Last Sunday morning was an attempt to explore and discover Chandni Chowk neighborhood which has seen a history of more than three hundred years. We started our heritage trail at Digambar Jain Lal Mandir which is the oldest Jain temple of old Delhi. What is today old Delhi for us was Shahjahanabad, the capital established by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan & it remained the capital till 1857. The Jain temple was also called Urdu Mandir or Urdu Temple, from the story that the shrine was initially built for Jain soldiers in the army of the king. ‘Urdu’ meant a camp. Next to the Jain temple is the eighteenth century old Gauri Shankar Mandir devoted to Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati & built by Marathas. A few steps ahead is the SBI building which was once a British bank and it stands on the estate of a Kashmiri dancing girl- Begam Samroo. Now the mansion & its gardens are gone. The site was purchased by Lala Bhagirath & there is a very large market for electronics here, named after him. Just before the SBI building, is the Esplanade Road, leading to Jama Masjid. It is a well known market for camera parts & bicycles. Further on Chandni Chowk is the entry to Dariba Kalan, which is an exclusive market for jewellery. At the entrance to stands the ‘old & famous’ jalebi wala. Across the road is the Central Baptist Church, one of the older churches in Delhi.
One of the most important Sikh shrines in the subcontinent is the Gurdwara Sisganj on Chandni Chowk. It is here that Guru Teg Bahadur was beheaded in 1675 on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb on his firm refusal to emperor’s demand to convert to Islam. The Mughal Kotwali where the Guru was imprisoned is now the langar hall of the gurdwara. The blue & white fountain (Northbrook Fountain) is built on the spot where the Guru’s associates, Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das & Bhai Dyala were tortured & killed. There is now a museum on Sikh history which is named in their memory. The fountain chowk has other landmarks like the Sunheri Masjid, a three domed copper plated mosque built in 1721. It is said that Persian invader, Nadir Shah stood and witnessed the massacre of the city in 1739. Ghantewala halwai the oldest sweetshop whose antecedents go back to royal Mughal kitchens is a few steps ahead. We take a slight detour from the main street of Chandni Chowk into the Parathewali Gali, the street of fried bread. It is extremely popular for its fried bread (parantha) filled with a mind boggling variety of stuff: dry fruits, rabri, khurchan, chilli, paneer, & vegetables of all kind. This lane leads to Kinari Bazaar & a group of havelis called Naughara.
The next stop on our heritage walk was British Town Hall which has been built on the land owned by Shahjahan’s daughter Jahanara. Here, on the middle of the street was an octagonal pool of water reflecting moonlight in the night sky and so gives the place its name, Chandni Chowk or moonlight square. Further from Town Hall is the neighbourhood of Katra Neel. The building dominating the katra is Chunna Mal haveli, an influential merchant-banker in the 19th century & one of the richest men in the city then. Katra Neel also has many small shrines to Lord Shiva, shivalayas. We visit one of them called Kunni ji Maharaj Shivalaya. The Chandni Chowk ends in the Fatehpuri Masjid, which incidentally is older than the Jama Masjid. On its north is the famous spice market at Khari Baoli. We end out walking tour at Gadodia Market in Khari Baoli, where we climb up the terrace for an excellent view of purani dilli! Thanks everyone for being part of it and we hope to see you again.
(posted by Niti Deoliya & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)