Sun shines on Chandni Chowk

- June 26, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Omaxe Chowk, a mall set to come up in September, is expected to give the 350-year-old Mughal market a facelift and attract new customers

WORRIES: The e-rickshaw drivers outside the mall are worried about their livelihood after the mall comes into operation

Chandni Chowk, the oldest and one of the busiest business districts of Delhi with hundreds of retail shops, has been revamped in recent times with the road connecting Red Fort to Fatehpuri Mosque, both 17th century Mughal monuments, turning into paved walkway and entry of vehicles banned. The steps were taken to make the area shopping friendly. 

Come September, there will be a mall to give it further facelift. 

Spread across 4.5 acres with a built-up area of 10 lakh square feet, Omaxe Chowk is an amalgamation of Mughal, British and Indian architectures. It is a multi-level parking cum commercial project and is being developed in public private-partnership between Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and Omaxe Heritage Pvt. Ltd. 

“Omaxe Chowk has a total parking capacity of over 2,100 cars. The parking is divided into five levels out of which three levels are underground and two levels are above — third and fourth floors. The ground and first floors are for retail stores. The second floor is for the food court (named Dawatpur),” shares Jatin Goel, Executive Director, Omaxe Ltd. 

“On an average, Chandni Chowk receives a daily footfall of approximately five to six lakh people. The area receives approximately 40 lakh shoppers every month which can give a tremendous boost to the business and up the profit base exponentially,” he adds. 

The 100-feet wide HC Sen Marg, which will host the Omaxe Chowk, has flourishing shops even now. 

“There will be a gamut of wholesale and retail shops that will offer enough options to the visitors. We are bracing for the wedding season and Omaxe Chowk will have stores that will offer people everything under one roof. A jewel court, bride and groom apparel plus accessories store and much more will be here inside Omaxe Chowk. We are upgrading lifestyles and giving people comfortable and affordable shopping,” informs Goel. 

Bringing in new visitors

Rana Safvi, a writer, scholar and translator says the new project will offer relief to those who avoid Chandni Chowk due to crowd congestion and discomfort. 

INSPIRATION: The exterior of Omaxe Chowk has been built on the pattern of Connaught Place

“The Omaxe Chowk is going to be a welcome respite for shoppers, who prefer to shop in comfort instead of navigating the narrow bustling galis (lanes). The builders have taken a lot of care to ensure that the aesthetics match the rest of buildings of old Delhi, built from 19th century onwards in colonial style. Those who love shopping and eating in the galis will still go there. I feel this will attract new customers who stayed away because of congestion. There’s always scope for everyone. And the locals will automatically up their game too, to meet competition,” said Rana. Besides a shopping paradise, Chandni Chowk is a hotspot for an array of cuisines. The new place will offer on the food court, called Dawatpur, delicacies from around the country besides the food of Chandni Chowk. 

“I had relatives in Purani Dilli (old Delhi), and when we visited, we always ate nehari and naan from a compact and tiny store, Haji Shabrati Nahaariwale, near Chandni Chowk. My family’s favourite topic on dastarkhwan would be food, and not politics or any other worldly problems. We’d talk about Ghante-Wala Mithai shop, Bedmi Poori Aloo, the Old Famous Jalebi Wala and Dhaage Waale Kabab (Kebabs tied with thread),” writes Sadaf Hussain, author, podcaster and a consultant chef in Delhi, who was the MasterChef India 2016 finalist. 

But will Omaxe Chowk be a game-changer for the local eateries/food joints? 

“I firmly believe that change is part and parcel of life. Nothing is permanent and with time, we also need to change ourselves. While this project might seem threatening to the heritage of old Delhi, there are so many benefits of this place. We have grown up with a certain image of Chandni Chowk. The minute we hear about Chandni Chowk, we imagine bustling lanes and mishmash of shops, and eventually chaos. While it is the way Chandni Chowk and whole of old Delhi has been, if there’s a change happening then I don’t think there is any harm. In fact, we should welcome this change. Several people complain about traffic and congestion in the vicinity and with Omaxe Chowk in place, I am sure something would definitely change.” 

Locals should be spoken to

Chandni Chowk has around 1,500 retail shops and hundreds of food joints. Now, we also know how terribly summer heat waves torch us in Delhi. The scorching heat makes eating outside an unpleasant experience. Omaxe Chowk seems to be a respite from the inconveniences that people have been struggling with over the past few years. They can go in the mall and relax. 

