Exploring Shahjahanabad: A walk in Old Delhi


Its stories, wafting aromas, heritage and architecture; just a few of the reasons for getting lost in the gallis of Shahjahanabad. Amid the worn-out heritage structures of Chandni Chowk, the glare of the yellow ‘M’ signalling a McDonald’s outlet looks out of place, and time. “My grandfather tells me this was a cinema hall before it was converted to a ‘McDee’ outlet,” the INTACH walk leader tells me as we set off to explore Shahjahanabad, the capital city built by Emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658).

The walk, ‘Exploring Shahjahanabad: A walk in Old Delhi’, starts from the Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, located opposite the Red Fort. Standing in front of the mandir, believed to be the oldest Jain temple in Shahjahanabad, we get a crash course on the old city.

Designed by Jahanara, the Emperor’s favourite daughter, Chandni Chowk was one of the main thoroughfares of the capital city. Where did Chandni Chowk get its name? There are two stories: a pool existed in the area and because its water shimmered in moonlight, the place was named Chandni Chowk; second, the area was named after its silversmiths and the word ‘chandi’ (silver) became ‘chandni’.


Down the main road is the State Bank of India building, built on an estate owned by Begum Samru, who headed a mercenary army. The building has high ceilings, colonial-style gateposts and large jali openings. A few steps ahead is the Central Baptist Church, one of the oldest churches in the city. Right opposite is the Sis Ganj Gurdwara, the site of the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur and the Sunehri Masjid. Chandni Chowk has the distinction of being perhaps the only trade market, which houses so many places of worship of different religions.

From here we entered the sinews of Shahjahanabad: Paranthawala Gali, Kinari Bazaar, Katra Kushal Rai and Dharampura. As we negotiated the narrow bylanes, someone mentioned how cool the place is. A smart piece of planning made sure that too much sunlight did not enter the area, we were told. The day was yet to start in these gallis, only some eateries in the Paranthawala Gali were doing brisk business. The smell the fresh ghee on the paranthas wafts through the galli. To woo customers, most eateries have strategically placed old photographs of politicians and Bollywood stars devouring paranthas made by them.

Inside Kinari Bazaar is Naugharana, a row of nine traditional Jain houses and the Jauhari temple. From Naugharana, we entered Katra Kushal Rai and marvelled at the intricately carved havelis. Then a ‘secret’ alley took us to another Jain colony, Dharampura. This area houses the stunning Shri Digambara Jain Naya Mandir. ‘Naya’ here means built in 1807! Further on, an elaborate gateway leads to a kucha where Ustad Hamid, Shah Jahan’s master-builder lived. Another turn and were in Gali Guliyan, which ends at Jama Masjid, the last stop of the walk.

As we exchanged notes at the end of the tour, we deliberated whether we should take the lanes back to Chandni Chowk — on our own. Yes, was the unanimous answer and with the map in hand, we started the treasure hunt all over again.

I wrote this story a while back in ‘Hindustan Times’, a prominent daily, but thought of sharing with more folks.

12 Comments

  • manish says:

    Good one Kumkum. So the walking tours of old delhi had started. Its a good news for the tourists as well as for our heritage.

  • Nandan says:

    I read this first in HT and then when I noticed that its been written by ‘Kumkum Dasgupta’, I thought that “o, this is by kumkum” :)

    So I requested her to publish this on Ghumakkar as well. Great Post.

  • backpakker says:

    Great post..so many hidden treasures in the cities we live in ..I must try this walk when I come to delhi next ..can u give me details pls ?

  • KumKum says:

    Hi backpakker,

    Thank you. Yes, there is much to Delhi than tandoori chicken!
    Contact: >Programme Coordinator,
    INTACH Delhi Chapter
    Ph: 24641304,24692774
    Extn: 105
    or email: intachdelhi@rediffmail.com

    Also, go for the Meherauli Archeological park walk, it’s absolutely fantastic.

  • KumKum says:

    Nandan, thanks. And as I can see my make on the contributors list! Thanks.

  • KumKum says:

    oooops, name, I mean!

  • backpakker says:

    Thanks Kunkum..been to Mehrauli many times ..in fact was almost ” house arrested ” there during my first visit in Delhi in 1992- had come on Dec 5 , so you know why ..couldnt get out of Delhi for 15 days ..so while I havent gone on one of those INTACH walks..every eve, used to walk down the lanes and see Qutub Minar and come back :)

  • manisha says:

    Hi Kumkum,

    Thanks !! Enjoyed reading this a lot. As i told you it has also rekindled my wish to discover Delhi’s past. Hope i’ll be able to fulfil it soon.

  • JATINDER SETHI says:

    I love reading historical pieces about our city,and recently saw aSanjoy Roys documentry on Shahjahanabad,after reading the Last Mughal and the White MughalbyWilliam Dalrymple,but still loved your piece,Kumkum. The only thing I missed,although every other writings always talk about ,is your non-mention of Ghalibs Havealli,whichis a must in all INTACH walks.You wouldnt believe that we,students MA.Lit in Delhi University -all Mathurs&Sexenas from Katra Neel-used to cyle miles & miles to go Nehrauli and Kutab.And now I stay in Gurgaon and hardly look at Kutab, though cross every day. Thanks .See Sanjoy Roys Docu,if you have not already seen. JATINDER SETHI(Too Long & boring?)

  • Deepak says:

    Jatinder Ji ,
    any more information on INTACH or its walks, it is done only in walled city..etc/elsewher in delhi?

    and any website link to sanjoy roy Documentry

    Revert Awaited
    thanks

  • JATINDER SETHI says:

    DEEPAK,
    This docu was recently screened at Epic Centre in Gurgaon along with Sanjoys docu on Shimla and the littel train and its history.You can check his name perhaps from the Habitat Centre Members directory. You must have seen him on page three–with long flowing hair.Ot try TEAM SPIRIT Productions which is his company producing plays and docus.Try his fathers numbAdmiral Roy,2334866-sSanjoy stays there(Its next to my house but have no social contact)

  • Deepak says:

    thanks sir….

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