Shahjahanabad I: Khari Baoli & Katra Neel

A Brief History of Shahjahanabad

Carrying on with my Dilli Darshan posts, I’m going to put up a series of them about Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi). Shahjahanabad is the 17th century Mughal walled city that also contained the Mughal palace and court, and which was the occupied part of Delhi during the time the British took increasing control of the city throughout the first half of the 19th century. Which means that Shahjahanabad was what they took increasing control of, and was the core area that Delhi grew out of in the late 19th c. and throughout the 20th c.

The 19th c. also saw the consequent dimming of the Mughal empire (which had been in decline throughout the 18th c. as well), and it’s eventual snuffing out after the unsuccessful 1857 rebellion against British rule. Shahjahanabad was the main site for all this. After 1857 the British took complete control of Shahjahanabad, converted the walled palace area into their garrison in the city, and destroyed many structures within both the palace and city areas. They initially resided within the walled city, but later moved out to the Civil Lines area just north of Shahjahanabad, and the cantonment was subsequently moved to the area that is now Delhi University’s North Campus. Of course once the decision came through in 1912 to move the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi, the focus slowly drifted to the site south of Shahjahanabad that came to be known as New Delhi.

The present urban fabric of the walled city can be traced back to the late 19th c. and early 20th c., when the British directly and indirectly reorganized the city. The sprawling havelis of Mughal nobles and royalty were replaced by smaller havelis, houses and shops. After independence and partition in 1947, these structures were further subdivided and altered by refugees moving into the empty houses and shops left behind by fleeing Muslim residents of Shahjahanabad. The Shahjahanabad we see today is a result of these series of subdivisions, combined with the particular nature and scale of commerce that has taken place here over the past few decades.

Some of this commerce has it’s roots in the distant past, with certain shops, streets and localities tracing their trade back to Mughal times. Other areas have more recent commercial histories, though in the lore of contemporary Delhi, these trading areas are no less potent in their mythos than the older ones.

The fact that Old Delhi (I’m going to use Old Delhi and Shahjahanabad interchangeably throughout these series of posts, so non-Dilliwalas please bear with me) has become/remained a center of commerce since the 1940s is itself an interesting phenomenon. My take is that since it was always centrally located in expanding Delhi (whether expanding in the 50s or 80s); was not affected by zoning and development laws in the same way as the rest of Delhi was (similar in this sense to many of Delhi’s urban villages); and was a preexisting built up area (so there was no need to build from scratch), it became a magnate for small-scale industries and wholesale commerce in ways that other areas of Delhi were not allowed to become, or had to be planned and constructed to become. This led to the present matrix of commerce that takes place in Old Delhi till today.

I feel that this grip on Delhi’s commercial psyche is slowly being loosened (and probably has been since the early 90s when India’s economy opened up), but to what extent this is true is to be seen, and in any case Old Delhi still holds a special place for people looking to purchase particular kinds of goods.

The focus of these Shahjahanabad photos is to capture the old city with its architecture (such as they exists today) as well as contemporary life in the city, since both occur simultaneously in this space, and cannot be extricated from one another, especially when the canvas of the photographs is the broad urban landscape.

Khari Baoli & Katra Neel areas (& Lahori Gate & Fatehpuri Chowk)

As I’ve said before, my whole Dilli Darshan project is based on and heavily influenced by Luck Peck’s Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building, and these Shahjahanabad posts are no different – I’ve organized my exploration of the walled city in much the same way that Peck organized her descriptions. So I begin with the north western corner of Shahjahanabad – in the Khari Baoli and Lahori Gate areas.

An idea of the extent of Shahjahanabad – which is the densely built-up semi-circular area that covers most of the image. The general area covered by the photographs in this post are marked

The general sequence of photos is indicated by the numbering below. Click on the image to enlarge

Fatehpuri Chowk

Beginning with Fatehpuri Chowk, which lies at the far end of Chandni Chowk road – the most famous stretch of Shahjahanabad (arguably apart from the area around Jami Masjid). I had never been to Fatehpuri Chowk before these visits, and it really gives a sense of what the city would have looked like in decades past.

As far as I can tell, Fatehpuri Chowk is actually the single name given to two chowks (road intersections) that are very close together. Chandni Chowk road and Khari Baoli road are offset by a few dozen feet, and the two intersections caused by this offset are both covered by the name Fatehpuri Chowk. Fatehpuri Masjid, which lies at the end of Chandni Chowk road, is responsible for this offset, since the road needs to skirt this mosque (which also gives the chowk its name). In any case, this offsetting has now led to Chandni Chowk and Khari Baoli being very different entities, as we shall see below and in subsequent blogs.

