Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A heritage walk in Chandni Chowk - Mirza Ghalib's haveli, the first building of St Stephens' College & more

I have always been intrigued by Chandni Chowk and its galiyan right from my childhood. Its strange how we dont visit any of the historical sites in our own cities thinking we can anyway do that anytime. And all this while, we arrange these visits for our guests and loved ones. I visited Qutub Minar last when I was in Primary school. I have been to the Chandni Chowk number of times when I was in school but I haven't really seen it from the eye of a tourist. Visiting Chandni Chowk thus has been one of my priorities since I came back to Delhi and I finally got a chance last Sunday (Jan 29, 2012) when I took a heritage walk, along with Sai Prasad, a friend from Andhra Pradesh who is also posted now in Delhi. We followed "Delhi - 14 historic walks" by "Swapna Liddle" a westland publication as our guide. I always would have thought that it would be a long walk and would be tiresome. But, it turned out to be a very pleasant and a memorable one. The entire heritage route, as suggested by Liddle took a little more than two hours (plus whatever time we spent in Gulzar’s haveli).
The route and landmarks along with is :
Jama Masjid (North gate) – Indrapastha Girls School - Chah Rahat – Digambar Jain Naya Mandir – Meru Mandir – Shsih Mahal (St Stephens college) – Kinari Bazaar – Naughara – Parathe Waali Gali – Ballimaran – Gulzar’s Haveli - Town Hall
Let’s quickly go through each of them.
1. Jama Masjid- Its the most important and prominent landmark of Shahjahanabad. This congregational mosque was built on a natural rise called “Bhojla Pahar”. It represents the high point in Mughal architecture.
2. Indraprastha Girls school – founded in 1904, it was one of the first schools for the girls in Delhi. The school was in a Haveli and part of the school today too is housed in the same Haveli while a new building has come up by the side of it for the school. Take immediate right narrow lane to go to Chah Rahat.
3. Chah Rahat – its the “well with the Persian wheel” which supplied water to the Jama Masjid. A Persian inscription on the top of the well is intact though the well is now locked.
4. Digambar Jain Naya Mandir- as we go north of Chah rahat, one crosses through the gateway of Kucha Ustad Hamid, turning left and walking through bazaar Gulian and then taking the second left turn, one reaches the Naya Mandir. I was surprised to learn that Jains were important merchants and bankers during the empire time. This particular temple was built in 1807 ( and still called “new”). As one goes along further, there’s Meru Mandir. This was built in mid eighteenth century and its worth a visit inside. Infact, at the time of our visit, it was very crowded.
5. Shish Mahal – As one goes further and turn left and walks through Katra Kushal Rai, one comes across a Haveli on the left “Shish Mahal”. This is where St. Stephens’ college had its beginning in 1881. I almost didn’t believe and went inside. It’s just like any other four storeyed haveli.
6. Kinari Bazaar- Katra Kushal Rai ends up in Kinari bazaar. As the name suggests, this is known for the “Kinari work”. It was Sunday and early morning and not many shops were opened though we could catch a glimpse of the colourful Kinari Bazaar. This is a slightly wider lane and one sees lots of foreigner tourists enjoying their visit to this part in rickshaws.
7. Parathe wali gali - Kinari Bazaar continues in a north-westerly direction until it meets up with two other lanes, forming a tri-junction. On the right is Parathe wali gali. This is famous for its roadside eateries serving deep fried parathas (breads) with an unusual variety of fillings. It was my first and I was a bit disappointed as it is a small lane having just about 6-8 Parantha shops ( I was expecting it to be a bigger lane with number of shops). Interestingly, all these shops proudly highlight “fifth generation shop” ! I stopped by and observed one of the shops. They have huge variety of Paranthas and one can have possibly all kind of stuffed paranthas.
8. Ballimaran- On the left is the road called Maliwara. Take this and walk on it for a while. It will intersect with Nai Sadak or ‘new road’, build in the 1860s. On the other side is Ballimaran. There is an interesting controversy about the name Ballimaran. Most say it refers to the makers of ‘ballis’ or oars. However, a letter from Ghalib suggests that the word might actually have been ‘Billimaran’, referring to the killers of cats! (who else but Ghalib!!) . More than cats or oars however, Ballimaran has been known historically for its hakims or doctors of the system of medicine called Yunani. The best-known family of hakims in Ballimaran is the Sharif Khani family, whose members were physicians to the Mughal emperors.
9. Mirza Ghalib’s Haveli -

As one makes way up Ballimaran, there’s a lane (next to mosque) called Gali Qasim Jan on the left. in Gali Qasim Jan, the third building on the left is one of the first important buildings ie the haveli of Mirza Ghalib . It is entered through a semicircular arch made out of brick, and there is a small memorial inside it. There was a controversy last year when most of the newspapers highlighted how the haveli was being rented out for “parties” where alcohol etc was served freely. We all felt outraged at that time. Thankfully, the expose had an impact and there seems to have been sincere attempts to restore the dignity to the haveli. There are details of the life history of Mirza Ghalib and also some of his most famous couplets. This house belonged to one of the hakims, and he lived here towards the end of his life. Only a small part of the house—much modified, is the memorial. The remaining part of the house is still a private residence.
The visit to the Haveli was the best part of this visit.
One comes out on the main road which joins the main road towards the Town hall . As one walks down towards the Red Fort on this main road, there are heritage buildings on both sides of the road and most of them house Banks.

I came across folks selling old coins. We just stopped by and it was amazing, I mean their collection. Coins dating back to Akbar, and modern day coins right from 1913! I bought a set of five coins - 1913, 1925, 1939, 1943 and 1959.

I will strongly recommend this trip to all those wishing to explore Chandni Chowk and its beauty in leisure and at a speed when every thing is observable and enjoyable.


  1. Informative and illustrative.Hope you continue with other lesser known ( for us) areas also.

  2. Very interesting and lucid description of the historical structures existing in Chandni Chowk. Have been in Delhi/NCR since seventies but could not see and admire these. Must make it now.

  3. i am living in Delhi for more then 50 years and visited Chandni Chowk so many times but i never know the facts which you gave thanks for your information.

  4. It was interesting to know the facts of Chandni chowk as it a very common place everyone visit but the facts you explained many people might not know,So i would it was great to know and thanks for the information.If you want to explore new things and places you can book your bus tickets in KPN Travels