Monday, August 17, 2009

City Walk - Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi

The Delhi walla's pretension in writing makes me want to lodge a bullet in his balls - Blogger Nimpipi, the woodchuck chucks
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Chandni Chowk Melodies

A dream trip in the heart of the Walled City.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Under the Chandni Chowk redevelopment plan, the trams are to be revived in the area. The Delhi Walla takes you through the proposed path:

It is pleasant to be in Chandni Chowk, to sweep the eyes 360 degrees in this in-your-face “Secular India” theme park — temples, mosques, church and gurdwara.

To see masked Jains, kirpan-wielding Sikhs, saffron-robed sadhus and bearded mullahs carrying on with their spiritual pursuits. To look at sari-clad — and burqa-clad — women strolling along with sunken-cheeked Bihari labourers and foreign tourists wearing, well, not much. It is also pleasant to spot the occasional first-world Delhiites, the Khan Market types, making an excursion to their idea of ‘Old Delhi’, armed with mineral water bottles, hand sanitisers and shades.

But the most pleasant thing is to smell that sweet pungent mix of sewage, sweat, dung, jalebis (a sweetmeat), bhallas (a snack) and genda phool.

The walk begins right where the proposed tram service would start — the Red Fort stop.

Look to your left. This red-coloured building is Digambar Jain Mandir, famous for its birds’ hospital. A bhikshu (disciple) is sleeping under a Heritage Building status slab. Not far away Western backpackers are greedily clicking the surrounding scenes.

They leave the road just in time to let the green-coloured Chandni Chowk bus shuttle rumble by. It is choked with the ‘natives’ going to Ballimaran, to Nai Sadak, to Katra Neel, to Fatehpuri. A sprightly Namdhari Sikh is hanging on to the door.

On the right stands what used to be Fort View Hotel — yellowed but still majestic. It’s now home to a Sony showroom, a cinema called Moti (showing a Bhojpuri film), and Caf√© Coffee Day.

One backpacker, following my gaze, looks up at the building, and then hurriedly flips through his copy of Lucy Peck’s Delhi - A Thousand Years of Building. Just then appears a red-capped boy, belonging to a tribe of ear-cleaners from Turkman Gate, and offers to de-wax the backpacker’s ears. To break the language barrier, he takes out a needle, inserts it into his right ear and brings it out from his right nostril.

Looking at the horrified tourist, I feel bad for travellers who come to Chandni Chowk to sketch the pattern of the haveli jaalis or to study the British influence on Mughal architecture. At the end of this walk, they may remember nothing but the grey sky above, the jostling crowd beneath, and perhaps the golden arches of McDonald’s. Yes, it too is here giving an interesting perspective to the Red Fort skyline.

Sadly, amidst such mumbo-jumbo, it is easy to miss two stately sights — the Baptist Church and the State Bank of India building.

But of course you can’t miss the Seesganj Gurdwara. This would be a crowded tram-stop for sure. And not just because of the pilgrims. Look, girls are running down from Teg Bahadur Khalsa Girls Senior Secondary School, next to the gurdwara. Laughter, shrieks, catfights. Chaos multiplied ten times. The golgappa waala is shouting. So is the pineapple waala.

Talking of food, Chandni Chowk’s ‘Old, Famous Jalebi walla’ is just a few steps away. The entry to paratha waali galli, too, is somewhere around. Haldiram’s is on the other side of the road. Since I belong to the Choko La tribe, unaffected by laddoos and dahi bhallas, I keep walking straight, past stores selling Chinese toys, bras, saris, footmats, goggles, belts, burqas, chappals, watches, and even swimming costumes!

Nai Sadak, now.

The Town Hall building on the right, flecked with hundreds of masakalis, is looking very London-ish. Not surprising since it came up just a few years after the 1857 mutiny.

For that Piccadilly Circus touch, there are benches and stylish lampposts, on the little avenue on the left.

However, bent on quickly finishing this long walk, I’m not feeling obliged to ooh and aah at the claustrophobic histories and monuments lining both sides of Chandni Chowk. The weather-beaten Lala Channamal ki Haveli is left behind without so much of a salam-namaste. Amritsari Lassi Waala is coming up now. Next is Fatehpuri Masjid.

