Ghantewala, a 225-year-old landmark sweet shop in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, downed its shutters on Wednesday, breaking many a sweet-lovers’ heart and signalling how the changing environs of the Walled City claimed another piece of the Capital’s heritage.
“Band ho gayi aaj ye dukaan do sau pachchis saal baad. Chale gaye sab saara saaman nikalke (The shop folded up today after 225 years. All the men have left with the items),” said a bangle-seller who sits in the lane next to Ghantewala, known across Delhi and outside for its pure desi ghee sweets.
Located near Paranthe Wali Gali on the main Chandni Chowk street, Ghantewala (Sohan Halwa Shop) had been in the business since 1790. Lala Sukh Ram had started selling sweets after arriving in Shahjahanabad from Amer in Rajasthan. Several stories have passed down the generations on why he came to be known as Ghantewala.
Mughal emperor Shah Alam would often send his servants to get sweets from the halwai parked near a bell hanging down through a thick chain. “He didn’t have a shop back then. He sold sweets on a push cart. It is said that he rang the bell when he arrived on the street,” said historian Sohail Hashmi.
The first shop was located near Fountain Chowk. The family later split and an oulet was started on the main street. One half of the shop there folded up at least five years ago, giving way to a saree store. The modern day Ghantewala was being run by Sushant Jain, a seventh generation descendant.
Jain said in a text message that it was a hard time for them. His wife said closing down such a big name was not easy. But they did not share the reason for the closure.
“This is what happens. Their sweets were not cheap as they were made in desi ghee. Also, where is the clientele in old city? Original residents are moving out. Their houses have turned into godowns,” said Hashmi.
The Jains had started selling their products online too. Their sohan halwa was shipped to as far away as Canada and cost Rs790 for 750 grams.
A relative of the family, who runs a snack shop near Fountain Chowk, said,“It’s difficult to run a mithai shop now. When we shut down five years ago, it was because nobody was buying sweets anymore. So it’s better to earn a rent than suffer losses. We have had offers of rent to the tune of Rs11 lakh,” he said.
Ghantewala has had the Nehru family as its patron too. It was a popular landmark in the heritage walks.
"We used to visit Ghantewala as kids. I had heard that the royal elephants of the Mughals would pass by with bells ringing. He would feed them and that's how he got his name," remembered journalist and food show host Vinod Dua. He added that Ghantewala had set a benchmark for sweets business in the city. "Our neighbours in Civil Lines would make barfi and pista ki launji at home and then take it to Ghantewala to get it checked know if it had been made well. Ghantewala was the master of sweets," said Dua.