As you reach old walled city of Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi), the imposing Red Fort on the east will fascinate you with its grandeur. Red Fort or Lal Quila is a historic fort where the national flag of independent India was hoisted on 15th August 1947. Originally, this fort was built by fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, but later British captured the fort and finally 300 years later, this historical fort came under the control of a democratic Government after India's independence.
Built in red sandstone, the Red Fort extends over two kms and varies in height from 18 mts on the Yamuna river side to 33 mts on the city side. Initially, there were 14 gates to the fort, but now there are two main entrances namely - Delhi Gate to the south and Lahore Gate to the west. Today, the Red Fort is typically an Indian tourist attraction. Here you will find guides leaping forth to offer their services as soon as you reach close to the fort. But above all, if you leave the frantic streets of Old Delhi for Red Fort, you will surely get a feel of calm.
Brief History of Red Fort
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commenced the construction of Red Fort in 1638 and it was completed in 1648. Shah Jahan erected this fort with an aim to shift his capital from Agra to his new city of Shahjahanabad in Delhi, but his dream was never fulfilled as his son Aurangzeb deposed him and imprisoned him in Agra Fort. Aurangzeb was the first and last great Mughal emperor to rule from the Red Fort. In fact, the Red Fort provides a glimpse of the very peak of Mughal power, when the emperors rode out on elephant back into the streets of Old Delhi.
Tourist Attractions in Red Fort
Lahore Gate: Lahori Gate, the main gate to Red Fort borrows its name from the fact that it faces towards Lahore, now in Pakistan. You will enter inside the fort through 3 – tire Lahore gate and immediately you will find yourself in Chhata Chowk of the ancient Baghdadi type Meena Bazaar. It was a shopping centre for ladies of the court and shops and establishments of the period still exist here. The women sellers are no more the only one here, you will find men and women of various community selling antiques.
On the entrance you will see semi-circular arch and marble stone tomb. In the past, on the outset of the entrance there were galleries on both sides having the sitting arrangements for the guests. As you move further from the arcade of shops, you will reach the Naubat Khana, which was used to be a gallery for court musicians. Today, the Naubat Khana is just an open courtyard.
Diwan – I – Aam: Diwan – I – Aam or the 'Hall of Public Audiences' was the hall where the emperor would sit to hear complaints or disputes from his countrymen, except Fridays. On every Wednesday, a court of the masses was held here. Initially due to lime plaster walls, Diwan – I – Aam looked crystal white, while the sand stone walls of the hall was supported by strong columns.
Diwan – I – Aam was elegantly decorated in Persian and Bengali architectural styles. Behind the Hall, there was seat of the shadow of God or throne of the Emperor. The emperor's aclove in the wall was marble panelled and set with precious stones – most of which were looted following the Mutiny. Later, Lord Curzon restored this hall in 1898 – 1905. In front of the emperor's seat were gold railings and in the back was Florentine style of ornamentation of flowers, creppers, leaves etc and also the images of brutes framed in 318 tablets.
Diwan – I – Khas: Behind the Mehtab Bagh is the single storied marble building called Diwan – I – Khas or the 'Hall of Private Audiences'. Diwan – I – Khas was the luxurious chamber where the emperor would hold private meetings. Till 1739, the centrepiece of the Diwan – I – Khas was the magnificent 3 yards long, 2.5 yards wide and 5 yards high Peacock Throne or Mayur Sinhasan. But Nadir Shah became mad to get it and eventually he took it to Samarkhand in 1739. However, the throne was broken and did not remain in its real shape. Diwan- I- Khas was unique in its sculpture and decoration, the columns were studded with gems and lattice art work of the building was extra-ordinary. The walls were crystal white marble and the ceilings were made of sliver.
In 1760, the Marathas removed the silver ceiling from the hall; today you can only see a pale shadow of its former glory. On the bow like arch towards north and south walls, you can see inscription in Persian language, "Agar Firdous bar ru-e-zaman ast, Hamin ast a hamin ast a hamin ast", which means if there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this. In 1857, British captured Delhi and made the Red Fort the barrack of soldiers that led to the ultimate damage of everything of Diwan – I – Khas, even Mughal Frescoes became faded and dirty.
Rang Mahal: As you cross the Diwan - I- Khas, you will come across the Rang Mahal or the Begum Mahal. Initially this romantically charming palace was decorated with fountain on the basement, but later it was converted to lotus-shaped marble palace. Perfumed water was supplied through the pipe lines and the ceilings were covered with gold and silver which had been faded out over the years. Inside the Rang Mahal is the Mumtaz Mahal which is equally attractive in its design. In 1857, during the mutiny it became the guard room of the British and converted to an Archaeological museum in 1912. The museum is open from 10.00 am to 17.00 pm, except Fridays.
Khas Mahal: To the north of Rang Mahal is Shahjahan's Khas Mahal built fully in marble. Toshkhana or Gorhal looks wonderful, while on the marble fringe was astronomical line drawing and you might see the moon from the north and sun from the south moving round the earth. To the east of Khas Mahal, the Emperor used to come to deliver his assembly of his tenants from the 3-storeyed octagonal Shahi Burj.
Royal Baths: Just next to the Diwan- i – Khas are the royal baths or the hamams. Royal baths have three large rooms surmounted by domes and have a fountain in the centre. One of the royal baths was set up as a sauna.
Moti Masjid: Moti Masjid or Pearl Mosuqe is located close to the Royal Baths. Built in 1659 by Aurangzeb, the richly decorated small mosque appears unique in white and ash colour stripes. The exterior of the mosque is very attractive while the interior is very simple and looks like a replica of mosque in Mecca. Aurangzeb built this mosque for reciting five times daily prayer for himself and his family members, particularly for female members.
Special evening event
Sound and Light Show: The evening programme Son-et-Lumière, is now a modern attraction of Red Fort. The Sound and Light show recreates events of India's history particularly those linked with the Red Fort. You may see a 330 years long history starting from Mughal era to the day of independence. The Sound and Light Show is one hour long programme and it is presented alternatively in Hindi and English. For watching the Sound and Light show, you have to buy ticket from ITDC in L Block, Connaught Place.