Tag Archives: Shahjahanabad

Shahjahanabad coolers

Street the heat ♦

Feeling a bit parched in puraani Dilli? Quench your thirst at these local institutions. Read the Time Out Delhi (July 2009) story as a PDF, find the text reproduced below, or download it here.

(Pairs well with this story on old Delhi street food.)

Amritsari Lassi Wala

The thickest lassi we’ve found in old Delhi is available at this wellknown neon-yellow shop. Very much of the heartland, the lassi is served with a spoon and plenty of malai chunks. It’s also ice-cold and available in flavours like banana, jeera namkeen, mango and rose. Amritsari Lassi Wale has been around in Delhi since 1974 and is conveniently located next to a number of chhola bhatura walas. 295 Fatehpuri Chowk, at Chandni Chowk (2394-2260). Metro Chandni Chowk. Rs 8-20.

Bikaner Sweet Shop

Compared to some surrounding vendors, this namkeen shop is a newbie, having been established only 27 years ago. That certainly doesn’t stop passers-by from availing of the shop’s convenient location in Dariba, just out of the sun of Chandni Chowk. A bucket of ice holds bottles of kaju milk, pista milk and badam milk. 255 Dariba Kalan, off Chandni Chowk (2328-1971). Metro Chandni Chowk. Rs 20.

Jain Coffee House

Perhaps better-known for his fruit-and-cream sandwiches, Pawan Kumar at the Jain Coffee House also whips up some sweet milkshakes. Available in seasonal flavours, the whole milk shakes are frothier than the little-girl party frocks on Chandni Chowk. Mango, apple and coffee were the choices when we visited. Raghu Ganj, Chawri Bazaar (2391-8925). Metro Chawri Bazaar. From the station, take the main road towards Jama Masjid. You’ll walk past a big shop called Gujarat Namkeen Bhandar on your left. Watch for an iron gate on the left side that says Raghu Ganj. Go through this to a courtyard – JCH is on the left corner. Mon-Sat 9am-7.30pm. Rs 25. If you’re closer to Chandni Chowk, try Kamdhenu Family Corner, which has mango, chocolate and other seasonal shakes. 5469 Nai Sarak, corner of Chandni Chowk, opposite Town Hall (2394-4386). m Chandni Chowk. Daily 9.30am-8pm. Rs 20.

Murarilal Inderjit Sharma

The crowd outside Murari’s lassi, dahi, milk and paneer outlet in Kinari Bazaar is relentless. Established about 60 years ago, the dairy stall uses two of Delhi’s classic “Sultan” machines to churn creamy – but not excessively thick – lassi in kullars and steel glasses. Some of the area’s merchants bring their own silver cups to be filled. A squirt of kewra is added and the glass is topped with a thin, creamy-crisp slab of malai before serving. A namkeen version is also available. 2178 Kinari Bazaar (2327-1464). Metro Chandni Chowk. Rs 20.

Oberoi Sindhi Lemonade

This neat little stall stocks shikanji masala powder, bottles of banta and neat little bottles of jeera masala soda. The concept is identical to Pandit Ved Prakash (see p38), but this stall is a little quieter, cleaner and almost next door. Nai Sarak. Turn left on Nai Sarak off Chandni Chowk and the stall is on your right. Metro Chandni Chowk.

Pakodimal doodhwala

This little lassi stall isn’t marked, but it’s across the road from a few others that are (Jain Bengali Sweets among them). What sets Pakodimal’s stand apart is his barfiwali lassi, in which a piece of khoya barfi is mixed in with the yogurt. According to food writer Rahul Verma, this stall might be one of the oldest doodhwalas in town. Sadly, the old man wasn’t there when we visited, and the barfiwali lassi had finished for the day. But we’ll definitely be back to try it. From Khari Baoli, turn left on Naya Bans and stop at the third or fourth stall to your left, opposite Jain Bengali Sweets. Metro Chawri Bazaar. Rs 15-20.

Pandit Ved Prakash Lemon Wale

The Pandit’s progeny claim that their ancestor popularised the nimbu-soda banta. The family has been in the cold drinks line for about 150 years, according to Chinibhai, one of the brothers who runs the stalls in Dariba Kalan and near the Town Hall. Until the British introduced the Codd-neck bottle to India (it was invented by Hiram Codd in 1872), the family was in the sharbat business. In the early 1900s, they began focusing their efforts on banta, mixed with their own house masala. They also sell their own jeera masala soda. 5466 Chandni Chowk (2392-0931); 266 Dariba Kalan (2325-5259). Metro Chandni Chowk. Rs 7-9 per glass.


