The Red Fort (Lal Qila) was our last site in Delhi before heading to New Zealand via Singapore. And once again, we lucked out with a bit of blue sky. We headed to the Red Fort on a busy Sunday afternoon. We navigated the metro system and it was a quick walk to the entrance. The admission lines were long for locals, but short for foreigners! On the exterior leading into the fort, it appeared more crowded than the Taj Mahal.
The Red Fort was built by Shah Jahan in 1648 and was the main residence of the Mughal emperors until 1857. In 1638, he had relocated the capital from Agra to Delhi and required a new royal residence. The majority of the complex was built by Shah Jahan with a few additions later (much different from the Agra Fort). This complex was built after Agra Fort and showed the experience that Shah Jahan had gained from previous complexes. It was declared a UNESCO World heritage Site in 2007.
The name “Red Fort” comes from the red sandstone used to in the construction. As with other Mughal structures, the fort is actually a complex of several buildings. In keeping with Mughal architecture there is a blend of Persian, Islamic, and Hindu traditions. Unfortunately much of the fort has been destroyed. Many of the buildings originally housed precious stone inlays in intricate designs (as seen in Taj Mahal). The fort was occupied by the British Colonial Rulers at the end of the Mughal empire. By that time, the fort has already suffered ransacking by the Persian invader Nadir Shah and many of the ornamental thrones and silver ceilings had been removed. The British planned a systematic re-design which destroyed gardens, apartments and servant quarters. The fort was then used as garrison and many of the barracks are still remaining. Lord Curzon ordered repairs and restoration of the fort in 1899. Some of the marble structures still remain; can’t be visited due to restoration efforts (unlike other complexes we had visited in Agra and Jaipur).
The gate served as the main entrance to the fort. When constructed, it led towards Lahore (now in Pakistan). After the British left India, the first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru raised the National Flag from Lahori Gate and since then on Independence Day the Prime Minister delivers a speech at the Red Fort.
The Chatta Chowk is a bazaar selling tourist souvenirs but once was a bustling marketplace for the fort. The bazaar chauffeurs visitors from the Lahore Gate to the Drum House.
The Drum House
Ceremonial music was played by musicians to signal dignitaries and provide entertainment for the royalty. It also serves as an entrance to the palatial complex. It currently houses a museum. There are several museums in the Red Fort Complex.
Hall of Public Audiences (Diwan-i- ‘Am)
The main hall of this building has multiple arches and vaulted chambers. Its façade consists of 9 arches. At the back of the hall was a royal throne under a marble arch. In the days of the Mughal empire, emperors would receive the general public in this hall. There is marble “step” that was used by the Prime Minister to hear the petitions and then relay them to the throne.
Hall of Private Audiences
This hall was used to greet selected visitors. It is a highly ornamented pillared hall that again features multiple arches. Many of the surfaces were covered with carvings or stone inlays. The Peacock Throne was originally located here before being removed by Persian invaders. Through the center of the hall flowed the Stream of Paradise which helped supply water to the buildings and provide a cooling effect.
It was built by Emperor Aurangzeb. The exterior is red sandstone but the interior is white marble. The building was under renovation and only the exterior was visible.
Although the water features are no longer present, we were able to see two pavilions that we used for entertainment by the Royal Court. Artists (musicians and poets) would perform on the pavilions in the evenings. There were water pools that connected the various pavilions and were surrounded by the gardens. The water pools were more than ornamental and were part of the water supply for the entire complex. Additionally, when water ran down the marble; it provided a cooling effect. Part of the former gardens housed the former British garrison buildings which are still in use (just not by the British).
We could only view the baths from a distance due to current renovation projects.
We were able to see more of the buildings and appreciate the intricate work better at sites in Agra (Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri). We had seen the sites in Agra with a guide and that knowledge really helped while viewing the Red Fort. With our previous experience and an audiotour, I felt we were able to tour without a guide. However, if one needed a guide, there were plenty offering services outside the main gate. Perhaps in the time of Mughals, the Red Fort was more spectacular than the Taj Mahal or Agra Fort or Fatehpur Sikri; but in modern-day, the other sites are better preserved. Many of the fine details (stone inlays, silver ceilings, furniture) has been removed over time unlike the Agra sites. Also many of the buildings have been destroyed; so it is difficult to envision the complex as a whole. A trip to Agra is needed to fully appreciate the sites from the Mughal Dynasty.