Abu Sufiyan, a culture revivalist and founder of Purani Dilli Walo Ki Baatein (a blog page), says, “Chandni Chowk also had a bagh (garden) built by Jahanara Begum. Once the British gained control of the walled city, they erased the monumental legacy of Mughal Empire. It became a wasteland. 

During the 1950s, the land became a space to park trucks and buses. So, it was in a very bad shape. The Omaxe Chowk is built in the same area and I see it as a major step in organising things. They have not destroyed anything to build the mall.” 

Sufyan says that the project will also solve the problem of parking that plagues the walled city. “Parking is one of the major issues that people face in old Delhi. Omaxe Chowk will have a huge parking space that will solve the problem to a certain extent.” 

But he says that opinions of the local population should be taken into consideration. 

“As far as the debate on interfering with the heritage of old Delhi is concerned, then I would like to say that merely standing on the stage and screaming to preserve heritage isn’t enough. It is important to understand that old Delhi has a history and people are living here. What they think about development or any kind of change happening in the area should be considered supreme. Outsiders don’t know the issues that the inhabitants face, so naturally their thought process will be different based only on one aspect of the place and that is simply heritage,” Sufyan explained. 

The redevelopment project that has improved Chandni Chowk is already successful in attracting people, feels Sufyan. 

“With the latest redevelopment initiative, people are coming to Chandni Chowk in the late evening as well. Those who would visit India Gate now head over to Chandni Chowk and spend hours exploring the bazaar,” he says. 

Major concerns of project

However, there are critics of the project as well. Sohail Hashmi, a writerfilmmaker, who identifies himself as a history buff and heritage enthusiast, has been conducting heritage walks in Delhi for more than sixteen years. 

He says, “The design of the building I have seen is inspired by the architecture of Connaught Place. It is an eyesore in Chandni Chowk. It doesn’t fit into the aura of the place. Chandni Chowk is a part of heritage and if you are serious about the heritage of the city, then it needs to be preserved. What Chandni Chowk has undergone in the past few years is terrible violence. It was never paved with sandstone before and it was never even a paving stone. In the name of beautification and claiming to mimic the Mughal architecture, they have placed sandstone planters, row of bollards in around 400-metre stretch between the Red Fort and the Fatehpuri Masjid. Now, people have been spitting paan on the same sandstone pavement. The old architectural style is being replaced with glass and metal. Before initiating the Omaxe Chowk project, the authorities concerned should have included traders and inhabitants of the place.” 

Chandni Chowk is not entirely old Delhi. It is a part of old Delhi. Any project to preserve Chandni Chowk can’t function in isolation. There has to be a solution to all the problems of old Delhi, he feels. 

GLITTERING: The Omaxe Chowk market from the inside

“Now, old Delhi was not designed for motorised vehicles. The walled city needs to be de-congested from over wholesale trading. What’s the target audience of Omaxe Chowk? If it is the foreigners, then they don’t come here to see the glitz and glamour. They see that enough in Soho House, London and their own country. They come to Chandni Chowk to see the heritage of the walled city and experience the tapestry of tradition and cultures of the place. And the Delhiwala would not go to this Omaxe Chowk, he will rather go to the chaatwala (seller or snacks and savouries) in the bylanes. If I want to eat chaat then I would go to the Padam Chaatwala or Ashok Chaat Corner. Why would I go to this food court inside the Omaxe Chowk when I had grown up eating the delicacies in the lanes and bylanes of old Delhi,” concludes Hashmi. 

Outside the Omaxe Chowk on HC Sen Marg, there are hundreds of autorickshaw and battery operated rikshaws (E-rickshaws), standing in queue for the passengers. Ramesh Yadav, 63, waits for passengers and urges passersby to sit down in his maroon-coloured phatphat sewa. 

He says, “Once this mall begins to function, where will we go? Ye hamaari rozi roti hai yaha (This is our bread and butter). I have been working in the same lane for the last forty years and while we see this big mall every day, we question as to how things will be for us. None of the people from the project have ever come to speak to us.” 

Anas Khan, 28, a master’s graduate in anthropology from Delhi University has been a chronicler of Delhi’s rich heritage for a few years now. 

He says, “I visited Omaxe Chowk and stood in awe of the beautiful vision of the project. The rooftop view has my heart as one can see the beautiful landscape or the panoramic view of old Delhi. Having said that, I wanted to see this as exactly the place where people find a ride to Seelampur area. Hundreds of autorickshaws stand here and take people to nearby areas. Where will they go? But we can have a clear picture of what is this exactly and how it is affecting the things around only once the place starts functioning.”