July 13, 2012

Delhi Gate, New Delhi

Suppose you are walking down a street flanked by a bustling marketplace on both sides - the shops stock everything - clothes & accessories, electrical instruments & articles that have become a commonplace in the modern world. The street is in fact a modern one, wide, filled with cars & low-floor buses, there are banks, hospitals & ATMs jostling for space with mosques & Victorian buildings. All of a sudden you come across a medieval structure with arches & bastions, standing in the middle of a traffic square & looking down upon the passer-bys with an impertinent gaze. What would be your reaction??

Mine was literally "Oh Delhi!". The city never ceases to surprise me, every time I think I have covered an entire area & there isn't much left to document, a new structure pops up out of nowhere. So here I was in Shahjanabad (now referred to as Old Delhi), the city that the Mughal emperor Shahjahan (ruled AD 1628-58) established in the year 1638 - Shahjahan had intended the city to be a replica of paradise, had commissioned huge mansions for his nobles & generals, built wide-tree lined avenues, created canals & public squares. But as the city's population increased, magnified by the influx of migrants from Pakistan after the country was divided, Shahjanabad turned into cramped quarters, the mansions were divided into smaller houses, the streets were taken over by shops & flea markets, the ancient structures have all but disappeared. Just a few of them survive not being encroached upon - the Delhi Gate that now stood before me was one of them.

Shahjanabad was enclosed by a high rubble wall as a protection against foreign invaders. The strong wall was interrupted by 14 large, square gates & several smaller ones. Very few of these gates & wall portions have survived the ravages of time & human maltreatment - most of them were destroyed during the British bombardment of the city during the 1857 revolution. The larger gates were named after the cities they faced - the Delhi Gate faced the older citadels of Delhi that existed before Shahjahan built his capital.

The square-shaped, bastion guarded gate is majestically located on one of the major streets of Shahjanabad/Old Delhi, at the beginning of Daryaganj Street (literally “River Facing Avenue”). Close by exists a small portion of Shahjanabad's wall - there is even a Martello Tower that the British added for defense after retaking the city. Not to be confused with the Delhi Gate of Red Fort nearby, this was the city gate, used to enter the city & not the fort. A road next to this gate leads to Red Fort. These aren't ordinary gates, to be opened up one way or the other, these gates are large, monumental structures, built of stone & rubble, with high walls, arches & bastions. Soldiers kept guard over these gates & made sure no hostile element entered within the city limits.

The Delhi Gate

The gate, built with a combination of locally available stone & red sandstone, is now kept locked & a guard stands on duty inside it in order to prevent any encroachment by hawkers or any illegal activity inside its premises. The guard would open the gate if you request him & even tell you about the historical importance of the place & the fact that over the years, the number of enthusiasts wishing to enter the gate has been increasing. The high arches seem inviting & yet cleverly conceal all their secrets from onlookers. The arched doors are large enough to permit the emperor’s convoy of horses & palanquins to pass through without any difficulty during his royal procession to the nearby located Jama Masjid & other parts of the empire. The outside walls have stone carvings & are embossed with geometrical designs & medallions.

The front view

Once inside, you notice that the place is being used to store large concrete slabs & stacks of building material along one of its arched inner sides. I saw mongooses running amok in the interior. The walls had once been plastered & one can still see the remnants of geometrical patterns amidst the flaking plaster in the niches.

The inside view

The 2 bastions along the side of the gate stand tall, keeping an eye all around with their numerous arrow slits. As a whole the structure looms desolately over its surroundings, higher than other buildings & shops nearby, with a small unkempt garden for company behind it. The garden is now used as a cricket ground by local kids, which in my opinion is a good thing in today’s playground-starved Delhi localities. Interestingly enough, the playground is said to be haunted!! Legend has it that a British soldier ("Sipahi"/"Tommy" - take your pick) was in love with a local girl & wanted to spend the rest of his natural life with her. However he later found out that the girl was soon going to be married - in a fit of rage & desperation he shot the girl & himself too. It has been claimed that the Peepal tree (Ficus religiosa - Sacred fig) is now haunted by a Chudail & people can hear her heart-rending screams at night (A chudail is the Indian version of a banshee - she has a dreadful appearance with her feet turned towards the back, is said to appear to young men as a pretty maiden & then drains their blood & virility). The Tommy is also spotted at times - he comes walking out of the gate with his head in his hands & then walks through the Daryaganj street. Now the atheist in me loves these stories - why does the banshee only haunt that certain tree? How come the Tommy carries his head in his arms - he shot himself, he wasn't beheaded. & why isn't entire Daryaganj considered haunted since the Tommy walks past the entire area. People & their silly stories!!

The side view

Entry to the upper floors is prohibited & the doors are now grilled & locked. No amount of persuasion moves the guard to open the grille.

This impressive structure is now being maintained by A.S.I. If you ever happen to visit this structure on Sunday, do pay a visit to the Sunday Book Bazaar which is one of the major attractions of Daryaganj, drawing hordes of people from different parts of the city in search of their literary fill (refer Pixelated Memories - Daryaganj Sunday Book Market).

The "How-can-it-be-haunted??" view

6 months after this post was published - The Govt. has become strict with its orders, entry to the gate premises is locked. The guard refuses to let you enter even if you tell him you have been inside & you write for the city. Another monument taken away from the people. Sad!

Location: Daryaganj, Chandni Chowk
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset.
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk Metro Station
How to reach: As you exit the metro station, walk straight till you reach a temple, a small street near the temple exits to the main Chandni Chowk Street (just follow the crowd, they would enter a very narrow lane). On this street, on one side, you can see the large Red Fort looming, walk till there & take a bus from near the Fort to Delhi Gate. Alternately, buses ply to Delhi Gate from different parts of the city, just climb on those going to Old Delhi (Purani Delhi)
Entrance Charges: Nil
Photography/Video Charges:
Time required for sightseeing: 20 minutes
Relevant Links -

  1. Pixelated Memories - Daryaganj Sunday Book Market
  2. Pixelated Memories - Red Fort

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