< Last Photo   << Last Chapter                Notes on the Geography of Places: Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad)         Next Chapter >>   Next Photo > 
 

Notes on the Geography of Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad)

Delhi is one of those palimpsest cities, a place where older cities are buried or lie ruined under newer ones.  For most purposes, however, it's only the last two that survive: that would be New Delhi, a British creation of the 20th century, and Delhi proper, which is to say Old Delhi, or the Walled City, or--to give it its original name--Shahjahanabad.  That's what we look at here.

Make default image size larger

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 1

Shahjahan moved his capital to Delhi from Agra in 1638, and around his Red Fort a walled city grew. (The fort is on the right bank of the Yamuna or Jumna River, so the walled city is roughly the west half of a circle, with the fort at its center.) Originally there were many gates, mostly named for the places that they led to: in clockwise order, starting at "six o'clock," they were the Delhi Gate, the Turakman Gate, the Ajmer Gate, the Lahore Gate, the Kabul Gate, the Mori Gate, and the Kashmir Gate. All the gates on the south side of the city were demolished by order not of some marauding army but of India's city planners in 1950. (The same thing was happening in Beijing at about the same time, though there the heavy hand was that of Mao, not of British-educated professionals.) Here's one that survives as an archaeological monument: it's the Kashmir Gate.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 2

The same Kashmir Gate is now backdropped by a Delhi Metro stop of the same name. But don't imagine that everything nearby is equally modern; we'll come back to this side of town in a while to prove the contrary.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 3

For the moment we've come to Chandni Chowk, or "silver street." This is the main street of the Old City, which it bisects with an east-west line connecting the Red Fort with the Fatehpuri Mosque near the Lahore Gate (say, at 9 o'clock). A branch canal originally ran down the middle of Chandni Chowk, which was lined with uniform and pillared galleries. To the north lay the estates of nobles, to the south, the crowded neighborhoods of merchants and craftsmen. Before the construction of the Jami Masjid, the emperor rode this way every Friday on his way to pray at the Fatehpuri Mosque.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 4

You can sense property values driving owners today to keep stacking on new floors. Things have changed a lot since Francois Bernier wrote in 1663 that the streetside galleries were divided by partitions into shops, behind which were warehouses and above which the owners lived--unless they were very rich, in which case they lived elsewhere. He saw, in other words, a two-story streetscape. Oh, he also mentions that in the hot weather the merchants slept on the gallery roofs.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 5

New over old.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 6

There are only a few buildings along the street that ever saw an architect.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 7

The chief example of an architect's hand: the municipal hall.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 8

Its other side.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 9

A side lane, shaded against the sun. We're too early to shop. Sorry. If we came a bit later, we might well see what Bernier saw over 300 years ago: "pots of oil or butter, piles of baskets filled with rice, barley, chick-peas, wheat, and an endless variety of other grain and pulse...." (Archibald Constable translation.)

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 10

Could get something to eat, though.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 11

From above, Old Delhi doesn't look old at all--merely congested. When Bernier came by, in 1663, most of the buildings away from the main streets were thatched mud huts, periodically swept away by fire. An easier-to-overlook change is the loss of open space, because Old City housing as recently at 1960 was built around private courtyards that occupied about a quarter of all the space within the walls. It's hard to say how many of these old courtyards survive, but from this perch atop one of the Jami Masjid minarets the answer is "not many," unless you count rooftops.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 12

Another view from the mosque. It's clear that a lot of the Old City isn't old at all.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 13

On the east side of the Jami Masjid, there's heavy traffic. As the "CNG" indicates, however, this bus, like all the others in Delhi's fleet, burns natural gas.  So do auto-rickshas and taxis.  It's been an amazing transformation that skeptics thought would never happen, but the city's air is still foul from other sources.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 14

A fruit-vendor, ice-water at the ready.  The open space between the Red Fort and Jami Masjid didn't just happen, although visitors are unlikely to ask why it exists. Answer: in the aftermath of the rebellion of 1857, the British cleared some 80 acres to push the city back from the fort's walls. Now you know.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 15

What's this? A parking lot in the Old City shows how the antiquated Indian Ambassador has been shoved aside by the arrival of newer models. In 2014 the axe fell: no more rolling coconuts from Hindustan Motors.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 16

Some old ways survive, though.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 17

A scene that official India would sooner not show: a garbage sorting and transfer station.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 18

Cycle rickshas are still abundant, though prohibited from New Delhi.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 19

A quiet day in 1980.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 20

Another scene from that year.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 21

Look much different? This is the first of a dozen or so photos taken in 2010 on a little stroll into the Sita Ram Bazaar, officially the Kucha Tiku Shah colony. It's just east of the Ajmere Gate Road.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 22

Is it an alley or a powerline conduit with pedestrian access?

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 23

Bicycle access to boot.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 24

For removing building rubble in this neighborhood, trucks don't cut it. Better: burlap horseback panniers.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 25

Back before 1857, this neighborhood was filled with the homes of the rich and powerful.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 26

Upstairs, balconies had privacy screens.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 27

There are still lots of fine old homes in not so fine condition.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 28

Partially modernized.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 29

A relatively intact example.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 30

A narrow but elegant entrance.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 31

Another, now with a bicyle ramp.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 32

We've finally made it back to the neighborhood of the Kashmir Gate, which was actually built in 1835 by the British, then blown up by them 22 years later.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 33

An odd facade: it looks old as the hills but judging from the curvature is probably post-1947.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 34

The other side of the street has got to be older.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 35

The shop's closed.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 36

The idiom is new.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 37

Perhaps a century old, the building has gained a budget-priced top floor.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 38

Wonder where the doors lead?

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 39

Here's an open doorway. We can go look.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 40

Nice woodwork.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 41

Alas, on the back side there's no palace, no courtyard: just a narrow street and more shops.

Northern India: Old Delhi (Shahjahanabad) picture 42

Fine woodworkers may be hard to find now, but it's easy to find technicians keeping up with the times.


www.greatmirror.com Web   
 

* Australia * Austria * Bangladesh * Belgium * Botswana * Brazil * Burma / Myanmar * Cambodia (Angkor) * Canada (B.C.) * China * The Czech Republic * Egypt * Fiji * France * Germany * Ghana * Greece * Hungary * India: Themes * Northern India * Peninsular India * Indonesia * Israel * Italy * Japan * Jerusalem * Jordan * Kenya * Laos * Kosovo * Malawi * Malaysia * Mauritius * Mexico * Morocco * Mozambique * Namibia * The Netherlands * New Zealand * Nigeria * Norway * Oman * Pakistan * The Philippines * Poland * Portugal * Senegal * Singapore * South Africa * Spain * Sri Lanka * Sudan * Syria (Aleppo) * Tanzania * Thailand * Trinidad * Turkey (Istanbul) * Uganda * The U.A.E. (Dubai) * The United Kingdom * The Eastern United States * The Western United States * Oklahoma * Uzbekistan * Vietnam * The West Bank * Yemen * Zambia * Zimbabwe *
go back to previous picture go to next chapter go to next picture go to previous chapter page