Delhi’s summer heat was no deterrent for a group 20 –odd enthusiasts who turned up this morning for a heritage walk in old Delhi. This heritage walk covers the main street of Chandni Chowk. The first stop was the Digamber Jain Lal Mandir, the oldest Jain temple in Shahjahanabad. It is now a prominent structure in the city’s landscape with towering red sandstone shikhars & the shrine is as old as the city itself. The temple is also unique for housing a charitable bird hospital in its premises. Both kite flying & kabutarbaazi are popular pastimes for old Delhi citizens and a lot of birds end up getting injured from the glass-coated strings attached to the kites. Adjacent to the Jain temple is the Gauri Shankar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Across the street from this temple is a flower market which among other offerings stocks the dhatura (a poisonous weed) offered to Shiva. Just behind the flower shops is the Bhagirath Place market, famous for electronic goods. The market stands on the estate of a lady called Begum Samroo. She is a well known character from Indian history and there are several romantic tales about her. She married a French mercenary, who was nicknamed ‘somber’ for his serious countenance. ‘Samroo’ seems to a corruption of ‘somber’ and the name has stuck ever since. A little ahead is the SBI building a prominent colonial landmark in old Delhi & the Central Baptist Church, set up in its present location around 1858, making it one of the earliest Churches in Delhi. On the left is the Dariba Kalan, the ‘great street of jewellers’. At the entrance to Dariba is the ‘old & famous’ shop known for its jalebis. The shop is actually named ‘Old & Famous Jalebiwalla’!
The next stop was the fountain chowk with Sisganj gurdwara as its most famous landmark. The gurdwara marks the site of martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur & 3 of his followers. Today, it is one of the holiest Sikh shrines in the subcontinent. Adjacent to Sisganj is Sunheri Masjid, which stands at some height above the level of the road. It was here that the Persian invader, Nadir Shah took his seat after ordering a massacre of Delhi’s citizens, in 1739. It was in this very raid that Nadir Shah carried way the Peacock Throne & Kohinoor diamond. Old Delhi’s oldest sweet shop, Ghantewala Shahi Halwai was originally located on the fountain chowk. The new shop is just a few yards away and now one can even order sweets online!
The Town hall, next on our heritage trail, is a well known landmark of Chandni Chowk. Originally built by the British as their administrative headquarters it now houses the offices of the Mayor & MCD. The chowk here had large pool in its centre which reflected moonlight & there was a stream running through all along the centre of the road from Red Fort to the Fatehpuri mosque. This is what gives the street its name ‘Chandni Chowk’ or ‘moonlight street’. From the Town Hall we walked towards Katra Neel, once the richest quarter of the city. Lala Chunna Mal’s haveli is on the main road, just above the shops. Katra Neel also has an astonishing number of shivalayas, shrines for Lord Shiva. All along the Chandni Chowk, are early 20th century buildings noticeable by finely decorated eaves & balconies. Some of these are very finely decorated such as the Mahalaxmi building and the Corporation bank building near Fatehpuri.
The Fatehpuri is one of the largest mosques in old Delhi. Stepping into its courtyard feels like walking into a completely different world altogether. It is remarkably calm in contrast to the hustle & bustle just outside its walls. The last stop on our heritage walk was Gadodia Market just behind Fatehpuri mosque, in the spice market. We walked up to the rooftop which offers and excellent view of the entire city: the domes & minarets of Jama Masjid, the courtyard of Fatehpuri, the street of Chandni Chowk leading up to the Red Fort at a distance, & activities of people living around the market.
(posted by Rajesh Ranjan & Kanika Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)