An anomaly in the congested jungle

It is easy to miss this non-descript alley in the cacophonous surroundings of Chandni Chowk where honking provides uninterrupted background score, and any form of immediate relief from this never-ending chaos seems nearly impossible. But this is where one witnesses the striking contrast between the crumbling past and resurrecting future, as this alley, just across Jama Masjid police station; houses Dharampura Ki Haveli, a 128-old-year mansion, which has been restored back to its full glory.

Believed to have been built in 1887 AD in the then Shahjahanabad city of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the haveli is a unique example of residential buildings of 19th and 20th century. It was originally designed to have a mixed-use pattern–both residential and commercial. For instance, the lower ground floor that open towards the street was meant for shops and the remaining floors designed as residence.

Decades of neglect had deteriorated the condition of this three-storied haveli, just like other havelis in the Old City who are equally in shambles. Its cracked walls and decaying facade too had announced the end of a glorious past, but six years ago, Bharatiya Janata Party Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Goel, for his sheer love for heritage, undertook the mammoth task of restoring the structure.

The haveli is set to open its refurbished doors to the visitors as a cultural centre which has 13 fully-furnished deluxe rooms, made out of 60 original rooms in the mansion. The restored structure is a reminiscent of havelis-turned-heritage hotels in Rajasthan, but Kapil Agarwal, architect of the project, says that the “architectural relevance” of these havelis is different from Rajasthan counterparts and during restoration they ensured the basic characteristics of the architecture remained same and were given a contemporary touch.

Once you enter the building which still has its decorative features such as stone brackets, jharoka’s wooden windows and multi-foliated arches, intact and sticks to the tones of cardamom green and blue – typical of this area, you will be transported to a luxurious and comfortable arena that marries past and present beautifully.

In order to maintain the architectural design and style, lakhori bricks and red sandstones were used. Goel, along with his son Siddhant and the architectural team have done their best to resurrect the falling palace. But it is the squalid surroundings that fail this restored beauty.

The view from one of the balconies is met with another dilapidated building where clothes are drying in warm winter sun and garbage is dumped in one of the corners. The roof-top is the vantage point of the walled city, with Jama Masjid on one side and Sheesh Ganj Gurudwara on the other. But in between this majestic and breathtakingly beautiful views are rows of houses that haven’t been painted for years. Their terraces are weary and pale, resembling insipid lives of those who have been living in these cramped spaces.

“For the next few years, I have to ensure that the houses around the haveli get a makeover. They need to be painted. It is important that they look in sync with the haveli and complement it,” says Goel.

This haveli stands out as an anomaly in this congested urban space, but its restoration also hints at the immediate attention these deteriorating houses and mansions in Old Delhi need.

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