Tag Archives: Monuments

A Weekend in Old Delhi

A budget weekend in purani Dilli ♦
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The top of Fatehpuri Masjid, facing towards the Red Fort.

The most difficult decision I had to make while packing for a weekend in Old Delhi, was what sort of attitude I ought to carry with me to this contigu­ous yet discrete part of the capital city. Many travellers have written about how home can only be un­derstood once one leaves it for the world; and how the world becomes known to us through what we find familiar in it. But who would ad­vise me about ‘travelling’ to a part of the city that I had been flitting in and out of for years?

New Dilliwalas have a complex relationship with Shahjahanabad, which is not just the historic capital of the Mughal emperor for which it was named, but also the last of Delhi’s great citadels; and it has been almost continuously ruined and rebuilt since it was founded in the mid-17th century. We read books about it, raid its kuchas and its katras for perfumes and precious metals, write blogs about it, fill city magazines with descriptions of its flavours and scents. Us new Dilliwalas bemoan the loss of puraani Dilli’s history because it is also our history. But the volume of trade that pumps life into the rattling, breathing sheher is mostly irrelevant to us; we don’t really live there.

Two nights of sleeping in the old city would at least be a different kind of adventure, and the Hotel Tara Palace seemed a promising start. The budget hotel with an incredible view is tucked away on an offshoot of Esplanade Road, the wide thoroughfare created by the British after 1857 to separate the city from their military encamp­ment at the Red Fort — a sliver of which was visible from the bal­cony of my alley-facing room. Tara Palace rises above the other build­ings in the cycle market around it, and the hotel, with its rooftop view of the Red Fort, the Jain Lal Man­dir, the Gauri Shankar Mandir, the Gurudwara Sisganj, and the Jama Masjid, has apparently been used for several film shoots, including Chandni Chowk To China (the lane outside was turned into a facsimile.of Parathewali Gali), Black & White and Delhi-6.

Rather than zooming in on the landmarks though, the fun of actually staying in the old city was the freedom to keep glimpsing these monuments in my periph­eral vision. So, just on the way to purchase a replacement for a forgotten toothbrush, I stopped by the Old Famous Jalebiwala for a sugar rush before ducking into Dharampura, the area east of Esplanade Road and south of Chandni Chowk. The historic dharamsalas in this Jain-dominat­ed area are a bit difficult to find, not least because there are nearly a dozen of them scattered about, but worth a visit for their colourful wall paintings, intricate marble in­teriors and golden daises crowded with wide-eyed tirthankaras. The prominent Naya Mandir, built in 1807 is generally open in the morn­ings, but the smaller Panchayati Mandir, originally built in 1745, is a peaceful stop in the evenings.

Emerging out of the tinsel-strewn Kinari Bazaar and bypass­ing the greasy plates in Parathewali Gali, I loitered at the Northbrook Fountain intersection, also called Bhai Mati Das Chowk after a dis­ciple of Guru Tegh Bahadur; their martyrdom at this spot is grue­somely reconstructed next-door at the Bhai Mati Das, Sati Das Sikh museum and commemorated by the Gurdwara Sisganj. Besides me, the only other people not in a rush to eat, pray and shove were a couple of boys on the terrace of the 18th-century Sunehri Masjid opposite me, watching the occa­sional Mercedes barrel out of the gurdwara gates and scatter the stream of human traffic before get­ting mired in a glut of electric- and cycle-rickshaws. Above the green­ish bronze domes of the masjid and the gleaming golden domes of the gurdwara, a full moon rose into the sky, its light opalescent behind the hazy veil of summer pollution.

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A view of Jama Masjid from the top of Tara Palace hotel.

The heat was oppressive. I was tempted to head down the ‘moonlit avenue’, luminous with sequined garments and neon signage, for a nimbu-soda banta from its supposed inventor, Pandit Ved Prakash Lemonwale. Instead, I headed back to Tara Palace for a stiffer drink. A few friends joined me on the roof, where the staff accommodatingly laid out a plastic table and brought us strong beer and vegetarian snacks.

