Our heritage walk in old Delhi covers the main street of Chandni Chowk. Starting from outside the Red Fort we cover a distance of about 2 kms till the famous spice market in Khari Baoli. On the way are some well known & some not so well known landmarks which are of historical interest. In most cases, even though the landmarks are old, the buildings standing to commemorate them can be quite modern. For instance, the starting point of our heritage trail, the Digamber Jain Lal Mandir is the oldest Jain temple, the shrine being as old as the city itself. However the imposing building in red, is mostly 19th century. The golden finials on the shikhars (towers of main shrine) were added only recently, may be less than a year back if I remember correctly. The Gauri Shankar temple is almost entirely a modern structure even through it was established in the 18th century. Similarly Sisganj Gurdwara, one of the most historic landmarks of purani dilli is a modern structure. The Mughal Kotwali has also been made part of the Gurdwara. At the fountain chowk, stood a single screen cinema hall, Majestic. It was purchased by the Gurdwara & converted into a museum on Sikh history. The shop of Ghantewala Shahi halwai has moved from the fountain chowk to the main street of Chandni Chowk on the other side, close to the Sunheri Masjid. A group of havelis called Naughara in Kinari Bazaar are part of our route & even though the houses retain some of their original look (mainly the doorways) they have been modified to suit modern needs of people living there. The Parathewali gali too, they say, is a late 19th century creation which replaced the jewellery shops in this street.
Change is obvious anywhere people live. So is true of old Delhi. There were some traces of settlements in pre-Mughal times as well, but it became an urban centre with the establishment of Shahjahanabad. It has since seen many highs & lows. The worst times for city were the years 1857 & 1947. In 1857 the rebellion & then British response to the rebellion destroyed city life. Old nobility were replaced by a new class of merchants & bankers who were friendly with the British & prospered after 1857. 1947 saw a lot of violence & great movement of people in Delhi & a no. of families moving out of here. Both these have left a lasting impact on the city. For instance, what is today the old city for us, is mostly families & institutions who remained or prospered after 1857. It is their houses, their schools & their institutions which is ‘old’ Delhi for us now. One such person was Lala Chunamal. Lala Chunamal’s haveli is probably the largest in old Delhi & his descendants still live in it. This haveli is a little distance from Town Hall, in the neighbourhood of Katra Neel. The shivalayas in Katra Neel are also part of our heritage walk. The Town Hall itself is an example of drastic changes in Delhi after 1857. When the city was originally planned this site has the pool reflecting moonlight which gave the street its name ‘Chandni Chowk’. Moreover, Shahjahan’s daughter, Jahanara had her estate here which included gardens, public baths & a serai. The British razed this estate to the ground & built the Town Hall & the Delhi Railway station over it. The street of Chandni Chowk ends at Fatehpuri Masjid, which incidentally was purchased by Lala Chunamal after 1857, who returned it to the community a few years later. The mosque is currently undergoing much needed restoration work. The last stop on our heritage walk was the Gadodia Market in Khari Baoli, more famously known as the spice market. This is originally a warehouse for spices built by the British in early 20th century. The plan of the building has a courtyard in the centre with rooms around it, which served as offices & storage spaces. Now the courtyard itself has a block of rooms which were constructed over a period of time to cater to growing demand for space. We climbed to the terrace of this building & it offers an excellent view of the entire stretch of our walk as well as much of old Delhi!
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)