The wait for monsoons is desperate & the weather is unrelenting. Still, a bunch of enthusiasts gathered this Sunday morning to explore old Delhi. Our heritage walk takes us along the main street of Chandni Chowk. This street was the main axis of the city of Shahjahanbad & still retains its centrality to movement & life in old Delhi. We meet at Digamber Jain Lal temple opposite the Red Fort. This is the oldest Jain temple here and is known for the charitable bird hospital in its premises. Next to it stands the Gauri Shankar temple dedicated to Shiv & Parvati. There are some sweet shops nearby & a small flower market on the other side of the road, which caters to the devotees. As we walk along the main street there are old buildings like the Pearey Lal building which give us some idea of the streetscape in early 20th century. Now these buildings have multiple uses, housing commercial establishments, residences, cinema halls and what not! Just behind this façade is the famous Bhagirath Place market. It is located on the estate of Begam Samroo, which was later purchased by Lala Bhagirath. Begam Samroo’s mansion is nearly gone and Bhagirath Place today is a huge market for electronic goods. One can also see the SBI building, which has undergone regular restoration over the last few years. It is a typical example of colonial architecture in India. The Central Baptist Church which came up after 1857 stands next to it. Across the street is the entry to Dariba Kalan, the street of jewelers & at its corner is the ‘old & famous jelebiwala’ as they call themselves. It is a very well known jalebi shop on old Delhi. A few steps ahead is the Sisganj gurdwara, one of the most sacred Sikh shrines in the subcontinent. It is here that Guru Teg Bahadur was beheaded. 3 of his followers were also tortured & killed here at the roundabout. A museum dedicated to their martyrdom stands on the fountain chowk. It is called ‘Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das, Bhai Dyala Museum’. The roundabout at Sisganj is extremely busy and has other important landmarks as well. It is said the Nadir Shah who raided Delhi & took away the Kohinoor & Peacock throne, stood at the Sunehri Masjid on the Chowk & watched the massacre of citizens of Delhi. The oldest surviving sweet shop, Ghantewala Shahi halwai was also located here, but now has shifted along the main road. They had once served the Mughals, & have certainly moved with the times: one can order sweets online now!
We take a little detour here, moving in to the Parathewali Gali, the Kinari Bazaar to a group of havelis called the Naughara. This is a quite lane, just off the Kinari Bazaar. We then retrace our steps back to the Chandni Chowk & head towards Town Hall. This is where the gardens, sarais and public baths made by princess Jahanara were located. After 1857 these were destroyed by the British who built the Delhi Railway Station & the Town Hall in its place. The tram lines in old Delhi also passed through here. A clock tower (ghantaghar) also stood here, but is around no more. We walked further towards Katra Neel, which was the richest neighbrouhood of old Delhi one. It is a very large cloth market. Just above the shops on the main street, one can see a large haveli on the first storey. This is the Chunnamal Haveli, which is still with the descendants of Lala Chunnamal. We enter Katra Neel to look at some of the shivalayas which dot the neighbourhood. The next stop on our heritage walk is the Fatehpuri Mosque. It is undoubtedly one of the most serene places in the old city. One cannot miss the contrast: the calm, cooling spaces of the mosque courtyard with the chaos of the Chandni Chowk. This mosque built by Fatehpuri Begam, a wife of Shah Jahan, is oldest than the Jama Masjid. We exit through one of the gates of the mosque to step into the Khari Baoli, the spice market in old Delhi. The air here is thick with the smell of spices: pepper, red chilli, cardamom, cinnamon & many others. Our heritage trail ends at Gadodia Market, a warehouse of spices. Today it has offices, storage spaces, and living quarters of labourers who work here. The rooftop of this building offers an excellent view of the old city. One can see the entire stretch of Chandni Chowk up to the Red Fort: the towers of Old Delhi Railway Station, the golden domes of Sisganj Gurdwara, the minarets and domes of Jama Masjid, the white towers of Gauri Shankar temple & the red sandstone ones of Jain Temple. The warehouse stands just behind Fatehpuri Masjid, & one gets a bird’s eye view of its courtyard from here.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)
Chandni Chowk Heritage Walk