City Hangout – Kashmere Gate, North Delhi
In search of lost time.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
With sloping tin roofs, decorated iron columns, terracotta jaalis, independently-owned stores and a 19th century church, 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 selling guns and ammunition for more than 60 years. Across the road, the chemist shop C. Lal & Sons is in buisness since 1935.
However, not everything has stayed the same in Kashmere Gate, a neighbourhood named after a surviving gateway of the Mughal-era city wall. C. Lal is no longer the only chemist shop in Delhi to open 24 hours a day. On the same alley, the Student Store Bookshop has become smaller. It has rented out a large part of its space to an ATM. The post office next to the beautiful Nicholson Galli, a must-visit alley, has been turned into a wine shop.
Years ago, there were two famous liquor stores in Kashmere Gate: Carlton and Spencer & Co. Both were rivals and each claimed that their beer was sold more chilled. Carlton has been replaced by a departmental store; Spencer & Co. by a branch of Central Bank.
Next to Martin Drycleaners is an extinct landmark. 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 across Delhi. (It was a rage with the embassy crowd.) Khyber declined gradually – from teakwood cabinets to plastic flowers – before it shut shop in 2006.
A similar fate fell on the legendary Photo Service Company. Dating from the late Mughal era, it was one of Delhi’s most prestigious photo studios. Maharajas would arrive to pose for their official portraits. The studio died with its old man. The sons squabbled over the property. It is now a clothes shop under a different owner.
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). Following the old man’s death, his sons ended the mithai trade and started selling spare car parts.
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 and the sad and beautiful Nicholson Cemetery and the long-standing Ritz Cinema and the local Shia Muslims stay, the deal is tolerable.
Nearest Metro Station Kashmere Gate