The Kashmiri Gate route is one of the more unusual trudges among our heritage walks. The landmarks covered in this heritage trail are no picturesque monuments. Rather, these are places which are constantly being lived in & thereby altered. Some places are ill kept, others under government control where the caretakers go into hiding, locking up their buildings as soon as they see a curious visitor. Still, the highlight of this walk was that we managed to cut through all the suspicion & get to see a real gem, which only a handful would know of & still fewer people seen. But I will come to that in a bit…First let me trace the narrative of our heritage walk. We start at Nicholson’s Cemetery. Its location provides a good sense of the position of battle field where the Indian rebels and the British sepoys clashed in the year 1857. Whether it was grave of British brigadier general John Nicholson or eminent Indian Professor Yasudas Ramachandra both could find a place there. Walking a bit in to the old Delhi area, through Agrasen Park and I.S.B.T we made our way to one of the great landmarks of rebellion, the Kashmiri Gate. Although a defensive moat existing outside the gate has vanished with time but the strategic use of existing barracks and bastions could still be estimated. At a stone throw distance away from it was another heritage building called Bengali Club. It was once a hub for Bengali community but is now in almost a forgotten state. Amidst the old buildings, noisy road and busy traffic was a 1890s market named Bada Bazar where the mesmerizing charm of Lal Masjid or Fakhr-ul-Masajid could not be missed. Moving a little ahead were the old buildings of the two contemporary & popular colleges of 19th century, one of them being St. Stephens College established by British Cambridge missionaries while the other was The Hindu College set up by Indian nationalists. Wasn’t it a clear representation of the tussle between British and Indian sentiments? Right opposite to St. Stephens was the first church of the city- St. James Church made by James Skinner. A glimpse at its modified present neighborhood hides away the fact that it was once important place housing Mughal nobility, containing mansions, large estates and beautiful gardens. Now the highlight of the walk: a straight walk from the church led us to the William Frazer’s residence. This majestic bungalow is known to be built on Mughal noble Ali Mardan Khan’s basement. It is presently the office of Indian Railways. Here we got an opportunity to see the basement rooms, tehkhanas. Some accounts talk of this area as a Mughal period prison. A reference to this area is made by William Dalrymple in his popular book, City of Djinns. The building, painted white, looks like a small European fortress. Close by is the Archaeological Museum building which was once a library of Shah Jahan’s elder son- Dara Shukoh. Later, it was the Residency of Company official – David Ochterlony. Finally, it was Telegraph Memorial and Delhi Magazine both marking a testimony to the British acts of bravery during the revolt of 1857.
It was a small yet a significant attempt to unearth different layers of past and to be able to have a better look of our ignored present. Thanks to the visitors on the walk who are keen to explore the city & it is their enthusiasm which made this experience a truly wonderful one.
(posted by Niti Deoliya & Kanika Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)