When we think of old Delhi, there are many cliches about its character. We like our old cities to look a certain way: the chaos, the crowd, the noise, and yet the seeming ease with which every thing operates. Yes, on the surface perhaps all old cities are like that, and our purani dilli is no different. Yet, there is more to these that catches the eye. Cities, even historic ones, change rapidly, and often these changes come and go without us noticing them. This heritage walk to the old city tries to capture a little bit of all of this: the life of the city, what is typical and what lies beneath the typical.
We start our heritage walk just outside the Red Fort. The fort was the palace complex of Shahjahan, and what is today the purani dilli for us, was Shahjahanabad, the capital city of the Mughals in the 17th century. As we step into Chandni Chowk, we are greeted by two monumental temples, the Digamber Jain Lal Mandir in red sandstone and the Gauri Shankar temple in white. There is a small flower market right across the road which caters to the devotees who come in and pray. This entire land was once the estate of Begam Samru. Orignially a dancing girl from Kashmir she went on to marry a European, Walter Reinhard and covnverted to Christianity. She is particularly known for establishing the church at Sardana, near Meerut. Today whatever little of her mansion remains, has become part of Lala Bhagirath market. A little further is the entry to the famous market of Dariba Kalan, marked by the ‘old and famous’ jalebi wala. Our next stop on our heritage trail was the fountain chowk, a busy roundabout marked with many landmarks. The Sisganj gurudwara is one of the most important shrines of the Sikh community. It marks the site of martyrdom of the nineth Sikh guru, Teg Bahadur. At the centre of roundabout, stands a fountain, which is also a shrine. It commemorates the sacrifice of Bhai Dyala, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das, who had accompanied the Guru and were also tourtured and killed. There is now a museum named after them. Adjacent to Sisganj gurudwara, is the Sunheri Masjid. The once golden domes are now jaded. But the Persian ruler, Nadir Shah, stood on the terrace of the this very mosque and watched the massacre of citizens of Delhi. He is the one who took away two of the most well known symbols of royalty from India: the Kohinoor diamond and the Peacock throne. The Kohinoor is with the British now and the Peacock throne, some say was melted down and others say that it is in Tehran Museum.
Next, we walked into the famous street of fried bread: the parathewali gali. It leads to the well known shopping precinct, Kinari Bazaar and then to a lane called Naughara which is one of the few places in the old city which retain their traditional look. We walk out into the main street halting next at the Town Hall. This area is actually gives the street its name. The main street from the Red Fort to the Fatehpuri Mosque was decorated by a canal running through its centre. This water reflected moonlight which gave the street its name the ‘moonlight square’. The Town Hall was the headquarters of the British adminstration. And it was built by razing the garden, and sarai of Princess Jahanara. The next sector on our heritage walk was the cloth market at Katra Neel, known for the numerous shivalayas. it is remarkable how they are hidden away behind doorways and at end of tiny alleys.
Fatepuri Mosque which stands at the farther end of Chandni Chowk was built by one of Shahjahan’s wives, Fatehpuri Begum. It is one of my favourite places in the old city. Right behind it is the spice market of Khari baoli. The last stop of our walk was the Gadodia Market, a warehouse built by the British. It offers a wonderful view of the entire old city where from one can see the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid, the Old Delhi Railway station, and even the new MCD headquarters.
(posted by Kanika Singh & photos by Pushpa, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)