The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, August 27, 2000

From Chandni Chowk to Chandni choked
By Atul Yadav

COMPLEXITIES, contradictions, palimpsest, beauty, dynamism, where the past coexists with the present, is what the Delhi is all about. Being built and destroyed seven times, it has been witness to various events, which has brought India through the history books. The city is rich in architecture of its monuments, since many dynasties ruled from here. Diverse cultural elements absorbed into the daily life of the city have enriched its character. It can be a fascinating and rewarding experience to explore the city.

From the rustic ramparts of the Red Fort what we see is the largest trading centre in northern India. Chandni Chowk or rather choked Chandni, as it is obvious from the road and pavement, where people and traffic are seem to be choked together. Shops aligned along the pavement are full of activity, needless to say about

hawkers whose versatility had made them protagonists of the pavement. Camouflaging the pavement, they sell all sorts of things from clothes, shoes, watches, bags, dolls, electronic goods etc., plus the things, which you havenít ever seen. You can always find the shop of your taste.


Ranging from electronic goods to delicious sweets, they sell every things used these days. It takes stout heart to carry on, when the markets are sullied by cutthroat competition. Yet in this stiff world, there exists an unseen bondage that binds these shopkeepers together.

Itís hard to believe that Shah Jahanís Chandni Chowk was once a quiet road with an ornamental water canal called Nahar-i-Bahist flowing along its centre. The nobility built mansions in Chandni Chowk which became the most fashionable locality of the empire. It was the most exclusive trading centre in its heyday, where turbaned merchants bowed in elaborate courtesy to display their paraphernalia among other things. And these included jewels, silks, precious stones and spices. In 1837, long after the Mughal glory had faded, Emma Roberts, an English woman wrote of the hooded leopards, cheetahs, Persian cats and greyhounds ó other exotica which were on sale.

Treading past its history, Shah Jahanís favourite daughter, Jahanara Begum had a square pool made at the centre of the road. On a clear night, the light of the moon was reflected in the pool, and the street earned its name which means moonlit square. She designed the entire area of the Chandni Chowk which was then inhabited by the well-to-do families of the time. It was the eyes and ears of the Mughalís commercial instincts and is today one of the countryís best known wholesale markets for textiles, electric goods and watches.

Chandni Chowk has changed now beyond recognition, but its historic landmarks survive. These include Gurdwara Sis Ganj, where Aurangzeb had the ninth Sikh Guru beheaded, the mosque where Nadir Shah prayed, shop of Ghantewala and Gulab Chand perfumers established in 1740 and 1860, respectively. It was quiet amusing to explore that how the shop Ghantewala got its name. It is said that the emperorís elephant, during a stately procession, tempted by the whiff from the shop, refused to budge and stood shaking its bell (ghante) round its neck, giving the shop its name.

Just before one enters the Chandni Chowk area one cannot miss seeing the Charity Birdís Hospital located within the precincts of a temple. Bird lovers can bring their pets here for treatment free of cost. So if one of your pets is in trouble then this is the place you need to go. Just touching this Jain temple are the shops selling flowers, which fill the air with a soothing fragrance. Towards the right of the temple is the ĎOld Lajpat Rai marketí or Ďthe electronic marketí from where you can buy your electronic goods.

No prizes for sighting the sweet shops because there is no dearth of them. Pay visit to relish the jalebis or taste some delicious gol gappas and kulfi, both made with gastronomic technology which dates back centuries. Savour the aroma of pure desi ghee sweets at none other than Ghantewala even if the prices are not quiet fitting the pocket. It you are looking for the tasty and moderately priced desi ghee paranthas then there is no place better than Gali Paranthewali. "Win Rs. 1001 by proving the ghee we are using is spurious," says the hanging board at one of the parantha shop. The tangy chaats and gol gappas that sell there, take us back to the days when the recipe was actually a medication prescribed by the royal hakeem to treat gastroenteritis.

The alleys, bylanes and the galis that lead out from Chandni Chowk are as interesting as their names. Where else can you find Gali Lehswan, Moti Bazaar, Katra Nawab, Gali Kachha Bagh, Katra Asharfi, Kucha Mahajani, Katra Neel, Kucha Brijnath, Nai Sadak etc. They are known for wholesale cloth markets, jewellers, shoes, second hand books, stationers etc.

Chandni Chowk acquire the true colour as the saying Delhi Dilwaalon Ki Hai goes on and becomes a window to the kaleidoscope that is Delhi.