Finding the rainbow connection in Khari Baoli

If, on a hot summer day, you happen to visit Harnarain Gokalchand’s murabba and pickle shop, you’ll be offered a cup of bright green liquid, with a scent like rain over dusty leaves. Khus (vetiver) sharbat is just one of the elixirs stocked at this store, that is now more than 70 years old. Though many of the murabba-achaar stores along the wholesale spice market stock sharbat, Harnarain is one of the few that still manufactures it. Of course, the manufacturing process has changed a bit since the shop first opened (it used to have a branch in Connaught Place as well). Though the line of sharbats is manufactured in the dusty industrial area of Lawrence Road and despite the fact that most of the ingredients listed involve preservatives, the objective of this implausibly coloured arsenal of mixers remains the same: to cool you down. The Arora family, which owns the store, manufactures bel, amla, kewra, chandan (sandal), khus and rose sharbats as well as mango panna – all priced under Rs 75 per bottle. Perhaps the snazziest sharbat line on the market, though, is the Shri Guruji brand, also available at a few shops in Khari Baoli. Founded in Kolkata in 1970, the company drew its inspiration from family patriarch Shree Jagdeeshprasad from Shekhavati, Rajasthan. The guruji is said to have once held a 16-day satsang, during which he served 16 different cold drinks. The company – now based in Indore – makes kesariya thandai; sharbats in flavours including badam kesar, chandan, kesar pista, kesar, khus, rose and “panchamrit” (intriguingly, the bottle only lists gulab, kewra, chandan and kesar: what is the mystery fifth ingredient?); squashes like amla, bel, jamun, lemon, lemon barley, lemony ginger, litchi, orange, and pineapple; and fruit cordial. Harnarain Gokalchand 6678 Khari Baoli (2399-2590). Metro Chawri Bazaar. Mon-Sat 11am- 8pm. Sharbat Rs 65-75. Ram Lal Om Prakash (For Guruji sharbats) 6542 Khari Baoli, Fatehpuri (2396-7853). Metro Chawri Bazaar. Mon-Sat 10am-7pm. Sharbat Rs 85-140. 

Pink drink

Before Campa, there was kewra

If Delhi can claim any drink as its own, it’s Rooh Afza. The sharbat, almost synonymous with sweetness in our city, has an intriguing family story behind it. In 1906, Hakim Abdul Majeed, a Unani medicine practitioner who had studied under Ajmal Khan, started his own clinic in Lal Kuan. The next year, he started selling bottles of the rose-red concentrate. His son, Hakim Abdul Hameed, expanded the Hamdard Dawakhana and popularised his father’s summer sharbat beyond the walled city. After Partition, his brother Mohammad Said went to Karachi to take care of Hamdard’s operations in Pakistan. The brothers kept in constant touch and the Indian and Pakistani companies grew together. They both set up universities and Said did a turn in politics as well. Eventually, he was assassinated and, within a year, his brother in Delhi also passed away. The company is still in the family’s hands, with Majeed’s greatgrandsons Hamid Ahmed and Asad Mueed working on revamping Rooh Afza’s image with Juhi Chawla ads and new jingles. The taste of the drink, however, remains the same, just as the Hamdard Dawakhana still stands as a major landmark in Lal Kuan. A lot of components go into that indescribable flavour: sugar syrup; pineapple juice and orange juice; extract of dhania, gajjar (carrot), khurfa (bara lunia or purslane), tarbooz (watermelon), palak (spinach), pudina (mint), hara ghia (luffa), kasni (chicory), munaqqa (raisins), sandal, khus (vetiver), chharrila (stone flower lichen), gul nilofar (waterlily), gaozaban (borage or starflower), citrus flowers, kewra and rose. Available at general stores across the city. Rs 90 for 700ml.

(Pairs well with this story on old Delhi street food.)

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, July 2009. 

Published: July 24, 2009

Stirring the pot

Delhi’s culinary melange ♦

Part of a Time Out Delhi food cover story, this is a short history of Delhi food, plus a guide to eating in the old city (published in 2008). Read the story as a PDF, find the text reproduced below, or download the PDF here.

(Pairs well with this story on old Delhi drinks.)

