Old Delhi was once the hub of everything grand, charming and beautiful. Rediscover its lost magic through the restored 200-year-old Haveli Dharampura, situated in the heart of Chandni Chowk.
It’s a quagmire of opposites. Spit-stained lanes lead to gorgeous arched doorways, shops bursting at their seams hide spacious courtyards, dust-covered windows reveal shiny interiors, and crumbling buildings give way to new architecture. But then that’s the magic of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, where every street and alley reveals,It’s a quagmire of opposites. Spit-stained lanes lead to gorgeous arched doorways, shops bursting at their seams hide spacious courtyards, dust-covered windows reveal shiny interiors, and crumbling buildings give way to new architecture. But then that’s the magic of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, where every street and alley reveals a footnote of history and at the same time hints at its past splendour. It’s hard not to feel intoxicated by this heady mix of the past and the present.The haveli has several arched doorways.No one knows this better than MP and Heritage India Foundation president Vijay Goel and his son Siddhant, who along with architect Kapil Agarwal spent the last six years restoring a haveli in the heart of this conundrum. The Goels call the restored building Haveli Dharampura. Be forewarned though, you can’t take your vehicle here, which adds to its quaint charm. A short walk from the Jama Masjid police station takes you into Chandni Chowk’s Gali Guliyan, or the brass-makers’ lane, where Haveli Dharampura is located. Walk in through the grand doorway and you realise that the luxury of space lies not just in the eyes of the beholder but also in the experience of it. The 200-year-old haveli offers a window into the life that was once led here.TRACING ITS HISTORYSpread over 600 square yards, the distinctive features of the haveli can be attributed to the late Mughal style, though part of it is a later addition in the 20th century. During Mughal and late Mughal period, the courtiers built a large number of havelis. Historical references suggest that construction of the haveli dates to 1887 AD. “It was originally designed to have a mixed-use pattern, both residential and commercial. Shops on the lower ground floor that open towards the street and the remaining floors, designed as residence portray the mixed use of haveli. The ground floor with a grand entrance and first floor were constructed at the same period, while second floor clearly seems to be a later addition at much later stage in the mid 20th century,” says Vijay.advertisementBEFORE THE MAKEOVERThe three-storeyed haveli is a coalescence of Mughal, Hindu and European styles of architecture. However, before it was restored, it was in ruins. There were many families living in it who had altered its structure. The original roof at the upper level had collapsed, rooms were partitioned into smaller ones (60 in all), thick layers of synthetic paint was found on stone columns, and wooden doors and window frames had rotted.OVERCOMING CHALLENGES”When we started the restoration process, we were clueless about how and when to begin it,” says Vijay, adding, “The heavy rains also added to our woes. As an emergency measure to prevent further collapse to our structure, the damaged walls were given necessary support with props and jacks and the building was covered with tarpaulin.”This was clearly a big challenge, but one the father-son duo were happy to face head on. Over the next six years they had over 50-odd masons and craftsmen work round the clock under their supervision to achieve the result one sees today. “Our top priority was to retain and restore the original structure and character of the haveli,” adds the heritage enthusiast.One of the 13 bedrooms with attached baths created for tourists and heritage enthusiasts.RESTORING ITS GLORYThe first thing they did was to remove all the later additions and partition walls; they tried to stick to the original architecture of the building. Next, the Dholpur stone pillars, which had lost their original sheen under thick paints, were cleaned and found to be in perfect condition. “Each and every carving detail was still legible,” says Vijay.The old salwood joists and planks of the ceiling were termite affected some of which had to be replaced and others were reused after appropriate anti-termite treatment. “Since the traditional building construction was with chuna (lime plaster), which is not in vogue anymore, it was a big challenge to find the masons. Thankfully, the ongoing conservation work in the Red Fort was of help and some of the masons from there were employed,” adds Vijay. These masons had the know-how of preparing lime mortar by mixing pozzolanic materials and additives such as belgiri, gursheera, sun (jute fibre), methi and daal. All broken and collapsed walls, roofs were rebuilt matching the original materials.The entrance to Haveli Dharampura in Chandni Chowk.The original lakhori (kiln baked) bricks masonry was found in good condition, which was maintained and consolidated with a water proofing layer. The long deep cracks on some parts of the walls were stitched using cross-stitching method with MS (mild steel) bars, while the gaps and holes in the masonry were filled in lime mortar by gravity grouting. Further, all sandstone brackets were strengthened and retained; the cast iron railings, replica of Shahjahani design were made in Jaipur; and the entrance wooden door was carved in Shekhavati.advertisementDISCOVERING THE BUILDING’S SECRETSIt is estimated that the haveli was owned by a Muslim family before being purchased by wealthy Jain traders. A proof of the rich past was unearthed during the restoration work, with the discovery of secret rooms. The haveli has several small secret rooms, where money and other precious belongings were hidden to prevent theft.Owners put their money in the walls and basement rooms as well. “We unearthed a basement while putting glass flooring. Today, the glass floor in the courtyard, offers a spectacular view of the tijori (safe) located in the basement that the haveli’s original occupants had constructed. This space was used to store valuables, protected and sealed,” says Vijay.All broken and collapsed walls, roofs were rebuilt matching the original materials.IT WILL BECOME A CULTURAL HUBThe haveli now has 13 rooms for tourists and heritage enthusiasts to experience the unique and vibrant culture of Old Delhi. It also has two restaurants serving street food delicacies and Mughlai cuisine, one with the interior of Lakhori Bricks and one on the rooftop, where all major monuments of Chandhi Chowk can be seen including the Red Fort. There is also an art gallery and space for cultural expressions of various kinds. The best part?Haveli Dhrampura will soon to be open to the public. The Goels have planned it as a cultural centre and a knowledge hub for people and students to learn about restoration. It will also double-up as a place to display art or host a fashion show/pop-up boutique. “Further we wish to showcase the traditional sports of Chandni Chowk, like kabootarbazi (pigeon fights) and kite flying here,” adds Vijay. Think of this haveli as a museum, library, heritage centre and performance space, all rolled into one. It is an example of how history can be restored and saved, in style. AT 2293, Gali Guliyan, Dharampur, Chandni Chowk.