Visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi

The outer walls of the Red Fort

The outer walls of the Red Fort

In this installment of my Adventures in Asia series, we’re exploring the Red Fort, built on the order of Shah Jahan — better known as the emperor who built the Taj Mahal.

The fort was built during the heyday of the Mughal Empire, a Muslim empire that controlled much of India from the 16th to early 19th centuries. They built a lot of forts, palaces, and tombs that still stand today, even though Muslims have been reduced to a minority in present-day India.

If you go, rent an audioguide — it will not only walk you through the various structures in the fort but also give you a good overview of the history.

The Red Fort, or Lal Qila, overlooks the Yamuna River. Its imposing red sandstone walls are enclosed by a moat (now dry). Once you make your way through the series of massive gates, you’ll see that the complex wasn’t just a fort, but also a palace.

(Lots of photos after the jump!)

This being our first experience with an Indian palace, we were blown away by the towering outer walls, the intricately carved archways in the open audience halls, the marble royal apartments overlooking the river. As it turned out, we would see much more elaborately decorated palaces in Rajasthan. But our guidebook and the audioguide together gave us a vivid picture of what court life might have been like here at the peak of the Mughal Empire, with poetry competitions held in the gardens and the strains of music floating out from the open pavilions.

As we travelled through northern India, we realized that the same buildings and structures showed up over and over again, both in Mughal palaces and in those built by their rivals, the warring maharajahs of Rajasthan.

Massive outer walls…

Red Fort Delhi 1 - outer walls

…a giant gate…

Red Fort Delhi 2 - gate

…elaborate gardens, built in a formal style with each element carefully planned to represent (Muslim) paradise on Earth…

Red Fort Delhi 8 - gardens

Red Fort Delhi 9 - picnic

We had to wonder what the emperors would have thought of commoners picnicking on their lawns!

Red Fort Delhi 7 - tree

…a Diwan-i-Am, or Hall of Public Audience, for commoners to appear before the emperor…

Red Fort Delhi 6 - Diwani-i-Am crowd

Red Fort Delhi 4 - Diwan-i-Am arches

…a set of royal apartments (sadly no longer furnished)…

This was a series of pools where cool water flowed -- an early form of air conditioning.

This was a series of pools where cool water flowed — an early form of air conditioning.

…and (not shown):

  • a Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience, for more intimate meetings
  • a zenana, or set of apartments for the royal women (the Mughals liked their harems)

And then there are the gorgeous architectural details and decorations…

Detail of an archway (did I mention I'm a fan of arches?)

Detail of an archway (did I mention I’m a fan of arches?)

Pierced screen for the royal women to look into the Diwan-i-Am without being seen...carved out of marble

Pierced screen for the royal women to look into the Diwan-i-Am without being seen…carved out of marble

Another pierced screen, this one in the royal apartments

Another pierced screen, this one in the royal apartments

As you can see from that last photo, the Red Fort is in good condition but definitely not pristine. Its only inhabitants now are pigeons and squirrels, the apartments stripped of their trappings, where once they were full of courtiers and women in bright dress, pomp and circumstance, and all the hustle and bustle of a royal palace. It’s strange to see such a vast complex lying there, not in ruins, merely empty, as if someday the royal court might return. But until then, there are only echoes, and the memories held within the stones.


7 responses to “Visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi

  1. Gorgeous – I am such a fan of Muslim architecture. This has many similar elements to the Moorish palaces in Spain. I didn’t realise India had such things.

  2. Ellen, neither did I! Just goes to show how little we know about world history ;). I’ll have to make it to Spain one of these years…

  3. And, to be fair, it didn’t occur to me that Spain had palaces that look like this either, but of course it must!

  4. Incredibly beautiful. I love the peaceful gardens, the red arches, the intricate detail in some of the arches, and the designs on the pierced screens. I would love to visit this part of India.

  5. Janice, I wandered around with my camera in a daze, drinking in the surroundings…both at this palace and many others in northern India. Definitely worth putting on your travel list!

  6. …I wish I was at least a competent photo taker. 😦

  7. Dianna, I had a LOT of practice during this trip, which helped immensely. Practice, and knowing a very few basic photographic principles — rule of thirds, and making sure your photo has a subject. Also, I took many more photos than you’re seeing here…these are just the ones that turned out the best. If you take enough, you’re bound to get some good ones. 😉

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