Great cities are defined, at least to some degree, by great cuisines: either through an easily available and intrinsic tradition, or through making choices available that draw the culinary traveller from far and wide. Paris and Shanghai are examples of the former, London and New York perhaps of the latter. We’ve checked off the monuments and the Metro in our own Delhi, we’re well-stocked with netas, bade baap ka betas and SUVs, but what do we have to offer in terms of a culinary narrative? In a city as old as ours, surely our food isn’t only about butter chicken, qorma and kababs?

Some of the earliest accounts of food in Delhi come from the fourteenth century traveller Ibn Battuta’s writing. In her The Essential Delhi Cookbook, Priti Narain (who is herself from a Kayasth Mathur Delhi family) paraphrases Battuta’s descriptions of Sultanate feasts. She writes that these rulers brought with them the habit of communal dining, with people seated hierarchically. Battuta also describes beginning the meal with a sharbat and ending it with paan. But then, written traces of “Sultanate food” pretty much disappear.

According to educator and activist Sohail Hashmi, Delhi court cuisine was an amalgam of Central Asian (Turkic, Persian etc) and local techniques. As he said, “In Central Asia, most food is cooked on spits or in ovens and in animal fat. You have very limited use of spices. The chunks of meat are large and not as soft as we cook them. When the Central Asians came, the tradition of bhun-na, using ghee as an agent, was added. These two mixed to create what we know today as Mughlai food.”

While most scholars and foodies claim that what we call Mughlai is possibly more influenced by Awadhi or Nizami cuisine than what the Mughals ate, there are references to food and cooking in various Mughal documents: the Baburnama, the Ain-i-Akbari and other, less formal sources. A section of the Baburnama describes how Babur brought certain fruits like melons and grapes to India. (It appears the ruler missed these so much that he once became teary-eyed upon cutting open a melon.) It also talks of the local edible flora and fauna and describes concoctions like murabba. The Ain-i-Akbari has a section with price lists for various foodstuffs, as well as full recipes with measurements of several dishes.

Much of the variety of these ingredients has disappeared. Hashmi told us how many saag varieties are no longer cooked, or indeed, aren’t even available anymore. The Ain-i-Akbari’s regional specifications of goat and lamb varieties seem unimaginably exotic today. Other ingredients, which we take completely for granted, are newer additions. Narain writes that potatoes only came to North India by about 1830. Tomatoes came only about 20 years after that. Chillies were introduced to South India by the Portuguese in the 1500s, but probably took longer to reach Delhi, as they are not mentioned in the Ain-i-Akbari.

While Muslim cuisine is perhaps the best recorded, Delhi cuisine was and is made up of the traditions of several communities. Delhi’s sizeable Kayasth community were scribes and officials in the imperial courts and, as such, their food habits were heavily influenced by Muslim ones. There was also an inventive vegetarian tradition: Narain mentions several dishes that featured vegetables masquerading as meat. Kayasth recipes and menu plans could be found – along with Muslim ones – in Urdu cookbooks that were possibly originally put together by housewives. Indeed, Mathur found some of her recipes in these unfortunately no-longer-available treasure troves.

Banias, particularly Marwaris, and Khatris are chiefly responsible for Delhi’s vegetarian traditions. The hallowed tradition of Delhi chaat may have come from the Bania community, according to several sources. Hashmi is of the opinion that khomchawalas (gents carrying their wares in baskets on their heads) would hawk their kulfi and chaat from store to store, and the storekeepers would call them over to keep the snack train going. Or, the khomchawalas would be called home for family feasts. These street traditions continue alongside their non-vegetarian counterparts in the walled city. The newer tradition of Punjabi and frontier food and the attendant popularity of chicken and tandoori items have been added to the mix since Partition.

Uniformly, every food-lover or scholar we spoke to said that the best examples of any of Delhi’s cuisines – whether from the “traditional” resident communities of the sheher or newer migrant ones – can be found in people’s homes. We can’t provide you with a list of people’s phone numbers, obviously. But if you start in the old city, a quick course in the evolution of our city’s khana is possible. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best, most authentic, most inventive or just most popular places to eat out in purani Dilli, as well as a list of caterers and bawarchis to start with. Happy exploring.


Al Jawahar Jawahar’s new and old branches serve “Mughlai” (kababs and oily curries) in a slightly more laid-back fashion than Karim’s. According to Hashmi, Jawahar was founded by a family of butchers; food critic Marryam Reshii holds that their cuts are better than Karim’s. 65 Bazaar Matia Mahal, opposite Gate 1, Jama Masjid (2326-9241); metro Chawri Bazaar. Daily 7am-midnight. Meal for two Rs. 300.