Eventually, the Jama Masjid, twinkling with tastefully re­strained fairy lighting for Ramzan, beckoned, and we headed to­wards it for some proper grub. We ascended above the snacking and socialising crowd in bazaar Matia Mahal to the top-floor of Al-Jawa­har Hotel, to dine on kebabs and kormas in its peach-and-saffron painted family room. Outside, the sweetshops selling multi-coloured blocks of halwa, vats of shahi tukda, matkas of phirni, and piles and piles of fried pheni and khajla, did brisk business.

Back on Esplanade Road, la­bourers were unloading a couple of trucks, or stretched out across their handbarrows, taking a load off themselves. I was struck by how quickly the hotel’s alley had become familiar — probably because there was a bed waiting for me at the end of it. For a few minutes, I stood on my balcony, looking over a patchwork of roofs, unable to imagine them as once-spacious courtyards. The earliest account of a past I could think of that resonated with the present moment was just seventy-five years old: Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi. “But the city lies indifferent or asleep, breathing heavily under a hot and dusty sky,” Ali wrote, himself describing a time eighty years before his own. “Hardly anyone stops the flower vendor to buy jasmines or opens a door to satisfy the beggar. The nymphs have all gone to sleep, and the lov­ers have departed.”

I was pleasantly surprised by my first organised rickshaw tour of the old city the next morning; the three hours with When in India, a tour company founded by sisters whose grandparents lived in a haveli, passed by quite fast. The sites covered — mostly masjids and markets — were not off the beaten track, but a steady narration of an­ecdotes and an album of historical photos kept things interesting.

An early stop was the Khazan­chi, or the treasurer’s haveli, one of several mansions that have fallen into ruin relatively re­cently. The sky-blue walls of the junk-cluttered courtyard set the tone for the rest of the morning. The sun dappled toppled pillars, dilapidated arches, and a door to nowhere — as well as the rough ad­ditions, bricked up windows and scattered furniture of the people living here. I was reminded of a let­ter Ghalib wrote around 1859. “If you want to know how things are in Dilli, read this,” he said, quoting his own verse:

What was in my dwelling that your devastation could destroy it?
What I used to have is here yet — just the yearning to construct.

“What does this place have now for anyone to plunder?” he added.

The poet’s question echoed as we trundled past the landmarks of Chandni Chowk: the E.S. Pyarelal Building, which once housed the Fort View Hotel; the SBI building in front of Begum Samru’s palace; the Central Baptist Church; the Allahabad Bank building; Ma­havir Jain Bhavan; the erstwhile Town Hall, which began life as a cultural hub and may soon become one again; and the sprawling, still majestic haveli of Lala Chunna­mal. Even if you don’t take a guided tour, a cycle rickshaw is the best way to admire the avenue’s last bits of marble latticework and wrought iron, hanging, like tattered lace curtains, between the shuttered shops on the street level and the concrete additions on top.

Standing on the cupola-corned roof of Gadodia Market, a partially enclosed quadrangle in the Khari Baoli spice bazaar, I shielded my eyes against the intense glare. Below me the tingling heat of a million red chillies wafted from gunny sacks, above was a searing, cloudless sky. I noted the crowded Coronation Building, on the site of the notorious Namak Haram haveli, and on the other side of the Fatehpuri Masjid, the tower­ing Crown Hotel — a hippie trail landmark famous for its rooftop parties in the early seventies, that now looks quite tame.

Winding through Lal Kuan and Bazaar Sitaram, the tour ended at the company’s own simple haveli, which was built in the 1860s. Old museum photographs lined the walls, and there was a spread of bedmi-aloo, samosas, jalebis, tea and coffee and, best of all, a creamy kulfi from the local sweet-spot, Kuremal Mohan Lal Kulfi Wale.

