There was nothing regal or royal about Chandni Chowk. You had to look through archaeologically charged vision to see the past glory of this place. Of course it is still lined by famous Havelis but they are now decrepit and abandoned to the highest rent payer. Once they used to be the residences of courtiers and rich traders. Today they are entangled in litigation. This is prime property in the heart of the city. There are no high rise towers coming up here. Perhaps the skein of litigation can never be unraveled. Bhagirath Palace which now holds the electrical good market was once the residence of Begum Samru. It is nothing now but a huge and unkempt building. When she was a young girl she was a prostitute known as Farzana. She was a Nautch girl or dancing girl from Kashmir. Farzana was only 14 when she became the concubine of a European mercenary who fought for the French against the British. Walter Reinhardt was from Luxembourg. He later married her. Some say he adopted the name of Summer in India which the French changed to Sombre. Others say Reinhardt had a stern gloomy outlook and was named Sombre for that. Begum Samru got the name from the Indianisation of the name Sombre to Samru. Sombre was somewhat of a military genius. He changed loyalties frequently. He acquired military skills both from the French and the English. He later formed his own small army which he gave to the Mughals when required. In gratitude the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II made him the ruler of Sardhana. After his death Begum Samru became the ruler and inherited the army. She went into battle many times at the head of this force. This private army had both European and Indian troops. In later life Begum Samru became a Catholic adopting the name of Joanna Nobilis. She built a church in Sardhana and it is now known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces. Two annual pilgrimages are held here in March and November. Begum Samru was a feminist in an era where women had no rights. Reinhardt left so much wealth to her that today it is a priceless treasure. It was valued at 18 billion Gold marks in 1953. This property again is a litigant’s nightmare. It is handled by a trust called Reinhards Erbengemeinschaft (Community of Heirs). The trust keeps making appeals for its heirs to come forward but the treasure is still unclaimed and unresolved. She had many affairs including one with a Frenchman. With these love entanglements she held on to her self governed principality with her charming ways. The British looked with suspicion at her because of her small powerful army. Lord Gerald Lake is reported to have been so obsessed with her that he kissed the four and a half foot tall lady in front of her troops. The turbaned Queen’s troops had a desire to lynch him but she said it was the kiss of a father and diffused the situation. Begum Samru has left a fortune which is now worth billions of dollars but the litigation has left it locked in strange places.