The crowds at Chandni Chowk are an amazing sight, even on a Sunday morning when the market is officially closed. It is natural to be overwhelmed by the hustle-bustle of the people and traffic. From Digambar Jain Lal Mandir till Gurdwara Sisganj there were cars lined all along the road-of devotees to the Jain Mandir, Gauri Shankar temple, Central Baptist Church and Sisganj Gurdwara. Friends who visit the area are often surprised to find places of worship of all faiths so close to each other. But perhaps it is not such an unusual thing in the closely knit urban population as in our Purani Dilli.
Our heritage walk covered the main street of Chandni Chowk & along with the important historical landmarks an added attraction was the food available all along. The permanent shops like Dariba’s jalebiwala, Haldiram’s and paratha shops in Parathewali gali and Chaina Ram’s had started the day’s preparations. The oldest sweet shop here, Ghantewala Shahi halwai opens a little later in the day. There are summer drinks available here, many of which one doesn’t come across in many other parts of Delhi, such as sattu & bel sharbat. A heritage walk at Chandni Chowk seems to be the best place to work up an appetite.
Despite being densely populated & a commercial hub, old Delhi has enclaves, which are a different world. They are cool & quite, a stark contrast to rest of the neighbourhood. There are two such places in our walk: a residential lane, called Naughara, in the Kinari Bazaar & the Fatehpuri Masjid. Old Delhi often appears to be a visual clutter, with too many things happening at once. The old buildings are practically gone behind the shop hoardings. Many collapse & others are pulled down to construct new rooms. In this heritage walk we tried to look beyond the hoardings & point out the hidden gateways, havelis & their stories. Moreover, space seems to a luxury here, everything appearing to be small & cluttered, located in a hole in a wall. But enter the gateway of Fatehpuri Masjid or walk to the top of Gadodia Market in Khari Baoli, & one realizes that there still exist vast spaces in old Delhi. The original gardens & estates from the Mughal times do not exist. Begam Samroo’s estate is now the Bhagirath Place; Jahanara’s caravan serai & garden was replaced by the Town Hall & Delhi Railway station, the canal of the ‘moonlight street’ was paved up. The settlements around the Red Fort including Akbarabadi Masjid were pulled down post 1857. So most of what is old Delhi for us, is not Mughal old Delhi. Rather, it is the Delhi that survives after 1857 & then again, after 1947.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)