I got dropped off at Ajmeri Gate, opposite the Anglo-Arabic Girls’ School, but it was too hot to hop across to the 17th-century mosque within its premises. Men lay draped across their rickshaws, spread-eagled on any patch of dirt or pavement; I considered inves­tigating the ‘Purdah Bagh’ to the north of Daryaganj, but decided instead to check in to Casa Home­stay to recuperate.

Quiet, residential Daryaganj, which was set with riverfront mansions when the Yamuna still ran along it, is an ideal base for exploration. A little before sunset, I walked to Delite Cinema, a sixty year-old hall that used to also stage plays, including by Prithvi The­atres, in its heyday. It was divided into two refurbished auditoriums, Delite and Delite Diamond — com­plete with cushy loos, hand- painted domed ceilings, and Czech chandeliers — several years ago. I watched half of Dawn of Planet of the Apes (Hindi) and half of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, with the theatre’s obligatory ‘maha sa­mosa’ in hand (they also sell chuski at the concession stand).

More grown-up delights were in order afterwards at Thugs, the pub in the boutique Hotel Broadway down the street. The Mogambo Margarita was sadly unavailable (a broken blender), but a solid Kaalia (rum and cola), complete with paper umbrella, made up for it. Then to Moti Mahal, the decades-old restaurant that claims to have brought butter chicken to India during Partition (let’s leave aside the hotly contested debates of authenticity around this estab­lishment). Dinner was tasty, and imbued with the sort of pleas­ant bathos that seasons all such exercises in consuming nostalgia. The small musical troupe churned out a timid rendition of ‘Kajra Mohabbatwalla’, the chicken was swimming in buttered tomato pulp, the breads were large, the spiced onions plentiful — all was well with the world and my air-conditioned bedroom was just five minutes away.

The next day the city itself seemed to have been skew­ered and slapped into a blazing tandoor, but I forced myself to walk out into the Sunday book bazaar that lines the main arter­ies of Netaji Subhash Marg and Asaf Ali Road. Between biology study guides and sex manuals from the 1980s, I picked up a couple of books of poetry, before crossing back towards the quieter area around Ansari Road, Delhi’s traditional publishing hub. I paused at Jain Saheb’s (one of a couple of popular bedmi-puri breakfast joints in the area), which is renowned for its pumpkin sabzi, before trudging along the city wall — rebuilt here by the British — towards the Zinat-al-Masaajid, or ‘ornament of mosques’.

Also called the Ghata Masjid, the mosque was built in 1707 by Zinat-un-nissa, one of Aurangzeb’s daughters. Zinat-un-nissa was a poet and a spinster (the mosque’s third name is ‘Kumari Masjid’, it was supposed to have been built with her dowry). Poets, including Mir Taqi Mir, apparently met here in the early 18th century; and one can imagine it must have been a pleasant spot at the time — a gilded building overlooking a river. Today, the mosque is spartan but pretty, with three striking black-and-white pinstriped domes and minarets that seem, in proportion, to soar up­wards. Zinat-un-nissa’s tomb was removed by the British after 1857, but its Persian epitaph, composed by the pious princess, read: “It is enough if the shadow of the cloud of mercy covers my tomb.”

Indeed, clouds were now amass­ing above the old riverbed, and the sky had darkened with the promise of rain. A strong wind blew across Delhi, heaving through the trees and taking with it my daydreams of this other city. Fat drops began to splatter the cracked sandstone around me. The minarets seemed to pierce the sky.

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The domes of Gurudwara Sisganj.

 

The information

Getting there
Old Delhi is 22km from Indira Gandhi International Airport, and about 4.2km from the New Delhi Railway Station. The Old Delhi Railway Station is next door. A taxi from the airport costs about Rs 375.