Fatehpuri Chowk where Kahri Baoli road begins (or ends), which is definitely the more interesting of the two intersections visually

Fatehpuri Chowk where Khari Baoli road begins, looking towards Fatehpuri Mosque (which is directly behind the set of shops visible at the center of the image). One minaret of the mosque is sticking out to the right

Fatehpuri Chowk – the area between the two intersections

Fatehpuri Chowk where Chandni Chowk road ends

Looking towards Katra Bariyan

Staircase leading up to Coronation Building at Fatehpuri Chowk

Coronation building courtyard and surrounding houses. The center of the courtyard is now occupied by makeshift shops, leaving a narrow passageway at the edge of the courtyard for circulation

Khari Baoli Road

Khari Baoli road, beginning from Fatehpuri Chowk, is a wholesale spice market, and the activity of porters, sellers and shoppers is quite fascinating, as is the pungent odor of the area!

Porters awaiting work on Khari Baoli road

Khari Baoli road

Houses on Khari Baoli road

A house near Lahori Gate

A dilapidated old structure near Lahori Gate, of which no gate remains today. Lahori Gate was one of the many entry points into Shahjahanabad, only a few of which are still in existence in any state. However, Lahori Gate remains the name of the area

Building near Lahori Gate, on the “inner lane of the outer wall

01 khari

02 khari

Naya Bazaar Road

Naya Bazaar road passes in front of Lahori Gate, and in this area accommodates a wholesale grain market.

Early morning bullock-cart gridlock on Naya Bazaar road

Porter work coming to an end while it’s still early in the morning

Cattle rewards

Buildings on Naya Bazaar Road

A remnant of British colonial neoclassicism at the end of Naya Bazaar road

Many buildings on the wider Shahjahanabad streets would have looked like this – a balcony on the first-floor creating a covered arcade on the ground-floor where the shops are. Today, buildings like these on heavier trafficked streets are much altered

Spice sellers at the end of Naya Bazaar road

SP Mukherji Marg

This road (marg means road) is where the Old Delhi railway station is located, which was the main railway station for Delhi before the New Delhi station was built, though Old Delhi station is still heavily used. The part of the road the I cover here is some distance from the station, though many old hotels are located on this stretch and, I believe, still operational.

Haveli entrances at the end of SP Mukherji marg

Hotels near Old Delhi railway station. They look like they have art deco pasts from the 1920s & 30s, though they’ve been heavily modified since then

More hotels facing SP Mukherji marg, these ones in at the edge of the Katra Neel area

Church Mission Marg

This roads leads from SP Mukherji Marg back to Fatehpuri Chowk.

A hotel on Church Mission road

Entrance to a commercial space in the Khari Baoli area hidden behind the high facade of a Church Mission road-facing building

St Stephen’s Church, which gives Church Mission road its name

On Church Mission road, closer to Fatehpuri Chowk

Khari Baoli Area

Moving from main roads into the narrow alleys within Khari Baoli neighborhood. The various neighborhoods of Shahjahanabad are really interesting to explore, bringing out different aspects of the city and the changes that have happened to it in past decades.

Khari Baoli area

An old gateway, either to a haveli or a particular neighborhood area

The entrance to an old haveli, now much altered

Doorway inside the haveli area

The haveli has been divided into multiple housing units, interspersed with narrow alleyways

Another haveli in another part of Khari Baoli

Katra Neel area

Katra Neel is on Chandni Chowk road, adjacent to the Khari Baoli area.

Katra Neel alley in a downpour

An old wooden balcony

Old doorway peeping out from behind more recent construction

Katral Neel is full of Shivalays (shrines to Shiva) such as like this one, in the courtyards of former havelis. These originate from the 19th c.

A busy alleyway in Katra Neel

An art deco facade. Such early 20th c. “high-architecture” facades keep popping up in Shahjahanabad. This one reminds me of baroque architecture in Rome!

Haveli facade on the edge of Katra Neel, where it faces SP Mukherji marg.

Haveli minaret


An adjoining haveli, with neo-gothic influences

Inside the neo-gothic haveli is an industrial-haveli landscape

4 thoughts on “Shahjahanabad I: Khari Baoli & Katra Neel

  1. Hi there…
    I have a profound intereset in Shahjahanabad and did my dissertation on Dariba Kalan and Chippiwara (two oldeset localitites here.) Your blog is quite informative and I loved your photo essays… Keep clicking and travelling..


  2. It was very informative As I am going to design (I am an A
    Architect) a place which is like a modern Katra. It will be commercial on ground floor and residential /guest house / mixed land use on upper floors. It was quite informative.


  3. Pingback: Haveli/Dharamshala, Old Delhi | Sarson ke Khet

  4. Pingback: Shahjahanabad IV: Fatehpuri Masjid & Katra Bariyan | Sarson ke Khet

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