Art,  Heritage,  History,  Travelogues

Naughara: A hidden gem in the alleys of Chandni Chowk

Chandni Chowk is Delhi’s most bustling market place. But early on a Sunday morning, immediately after the lockdown, it seems deserted and quiet. Most shops are shut and an ugly knot of criss-crossing electric wires seem to hang over most of the alleys. Bereft of people, there is an unstated sense of ‘all is not well’ which is all pervasive. But it is this very emptiness which makes me feel bold enough to explore the narrow twists and turns within Chandni Chowk.

Just after a meal of deep fried parathas in one of the two open corner shops in Parathe wali galli, we decide to delve deeper into the alleys. We turn left instead of returning to the main street. A monkey who has snatched a paratha from the shop has perched itself over a maze of wires and looks on curiously. We turn left into Kinari Bazaar. On a normal day, this should look full of gold and glitz and glamour. The name kinari comes from the Hindi word for “etchings on the edges”. So this is the place they sell gota for dupattas, and embellishments like beads, sequins, lace and faux jewellery. Everything fancy and shiny for a bride. But today it looks completely shut down and gloomy. Is it because it is too early on a Sunday or it is the impact of corona leading to low-key weddings?

If you turn right from shop number 2031 in Kinari Bazaar, you enter a cul-de-sac. But suddenly you are in another world. This is Naughara. Nau-ghara literally means ‘nine houses’. This very narrow lane houses nine 18th century havelis. And at the end of the lane is a Shvetambar Jain temple.

The most beautiful part of Naughara are the colourful doorways. Each different from the other. Adorned with beautiful motifs of flowers, leaves, animals, birds and much more. It reminds me of the time I went berserk clicking away in Burano in Venice. There were so many colourful houses there. This is just a small cluster of nine houses, but the bright blue and pink colours just grab your attention. When you sit down opposite the doorways to catch your breath and admire them, you cannot but shake your head at the incongruously ugly air conditioners and their trailing wires which quite ruin the scene. But then functionality is perhaps more relevant to the owners than aesthetics given the present circumstances.

I wonder who lives within, for all these are private houses. But I’m here too early on a lazy Sunday morning, and there is no one to speak to. Except a man at the Jain temple. Who tells me that this is the Indraprastha teerthsthan revered by the Jains and it is beyond bounds. It is shut for visitors because of the pandemic. I read the board, and find a mention of another Jain temple in Chailpuri, which is two streets ahead. He mentions a miraculous ‘speaking statue’ of Mahaveer which has me intrigued. I did go there, but found that locked as well.

It is said that Emperor Shahjahan invited rich Jain financiers to settle down in Chandni Chowk and gave them plots of land in his city of Shahjahanabad. The Jains were hard working merchants and soon began to control most of the wholesale markets in the area. Even today, most of these havelis belong to traditional jeweller families. There are also people with interest in antiques. Someday, if I have an opportunity to return, I will meet the inhabitants and update this post.

As we exit, there is a man sitting outside the lane brushing his teeth. “Shooting karne aaye ho kya?” he remarks. There is so much to explore in the narrow gallis of Chandni Chowk. One Sunday morning was not enough. I will come back some other weekend.

All photographs are copyrighted and clicked by Anshu. Do not use without permission.

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