We were to do the ‘travel coordinator- planned’ tour of Old Delhi which looked like this:
*Old Delhi Rickshaw Tour – Customized
Glide through Old Delhi’s historically and culturally intriguing albeit labyrinthine lanes on our rickshaw tours. Hop on board our custom made rickshaws and ride into hustling, bustling bazaars chock- a- block with food stores. We will ensure that your experience is both memorable and unforgettable.
Location Covered: Main Street of Chandni Chowk, Dariba Kalan [The Silver Market], Kinari Bazaar [Wedding Market], Paranthe Wali Gali [Lane of stuffed breads] & Ballimaran, Khari Baoli [Spice Market], Jama Masjid.
Duration: 3 Hours
Inclusions: Storytelling, Refreshments, Rickshaw Ride.
Exclusions: Camera Charges at Jama Masjid (INR 300 per camera)*
This is going to be wonderful.
These are lanes I’ve always wanted to visit.
They’re covering a lot in three hours.
The custom-made rickshaws sound perfect to take it all in.
(You get the drift…)
And then G, the planner of Dilli, brings this to my notice:
*Price of the tour: INR 3000 + taxes per person*
Our collective thoughts post those figures:
For just three hours!
We can hire a rickshaw ourselves to wherever we want. How custom-made can they be!
With one of us a Dilliwali, paying 3k hurts like an ATM line post Nov 8.
We can read up about the exact same places and make our own itinerary.
We want to eat ‘refreshments’ that we’re dying for, not from a set menu.
We would read up on the history before the tour, we wouldn’t miss the story-telling.
We could shop for that much.
(You get the drift…)
Electric rickshaws scored lower than the man-pulled smaller ones. These lanes are built for walking in two’s, anything more is a bonus. It’s so crowded that two rickshaws cannot pass at one time.
Not customized like the tour- planners advertised, but the smaller man-pulled rickshaws are an obvious choice.
My 2016 reading list had three books that were set in and around what we refer to as Purani Dilli. That was the start of a love affair with a setting that I knew was there even today, more than three hundred years later.
The Delhi of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan, who had a penchant for building palaces, forts, gardens and cities.
It took him just eleven years (1638- 1639) to have the walled city built.
The massive Red Fort, residence of Mughal Emperor’s for two hundred years, was a part of it.
As was Chandini Chowk.
Chandni Chowk, the Moonlight Square, was designed and established in 1650 by Princess Jahanara Begum, Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter.
Among many discriptions, this: “Originally containing 1,560 shops, the bazaar was 40 yards wide by 1,520 yards long. The bazaar was shaped as a square was given elegance by the presence of a pool in the centre of the complex. The pool shimmered in the moonlight, a feature which was perhaps responsible for its name. Shops were originally built in a half-moon shaped pattern, now lost. The bazaar was famous for its silver merchants, which also have contributed to the name as silver is referred to as Chandi in Hindi, a slight variation of which forms Chandni.”
The canal, elegance, the pool and wide roads are a thing of the past. Nothing of the above description exists. It is as if towns upon towns have moved into this confined space, so dense and diverse is the population of people, shops and wares.
We look at tiny shops upon shops selling pearls, gems and silver, bargain with sweet-tongued shopkeepers who tell us they only sell in bulk, linger at perfumed shops selling attar, gawk at the sheer variety of kinari and gota and lace and zari and all kinds of tinsel, barely pay attention to the huge shoe market, breathe in the heady mix of spices emanating from shop upon shop selling masalas of every conceivable kind, go past sacks laden with dry fruit, stop to sample golgappas with a secret recipe that went back eight generations, investigate Daulat Ki Chaat that isn’t really a chaat at all and drool over parathas, rabdi, kulfi and jalebis we end up eating.
Everything has a history that goes back a couple of hundred years.
Everything is about soaking in the abundance of sights and smells.
There’s a fine dust that engulfs Chandini Chowk and around. It gives everything a sepia filter, making it look gentler and finer than it is.
And that makes it a bit magical.
It’s easy to get lost in the crisscross of lanes intersecting the larger ones, into what seems like a maze of tiny lanes leading into each other, by-lanes that lead to dead ends and haveli’s with doorways that transport us to history going back a few centuries. Cobalt- blue doors leading to winding steps that have stop-doors, Ochre walls that give in to dark corridors, Tamarind framed verandah’s that look into locked doors, white- framed doors leading to courtyard temples…
and locals who need no invitation to recount stories of the lives of the people who lived here.
All these stories have sad endings- the descendants of the original owners no longer live here.
Thanks to the narrow road, crazy traffic and a rickety rickshaw, reaching Ghalib ki Haveli in Ballimaran is an adventure in itself.
It is worth the many times we almost fall off and bump our knees against various forms of transportation brushing past us.
It is a pilgrimage.
“Ghalib’s Mansion” was the residence of the 19th century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib and is now a heritage site located in Gali Qasim Jan.
“Greenery is growing out of the doors and walls, ‘Ghalib’!
I am in wilderness and spring has arrived at my house.”
This and other handwritten couplets describe an era when the Mughal rule was in decline.
“Ghalib lived in this Haveli for a long period of his life after he came from Agra. While staying at this Haveli, he wrote his Urdu and Persian ‘diwans’.
Many years after Ghalib’s death the place housed shops inside it until the year of 1999 after which the govt. acquired a portion of it and renovated it bringing back its old world Mughal magnificence & splendour. It was given a special touch with the use of Mughal Lakhori bricks, sandstone & a wooden entrance gate to obtain that feeling of the 19th century period.“
Perhaps it is because the Haveli gives us a peep into Mirza Ghalib’s life and times.The architecture is a reflection of the Mughal era- the central compound has columns and bricks from the original. His books, handwritten couplets and poems adorn the walls. Portraits of his contemporaries Momin, Zauk and Abu Zafar share space with a life size replica of Ghalib with a hookah in his hand.
It’s hard to leave, but the old watchman tells us he can’t stay on any longer.
It was built by Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656 at a cost of one million rupees, and was inaugurated by an imam from Bukhara, present-day Uzbekistan. The mosque was completed in 1656 AD with three great gates, four towers and two 40 m high minarets constructed with red sandstone and white marble. The courtyard can accommodate more than 25,000 people.
We sit in a corner overlooking the steps behind and look back at the day with a smile. From posing in front of doorways from another century, hearing stories throughout the day, to eating more parathas than we thought we could, we had done it all. We laugh gleefully at the money we saved, joke about who saved whom from tumbling out of non- customized rickshaws, and share the silence that emanates from ties of the heart
For a heartbeat I feel a sense of loss.
And then I chastise myself: The mighty sultanates ruled from Delhi between 1206 and 1526 and were replaced by the Mughal dynasty. The five mighty dynasties of Mamluk, Khilji, Tughlaq, Sayyid, Lodi and the Suri dynasty had to give way to one after the other, and were replaced by the Mughals.
How foolish to even dare to believe that Old Delhi would have stayed mostly unchanged!
Everything has to give way.This reminder is a fitting close to the year.