Kallu Nihari Beloved nihariwala of Delhi foodies (and their patron saint, writer Rahul Verma) – but you’ll have to get there early; this stuff runs out fast. Verma suggests Haji Noora ki nihari at Bara Hindu Rao for a spicier version of the dish. Kallu: 180 Chhatta Lal Mian, Jama Masjid, approach via Churiwalan and ask for Tiraha Behram Khan; Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily 5-7pm. Haji Noora ki nihari: 3576 Bara Hindu Rao, Thelewali Gali, Sangtarashan; daily 6-8am, 6-9pm.

Karim’s Hotel The classic, if only by virtue of reputation. While Charmaine O’Brien mentions in her book Flavours of Delhi that the Karim progenitor was an Arabian soldier-turned-personal cook for Babur, Hashmi told us that “Karim has very cleverly invented himself. It is in Gali Kababian – this is a family of kababchis who then said, ‘shahi hain’.” Whatever the true story, it won’t make a jot of difference to the popularity of the famous burras. 16 Gali Kababian, Bazaar Matia Mahal, opposite Gate 1, Jama Masjid (2326-9880); Metro Chawri Bazaar; Daily 7am-midnight; Meal for two Rs 300.

Super Meat Stall Avtar Singh’s family used to sell swords in the underground market at gurudwara Sis Ganj. In 1966, Singh’s grandfather and father set up Super Meat Stall, popularly known as “Super Meat Wale”. Try their hot, spicy curries of mutton pieces or keema with phulkas, or the mutton pulao with gravy. 937 HC Sen Road, Chandni Chowk, near Fountain, next to HSBC ATM (6990-2920); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 10am-9pm.

Ustad Moinudeen Rahul Verma’s pick of the kababchis. He vouched that “the seekh kabab is very soft, not rubbery like you get in most places”. And it’s not made of mutton. Gali Qasim Jaan, Lal Kuan, in front of Hamdard Dawakhana; Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily noon-8.30pm.

Vegetarian meals

Adarsh Bhojanalaya The few sit-down places to eat ghar ka khana out in the old city are Marwari-style bhojanalayas. Verma recommended Adarsh to us, despite its lack of good seating. Order the separate special tadka along with your unlimited thali. Verma also recommends nearby Annapurna. We also like New Soni’s thali of unlimited dal, aloo-tamatar and phulka and limited daily sabzi, raita and sweet. Adarsh: 483 Haider Quli Corner, below Andhra Bank, Chandni Chowk (2398-7576); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 10.30am-6pm, 6-11pm. Annapurna Guest House: 680 Church Mission Road, Fatehpuri (2396-6680); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 10.30am-3pm, 6.30 -11pm. New Soni: 5568 Nai Sarak (2393-6143); Metro Chandni Chowk; Mon-Sat 11am-4pm, 7pm- 11pm.

Chacha Di Hatti This chhole-bhatura wala staple is not strictly within the old city, but according to Verma, Kamala Nagar was where the first generation of migrants out of purani Dilli shifted to in the 1950s. Limited supply, so get there early. 32 Bungalow Road, Delhi University, behind Kirori Mal College; Metro Vishwavidyalaya. Daily 9.30am-3pm.

Kake Di Hatti This nondescript but famous eatery was started about 63 years ago by owner Gurdeep Singh’s great-grandfather. Kake’s lunch thali is minimal but memorable, the rotis simply enormous, the dal makhani legendary, and the 11 kinds of stuffed paratha less greasy than the ones in Parathewali Gali. 654 Church Mission Road, Fatehpuri (98109-09754); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 7.30am-12.30pm.

