Red Fort Front Facade

Red Fort or Lal Quila

Lal Quila or the Red Fort was the official residence of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built about 200 years ago in 1628.

For me, the whole experience of visiting Red Fort was like peeling off an onion.   The more you move into the inner realms of the fort, the more beautiful and whiter the buildings and structures would get.   Finally, it came to the one building that I admired the most in the whole complex and Amir Khusraw had most aptly described it as the paradise on earth.   His inscription is written on the walls of this white marble structure- If there be a paradise on the  earth, it is this, it is this, it is this – Diwan-e-khas!  I am still wondering what resplendent, what exciting and what colourful life it would have been then.

The boundary of the Fort and some of its buildings are built with red sandstone and the name Lal Quila or Red Fort comes from there.   It is a well built, massive structure that encircles and secures the entire surrounding of the complex – the official palaces, mahals, gardens and the many other small and little buildings it ensconces.    There were trenches and channels of water all around to give the added security to the fort.  The gates are massive and built to protect the citizens inside the walled city.   The walls are built with holes in it for firing arms and ammunitions.  The four posts at the four corners were used for keeping a vigil.

The front façade is used right now during the Independence Day celebrations by the Prime Minister to address the nation.   However, the fort is just much much more than the front façade!   There is another huge and massive gate as soon as you enter from the front with a metal door called Lahori Gate.  This leads to a long covered path with arches and arched bays on both sides – more like a market place where you have shops on both the sides of the road.   It is called the chatta chowk which means covered bazaar.   Even today there are shops where people are selling all kinds of wares – jewellery, clothes, handicraft items.  It was said that this used to be the case even during Shah Jahan’s time.   He started this concept after he saw something like this in Peshawar.     During his times, the market would be engaged in luxury trade  of the imperial household and used to sell silks, brocades, gold, velvet and other expensive stuff.

After the Chatta Bazaar, there is yet another gate which takes you to a red building – the Diwan-e-Aam which means the ‘Place of Public Audience’.    There is a long rectangular lawn with a water body in the middle that runs across to the Diwan-Aam and paths cutout on both the sides.  This is a place was used by Shah Jahan to meet the common public and hear their grievances.  The structure was made in red sandstone and in the centre  is a raised platform with the Emperor’s throne with a canopy all made in Marble with exquisite handiwork of floral designs inlaid with semi precious stones.

After the Diwan-e-aam lies the little gems of beauty –  domains where Shah Jahan and other successive emperors used to actually live and spend time. You would be greeted with an expanse of garden and green lawns and water canals with white marble structures spread across the expanse.   The water bodies at that time was an important part as they provided the needed water and air cooling for the entire place.

Three white marbled palaces are placed in close proximity to each other at the other end of the garden – The  Rang Mahal (also called Shish Mahal), Khas Mahal and Shah Mahal (or Diwan-e-Khas).

Red fort -  The  Rang Mahal (also called Shish Mahal), Khas Mahal and Shah Mahal (or Diwan-e-Khas)

These were like 3 little pieces of jewels in that whole area.   Built completely in marble, they are a sight to behold!

Rang Mahal was the place where Shah Jahan used to entertain and be entertained.   It was painted in different colours from the inside and therefore derives its name from there.  It also had mirrors fitted on the top and therefore it was called the sheesh mahal though right now there is neither colour nor the mirrors.  This one actually looks faded and is the drabbest one out of the three.

red fort rang mahal

The next one is the Khas Mahal where Shah Jahan had his bed chambers and the dressing room.

Diwan-e-Khas next to it was the place where he would meet people close to him.  This palace was truly amazing in its architecture and the structure.  Though faded and greyish and yellow in colour, the structure speaks of the glorious past.   The peacock throne was removed from this place by Nadir Shah who attacked Delhi and it is said that this throne is somewhere in Iran right now.

The opulence and the extravaganza was clearly visible in the luxurious setting of the entire structure.  The richness of the designs and the work on the structure was truly marvelous.  I was wondering if these structures look so good even today after the wear and tear of the last 200 years, then what would it have been when it was pristine white colour of the marble resplendent with all the other colours the buildings would have been painted with, the coloured drapes, the carpets and all the precious stones that were embedded in the building design.  It would have been truly mesmerizing and therefore What Amir Khusraw said about this building would have been completely true at that point of time.  It would have been a paradise to behold!

Diwan-e-Khas

It is said that Taj Mahal was inspired by the Diwan-e-khas and its architectural designs.

There are other buildings too like the Mumtaz Mahal which is now converted to a museum and does not look like anything that was in the earlier days though one can see the arches and the carvings on the roof that are reminiscent of a celebrated past.

Then there are gardens and pavilions which would have been used by the Emperor, his wives and sons to relax during leisure times.

Chandni Chowk, Delhi

Chandni Chowk of Delhi, India

Going through chandni chowk and it’s various little gulley’s is a favourite pastime for me and my husband.  We would hop on a Delhi metro and shoot off, the moment we find we have a day to ourselves  and are not needed to do some errand for the family or go the kids school or run to some other event.

We prefer taking the Delhi metro to this place because one we cannot dream of getting our car into the unmanageable little roads and get stuck in traffic for endless hours.  It also gives a breather to my husband who is the only one in our family who can drive right now.

So, on a nice  sunny winter day, we set off to be part of the busy streets, hawkers,  vendors, chai wallahs, the street food guys.   It is an interesting mix of people and buildings, old and new, all intermingled with each other that they still maintain an individuality yet look so distinct.

A person probably visiting for the first time might not find this place interesting at all.  I used to be like that.  I hated going there amongst the dirt and the chaos, amidst people jostling with each other to get ahead, people screaming at the top of their voices, a mayhem of cycle rikshaws, auto-rickshaws, car, scooter and hoards of people all getting into each others way and nerves.

I only had to make 2 or 3 visits with my husband to really understand the depth of these places.  Once you get into a gulley or a lane, the varieties of a single aspect displayed was simply mind boggling.  Now, I sometimes simply go there to open up my horizon, of my understanding of what all things are available there.

 

There is a lane dedicated to only gems and stones.  Another lane would be selling only buttons and embellishments.  On one lane, you will simply find laces, rows of shops selling different coloured, different styles of laces.  There is a lane for bicycle parts, one lane for clothes, one for sarees, one for dry fruits and nuts, spices…..  The list just goes on..  Everytime we go, we choose a different lane to explore.

 

This old Delhi used to be the only Delhi people knew some 30 to 40 years back.  By now though the boundaries of Delhi has expanded to beyond Gurgaon on the south and Noida on the west, Rohini on the north, etc.  But when you visit old Delhi, you would not imagine that Delhi has expanded so much.  Life goes on as it used to couple of decades before.  It is as if time stood still somewhere in those periods for Chandni Chowk while the others moved on!