By Avani Sood
Tucked away in Katra Neel in Chandni Chowk is one of the many historical buildings that lace the area. The Haveli of Lala Chunnamal, or Chunnamal ki Haveli as it has been popularly called, is one of few havelis that have survived, and is perhaps the only one that continues to be inhabited by descendants of the family. While the haveli is now just a shadow of its original self, parts of this sprawling structure, which is spread over an acre, still maintain their links with the past.
Lala Chunnamal was a wealthy textile merchant who won favour with the British after the Revolt of 1857, and bought the Fatehpuri Masjid for INR 19,000 when the British auctioned it off after the rebellion. Later, in 1877, the British government reacquired the Fatehpuri Masjid to restore to the Muslims, in exchange for four villages. Needless to say, Lala Chunnamal was a wealthy man! In fact, he is known to be amongst the first few people in the city to have owned a car and a telephone, and at the time earned around 1 lakh rupees a month.
The Haveli is built on three floors and has 128 rooms! The ground floor, originally meant to host grand functions of the family, was rented out in 1971 to shop owners, and has since been used for commercial purposes. Today, in this labyrinth of shops, it takes a few minutes for any visitor to find the entrance to the haveli.
The drawing room of the haveli is what one sees in most published photographs. This room has a wall that carries an inscription dating the building back to 1848, although some parts of this building are also known to have been built later, in 1864. This drawing room is built completely in a baroque style, with high-ceilings and arches. The present generation of the family lives here, and has also carefully preserved elements like chandeliers, candle-stands, clocks and life-size mirrors that would have originally adorned this room. The tile work from the 19th century can still be seen on the walls, and a delightful fireplace from the original phase of building not only survives, but is also functional.
For interested parties, history lovers, and the culture vultures - this building is paradise. The current inhabitants are very welcoming and understand the true historic significance of their home. They not only welcome the curious, but in the past have played host to some rather popular guests, such as Kate Winslet. Unfortunately, what we see now is perhaps just a fraction of the original splendour of the structure. Encroachment and new construction on the ground floor pose a very real threat to this heritage building. But the next time you’re in Chandni Chowk, swing by Katra Neel, ask around for this haveli, and pop in if you can, and we promise you'll take back a piece of history with you.
Notes in Our Little Black Book |
In the heart of Chandni Chowk, three stories high, with 128 rooms, and spread over an acre of land, Chunnamal ki Haveli is one of the must-visit historic buildings that still retains a significant amount of its history. And not just in terms of decor! The present generation of the family that owns it still lives here!
Where: Katra Neel, Chandni Chowk
Price: The haveli isn't open to public per se, but ask to speak to a family member once you enter the premises, if you're looking to have a look inside. The family is very welcoming of warm and friendly visitors looking to explore the haveli.