Delhi: Historians, experts welcome Chandni Chowk's heritage-sensitive revamp

Delhi: 14 Sep, 2021 (Times of India)


NEW DELHI: Pedestrianisation and rejuvenation of a historic stretch in old Delhi's Chandni Chowk has been welcomed by historians and other experts, who concurred that this architecturally sensitive redevelopment project is a good start for built heritage in the city.

A nearly 1.4-km stretch of Chandni Chowk, from the Red Fort area to Fatehpuri Masjid, has been made a non-motorised vehicle zone from 9 AM to 9 PM as part of a holistic initiative by the Shahjehanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC).
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday dedicated the revamped stretch to the people, and announced that the entire area will be transformed into a tourist hub by allowing street food joints to operate till midnight.

Red sandstones, complementing the aesthetic look of the 17th century Mughal-era fort, have been used to carve out benches and other decorative material, while period-styled street furniture add to the cultural ethos of the area, steeped in history.
The project has received thumbs up from heritage experts and aficionados alike, who flock to the Walled City to admire iconic landmarks, old buildings and enjoy lip-smacking street food.

Historian and author Rana Safvi, who has written extensively on Shahjehanabad, termed the project a "very good start" when it comes to matters of heritage, more so in a rapidly urbanising city like Delhi.

"It is very welcoming to see, government authorities and various agencies, keeping heritage at the centre while devising a redevelopment project. Heritage often suffers in the name of development, and the Chandni Chowk project certainly raises the level of optimism one feels for heritage buildings," she said.

The author of 'Shahjehanabad: The Living City of Old Delhi' expressed delight over the pedestrianisation of the old street, which will allow visitors to now admire the "old architectural fabric" of the area, whose view was earlier marred by overhead electric cables and burgeoning traffic.

"You cannot admire such old streetscape when there are vehicles plying around you. Now, people will have the vantage point to see, admire and click pictures and take back memories home. Earlier, it was congested traffic and pollution and these were all one would face in this stretch of Chandni Chowk," Safvi said.

Historian and author Swapna Liddle also welcomed the project as a "very good move" and hoped the entire Shahjehanabad will get the kind of attention, the historic core of the city deserves.

"It is a good start but it will have to seen in totality, eventually. As in rejuvenation of whole Shahjehanabad should be taken into account rather than just in a piecemeal way. But this heritage-sensitive redevelopment project certainly means good news for heritage," she said.

The next stage of the project will involve facade rejuvenation and making the area more vibrant, officials said.

Delhi PWD Minister and SRDC chairman Satyendar Jain on Sunday had told reporters that the plan was to run a 'heritage-look' green vehicle on the stretch.

Suggestions are also coming that uniform shop boards, as in many other pedestrianisation projects abroad, could be used. However, there is no official confirmation on it.
Liddle, author of 'Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi', who also conducts heritage walks, suggested that each signage should be in sync with the building it is mounted on.

"One signage or font used on it may look good on one building but not suit another building with a different architectural style on its facade. Also, multiple languages and calligraphic and other designs should be allowed to be explored by shop owners instead of hemming them in," she said.

Safvi said e-rickshaws and old-style horse carriages are very good options for plying on the pedestrianised stretch.

"A small write-up with a photo or artwork of a monument of Delhi can be embossed on the back side of an e-rickshaw, which would also enhance the knowledge of people about heritage of Delhi," she added.

Also, a signage with basic information about the old buildings should be installed in front of the them to engage the visitors, the historian said.

Various other heritage experts and conservation architects also welcomed the redevelopment of Chandni Chowk that was built by Jehan Ara, daughter of Mughal Empire Shah Jahan.

"Earlier there were three markets, Urdu Bazaar, Johri Bazaar and Fatehpuri Bazaar. And, a square existed in the middle of it, so the name Chandni Chowk. The area has changed a lot, it has seen the glory of the Mughals, their fall, the 1857 First War of Independence and eventually rise of a free, democratic India in 1947. So, it deserves this special attention," Safvi said.

Kejriwal, after inaugurating the redeveloped stretch, had said that earlier broken roads, dangling wires, traffic congestion were synonymous with Chandni Chowk, but now it has become beautiful and aesthetically appealing.

"We have beautified almost 1.4 km stretch of the Chandni Chowk and made it extremely beautiful. Traffic on the stretch was improved, dangling wires were made underground, and CCTVs were installed under the redevelopment project," he said. PTI KND ANB ANB