Makhan Lal Tikka Ram This one is the place to try a Delhi breakfast favourite: bedmi-aloo. Almost before you enter the old city from the north, in the midst of the auto parts market opposite St James Church, is a little shop whose board reads “Makhan Lal Tika Ram – mltr”, but which has for years been known as Mitthan Ki Bedmi (despite the fact that the gentleman at the counter insists that Mitthan’s sweet shop closed down circa 1975 and all that remains of it is Mitthan Motors three shops down). Strictly speaking, it’s a sweet-shop, but it has a tiny balcony into which you can cram yourself (along with about seven other people) and eat fantastic bedmis (Rs 7 a plate). Served with a mixed aloo-chhole ki sabzi and khatte aam ki launji, two of these are a meal. Try their matthri and nagori-halwa as well. If you’re in the Chawri Bazaar area, try Ram Swarup’s or Shyam Sweets for more of the same. If you’re closer to Chandni Chowk, head to Shiv Mishtan Bhandar – an institution as much for its bedmi as for its political celebrity client list. MLTR: 1259- 60 Bara Bazaar, Kashmere Gate (3255-9415); Metro Kashmere Gate; daily 5.30am-10.30pm. Ram Swarup: 3284 Bazaar Sita Ram (2395-5569); Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily 6am-10pm. Shyam Sweets: 114 Chowk Barshabulla, Chawri Bazaar (2326-8087); Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily 6.30am-10pm. Shiv Mishtan Bhandar: 375 Kucha Ghasi Ram, Chandni Chowk (2392- 1406); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 6am-10pm.

Nirmal Restaurant Try this alternative to the famous fried breads at Pandit Babu Ram Devi Dayal and its ilk in Parathewali Gali. “Asha Ram ke parathe” (named for the original owner three generations ago) are richly stuffed and include some of the best paneer parathas (Rs 16) around. Even better, there are three large rooms to eat in – with a view across the Town Hall chowk. 756 Chandni Chowk, opposite Town Hall; Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 6.30am-midnight. Pandit Babu Ram Devi Dayal Parathewali Gali, Chandni Chowk (98116- 02460); Metro Chandni Chowk; Daily 9am-midnight.

Snacks and chaat

Ashok Chaat Bhandar This award-winning chaatwala (as opposed to the other Ashok across the road) has kalmi vada and kachalu chutney to make the chaat pop with flavour. 3611 Hauz Qazi Chowk, entrance of Bazaar Sita Ram (2382-7740), Metro Chawri Bazaar, daily 11am-9pm.

Natraj Café Known locally as “bank ki pakodi”, the dahi bhallas (Rs 20) served here are well-known beyond the walled city as well. The dahi is the winning factor: it’s perfectly balanced between sweet and tangy. They do aloo tikkis in desi ghee as well and have a full menu and upstairs seating every day but Sunday. 1396 Chandni Chowk, next to Central Bank of India (6576-4631, 98111- 67400); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 10am-7pm.

Padam Chaat Bhandar Caterer Gunjan Goela’s favorite golgappas, served, as she put it, “with nakhra”. Usually stationed nearby, just outside Naugharana, is another golguppa cart with colourful palak and chukandar golguppas. Outside Baraf Wali Gali, Kinari Bazaar, Metro Chandni Chowk; Mon- Sat noon-8pm.

Sultan Kullewala Kulle is a true Delhi snack invented about 50 years ago. Today, Sultan’s grandson Sanjay sells the chaat in a busy gali. The chaat itself is a basket of peeled potato, filled with anardana, boiled channa and fine strips of ginger, and the whole sprinkled with a number of homemade masalas. Be warned though, when Sanjay asks you how spicy you like your kulle, say medium, unless you’re readying for a blast. Cheera Khana, Roshan Pura, Nai Sarak (2328-2848). m Chawri Bazaar. Mon-Sat 1-6pm. Rs 20 for eight.


Afreen & Zayed Sweets One of a couple of shahi tukda walas around the Jama Masjid/Matia Mahal area. Delhi’s most unholy triumvirate: bread, cream and a swimming pool of ghee. Near Hussain Chicken Corner, Jama Masjid (93502-17460); Metro Chawri Bazaar. Daily noon-midnight.

Daulat Ki Chaat No, not chaat, and it isn’t sold by a man named Daulat, but this soft whipped milk topped with kesar-flavoured whipped milk, ground brown sugar, pista and varq is the Chandni Chowk foodie’s holy grail. Monu Singh and his khomcha can be found Mon-Sat 9am-7pm at Dariba Kalan; Sun 9am-7pm at the intersection of Parathewali Gali and Kinari Bazaar (98731-32271/98738- 41912). Rs 10 per plate.

Deepak Dewan Fruit Cream This sweet little red cart can be found floating around Dariba and Kinari Bazaar. Within it is the most delicious thing: pieces of banana, pineapple and apple sunk in soft cream. Daily noon- 8pm. Rs 10 per cup.

