No Bizarre Walk This!
A recent morning `Heritage' walk through the lanes of Old Delhi was an exciting experience for R. V. SMITH, a long-time resident of `Dilli'. And he thoroughly relished the memory of things on offer - quaint bazaars, archaic rickshaws, havelis, Paranthewali Gali, the Ghantewala and all the fabulous monuments.
OLD DELHI never ceases to surprise a visitor. Its winding lanes lead you into a quaint world that seems to wait for you in suspended animation. One had a taste of this past week when one walked into Delhi's past through Chor Bizarre's Memory Lanes. The walk started from Hotel Broadway, in Asaf Ali Road, situated at the crossroads of the old and the new city. Deepak Joshi was the guide who led a group of foreign and Indian visitors in a three-hour-long ramble.
The sponsor Chor Bizarre (the pun is on bazaar) itself is a storehouse of old memories. On the walls are pictures of the 19th Century - kings and queens, Godre's fashions of 1870, Memsahibs in Jane Austen dresses and antique hats while Charlie Chaplain, Elvis Presley and other legends stare from their framed pictures. The place proclaims itself as a Thieves' and Thugs' market not in a literal but figurative sense, on the surmise that Eastern bazaars were always known for their mysterious wares and equally mysterious dealings, where you could buy a fairy or an elephant with equal ease.
You may not find these and magic carpets now but you can taste the 400-year-old cuisine of the Moghuls and delicious Kashmiri wazwan. A four-poster bed of the 19th Century serves as a table for six and there is a 1927 fiat, probably the world's oldest "Salad Mobile", to tickle the palate of wide-eyed customers.You leave this cosy den, get into rickshaws - more than half a dozen of them and driven through crowded Daryaganj, past the Red Fort and the shrines of Bhure Shah on one side and Kalimullah Sahib on the other, to land at the northern gate of the Jama Masjid. As you climb the stairs the tour guide starts telling you about the city built by Shah Jahan, who had decided to leave Agra because its road were too narrow for his majestic processions. And also because he wanted a city that was an improvement on the one built by his grandfather, Akbar.
So he built Shahjahanabad with its Quila-e-Mauallah or Qila Mubarak, the Jama Masjid then the biggest in Asia, and the bazaars around it, to which his daughter Jahanara added the silver street of Chandni Chowk, through which flowed a canal. The cynosure of all eyes however in her Begum Bagh was the sarai or inn, on seeing which Shah Jahan remarked "if there be a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here". Surrounding the city was a massive wall with 14 gates, which also enclosed the Kalan Masjid of Feroz Shah.
The guide tells you all this as you reach the main quadrangle of the mosque, as big as a football field, and bask in the pale winter sunshine, with kites sailing into the blue sky, above the minarets. The prettiest girl among the group, Lara Krulak, a yoga teacher now on her fourth visit to India, wonders if she would be allowed to climb up one of the minarets and have a bird's eye-view of the area. The group troops into the verandah, with some helpful tips from Mekhala Desai of Habitat World. In one part of this long verandah is a room where relics of Prophet Mohammad are stored. Among these are his footprint, a beard of his hair (dyed with henna and enclosed in a glass case) and two extracts from the Quran. These are on deer skin parchments in the flowery handwriting of the old Arabic script.
We descend the stairs and walk through the jewellery market of Dariba that bore the brunt of the massacre of Delhi by Nadir Shah in 1739. The group admires the jewellers' shops, the old havelis with their impassive doorways, and then turns into Kinari Bazar, a twin of the one in Agra, where embroidered stuff, brocade and other fancy cloth is on sale. Turning into a cul-de-sac we enter the Digambar Jain Mandir built during Aurangzeb's time. The main temple has gold work above the niches of the idols of the Jains. The courtyard has a Belgian glass ceiling, the main idol is of onyx stone, while the other statues - all in the state of nature - are of silver with gold foil which makes them look as though made of solid gold. There are tehkhanas below and old baolis or step wells, we are informed.
Out of this lane and we are into Paranthewali Gali, where the shops are medieval too, and where even Nehru and Indira Gandhi had some filling meals. The parantha-makers, however, are mostly from Bhind, Morena and Bah (the dacoit country). You leave this gali and come out into the main Chandni Chowk, looking for traces of the now closed canal, on the other side of which is the palace of Begum Sumroo.
Walking along the group stops at Ghantewala's shop, established in 1790 during the reign of Shah Alam, where the royal elephant would come and ring the bell and demand his share of sweets.
Ahead is Gurdwara Sisganj, where the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur was beheaded by Aurangzeb, on the other side is the Baptist Church of the 1860s and further ahead the 18th Century Gaurishankar mandir and then the Urdu Mandir or Jain temple of the 17th Century, with the Birds' Hospital on the left. In front is the Red Fort and the guide stands at the crossing to draw attention to the three-quarter-mile street with Fatehpuri Masjid at the other end.
It has been a glorious morning walk for the group as it returns to Chor Bizarre in rickshaws, still full of the smell of paranthas and the sights of Chandi Chowk and Jama Masjid. What a bizarre memory lane!
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