Mute fountain

September brought a pleasant change for Delhi. From the sweltering temperatures of August, the city now has cool days. Heavy rains in September spoiled traffic and created poverty in the flooded settlements. But throughout the ordeal, the air was cool, without the scorching sun and humidity of the past month. People only got out of the cars because the days were good.

On such a pleasant day, the renovated Chandni Chowk was officially reopened to visitors. It remains one of the most important places for domestic and foreign tourists during their city vacations. This is obvious because there are several additional advantages. The majestic Fort Rouge is the most important of them. There is the historic Jama Masjid and Sis Ganj Gurdwara, in addition to the famous Gauri Shankar temple.

All these places attract crowds all year round, and are open for entry according to their schedules. Chandni Chowk himself is a treasure trove for buyers. There is a wholesale fabric market. Lehengas, jewelry and all the adornments for weddings are available in abundance. A famous wholesale spice bazaar is a kilometer walk from Fort-end. The renovated Chandni Chowk is pedestrianized, but you have to walk carefully.

Pedicabs run in both directions from Red Fort metro station to Fetehpuri Masjid, 1.5 km inside. Rickshaws go fast, and they remain the primary form of personal transportation. They often compete with each other to get as many passengers as possible. After renovation, the main section of Chandni Chowk now looks clean. There are no motor vehicles honking in the rickshaws, although a few scooters can be seen on both sections.

Motor vehicles were banned from the bazaar because their noise and pollution created a lot of confusion. The central edge has potted plants and is protected by bollards, which can be used for seating, weather permitting. Unmissable landmark, the fountain, in front of the Sis Ganj Gurdwara, is still silent. It received a new coat of paint. But if it had a shower of water, it would give the place back a strong identity that it has enjoyed for years.

The fountain, or “fowarra”, arrives halfway through the historic bazaar. For many years, four-seater Phut-phuts, running on Indian Chief or Harley Davidson motorcycle engines, carried passengers from the heart of Connaught Place to Fountain and back, via Asaf Ali Road and Darya Ganj. The fare was low and people didn’t have to wait for the buses. The phut-phuts, known for the constant noise of vintage vehicles, had made Fountain a popular name.

If there was no other means of transportation available, and such occasions were often until the arrival of the metro, one could take a phut-phut and reach the center of the city. It was also an inexpensive way to reach Old Delhi station. The Chowk Fountain is now known as Bhai Mati Das Chowk to commemorate the martyrdom of the great disciple of Guru Tegh Bahadur.

The fountain with water can bring a lot of color to the place. Delhi’s tourist season usually started in September, but domestic and foreign tourists disappeared after Covid. There are reports that the arrival of tourists has picked up. In such a scenario, the fowarra would certainly be a big draw for visitors. There are plans to transform Chandni Chowk into a tourist hub where street restaurants will be allowed to operate until midnight. The place is already a foodie’s paradise, with a wali gali paranthe and jalebi-kachori stalls dotting the entire region.

(Contributed by: Deepak Razdan, Samir Pal and Asha Ramachandran)

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