case old Delhi, have been constantly working & reworking their lives & in turn the life of the city. Which means that purani dilli has layers of pasts which need careful exploration & observation. A fun way to do this is walking through its lanes. Our heritage walk this Sunday was focused on the main street of Chandni Chowk. This is not to say that the rest of the old Delhi is not of interest. But the idea is to get a slice of its history. We started from the Digamber Jain Lal Mandir, which stands opposite the Red Fort. It is a large building with prominent sandstone shikars (towers) topped with gold finials. It is the oldest Jain temple here, and is also famous for having a bird hospital in its premises. Right next to it stands the Gauri Shankar temple, competing in height with Jain Mandir, but not quite so elegant. A small flower market on the other side of the street caters to the devotees here. Just behind the Pearey Lal Building on the Chandni Chowk is a well know market for electronic good & surgical equipments. It is called Lala Bhagirath Place. This market is built on the estate with once belonged to Begam Samroo. Now, she happens to be one of the most gossiped about characters in Indian history. A Kashmiri Muslim woman, she converted to Christianity after she married a Frenchman, Walter Reinhardt. This only fuelled bazaar gossip of how she would party late into the night, with European men, not maintaining purdah & smoking hookah in a jolly manner! This does not mean that she was a nobody. In fact, she was powerful enough to convince the raiding Sikh army lead by Baghel Singh to leave Delhi! In return the Sikhs were given the right to erect memorials to their gurus. A prominent example is the Sisganj Gurdwara. It is a site extremely sacred to Sikh community, because Guru Teg Bahadur was martyred here. Just before the gurdwara stands the fountain chowk which marks the spot of martyrdom of 3 of guru’s followers: Bhai Sati Das, Bhai Mati Das & Bhai Dyala. There is now a museum named after them which stands at the fountain chowk. Other sites of interest here are the Ghantewala Shahi halwai & Sunheri Masjid.
There are several notable contributions made by women to the city life, including Begam Samroo. We know that the Town Hall & old Delhi Railway station stand on the estate which belonged to Jahanara. Fatehpuri Mosque at the end of Chandni Chowk was built by one of the wives of Shahjahan, Fatehpuri Begum. Another mosque which has been the centre of controversy recently, Akbarabadi mosque, too was built by Akbarabadi Begum, another wife of the Emperor. Some also credit the creation of Chandni Chowk with its water channel to Jahanara, but it is more likely that it was the work of Ali Mardan Khan, a noble under Shahjahan.
Taking a detour from the main boulevard, we walk into the Parathewali Gali & through Kinari Bazaar & then to Naughara, a group of havelis. Another famous shop for street food in old Delhi is the ‘old famous jalebi wala’ at Dariba Kalan & Chaina Ram’s shop adjacent to Fatehpuri Masjid. And since we cannot talk of food without its spices, we walked into the Khari Baoli area, famous as the spice market of old Delhi. Here our heritage walk ended at a warehouse called Gadodia Market, which has panoramic view of the entire route traced by us.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)