Where to stay
Hotel Tara Palace
(from Rs 1,800 plus taxes, includes breakfast and airport pick-up; tarapalacedelhi.com) is a welcoming, spic-and-span hotel with all the amenities, plus a 24-hour restaurant. Another great place to stay is the Casa Homestay (from Rs 3,000, includ­ing taxes and a hearty, homemade breakfast; casahomestay.com) is a posh yet warm suite in a historic Daryaganj mansion. It is run by Colonel Abhimanyu and Reva Nayar, who live downstairs and provide all the amenities with a personal touch.

Getting around
The Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk metro stations are practi­cal links to other parts of Delhi. Cycle rickshaws are the best way to get around (anywhere from Rs 20 to Rs 100 per trip; more for a tour). Several companies provide walking and rickshaw tours; When in India (wheninindia.com, from $50) tours are professional and com­fortable, with branded rickshaws, uniformed drivers (some of whom speak English), cold drinks in chill­ers under the seats, and unobtru­sive wireless headsets through which the guide gives informa­tion to the group. They average 1.5-3 hours and can be tailored for groups or individuals.

What to see & do
Red Fort
, the Jain temples in Dharampura, Jama Masjid, Fateh­puri Masjid, Khari Baoli, Delite Cinema, Zinat-al-Masajid, Darya­ganj book bazaar on Sunday and the local mansions

Eat, drink & shop
Old Famous Jalebiwala
serves overpriced (Rs 50 per plate), oversized jalebis at the entrance to Dariba Kalan. Al-Jawahar hotel (about Rs 500 for two) is an airier alternative to the more-famous Karim’s next-door and worth a stop for the nihari at breakfast; likewise Moti Mahal (about Rs 900 for two) for butter chicken and ghazals at dinner; and Thugs (hotelbroadwaydelhi.com; cocktails from Rs 175) for drinks.

Fancier than the stores around it in Khari Baoli, Mehar Chand & Sons (facebook.com/mcs1917) sells well-presented blended powder masalas (from about Rs 200), special teas and spices. Harnarain Gokalchand (facebook. com/harnarains) has its local brand of khus, kewda, rose and other sharbats further down the street. Gulab Singh Johrimal on Chandni Chowk (gulabsinghjohrimal.com) is a charming old attar and incense shop (from Rs 12 for 2.5ml vial) with retro-packaging and old-fashioned cabinetry. In Daryaganj, Aap Ki Pasand (aapkipasandtea.com) is an oasis-like tea shop.

Top tip
The Archaeological Survey of India’s free monuments app isn’t completely comprehensive, but it maps the major attractions. Download ASI Delhi Circle from the Google Play store. INTACH’s Delhi: 20 Heritage Walks (intach­delhichapter.org) includes two very informative booklets on the built heritage of North Shajahanabad and South Shahjahanabad.

Originally published in Outlook Traveller, August 2014.

Published: February 15, 2015

Age and beauty

The walled city oozes so much spiritual history, every gali could turn into a trail. Here are four roads less travelled ♦

spiritual trails

Part of a few stories for a Time Out Delhi’s “Ten spiritual trails” cover. Click to read with pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Older Delhi

The pre-Shahjahanabad tour.

The walled city hides several sacred sites that predate Shahjahan’s imperial city. Four major ones are relatively close together and can be visited in one go.

The Turkman Gate area gets its name from the Shah Turkman Dargah, but locals know the grave complex of this Sufi saint – Shamsul- Arifin, also called Biyaban – as “Dada Pir”. Start at Turkman Gate and take the Bazaar Sitaram lane to the left of it. Ask for Basti Dada Pir and Mohalla Qabristan. The complex is tucked away to the right of the main road. The graveyard is on two levels: an upper concrete-covered level with half-sunken graves (including a sinking, inscribed marble tomb and an elevated grave) and a little mosque and adjacent dargah down a flight of stairs. According to Lucy Peck (in Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building, Roli, 2005), the different levels might be due to burials taking place one on top of the other over the years.

