City Walk – Matia Mahal, Shahjahanabad
The moon-lit bazaar.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Heart of the Walled City, Matia Mahal bazaar is the land of chicken stew, bearded mullahs, kaftan-clad beggars, fat goats and veiled women. Chaotic during the day, it shows its inner life (and beauty) in the night when it is time to dine and laugh with friends.
In a city where no shopping destinations are open through the night (Connaught Pace closes by 9pm, Khan Market by 8pm, Pacific Mall turns off the lights at 11pm), Matia Mahal remains lit up till midnight.
Start the walk late in the evening from Urdu Bazaar. Lined with Urdu language book stores, grubby guest houses and eateries selling buffalo kebabs, keema kaleji, ishtu and korma, it faces the Mughal-built Jama Masjid. The sights are kaleidoscopic: boys on bikes, kebabs on skewers, chickens in their coops and beggars on trolleys.
While the best bookshops M Rashid & Sons and Maktaba Jamia (its in-house calligrapher is a treat to watch) have closed for the day, a few bookstalls near the turning to Matia Mahal remain open. Browse for Urdu authors not available in the rest of the city.
Matia Mahal bazaar faces the principal entrance of Jama Masjid. A haven for food lovers, there are stalls selling fen and rusks, the classic Delhi breads, and sewai, the deep-fried golden-coloured vermicelli cooked in boiling milk.
Karim’s, the most famous Mughlai specialty restaurant in Delhi, is in Matia Mahal. Try the kebabs and curries of the adjacent Al Jawahar restuarant; they are superior.
Ahead is Al Sahi Chicken Corner. Juicy birds are roasted in front of customers.
On both sides of the street, big-bellied vendors sell saffron-flavoured biryani kept in huge cauldrons.
The late night Matia Mahal walk can also be turned into a shopping expedition for Shahjahanabad keepsakes — pyjamas, jeans, jootis, bedsheets and jewellery. Shops such as Amaan Garments and Fashion Zone stock cargo trousers, T-shirts, track pants and kidswear. Prices range from Rs 150-500. There are beautifully embroidered burqas too. Bargaining is recommended.
In the haircutting salons, young men gossip about the exploits of film star Salman Khan.
During the 1857 uprising against the British, Matia Mahal resident Zahir Dehlavi wrote about a late evening scene he witnessed in the area: “… it was completely quiet, and there was not a single bird to be heard or seen. Indeed there was a strange silence over the whole town, as if the city had turned suddenly into a wilderness. Shops were lying looted, the doors of all the houses and havelis were closed, and there was not a glimmer of light”.
Straight ahead is Chitli Qabar chowk, with a florist shop at the centre. If you take the left lane from there and keep going straight, then left, and right, you will find yourself on Netaji Subhash Marg in Daryaganj. This is the Delhi we know. What we had experienced lingers on like a dream.
Where Matia Mahal, Outside Jama Masjid, gate no. 1 Nearest Metro Station Chawri Bazaar Time Reach by 8 pm (winter) or 10 pm (summer)
The night-time revelry