One of India’s oldest, busiest and most well-known markets is Chandni Chowk, located in Old Delhi. Built by the Mughals, this more than three century old bazaar still holds as much interest for shopping and food as it did when it was first set-up. Shop for spices, dried fruit, silver jewelry and wedding sarees, or hop across and relive some history with surreal views of the Jama Masjid, the Red Fort and more…
WORDS BY- AMOG
The history of Chandni Chowk dates back to the foundation of Shahjahanabad on the banks of the river Yamuna by the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan who ruled parts of Northern India from 1628 till 1658. Shahjahanabad was set to be the capital amongst the cities he ruled. Chandni Chowk, or the Moonlight Square, was designed and established by Princess Jahanara Begum, Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter, so that she could shop for anything her heart wished for. The bazaar, shaped as a square, was given elegance by the presence of a pool in the center of the complex. Back in the day, Chandni Chowk was divided and lined by canals that met at a pool in the center. Water would burble through and reflect the glistening moon above. The pool shimmered in the moonlight, a feature that was perhaps responsible for its name. It then became a gathering place for traders and merchants who flocked here from all over the country to sell their wares.
It’s been many years since the canals have been closed but this old market is still as charming.Chandni Chowk soon lost the lustre of the Moon but still remains a very ‘chowk’ and is one of the oldest markets in Old Delhi. And today, Chandni Chowk is nothing short of a chaotic shopping street lined by hawkers, porters, vendors and food stalls in narrow lanes that bring out the true flavours of a traditional medieval bazaar. It is the ultimate “go to” place for all kinds of shopping and food cravings. Those with a love for history can also spot the Red Fort, situated right opposite and enjoy a view of the Fatehpuri Mosque.
In the early days, Chandni Chowk was famous for silver merchants. Numerous shops selling all kinds of goods and street vendors enticing shoppers with delectable food have replaced the original pattern of reflecting pool and shops arranged in a half moon shape.
This market soon gained popularity and went on to become one of India’s grandest markets. The narrow lanes brimming with noise and chaos still retains its historical character.
The first thing that hits you when you enter Chandni Chowk is the intoxicating aroma of food. It is nothing short of heaven for gastronomes around the world. It is the home to some of the oldest and most famous restaurants and confectioners in India. Many of them date back to fifty or hundred years ago. From an assortment of sweetmeat shops to the parathewali gali to delectable, roadside kebabs near Jama Masjid, this place has something to offer for everyone. And like every Indian marketplace, tea and pan shops are to be found at every turn of the road.
And no points for guessing, but shopping at Chandi Chowk is an experience in itself. You’d be surprised just the staggering range of good it can hold. You have shops that sell stuff ranging from books, clothes, electronics, shoes, leather and consumer goods. Walking along these jostling streets can get exhausting but then that’s part of the fun. Each area inside Chandni Chowk has different markets, which are known for various specialties. For example, Nai Sadak is not full of barbers but is mainly known for books and stationery items. It is perfect for students and bibliophiles who will find everything they need here, from second-hand school and college textbooks to rare novels. Dariba Kalan is known for jewellery. But if you’ve come this far, you cannot miss searching for some signature, handcrafted jewellery. And if you let your nose guide you, you will find yourself among some of the most exquisite perfume and essential oils shops in the country.
If you’ve recently decided to tie the knot, first of all, congratulations and secondly, head to Chawri Bazaar to begin your wedding arrangements. It is the place for getting your wedding cards printed. From simple and elegant to sophisticated and extravagant, all kinds of wedding cards are printed here in bulk. Next stop should be the Kinari Bazaar. It is a haven for your wedding shopping needs. This narrow lane known for selling the best zardozi items such as laces and frills. Apart from this, you will also find Parsi borders, motifs, ribbon laces and all the embellishments just in case you were out to customize your wedding lehenga to the last detail.
Keep walking and you will enter Bhagirath Palace, Asia’s largest wholesale market for electrical and electronic items. Right from simple light fixtures to fancy decorative lamps, you will find everything you need to decorate your home.
Then there’s Ballimaran Market for all kinds of shoes, spectacles and sunglasses the befit your style statement.
Apart from these, you can find spices, nuts, herbs and dried fruits in Khari Baoli, There are many more markets dedicated to specific items that you wouldn’t find anywhere else easily.
There are markets for cameras, clothes, and household items and maybe, you’ll discover more.
Whether you’re out shopping with a purpose or aimlessly wandering around to kill time, you will find the charm of this age-old market still lingering around the corners of this once beautiful, Chandni Chowk.