A gentleman we met there, who said his family had been taking care of the place for generations, told us that Shah Turkman (who he referred to as “aap”) came from Turkmenistan and is still commemorated during his urs, when people come from as far as Pakistan to venerate him (he died in 1240). Certainly the dargah was nicely decked up with tinsel and petals, the newer little mosque next door is studded with broken tiles, and the courtyard – though home to a family of cats, quite a bit of rubbish, and the caretaking family’s side business in machine parts – is a peaceful final resting place for “the dada of all pirs”.

Return to and continue up Bazaar Sitaram until you see the glimpse of a mosque to your left. Up a steep flight of stairs is the Kalan Masjid or “Big Mosque”, built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq’s prime minister Khan-i-Jehan Junan Shah in 1387. One of seven mosques built by Khan-i-Jehan (and his mother, according to a signboard inside), this one was repaired 12 years ago and is in good condition, rather gaudily painted in bright blue, purple, turquoise and green. There’s a marble courtyard fountain with goldfish swimming in the placid green water. When we visited, there were a few kids playing and a friendly mullah, who took us up to the fourth-floor roof, which is studded with the 30 wide gumbads – quite a surreal setting. The view from this tall mosque is breathtaking; we could see Rashtrapati Bhavan from one side and several interesting mosques poking through the spread of Turkman Gate on the other.

Continue up the main road, taking the second right to “Bulbul-i-khana”, where – at the very end of the gali – you’ll find Razia Sultan’s tomb, or “Rani-Saji ki dargah”. Razia Sultan was a follower of Shah Turkman, and her burial site is allegedly the place where he used to sit – though conflicting reports saythat she is buried in Haryana, where she died in 1240.There are two worn away graves in the centre of a courtyard; the one nearer the little modern masjid is supposedly Razia’s, and the one beside that, her sister’s. The gate to the small complex is locked except during namaaz times, but ask at the Farsi printing shop next door and someone will open it.

Go back to the main road, take a rickshaw up to Hauz Qazi and Lal Kuan, and ask for “Gali Batashan” in the Naya Bans paan market. Up this colourful street brimming with toffees, batasha, mishri and other sweets is the Hauzwali Masjid or “Masjid-i-Khari Baoli”, which was built around 1540-50. This smallish mosque has wide, low-sprung arches and gets its name from a tank within the complex. The sky-blue building looks a bit like a sarai; indeed, there was a man sleeping inside. In the courtyard, a couple of labourers, taking advantage of the quiet spot, told us that the mosque is mostly frequented by Bengalis working in the area.

The masjids the queens built

Not all the religious sites here were endowed by men.

We did a quick roundup of several Shahjahanabad mosques that were built by women. It’s possible to visit all of them in one, only slightly hectic trip.

Starting at the south end of Ansari Road, take an auto to Zinat-ul-Masjid (Khairati Ghat, Daryaganj), which abuts the city wall (and is just visible from the Ring Road). This serene mosque has rather tall minarets and is also referred to as the Ghata (cloud) Masjid, according to an INTACH board outside. The mosque was built in 1707 by Zinat-al-Nisa, Aurangzeb’s daughter, and is supposed to have been the Emperor’s final resting place until 1857, when his remains were moved and the mosque was appropriated for military purposes. The mosque is in good condition and, as a bonus, has its original sandstone exposed. The red stone is beautifully juxtaposed with striped black-and-white gumbads and, despite a rubbish-filled tank and several little buildings nestling up to its sides, the building is very striking.

