Ghalib’s Abode

You cannot trust your mobile maps in the labyrinth of Shahjanabad, especially if you have to find Gali Qasam Jaan. This is the narrow lane where Mirza Ghalib spent his last 9 years. This is also the place (Balimaran) where on some terrace, one of my favorite Ghazal – ‘Chupke Chupke Raat Din’ was composed. Though I would have loved to visit that terrace but not much is known about it.

Ghalib ki Haveli - Old Delhi

What is known though is the Haveli where Ghalib spent his last years. The word Haveli springs images of grandeur – perhaps a huge mansion with many rooms, gardens, fountains etc. But this haveli of a space constrained Old Delhi is a bit different. You enter the ancient doors onto a pathway. There is a small, partially covered yard at the end of this small pathway and one room to the right of it. But it is certainly grand compared to the rest of the houses around and in its time would definitely have been an awesome place. Imagine Ghalib sitting there in the yard, in his own dreamy world, writing words which would take him to an enviable place in history.

The open yard - Haveli

Presently, this Haveli has been converted into a mini museum with Ghalib’s writings, photos and even a sculpture in an attempt to build his lifestyle there. The timings are 10 to 5 and entry is free so it’s worth a visit if you are around shopping near Chandni Chowk.

Ghalib's Room at  his Haveli

Around the Red Fort

Nigambodh Gate

The aim was to find the fifth gate of the old city – Nigambodh Gate. The first four gates – Kashmiri, Delhi, Ajmeri and Turkman were easier to find. For Nigambodh, I studied the pre-1857 Delhi Maps and tried to figure out where the gate would be today. It’s easy theoretically but after searching around I could not find the actual gate. I may be wrong but there is not gate at all. What is left are two walls and the road that divides them. This is probably the same road that led out of Shahjanabad eastwards onto the boat of bridges over the river Yamuna and further ahead to Meerut. Presently it leads to the Ring road that too under a flyover.


Walking on the water

Turn right after emerging out of the city and you are walking where Yamuna used to flow once. There are 2 bridges over the ring road. One which was built much later is for the trains coming out of old Delhi railway station. The other one is the one which originally connects Red fort to Salimgarh Fort. In the old photos of Delhi, one can see a branch of Yamuna flowing under this bridge where today the flow now consists of a stream of cars and buses.

The bridge to Salimgarh fort

Red Fort – the Prajja Point of view.

If you visit the red fort, you get to be a Mughal emperor in your imagination. Come out to the ring road and you get to see what the residents of Delhi saw. The king used to come out on the terrace and wave at the audience every day. It is said that if he missed out on this ritual, it used to create an anxiety among the populace and set rumors about his health or being getting overthrown. There is nothing red about this view of red fort as you see the personal chambers of the king in pure marble white.

Red Fort - the King's chambers


Gumshuda Talash Kendra

The Gumshuda Talash Kendra of Daryaganj’s nayi kotwali is a historical place in itself for the Doordarshan generation. Walking on the ring road, turn to the right on reaching the Southern wall of the red fort. A few meters of walk brings you to this piece of modern history.

Gumshuda Talash Kendra

Sunheri Masjid

The royal mosque which was built by wife of Mughal king, Ahmad Shah in 1751 had domes gilded with copper giving it the name. Later they were repaired and replaced with Sandstone by Bahadur Shah Zafar – the last Mughal. The mosque, fortunately survived the onslaught of soldiers and the British.

Sunheri Masjid

Turn right from the Sunheri Masjid and you are back facing the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort.

Red Fort

Gates of Old Delhi – part 2

Kashmiri Gate of the Shahjanabad (old Delhi) was the way out to the North side of the city – facing towards Kashmir, as the name suggests. This can also be termed as the most important one as out of all the gates, only this one had an entrance with double gateway.
Today, the inter-state bus terminus(ISBT), which is known by the same name has become a symbolic representation of this gate by being a point where people come and exit the city of New Delhi.

The actual Kashmiri gate lies anonymously on the side of a road under the colossal shadow of the ISBT metro station. Surrounded by buildings, it is one of the busiest areas in Delhi and as you enter the compound you can very well lose your sense of direction and wonder whether you are standing inside the erstwhile Shahjanabad or outside it.
But one look at the gate is enough to tell you.

During the 1857 mutiny, five months after the Indian soldiers had taken over the city, the British launched an attack at the city through the Kashmiri Gate. They pounded it with Canons and the damage from those canon balls is still preserved. So if you are facing the side of the gate with these damaged walls, you are actually outside the old city and standing at a point which once used to be a moat around the walls.

Kashmiri Gate - as viewed from outside the city

On the inside, some part of the wall is still standing with the barracks built into these walls. It is rather interesting to see some photographs of the gate during late 1800’s and run your imagination around them.

.Kashmiri Gate - the view from inside the city

Gates of Old Delhi – Part 1

Today’s Purani Dilli or Shahajanabad – the city built by Shah Jahan was a walled city. To get out of this city, there were many gates around the walls. The one to the north was known as Kashmiri Gate. The southern – Delhi gate, the eastern – Lahori gate and so on. During the 1857 uprising, the sepoys closed the gates and barricaded themselves behind these walls. So when the British put down the rising, they did the same to the walls too. Along with these came down these gates. These gates still remain in our vocabulary (Ajmeri Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi Gate, Mori Gate) but only few of them survive physically. And the ones which do would be wondering if it was worth all the effort being a witness to all the change around them. You see the images and drawings of the Old Delhi before 1857 and feel what wonderful experiences these gates have been through. As for the present you just need to get around the old city.

Ajmeri GateAjmeri Gate

I started with Ajmeri Gate. When you walk down from Chawri Bazar Metro station, you are taking almost the same path as people did in Shahjanabad. Though you have to get around the now barricaded gate rather than through it. The once famous Delhi college is just opposite gate but the guard did not allow me inside even to take a photograph. Mirza Ghalib, some hundred and fifty years ago, too had stood here after being invited to be a persian professor. He expected the secretary to come and formally welcome him inside but that did not happen and Ghalib – his ego hurt, never taught at the college.

Turkman GateTurkman Gate

Moving east along the imaginary wall of the city, you come to the Turkman Gate. Overshadowed by the Delhi Stock Exchange it lies forgotten on one side of the road. Though the area was filthy but inside the barricades, the Gate and its immediate surroundings were clean. Standing there and clicking the photos of this gate, I got ‘what-a-mad-guy’ looks from passers-by.

Delhi GateDelhi Gate

You need to go further east to reach the Delhi Gate. The gate which saw Mughal kings ride leisurely through it on elephants now witnesses people rushing past by its sides. The road once led to a Lunatic Asylum just outside the city. Today it leads to..well..New Delhi.


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