The word ‘old’ brings to mind a vintage image – worn out, yet charming. An image that speaks of a time that’s gone by, and that lived to tell the tale.
One such magical place is Delhi. My fascination with the city began with reading City of Djinn. William Dalrymple’s account of Delhi, ‘City of Djinn, a year spent in Delhi’, is in fact much more than that. It opens your eyes to the abandoned ruins of the past and lets you see it come alive!
Among the various pockets of Delhi, one of the most fascinating is Chandni Chowk (a moonlit square) nestled in Purani Dilli (old Delhi). Chandni Chowk is one old paradise, where you see something new each time you go there. Built in the 17th century by the great Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan, Chandni Chowk was once a grand market. Its full glory, a canal ran through the length of the street that reflected moonlight (hence the name).
The Chowk stretches from Lahori Darwaza (the Lahore Gate) of the Laal Qila (the indomitable Red Fort, a 17th century fort complex built by Shah Jahan, to serve as the residence of the Mughal Emperors) all the way to the Fatehpuri Masjid (a 17th century Mosque, commissioned to be built by one of Emperor Shah Jahan’s wives). Along this stretch are various temples (of different religious beliefs, also a marvel in itself!), the markets and of course, people galore! Every curve of the road in Chandni Chowk takes you to a new adventure!
Among the narrow lanes, the cob of rusted iron wires, dilapidated buildings in shades of grey and the various hues of brown, you see a burst of bright colors everywhere – from brightly painted cycle rickshaws, to the colorful parathas (a stuffed bread). Though the colors of Chandni Chowk may have faded a little, its vibrancy is intact. Here are a few shades of this part of Purani Dilli:
This old gentleman was not in the least bit oblivious to my camera. He stood there patiently until I got a shot which he approved of! ‘computer pe daal deejiye bas humara photo‘ he said, as a parting note. (please share it somewhere on the internet!)
Chandni Chowk is incomplete without the cycle rickshaws (your inevitable mode of transport there). While you must walk along the stretch to really discover the hidden treasures, the rickshaw ride is going to be impossible to resist (and to avoid, thanks to the very eager and insistent drivers!).
Here are few images capturing the essence of a typical day for/with the cycle rickshaws.
The chatty rickshaw drivers also double up as your guide, showing you around and telling you some uncorroborated yet fascinating stories: This one is of ‘our guy’:
The best pit stop for a taste of the local food would be the (in)famous parathewali gali (a street of paratha vendors). (I could warn you about a possible ‘Delhi Belly’ but the aroma might tempt you to give it a try anyway!).
Chandni Chowk, is a melting point of various religious beliefs. The long walk will take you inside Jain temples, Gurudwara, Mosques and several small Hindu temples.
Chandni Chowk has lived through a myriad of history, culture and architecture to tell the stories of many intertwined connections. This history seems like a wrinkle on the face, that adds to the charm! Chandni Chowk continues to remain home to those who belong there and a phenomenon for those who cant help but be enchanted by the marvel that it is.