From here, take an auto or a rickshaw to the Lal Qila parking lot, next to which is the petite Sunehri Masjid (next to Delhi gate of Red Fort). There are other Sunehri Masjids in Delhi, but this one was built in 1751 by Qudsia Begum, a former dancing girl who married Mohammad Shah Rangila and was the mother of Ahmad Shah. This diminutive mosque – which survived 1857 while the larger Akbarabadi Masjid (built next to Jama Masjid by one of Shahjahan’s wives) did not – has elegant details, like an entry gateway that is reminiscent of a miniaturised version of the Red Fort’s main ramparts, and has its warm yellow stone exposed. It’s in far better condition than the ruins in Qudsia Bagh in Civil Lines, also built by “Sunehri Begum” (as the mullah we spoke to called Qudsia Begum). Despite the masjid’s small size, we were informed that on Fridays and around festivals, the crowd spills onto the street outside and loudspeakers broadcast sermons. According to the mullah, a small mazhar behind the mosque marks Qudsia Begum’s grave. The domes were originally plated with copper, which was replaced with sandstone by Bahadur Shah II.

Take a rickshaw from across the street, past Jama Masjid and Hauz Qazi, alighting just after the Chawri Bazaar Metro station on the Lal Kuan road. On your left is Masjid Mubarak Begum (Bazaar Hauz Qazi, Sirkiwalan; on the first floor above some shops). Mubarak Begum, who built this mosque in 1823, was the wife of Sir David Ochterlony,the first British resident of Delhi. The board outside doesn’t say much about her except that she loved music, but according to some sources, she was a Brahmin dancing girl who converted to Islam. Apparently, this mosque, which was either built by Mubarak Begum or for her, was sometimes locally called “Randi Ki Masjid”. Now under the Waqf Board, the mosque, which has an inscription in Farsi over its entrance, is painted over in a red terracotta colour (with green trim) that attempts to approximate the sandstone beneath. You can make out scallops on the inside of the gumbads, as well as carved niches, but any painting that might have been on the walls is painted over. One of the turrets is missing a miniature gumbad. The mullah there enthusiastically told us the mosque’s committee wants to replace this and make other repairs but doesn’t have the funds. When we visited, he was cheerfully overseeing the mounting of two large rotating fans on either side of the entrance. He explained that this mosque is especially popular as an all-night hangout during Ramzaan.

From here, take a rickshaw to the Fatehpuri Masjid at the western end of Chandni Chowk. Built in 1650 by Fatehpuri Begum, another one of Shahjahan’s wives, this large mosque and madrasa complex has a wide courtyard and is partially exposed, partially painted. When we visited there was a minor commotion caused by a gaggle of schoolboys, who had made a game of harassing a stick-wielding, green-capped caretaker – the object of the game seemed to be to get as close to the mosque as possible before being chased away. Shouts of “Hari topi! Hari topi!” enlivened the otherwise relaxed atmosphere at the central tank. Though this mosque was once considered a place of debate and learning, clearly the school kids think of the courtyard as more of a maidan.

Take another rickshaw-ride to Lahori Gate at the end of Khari Baoli. To the right of the Walled City Museum, several large white gumbads are visible behind some shops. This is the Sarhindi Masjid built by Sarhindi Begum, yet another of Shahjahan’s wives, also in 1650. The sandstone mosque painted in bluish white has wide gates, but is sunken and slightly dingy. There’s a madrasa and rooms here where children are supposedly sent from Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to study. The roof affords an excellent view of the railyard stretching to Connaught Place on one side and busy Khari Baoli on the other.

Sainted footsteps

Jain temples in Dharampura.

The Lal Masjid Jain temple at the entrance of Chandni Chowk is famous for its location, age (its original structure is from the early eighteenth century) and bird hospital, but the area south of Chandni Chowk, between Dariba Kalan and Nai Sarak, is dotted with Jain temples. Start at Dariba and walk down, past the right turn to Kinari Bazaar, until you see a turn with an arch marked Kucha Seth to the right. Down this gali, you’ll find yourself surrounded by marble. The Shri Digambar Jain Chhota Mandir (1541 Kucha-i-Seth, Dariba Kalan) built by the Digambar Jain Panchayat in 1840 is on your right and the double-storeyed Shri Digambar Jain Bada Mandir (1513 Kucha-i-Seth, Dariba Kalan), built in 1828-1834 by one Indraraj Ji is just ahead on the left. Both of these have rich, gold-embellished paintings of the Jain Tirthankaras; the former is open in the morning and has a Jain Dharamshala next to it, and the latter, which is on the first floor and has a larger hall, is open in the evening.