Journey over. If only there was a tram.

Outside Digambar Jain Temple

Chandni Chowk Melodies

The sleeping bhikshu

Chandni Chowk Melodies

The Fort View Hotel

Chandni Chowk Melodies

The jaloos

The Power and the Glory

Chandni Chowk Special Bus Service

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Side view

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Chandni Chowk ki Chaat

Chandni Chowk Melodies

The State Bank of India building

Chandni Chowk Melodies

The big M

I’m Lovin' It

An inside lane

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Lama goes shopping

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Lala Channamal ki Haveli

Chandni Chowk Melodies

The Town Hall

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Closer view

The Conference of Birds

The Khalsa College girls

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Please pay first

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Now, you may eat

Chandni Chowk Melodies

The God's own child

Chandni Chowk Melodies

The Amritsari Lassi Walla

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Chandni Chowk skyline

Chandni Chowk Melodies

More skyline view

Chandni Chowk Melodies

Fatehpuri Masjid

Chandni Chowk Melodies


Nathalié von Sterne said...

love it! <3

LumousP said...


Gora Firanghi said...

Another excellent post, one as colorful as what it describes. The only problem, as I see it, is the McDonald’s part. Unfortunately, McDonald’s is but the first of its ilk, soon to followed by Burger King, Wendy's, TGIF, Pizza Hut, KFC, Gucci, Tiffany's, Target, Barns & Nobles, Colors of Benetton, Walmart etc., etc. When that day arrives, gone will be Jalebi walla, the Amritsari Lassi Waala, and the indigenous stores & noisy vendors that give the area its flavor and uniqueness. This scenario does not describe progress but a stultifying homogenization, a globalization of monotony, predictability and boredom. When it is played out, the visitor to Chandni Chowk will look about and think he could be anywhere. Or nowhere.

So perhaps the last sentence in "At the end of this walk, they may remember nothing but the grey sky above, the jostling crowd beneath, and perhaps the golden arches of McDonald’s. Yes, it too is here giving an interesting perspective to the Red Fort skyline" should read “Yes, it too is here striking a false note in the harmony of the Red Fort skyline." Or maybe “ominous note.”

heena said...

an insight or far-sighted?

Rajiv said...

sara India hai yahaan on this road.nice 1,miyaan ji
lage raho :)

vimesh said...

loved the pics..

looking forward to see all the pics u have taken in a coffee table book like how we get of Raghu Rai say sometime in future....

am guessing the title would be

"Delhi through the eyes of a Sufi"

great work ...lage raho

Anphy said...

Nice post, that applies to previous ones as well :-)
In Delhi for the past 3 years , but started loving the city only a few months back.
and chandnichowk being one of my favourite places in Delhi, this was a good read.

shmoo said...

it would be nice if like istiqlal street in istanbul, chandni chowk would be a pedestrian only street, with the the tram running from one end to the other.

DeeBuddy said...

Nice one Mayank....I just wish Delhi 6 survives with times, maybe just like Shmoo suggested it needs to be declared as a pedestrian only street.

Any trip chaandani chowk would start at the crossroads near Lahore Gate, Gauri Shankar mandir and Lal Mandir; a few munches into the dariba jalebiwalla; jama masjid; a few minutes at the sardarji's gramophone store opp. Sis Ganj Gurudwara or at the numismatics shop; another snack at haldirams or natraj ke dahi bhalle; paranthe waali gali or sometimes the khurchan in Chawri Bazaar was too tempting; ..... was it just this or was it more, but everytime it mesmerised me with its old world charm and i only longed to return. Long live delhi...and its true lovers like u MAS...cheers!


Christine said...

Hey, thank you for the colorful description! I was living in Delhi for 4months and even was around Chandni Chowk several times. It was nice to read about it and to remember!
If you are interested: There is a different walk you can do around New Delhi Railway Station and Paharganj area. I was working in the NGO who is running this Walk. Former street children show you around and explain about street life and share their personal story. It is really interesting and it is showing "the other side of Delhi". You will get more information on wikipedia: