The year before I completed school and slogged the entire summer giving competitive exams. I reluctantly left Delhi to pursue management in a prestigious institute nearly two thousand miles away. In those countless nights spent dreaming about home, what I missed most was my visits to Chandni Chowk with my mother. The streets of Chandni Chowk never fail to amaze me.
Chandni Chowk can be traced to the time of the Mughal Empire. When Shah Jahan moved the capital from Agra to Shahjahanabad (Delhi), he built the magnificent Red Fort on the banks of River Yamuna. It was erected in the year 1650 AD as an accompaniment to the fort. Designed by his dearest daughter Jahaanara, it was a square(chowk) with a pool in the centre. The tale says that the square and the pool used to dazzle on a moonlit night- hence ‘Chandni Chowk’. Many say that it is named so after its silversmiths.
For someone who’s been to Chandni Chowk a dozen times, it’s difficult to distinguish the dariba from the meena bazaar– It is truly a labyrinth! Located in central Delhi, The streets of Chandni Chowk are lined with several objects of fascination that draws everybody to it – right from fashion designers exploring beautiful fabrics and accessories for their creations to freezing Delhites seeking refuge from the unforgiving winters with delicious revdi and gajjak. And then there are those wide- eyed tourists caked with sunscreen, admiring the busy streets and clicking away curious onlooker. Despite the chaos, Chandni Chowk is a cosmos in itself.
Chandni Chowk is home not just to several shops but also to several places of worship. The Jama Masjid attracts thousands of people every day. Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir is known for its bird hospital. The Sunehri Masjid and the Fatehpuri Masjid too retain their importance in present times.
Chandni Chowk has seen several palatial havelis raised to the ground. The Chunamal Haveli, spread over nearly an acre and ten scores old, it houses several shops on the ground floor while Lal Chunamal’s fifth generation resides on the first floor. The Haksar Haveli, where Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru took his vows with Kamala Nehru is now a commercial complex. Our favourite action man Akshay Kumar (then Rajiv Bhatia ) spent his childhood there before making it big. It is quite common to find pictures of Akshay posing with the shopkeepers adorn the walls of many a shops in Chandni Chowk. “Bachpan ke dost the hum – ek saath patang udaya karte the hum” is the standard reply to any questions asked about those pictures. Akshay’s movie Chandni Chowk to China further put Chandni Chowk in the limelight.
The market comprises of different lanes known for different items. The Dariba is known for breathtaking, beautiful jewellery that attracts all brides-to-be and anyone looking for something. Most shops are more than a century old and yet are as sought after as they must be in their heydays. Right from glittering diamond necklaces to one time wear costume jewellery, the dariba has everything. Chandni Chowk is known for its silver, be it cute balis for school girls, jhumkas for casual college wear or expensive gift items such as chandi glasses, trays and coins that people have been exchanging on festivals and auspicious occasions. You can even get your grandmother’s tarnished silver jewellery polished and bring it back in fashion! If not, then sell exchange/sell it for the new trendy pieces. There is a chance Chandni Chowk is named so after its sparkling silver!
Traditional jewellery that you would spot only with your grandmother still sells like hot cakes among the more, recent fashionable kinds such as sparkling diamond sets. Meenakari jewellery that brides still swear by is very sought after. Magnificent kundan and polki sets adorn the showcase, among a barrage of the kinds that are currently trendy. They are styled both in the antique and shiny finish. Be rest assured that everything you buy will stay on in your family for generations!
The dariba is home to the renowned Gulab Johri Mal Shop. Found in 1819, the shop sells exquisite itras or perfumes made from actual extracts customised to your taste. You can explore their entire range of fragrances before settling for the sweetest smell. As exciting as it sounds, it is often impossible to pick and choose! To help compare fragrances better, you are advised to sniff coffee beans in between. Or better still, ask for the one that smells the most!
The Kinari bazaar sells luxuriant zardozi and zari material that can brighten any outfit. All brides flock to the market to get their hand on lovely lehengas and embroidered sarees that often inspire designer wear! What helps is that kaleeras, choodas and all other essential rite-d-passage items are found in one mile’s radius.
Chandni Chowk is as much about food as it is about fashion. A visit to Chandni Chowk is incomplete without paranthas. The Paranthe Wali Gali is true paradise. Shallow fried in ghee, the delicious parantha is served with different kinds of sabzis, sweet and sour chutney and different kinds of pickle, nobody knew paranthas could be so much fun! Also try the sweet lassi served in small earthen pots known as kulhars. The thick, delicious rabri made from condensed milk is a must for those with a sweet tooth.
Street food like chaat, moong pakodis are all over the place, with a chaatwala in every nook and cranny. For those with a craving for delicious Mughlai food, Karim’s is the place to visit. Opposite to Jama Masjid, it’s easy to find and inviting. The plain exteriors are in sharp contrast to the welcoming ambience of the restaurant. The Mutton burra and the sheermal, among other tantalising kebabs have been enjoyed by generations of loyal diners.
Chandni Chowk leaves an everlasting impression on everyone who walks its streets.