The New Delhi Railway station area is famous for the low- budget hotels and souvenir-selling shops of Paharganj. But not many Delhiites know that it also boasts of some fascinating heritage — like the havelis of Ram Nagar or Qadam Sharif.
A group of people, part of a heritage walk organised by conservationist Surekha Narain, discovered Paharganj’s hidden side last Sunday.
Narain, after a brief introduction of the walk-route at Arakashan Road, led the group through the narrow streets of Ram Nagar, home to many spectacular havelis.
The group of about 15 people was charmed as it entered one of the havelis. “This is famous as haveli number 11 in Ram Nagar, the first organised colony for the officers of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India. This lay outside the old city,” Narain told the walkers, mostly professionals and businessman from south Delhi, for whom this was their first journey to this part of the city.
Fifteen minutes into the walk and it was clear that Narain is a fascinating narrator of heritage. Her accounts are peppered with interesting anecdotes; no wonder, then, there is not a single dull moment as you walk with her. As the walkers weaved through the narrow streets of the area, she constantly educated them about the architecture, history and the evolution of landmarks on the way, be it a haveli, a mosque, a temple or a cinema hall.
The idea behind the walk, says Narain, is to create awareness about the city’s heritage and help conserve it.
“I never heard of Ram Nagar before. I could not have imagined that these narrow, congested streets boast of such amazing heritage,” said Rajiv Sangha, a businessman from Greater Kailash, who was walking with his wife.
After Ram Nagar, the walkers had the option of taking a rickshaw to the next destination. But everyone wanted to walk.
So, after passing through the congested alleys of Naba Karim, the walkers arrived at Qadam Sharif, burial place of Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s son Fateh Khan, who died in 1374.
The Sultan had him buried here with a small stone slab placed above. The slab, which is believed to bear an imprint of the Prophet’s foot, is still there.
The tomb’s enclosure is surrounded by a high crumbling wall. “This used to be a fortified area in Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s time. Today, this important piece of the city’s heritage lies neglected,” said Narain.
As darkness gathers, the walkers are on their way to Imperial Cinema built in 1930. Narain relates an anecdote about the hall: “When Imperial Cinema started showing films in 1933, the audience took its time to come in for the (then silent) shows. Screenings didn’t start at fixed times, but had to wait for enough people to come in. Those waiting for the hall to fill up were entertained by dancing girls, who performed in front of the screen.” Everyone is amused.
Imperial Cinema in Chuna Mandi is the last destination on the guided heritage trip. It’s already pretty dark. And everyone, now on their own, melts into the milling crowd of the main market of Paharganj — dazzling, as ever, in the evening.