Giani Di Hatti Started in 1951 by Lyallpur immigrant Giani Gurcharan Singh, this rabri falooda joint soon expanded to shakes, moong dal halwa and ice cream. Pretty soon it expanded to other parts of the city as well. Church Mission Road, Fatehpuri (2393- 6174); Metro Chandni Chowk; Daily 11am-midnight. Also caters.

Hazari Lal Jain Stop by here for all your khurchan, malai roll and malai laddoo needs. 2225 Kinari Bazaar, Chandni Chowk (2325- 3992); Metro Chandni Chowk. Mon- Sat 7am-midnight.

Lala Duli Chand Naresh Gupta Across the street from better-known and older Kuremal’s kulfi dukaan. According to the attendant at Duli’s, these two shops (and a few others in the area) supply much of Delhi with kulfi. Duli supplies to the Ashok Hotel, the Taj, Bengali Market and Sagar and is 40 years old, he told us. There are 76 items on their menu card – not bad for a room with a freezer and a couple of plastic chairs. Don’t miss their fantastic stuffed kulfis (apple, orange, mango, kiwi and more). Duli Chand: 934 Kucha Pati Ram, Bazaar Sita Ram (2323-5926, 98102-02990); Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily noon- 8pm. Kuremal Mohanlal Kulfiwale: 1165-66 Kucha Pati Ram, Bazaar Sita Ram (2323-2430, 98105- 40105); Metro Chawri Bazaar; Mon- Sat noon-8pm.

Old Famous Jalebiwala The name speaks for itself at this century-old counter. They also have samosas, but it’s the rope-like jalebis (even bigger jalebas available on request) that steal the show. 1795 Chandni Chowk, corner of Dariba (2325-6973, 98110-20546); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 8am-10pm.

Halwais Shahjahanabad boasts of several historical sweet shops – from well-known Ghantewala (established in 1790) on Chandni Chowk itself to Shireen Bhawan tucked away in Chitli Qabar. In between are Annapurna Bhandar (the second Bengali sweets shop in sheher, established after Kamala Sweets closed in 1940), Chaina Ram in Fatehpuri, Kanwarji’s (from 1830, known for its dalbiji) and others. Traditional Delhi sweets that are commonly available are pista or kaju lauj, habshi halwa (brown, burnt-milk halwa), gond halwa and laddoo, sohan halwa and ghee ghewar (in the winter). Ghantewala: 1862 Chandni Chowk (2328-0490); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 8am- 9pm. Shireen Bhawan: 1466 Chitli Qabar, Jama Masjid (98187- 93124); Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily 8am-9pm. Annapurna Bhandar: 1463 Chandni Chowk (2396- 2050, 2386-8466); Metro Chandni Chowk; Mon-Sat 8am-8.30pm, Sun 8am-noon. Chaina Ram Sindhi Halwai: 6499-6470 Fatehpuri Chowk, Fatehpuri (2395-0747); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 7am- 8.30pm. Kanwarji’s: 1972-73 Chandni Chowk, corner of Parathewali Gali (2326-1318); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 9am-9pm.

Catering and cooking

Besides the fact that several of the chaatwalas and halwais that we’ve listed above will cater events (just call and ask), there are a number of bawarchis and caterers who cook for parties. You’ll have to go once to discuss your requirements – you’ll be given a shopping list and you’ll have to come back to pick up your food. We’ve been assured the effort is worth it.

Babu Khan South Delhi’s old standby for biryani, supposed to be descended from Shahjahan’s bawarchis. Good in a pinch. Matka Pir, next to Pragati Maidan (2337- 1454); Metro Pragati Maidan; daily 8am-8pm.

Gunjan Goela Daughter of an old Delhi family, Goela caters sheher ka khana for weddings and parties. She can also arrange khomchawallas for chaat and desserts from the old city. Call (98113- 49055, 92120-35323).

Hakim Bawarchi Makes excellent biryani and qorma and comes recommended by both Goela and Verma. Rodgran, Lal Kuan. Head past the Hamdard Dawakhana, reach a corner with a man selling gajak, turn left and ask; Metro Chawri Bazaar.

Idris Sohail Hashmi recommended Idris’ qorma and biryani to us. Churiwalan, opposite Metro Guest House, 639 Churiwalan, near Jama Masjid; Metro Chawri Bazaar.

SM Zaki Based in Civil Lines. Recommended by Goela. Qorma, biryani and nihari for under ten people. Call (98991-06206).

(Pairs well with this story on old Delhi drinks.)

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, November 2008.

Published: November 14, 2008

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