This adventurous walk is into the guts of Old Delhi. Most of all it features narrow lanes full of life, small shops, festoons of electrical wiring hanging from poles and hordes of people about their business. The end of the walk is at the Jama Masjid. Therefore if you get lost on the way all you have to do is ask “Jama Masjid?” and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.
This walk takes you through a commercial area devoted to many small scale industries often sited in very cramped premises. One is the printing industry. You’ll see small subterranean rooms with huge printing presses just smaller than the space they occupy; men and boys folding paper and making envelopes at an alarming speed; or men rushing from business to customer with realms of paper balanced on their heads.
The walk starts from Turkman Gate on Asif Ali Rd. When Shah Jahan built his new capital of Shahjahanabad he had it surrounded by a high wall that was entered by 14 guarded gates. Only three remain and Turkman Gate is one of these. It was named after a Muslim holy man, Hazrat Shah Turkman Bayabani.
During the 1975-77 Emergency when Indira Gandhi took dictatorial control of the country. Sanjay Gandhi, her son, launched a demolition drive to clear Delhi of its slums. The residents around Turkman Gate who were mostly Muslim refused to move and resisted the destruction of their houses. The police opened fire killing several, but the demolition outside the Gate went ahead. This is why Asif Ali Road is now a wide open road.
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Take the left-hand side of the gate and walk straight ahead onto Muhammad Deen Ilachi Marg. Progress can be slow as you dodge cycle-rickshaws, scooters, bicycles and people. Here many of the shops deal in the beads, baubles and coloured stones. These make up the necklaces and bangles that you’ll often find in the Tibetan markets.
On the left-hand side, between shops Nos. 2976 and 2919 is a narrow lane leading to Kalan Masjid. The mosque was built in 1387 and predates Shahjahanabad. It was part of Feroz Shah’s Ferozabad. The man who built this mosque, Khan Jahan, was a convert from Hinduism. He was also responsible for the Khirki Masjid and the Begumpu Masjid in south Delhi. Kalan means big in Arabic, but the mosque also got to be called Kali Masjid on account on its once black (kali) walls.
Return to Muhammad Deen Ilachi Marg. On the right-hand side is a mosque painted in white with red and green decorations. Here take the right turn as the road bears left. After six shops turn left again and zigzag uphill to a dead end and a walled courtyard. This contains the Tomb of Sultan Raziya, the only woman to have ruled Delhi before modern times. If the courtyard is locked, ask one of the local shopkeepers to unlock it.
Return to Muhammad Deen Ilachi Marg. This becomes Sitaram Bazaar after the bend and then walk beyond the next turning on the right – Prem Narain opposite shop No. 2183. After a few hundred metres, on the right, opposite shop No. 2054, is a red entrance named Dhamani Market. This leads to the haveli where Kamala Kaul lived before her marriage to Jawaharlal Nehru (independence leader and first prime minister) in 1916
On the left at shop No. 1043, is the finely carved entrance of the Lala Pearey Lal Madho Ram Dharamsala. A merchant family built it in 1921 to provide free accommodation for pilgrims.
At shop No. 972 turn left into a narrow lane named Kucha Pati Ram which contains several havelis (merchants’ houses) with beautiful and ornately presented frontages. Opposite shop No. 525 is a shop that sells delicious kulfis – Indian ice-cream – if it’s time for a break. Retrace your steps back along Sitaram Bazar road to its junction with Prem Narain the corner of which was once taken up by the Bishan Swaroup Haveli.
Bishan Swaroup was an important treasury official who worked in the court of Shah Alam II, the second-last Mughal emperor. The haveli was later occupied by the Haksars, a well-connected Kashmiri family. It was in this house that Jawaharlal Nehru and his new wife stayed after their wedding. Furthermore, it’s a tragedy that such fine historical buildings have been allowed to disappear.
Walk a short distance along Prem Narain and turn right where a stone slab at the lane entrance excludes anything bigger than a two-wheeler. There is also a small white-tiled shrine on the wall. Then take the first left and you come into another area of a traditional Old Delhi streetscape. This would have consisted of houses with highly decorated ground-floor stone gateways and enclosed upper-floor wooden balconies adorned with fine woodcarving.
The house at No. 2549 dates to about 100 years ago by a family that now runs a free medical clinic from the ground floor. The outstanding features of the building are the fine sandstone facade and the intricately carved Burmese teak front doors. At one time such doors would have graced the front of many Old Delhi havelis. Unfortunately few remain these days. At the end of the lane turn right and at the green temple turn left and you come to a cross roads on Churi Walan by the Rang Mahal Bakery.
Turn left onto Chauri Walan as another diversion on the path to the Jama Masjid. A small tools-making outlet is just before shop No. 2583. Here you’ll see metal-working files made by hand. Shop No. 3735 sells reproduction antique clocks and telephones. After a right-hand bend is an old haveli on the right-hand side signed Bhanamal & Sons at No.656 Chauri Walan. This was the first engineering works in Delhi and dates back to the mid 1850s. Go past the ancient wooden door, if open, and to one side is a derelict factory. Open to the sky and littered with the refuse of ages, it’s still full of lathes, planers, boring machines and saws. Above and still bolted to the remaining structure of the ceiling are the pulleys that drove everything from the gas engine still outside.
While this might now be the haunt of dogs and monkeys, this workshop was once a thriving business and in operation up until 1984. The workshop made the metal work for the pavilions and gateways for the dazzling tented city for the 1903 Coronation Durbar. They also produced those magnificent gates that prevent you from walking in to visit the president of India at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Return to the crossroads by the bakery and turn left, at the next T-junction turn right. Then bear a left that leads you into an area known as Car Parts Bazaar. You’ll realise why when you come across the many small shops specialising in generators, doors, wheels, gearboxes or whatever. Finally the bazaar opens up to a vista of the immense Jama Masjid.
Metro: New Delhi train station on Line 2 and autorickshaw for Turkman Gate, Chandni Chowk is on the same line for Jama Masjid.