Food, Adventure, Worship, Love – Chandni Chowk
Food, Silver, Love, Worship, Moonlight all have a common synonym, Chandni Chowk. Translated to English it means Moonlit Lane. Whether it’s your first time or hundredth, Chandni Chowk will always leave you in awe. The crowd, the traffic, the rickshaws travelling at breakneck speeds almost over your head, the intoxicating amalgam of smells good and bad, that is indeed the true essence of Chandni Chowk.
Chandni Chowk is the most major street in the walled city of Old Delhi, which was originally called Shahjahanabad. The walled city, which includes the Lal Qila or Red Fort of Delhi, was established in 1650 AD by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It was designed by his daughter Jahanara Begum Sahib, who also made significant contributions in the landscaping of her father’s new capital.
Chandni Chowk runs through the middle of the walled city, from the Lahori Darwaza (Lahore Gate) of the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid. Originally, a canal ran through the middle of the street as a part of the water supply scheme. It was initially divided into three sections:
- Lahori Darwaza to Chowk Kotwali (near Gurdwara Shish Ganj): This section closest to the imperial residence, was called Urdu Bazar, i.e., the encampment market. The language Urdu got its name from this encampment. Ghalib noted the destruction of this market during the disturbances of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and its aftermath.
- Chowk Kotwali to Chandni Chowk: The term Chandni Chowk originally referred to the square that initially had a reflecting pool. It was replaced by a clock-tower (Ghantaghar) that was damaged and demolished in the 1960s. This section was originally called Johri Bazar.
- ‘Chandni Chowk’ to Fatehpuri Masjid: This was called the Fatehpuri Bazar.
Chandni Chowk is easily accessible via Car, Bus, and Metro. Situated near the Old Delhi Metro station it is also very easily accessible by Rail.
We got off at the Chandni Chowk Metro Station and walked down towards Chandni Chowk heading towards Red Fort passing by Gurudwara Sis Ganj to our right. About around 150 metres we turned towards our right, heading into Dariba Kalan, the world famous silver market. We were welcomed into Dariba Kalan by the smell of the world famous jalebis of ‘Old Famous Jalebi Wala’ who has been making them at that exact place since the 1850’s. Costing Rs. 250 per Kg they are a must have when you visit this place. The address being 1795, Dariba Corner, Chandni Chowk.
As you head into Dariba Kalan, you’ll see Silver Jewellery shops on both sides; innumerable silver trinkets hang on every wall and decorate every display window. Amidst all the shiny silver a handcart stole our attention; it had a very interesting item for sale, a speciality of Chandni Chowk known as Daulat Ki Chaat. This incredible little dish seems made up almost entirely of air, as it is essentially just milk froth. They start making it at about 2 o’clock the night before, and insist that their only contribution is to churn some creamy milk and whip up its froth – the rest is the magic of the winter dew. This whipped froth of milk is set in a large brass pan, and some khoya and finely sliced pista are sprinkled on top. The entire delicate ensemble is brought to the market in the morning on a khomcha (a cane tripod), where if you ask nicely, the man will scoop out a generous portion of the froth, powder it with bhoora (unrefined sugar) and khurchan, and hand it to you in a little leaf bowl. A spoonful of it just vanishes in the mouth, and has a very sophisticated, understated sweet taste to it. Any reasonable person would demand a princely sum for such an ethereal treat. Yet in the by-lanes of Shahjahanabad, a dona of Daulat ki Chaat sets you back by exactly 10 bucks!
Heading further down Dariba Kalan we stopped at a shop selling about 50 odd kinds of Crispies, I tried a very spicy one and having liked it I bought about 250 gms of it. (They are so spicy that 2-3 leave me teary eyed.) As the Dariba Kalan road came to a T-point we took a right turn and headed towards Jama Masjid. Even though I’ve ventured into Chandni Chowk a couple of times, I never got a chance to visit the Jama Masjid. The time was enough and the company was perfect, I had no intention of leaving with this monument still undiscovered by my lens. It cost me Rs. 200 to get my camera inside which I found extremely stupid because most monuments which only charge for video cameras but in Jama Masjid, the charge for all cameras was the same.
The majestic monument was brilliantly lit by the sun peeping through an overcast sky, the diffused light and shadow lessness made it an amazing atmosphere to click portraits. I felt blessed to have my camera around and the sound of my shutter clicking felt almost like a waterfall. We exited the Masjid complex through the Meena Bazaar side; we stopped to buy some Attar and Soorma.
All the walking had left us very hungry and we decided to head to the famous Karim’s of Chandni Chowk. We exited from the Matya Mahal side of the Jama Masjid complex and headed straight down the road to Karim’s. Very sadly there was a lot of crowd outside Karim’s and we couldn’t get a place to sit, hence we had to go to a neighbouring restaurant called Al-Jawahar. We ordered Mutton Barra, Keema Naan, Palak Paneer, Chicken Ishtew and Butter Naan. The food was not par with that of Karim’s but it did serve the need, it satiated our hunger.
We headed out with renewed zest and vigour and decided to walk the entire length of Meena Bazaar. 300 yrs ago this bazaar catered to the luxury trade of the imperial household, specialized in exquisite carpets, rugs, jajams and shatranjis; takia-namads and quilts; shahtus and pashmina shawls; costumes; velvet pardahs and chiks; embroideries with zari and brocades; and a wide variety silks, woolens, velvets and taffetas which the Mughals used in their daily life; precious stones, exotic jewellery and indigenous ornaments; gold and silver utensils, fine wood and ivory work; brass and copper wares; fine arms and armaments; coloured ganjifas and indoor games; jafran (saffron), kasturi (musk) and other spices; and innumerous other stuff which could not be had even in the adjoining Chandni Chowk market, and it was privilege of the king that this rare and precious things were available only in the ‘Fort market’ for their exclusive choice. Now all that is available at this market is merely cheap junk, third class items and other oddities. Sad.
There was so much more to see but alas we were almost out of time. We had to head back home; our everyday lives were calling out to us. With heaviness in our heart we headed back home leaving behind the glory of Chandni Chowk with a promise to surely return one day.