The restored grandeur of Haveli Dharampura in Old Delhi is a testament to one man’s passion for heritage and conservation, says Team Shubh Yatra
The rickety buildings crowding the narrow bylane block out the chaos of Old Delhi. Inside the winding alleyway, just a few steps away from the bustling Jama Masjid police station, even the harsh midday sun has no entry, challenged by the century-old camaraderie of the brick-and-mortar structures that hint at the time-worn neighbourhood’s iconic past. Irresponsible urbanisation threatens to push out the once resplendent Mughal memories, the glorious era relegated to just a few arched wooden doors. But Gali Guliyan, named so for its erstwhile beautiful homes, is clean, and overhanging electric wires, usually an ugly mess in other parts of the Walled City, have been discreetly tucked away.
The credit for this can be given to Haveli Dharampura, a 150-year-old Mughal-era house of a court member that has been restored to its past grandeur. Today, the once-crumbling haveli is a testament to the charm of erstwhile Shahjahanabad and what one man’s passion for conservation can do.
At the end of Gali Guliyan stands the haveli, its arched wooden gateway and carved sandstone facade blending seamlessly with its neighbours’. A discreet board announces you have arrived. The building doesn’t stand out rudely like many of the restored palace hotels in the country, just the gleam of freshly polished wood giving away its new secret.
Like most houses of the neighbourhood, this one too stands on a platform, slightly above the street level. Inside the doors, though, a whole new world awaits. Stepping into the open central courtyard feels like taking a step back in time, as Dilli overpowers Delhi. The stunning tiled courtyard, with a fountain at its heart, rises elegantly up to three floors, each with a terraced viewing gallery and surrounded by delicately crafted pillars linked by scalloped arches.
The haveli is stunning in the way it lovingly holds on to its past. The marble with inlay designs, red sandstone brackets and kiln-baked “lakhori” bricks show traces of Mughal architecture. As we admire an old chest that has been left untouched in a secret passageway under the courtyard, just the way the previous owners had left it, we realise that such restoration work is rare in India. But conservation was at the heart of this project spearheaded by its current owner, Rajya Sabha member and president of Heritage India Foundation Vijay Goel, who bought the haveli about 10 years ago. It took the veteran politician, his son Siddhant and architect Kapil Agarwal about six years to complete the restoration.
“Heritage is my passion and conservation fascinates me. My journey with heritage began with the restoration of a haveli in my village near Sonipat,” says Goel, who has also penned books on the heritage of Old Delhi. “With this property I wanted to set an example of restoration in Old Delhi. I have visited almost all the havelis here but this one attracted me the most, as it had touches of Mughal, Hindu and European architecture.”
Before the restoration started, the three-storey building was falling apart and had been declared “dangerous” by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. “Its decorative plasterwork was hidden due to multiple coats of synthetic paint, the rooms were divided into cubbyholes to accommodate toilets and kitchens, the doors and windows were blocked, part of the roof had collapsed and there.