“Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market goes online”, says the paper-bag, made of a news paper, I just got with peanuts. It’s an old one, luckily I can see the date, it’s dated 2012.
I read on and got fascinated to know that over 2500 businesses in Chandni Chowk market are now online with their own websites, thanks to Google. Well, online shopping is nothing new to us now. It used to be a thing of awe once!
I have mixed feelings about this news though. It’s a good thing that the charismatic shops of Chandni Chowk will be accessible to users from the comfort of their homes and offices, but, at the same time, it’s not just another market.
Chandni Chowk is a shopper’s delight and every traveler’s amusement. For someone visiting the capitol, Chandni Chowk is a must-visit, be it a foodie, a shopaholic or one interested in history and old architecture. An integral part of purani dilli, bordered by the Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Chawri Bazaar, Chandni Chowk is not just a market, it is an experience.
For me it was love at first site with Chandni Chowk. It is not a place for the faint hearted and certainly not for the mall shoppers. Still, they can have their bit of the Chowk if they go in the winters but then too one must be prepared for the human traffic jams.
It was built in the 17th century by the great Mughal emperor of India, Shah Jahan and designed by his favorite daughter Jahan Ara, the market was once divided by canals to reflect moonlight, that’s where the name came from. The canals are now closed, but it is worth an imagination what would it look like on a full moon night.
The first thing that catches sight as you enter the Chowk is the people buzzing all around. After the jam-packed railway stations, this is another place where so many people can be seen at once! There are keepers sitting by the road; selling old, very old coins and currency, some from the time of the empires. It was once during a conversation with an old chacha, when I was introduced to the original architecture of Chandni Chowk. The shops of the complex were originally built in half moon shape. The pattern is lost today. It used to run through the middle of the walled city from the Lahori Darwaaza of the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid. There were three sections to it, Lahori Darwaza to Chowk Kotwali (near Gurdwara Shish Ganj), this section closest to the imperial residence, was called the Urdu Bazar. The residence of Ghalib was around there, now it stands alone as a museum. When talking of Ghalib, chacha also shared a sher in urdu, which I did not quite comprehend, and then we laughed. There must have been a reason to it, for which Ghalib chose Delhi over his native place Agra.
He continued to tell me more. The second section was Chowk Kotwali to Chandni Chowk and the term Chandni Chowk originally referred to the square that 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. The third section was Chandni Chowk to Fatehpur Masjid, and was called the Fatehpuri Bazar. I distinctly remember chacha suggesting a visit to Fatehpuri Bazaar and have a look at the range of dry fruits and murrabbaz they have. He could not stop; I welcomed the suggestion of going and eating the faluda kulfi from the old Gianis.
But this is not just it. There is so much to Chandni Chowk apart from its history I bear in mind going there too; it was truly a display of royalties. Trays filled with kaaju, badaams, oh well, not forgetting to mention, that’s when I discovered the n number of varieties of almonds! When I call it an experience, there is no exaggeration of facts. There is something for everybody. The smoke filled lanes of the paranthey waali gali, if you can shut your eyes to the deep fried paranthas for just this one time and indulge your senses in the tastes of those karela, matar, kheer, kela and countless other paranthas, that you have just heard of from people who boast of having had them, you are in for a treat. There is a waiting, mind you! After having done some very scrumptious pet-pooja, you pace and make your way out. The best thing about this place is you need not ask for directions because you must give yourself a chance to get lost in the lanes’ maze! Your eyes open as wide as can be, you can just keep walking through this one lane with shops full of laces and kinariz, the shop is usually half out and more than that inside. It is like you are in a never-ending exhibition of sorts. Unlike most of the markets, this is one long lane where shopkeepers won’t pester you to come and buy something. Yes, this is the Kinaari Bazaar, the fashion designer’s savior. Every color, also those colors you did not know exist, come true.
As you toddle through, someone will call out to you, “zaraa side do”, turn around and find a huge trolley being manned by the laborers. These are as big as the whole lane’s width, and yet, somehow, they manage to pass comfortably, the bikers climb up the steps of the shops along with their bikes and scooters and the rikshaw-waalas turn and twist the tyres of the rikshaw to make way. It is not taxing, it is wonderful. The Kinari Bazaar ends at the beginning of the Dariban Kalaan, it is mostly of shops of old jewelers, majorly silver. Everything is what you get here.
The thela-waalas will be there to your rescue anytime your stomach is calling out! Fresh baked cookies, scraped rabri, jalebiz and what not. It’s not all about eating, walk yourself or ask a rikshaw waala to give you a ride around the market and let your eyes have a treat, while you are taken to the puraana kitaab bazaar, near Chawri Bazaar, one place you must visit if stationary lures you. It is the biggest whole sale market of stationary. Handmade diaries, so intricately made with glass and stones, that even if you were not a big fan, you won’t be able to resist buying one. And there is more to it than that. Hustling bustling with sellers and buyers, it’s a place full of life. Live it and you will love it!
Zauq, the court poet of Bahadur Shah Zafar, must have been walking through these very koochas of Chandni Chowk when he said, “In dinon garch-e-dakkan mein hai badi qadr-e-sukhan; Kaun jaye zauq par dilli ki galiyan chhod kar.”
Take yourself there to live it once!
A word of caution – going by road could be a pain, take the metro. If you cannot hold back the shopaholic in you, it is the place to test your bargaining skills!