Delhi 101: #31 Dariba Kalan – Pearls, gold, silver and all that is precious

Dariba Kalan, translated to ‘Street of Incomparable Pearl,’ is literally beyond compare. Or at least it was the case at a time when all that glittered was gold, silver, diamonds, precious gems and more.

The market came up when the Mughal emperor Shahjahan built his new city, for royalty and the rich to splurge. They sure must have. Of course, it also meant the evil eye of future invaders fell upon this market. During the sack of Delhi by Persian King Nadir Shah, over 30,000 citizens were killed by his army – Dariba Kalan was the worst sufferer, its riches plundered by the soldiers. Many shops were looted and burnt all over again during the Great Revolt of 1857, when Indians took to arms against their British rulers.

Delhi 101: Cover image of book by Ajay JainThis post has been taken from Delhi 101, a book written by Ajay Jain. It is about 101 surprising ways to discover Delhi, one of the most amazing cities in the world for travelers. To know more about the book and to order one, click here.

While you can still shop for any kind of jewellery, the emphasis is more on trade in silver. You can buy almost anything: jewellery, trophies, utensils, picture frames, decorations, hookahs and more. Shops also offer to buy back your old gold and silver objects, but do be careful lest you get ripped off. Signs announcing them as ‘Government Approved’ need not mean anything.

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If you want to charm anyone, buy itra or perfumes from shops going back decades or even to the 19th century.

And here is something no one will suggest: explore some of the by-lanes of Dariba Kalan. One such is Katra Masroo, named after a noble lady Begum Masroo (about whom little is known), with many small time jewellery shops and related service providers. And you will get to see how jewellery is made at various stages.

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You have pigeon-hole sized establishments engaged in making dyes and cutting components of jewellery, melting and giving shape to precious metals, polishing stones and all other steps that go into the making of the final products. Some of these can be seen openly, while many are hidden away in multi-storeyed old buildings. Do seek permission before you enter any workshop – most would be welcoming anyhow. The buildings you see were all residences at one time; people have mostly moved out, with conditions not suiting them anymore.

Shudder to think what would happen to all these people packed like sardines in case of a fire.

METRO: Chandni Chowk or Chawri Bazaar

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