The new-look locality now boasts beautification and a pedestrian-only corridor.
Chandni Chowk, whose origins stretch back to the 17th century when Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter Jahanara designed the beautiful street with canals to catch the glimmer of moonlight, has recently had a major makeover. While the new look may not possess the symmetry of Mughal aesthetics and water features, the red granite-clad stretch of a little less than one-and-a-half-kilometre is decorated with pretty lamps, planters and street furniture.
The area between the Red Fort and the Fatehpuri Masjid crossing has been the main focus of the beautification, which took three years to complete because of delays ensuing on account of the pandemic. There’s a 2.5 metres-wide pedestrian-only corridor on the stretch. No motorised vehicles are allowed to enter the area between 9 am and 9 pm and the only way to get around is to walk or hail one of the licensed e-rickshaws. Other facilities such as drinking water, ATMs, toilets and dustbins have been placed at regular intervals.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who inaugurated the revamped Chandni Chowk market, shared plans for its conversion into a tourist hub, with all the iconic street food joints being allowed to operate till midnight. Safety is a big factor and the 124 new CCTV cameras will help to ensure that Chandni Chowk is a tourist-friendly area.
Historical and cultural tour specialist Nirad Grover, who owns India Offtrack, says, “The revamp has been long desired from the tourism perspective, sure, but more for the overall well-being of the place. The traffic congestion, noise, and fumes, soiled pavements and walls did not make the main Chandni Chowk street pleasant to stroll on — despite the interesting sights and experiences along the way. I think the revamp will contribute a lot towards improving the quality of life for both residents and businesses operating in this area.”
It’s true that no trip to Delhi is complete without guzzling ghee-soaked gobi-muttar samosas at Lala Babu Chaat Bhandaar or a bite at the famous Paranthewaali Galli. But now that Delhi 6 has seen a major facelift, we couldn’t help but wonder, will the street food taste as good minus that manic crowd? Will the exploration be as intense once you don’t have to dodge careening cycle rickshaws while you eat? Will the new look give the traveller an authentic experience?
“If we consider authenticity in its true sense, it applies to the Chandni Chowk of 17th–19th centuries, when a canal ran down the middle of the main street, which was lined with shops of a kind different from today’s, mansions and gardens. That environment can never come back. In a sense, the Chandni Chowk just prior to the revamp can also be considered ‘authentic’ as it evolved organically over time. But there is very little to appreciate about this ‘authenticity’, the nature of which diminishes whatever remains of the original authenticity,” says Grover.
In fact, he shares how his foreign guests were often intimidated by the conditions when he’d take them there. “The traffic would make them nervous about crossing the road or venturing off the pavement. But the pavement itself throngs with jostling crowds and is littered with rubbish, which made it awkward to walk comfortably at one’s own pace. If one wanted to stop to point out and talk about a historic building or relate a story, it was a challenge to find a spot where even a small group could stand together and not be distracted while you try and make yourself audible over the din. The revamp will, for the most part, cancel out these tourist-unfriendly factors and allow one to absorb some of the authentic heritage of the area in a truly rewarding and leisurely way. I’m personally looking forward to telling a lot of stories that I otherwise skip on my tours!” Grover laughs.