At the end of the road, turn left and continue walking towards Chel Puri. You’ll come to the large Shri Digambar Jain Naya Mandir complex (opposite 2318 Dharampura), built in 1807 by Raja Harsukh Rai, a treasurer in Shah Alam II’s court. There are several buildings clustered around the temple, including a school. This temple is open in the morning.

Continue straight to reach the Shri Agarwal Digambar Jain Panchayati Mandir (2175 Gali Hanuman Prasad, Masjid Khajoor, Dharampura), which dates from 1705 and is open in the evenings. This large temple was rebuilt about a hundred years ago and is in very good condition, with colourful frescoes, a collection of antique manuscripts and a unique brown idol of Adinatha, which is made from something that looks like sandstone.

Turn back and left, walking north. On your right is the Shri Digambar Jain Mehru Mandir (3018 Gali Hanuman Prashad, Masjid Khajoor, Dharampura), which has a very intricately carved gateway between its distinctive marble walls. According to Delhi: A Built Heritage (INTACH, 1999), the temple dates from 1745. However, it may have been rebuilt, as the Archaeological Survey of India board outside states that it was built in 1845 by Lala Mehar Chand Jain. The inside is unusual and beautiful, with rows of small, chhattri-topped pillars. Across the street is the Shri Padmavati Puraval Digambar Jain Panchayati Masjid.

From here, walk north towards Chandni Chowk and you’ll emerge at Kinari Bazaar. Turn left and then right – just before Parathewali Gali is the little enclosed street called Naugharana, a favourite on tourist walks because of its well-preserved and painted havelis. This entire walk will take you past some beautiful carved doorways, but this street, and the Jauhri Temple in it, is the most accessible. The two-level temple, which was built in the late eighteenth century and renovated later, has very interesting paintings that seem to be influenced by a synthesis of various traditions, including Mughal miniature painting.

Dark lord

The Shivalaya trail in Katra Nil

Katra Nil, the area to the left of the Town Hall, is the traditional area for scores of Shiv temples and little Shivalayas, many of them originally courtyard shrines within havelis. The havelis are gone, but there are still several of these Mughal-era shrines in use today. They consist mainly of a raised marble or sandstone pedestal with the lingam in the centre, surmounted by a sandstone chattri. A walk down Katra Nil starting at Chandni Chowk will reveal glimpses of these shrines through doorways, in alleys and on raised courtyards. Several Shivalayas that have not been enclosed by temples are still in open courtyards, which are inhabited by families who perform puja everyday. Needless to say, there’s a heavy scent of ghee and attar in the air.

515 Krishna Gali to the left of Katra Nil. A lime-green enclosed Shivalaya.

793 Katra Nil Shivalaya Kunniji Maharaj. In a pleasant raised courtyard with a bright purple wall and deities.

556 Katra Nil Babu Lal temple. Through a red gate on the left.

598 Ghanteshwar Mahadev A large white temple in a gali to the left of Katra Nil. Said to be the oldest in the area, with a metal-clad Shivalaya with colourful paintings inside its dome, and mirrors on its walls.

602 Ghanteshwar Mahadev Dhumimal Shivalaya. In a courtyard with a large peepul tree; locally known as “Peepul Mahadev”.

701 Katra Nil Bada Shivalaya. Right side on Katra Nil, through a red archway. In an almost-closed courtyard.

689 Katra Nil Pandit Hari Ranji Ka Shivalaya, apparently named for a pandit of the same name.

Part of a few stories for a Time Out Delhi‘s “Ten spiritual trails” cover. Read more here.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, October 2008.

Published: October 3, 2008