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It’s changing and how

One of Delhi’s most charming marketplaces is getting modernised.

entertainment Updated: Apr 11, 2010 01:26 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

With sloping tin roofs, decorated iron columns, terracotta jaalis, independent stores and a 19th century church, the area around Kashmere Gate in north Delhi suggests a small town setting in which the life’s daily rhythm never changes. The Sunday prayers are still held at St. James, Delhi’s oldest church. Down the lane, on Lothian Road, Martin Drycleaners, circa 1947, is still in operation. Close by, Garg Armoury has been into guns and ammunition for more than 60 years. Across the road, the chemist shop C. Lal & Sons has been around since 1935.

But not everything has stayed the same. C. Lal, for instance, is no longer the only chemist shop in Delhi to open 24 hours a day. On the same alley, the charming Student Store Bookshop has become smaller. It has rented out a part of its space to an ATM. The post office next to Nicholson Galli has been turned into a wine shop.

Years ago, there were two famous liquor stores in Kashmere Gate — Carlton and Spencer & Co. Both were arch rivals and each claimed that their beer was sold more chilled. Carlton is now replaced by a departmental store; and Spencer & Co. by a branch of Central Bank.

The Khyber story
Next to Martin Drycleaners is a boarded up store. Before independence, it was the famous Mirabelle restaurant. In 1947, the new owners, partition-refugees from what became Pakistan, renamed it Khyber. The restaurant became so popular for its non-vegetarian cuisine that people would come from all over Delhi. It was a rage with the embassy crowd. Khyber’s glory declined gradually — from teakwood cabinets to plastic flowers — before it shut shop in 2006.

The photo shop
A somewhat similar fate hit the legendary Photo Service Company. Dating from the late Mughal era, it was one of Delhi’s most prestigious photo studios. Maharajas would come posing for their portraits. The studio died after the death of its old man. It is now a clothes shop under a different owner.

On the Church Road is the Modern Hair Cutter saloon. Opened in 1939, it was patronised by British officers. In March this year, the owner temporally closed it for renovation. Air conditioning is promised when it reopens. The fate of Mittan Lal Halwai was more unexpected. The mithai store was famous across the Capital for its lassi (at noon) and doodh (in the evening). Today, instead of sweets, the place deals with spare car parts. However, there’s no need to mourn for the past. A living city like Delhi never stays constant. Kashmere Gate will keep changing. As long as its lovely iron columns and the historic St. James’ Church stay, the deal is acceptable.

Why go to kashmere gate?
Built in 1836, the historic St. James’ Church is Delhi’s oldest church and only one of the two churches to have a pipe organ.
The hangouts at Kashmere Gate metro stop are popular dating zones. Nirula’s has a dining space that looks like a metro coach.
The iron pillars at the market corridors have ornate designs on them, which gives the entire place its defining character of old-world elegance. Streetside chaat is delicious.