Chandni chowk, is
literally the street of the silversmiths, is more an area than a
single street branching out into a bazaar of mixed splendour and
squalor. Indeed, one of the most fascinating things about this area
is the persistent contrast that it presents on the one hand of the
choice and valuable jewellery it stocks and on the other of masses of
simple people walking, or cycling, or traveling by cycle rickshaw up
and down its old lanes and by-lanes.
centuries ago, there was space, now there are crowds of jostling
people. Chandani chowk caters to everyone. Where once princes and
princesses rode in palanquins, milkmen on cycle today weaves their
way through pedestrians, insistently ringing their cycle bells.
Where once there were processions with roses, roses all the
way, today there is the fragrance of roses and of those attars
(perfumes) that recall the Mughal past, but there is also the
tempting smell of todays parathas and kababa.
In season there are
jasmines. There are marigolds always. And in the huddled shops
there are tinseled garlands awaiting the wedding receptions that are
taking place throughout the year. There are fabrics of all colours
and textures; there are toys, balloons biding high on tall sticks;
there is colour, sound, scent.
As for sound, listen and
you will hear the muezzin call, for the Jama Masjid is not far away.
You will hear cries of cyclists, of rickshawwallahs and sometimes of
pedestrians in warning or fear. At some point cars must stop, for
the lane is not wide enough for them to pass, you mush take a
rickshaw or walk, keeping clear of the gutters on either side, but
you always hear the sound of car horns or the screeching brakes of
buses. For this is amongst the most populous of Old Delhis
areas. You are aware of thousands of people all day, every day.
To those who do not fear
crowds, have always been attracted by mixed sounds and the human
tapestry oif colour, smell and noise, Chandani chowk presents no real
problem. Two English women spent several days here last year, and
wrote in superlatives about all they found on their walks. Cross
again to the left of Chandani chowk. Enter the main Jain Temple
Complex on the corner and take off your shoes. A man stands ready to
collect leather goods, handbags and shoes. Climb the marble steps
and enter the temple.
Leave the temple, turn
right and enter the Jain Bird Hospital, an amazing place, very clean
and extremely busy, with about 60 birds admitted and treated every
day in summer. The staff are dedicated and welcoming.
Leave the Jain complelx,
walk along Chandani chowk keeping to the left, past the
flower-sellers and cross Esplanade Road, a straight thoroughfare
unlike the winding roads west of it, because it was built so much
later. After 1857, the British demolished many of the lovely 17th
century mansions and made a parade ground.
And now kalans. First,
Dariba Kalan or the street of the incomparable pearl. The word
Dariba is made up the Persian Dur e be baha. That means
peart without compare. This is to the left of Chandani chowk proper
meet, there was once a gate across the road, that was called Khuni
Darwaza or the Bloody Gate. In 1739, Nadir Shah, the Persian
invader, defeated the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah at the Battlke of
Karnal and then marched to Delhi. Dariba Kalan was then full of gold
and silversmiths, but with Nadir Shahs invasion it became a
street and were piled up against the gates.
But you are now looking
for Kinari Bazaar (braid-shops/street). As you walk down Dariba
Kalan and take the fourth opening on your right you enter Kinari
Bazaar which has the most glittering shops in Old Delhi. It is the
centre of the wedding ceremony trade, full of gold, grooms
turbans, currency-note garlands and huge rosettes.
The shops have larvae
stocks: they sell to both wholesalers and retailers. Brides and
their families, of all religions, come here to bu their wedding
apparel. In October the street becomes magical, for the shops stock
Ram Lila bows and arrows, extra heads for Ravana and cardboard swords
for hundered of schoolboys.
Walk along Kinari Bazaar
until the narrow street opens up; theres a road to your right
that will lead you back to Chandani chowk proper. This road is part
of Paratha Walan the street of paratha sellers. Hence you watch
parathas being made, stuffed and fried. On the right, you can see the
handsome Red Fort. But close by there is a famous old sweetshop
Ghantewala (the bell ringer) established in 1790 which still
sells the most delicious varieties of sohan halwa, kaju ki barfi,
laddus and pinni made from khoya.
You must be a little
tired by now. Stand and listen to the voices and the footsteps, real
and unreal of present and past, for you stand on a historical ground.
Three-and-a-half centuries ago it came int being with the building
of Shahjahanabad in 1648. Between then and now, millions of people,
Indian and non-Indian, have walked the area in search oif cloth,
jewellery, savouries and sweets, toys for children, apparel for
brides and bridegrooms, for it caters to all ages, all tastes. The
foreign travelers-French, Italian, English have recorded their
glowing impressions of what they saw. In 1988, W.H.D. Adams wrote
The shops of Chandani chowk literally coruscate with their show
of gold and silver embroidery, beads and bangles, sheeny silken
stuff, delicate lace work, fantastic toys, gorgeous headdresses and
marriage caskets. Eleven years later, G.W. Stevens said, The
houses in Chandani chowk totter and lean together. The street is a
mass of squatting, variegated people; bulls, in necklaces of white
and yellow flowers, sleep across the pavements; donkeys stroll into
the shops; goats nibble at vegetables; a squirrel flights with a
In 1902, Lovat Fraser
saw Chandani chowk at sunset and wrote: I have not seen any
spot which so nearly approximates to the accepted idea of the
oriental bazaar as does Chandani chowk just now. Hw describes
its mass of traffic-bullocks carts and four-wheelers, camels,
elephants, and people many shops each holding a kings
ransom, where jewelers display their wares. Sellers of fruit
block pavements. Glaring lights, noise and hubbub. And you see the
rose-red walls of the fort flushed with the glow of the setting sun.
Then Chandani Chowk is that marvelous artery of Delhi which
epitomizes the magic and mystery of an eastern city.