Red Fort in Delhi, a UNESCO world heritage site, is probably one of the most visited monuments in the country. Competing with Qutab Minar and Taj Mahal. My second walk after Jama Masjid started outside the majestic fort. The first thought that red fort brings to my mind is the 15th August celebrations that happen here. And the journalist’s patriotic voices on TV explaining the secular nature of the view from the Red Fort. As you can see a temple, a mosque, a gurudwara and a church all at once.
Across the road from the fort in Old Delhi, the business starts bustling in the morning. The roadside vendors are preparing to open their shops, laying down the clothes in piles, and ready to shout out to the passerby for the rest of the day. Small eateries start popping up, some on push carts, some in small shops and some even on cycles. Stop by and see a complete mobile shop being operated on a bicycle. The rear carrier of the bicycle fitted with a wooden plank on which a stove is fitted to prepare the food, a tin box fitted in front of the handle to hold the prepared food. Few polyethylene bags hanging on the handle with the raw material and the disposable plates to serve.
You don’t need too many frills to be an entrepreneur, do you? It is always a pleasure to see a city waking up when the people are still to put on their masks for the day.
Red Fort – Must Visit Monument in Delhi
As you walk on the road leading to the Lahore gate of Red Fort, you would see vendors selling all kinds of touristy things mainly targeted at children. There are colorful flowers, glass animals, and games, all of which are priced very reasonably. Even on a weekday, the ticket counter is crowded. You have to stand in a long queue to get your ticket. And then stand in the security queue before you can enter the fort. The view from the outside is that of a majestic fort that appears impenetrable. The cascading domes add to the magnificence. The Indian flag fluttering on top of it makes you feel patriotic. And reminds you of all the songs that you sang at the school assembly.
If you turn your back towards the fort, you see the Lal Mandir, which is built in Nagar style. Amongst the green trees, the fort makes a good view in the background of the blue sky on a clear day.
Red Fort Entrance
As you enter the fort after security check, you can see stairs and some other parts which have probably been added later. As you move in you see the bazaar below the arched roof, selling all kinds of artifacts, a lot of marble based items, jewelry, clothes, puppets, etc. The bazaar overall gives a very colorful and vibrant look with people checking out the items. Shopkeepers making an impactful pitch for selling the same. Come out of the Bazaar and you have a circular garden with a beautiful red building with a topping of white marble on the top. And lots of barracks on the left-hand side.
This is the drum house called Naqqar Khana which was used to play music five times a day during the Mughal days. Now houses the war memorial museum. Go through the gate and on look back on the carved wall and you will find typical Mughal motifs called Phool Patti, or flowers and leaves all over the wall.
Since the fort has had a living history and is still partially owned by the Indian Army, there have been constant modifications that have happened in the fort. The part of the fort which can be classified as the monument is probably as it used to be. Unfortunately, most of the worth seeing parts of the fort are not accessible to the public.
Diwan-e-Aam – The Throne
The throne Diwan-e-aam is covered with the net. Depriving you of the detailed view of the intricate carvings on it, the birds engraved at the back of the throne, which are not a usual feature in Islamic architecture. The ropes around the pavilions do not allow you the complete view from most angles. Wherever they let you do so, the ropes come in the view, making it unpleasant. The Hammams are totally closed. The forced view through the glass windows hardly shows you anything. The Moti Masjid is closed with a dis-aligned copper-plated door.
Diwan-e-Khas & Khas Mahal
The Diwan-e-Khas and Khas Mahal, which are the most beautiful and magnificent part of the whole fort, cannot be observed from close. You just have to take a long view and be content with that. The Rang Mahal is closed. And the lower stories of the same remain unexplained. The tower at the corner is out of bound. Apparently, there are repairs going on at various places, but I could not see any work in progress. There is no water in any of the canals that criss-cross the gardens of the fort. Hence no fountains were working. I was told the water has been removed to avoid dengue. Which is a fair reason as there are millions of people visiting this place? But at the same time, I feel sad as it takes away all the beauty of the place.
It feels like a ruin whose soul has been lost. There are too many people using it as a picnic spot. There are a countable number of people who are interested in it as a heritage place. Most of the people interested in history were not Indians.
It is a cluster of many small monuments. And many museums that it houses.
There is Archeology museum, which has a history of Mughals in India depicted. It has a collection of various age-old Qurans, various Farmaan’s issued by various Mughal rulers. Paintings depicting their bravery and their lifestyles, games they played like chess and Pachisi. Miniature paintings, ivory and marble items, hookahs, clocks, various artifacts like potteries including some from China. Delicate perfume boxes, carpets, and silks used by them representing the crafts of those times. Some writings would remind you of calligraphy as an art, which is almost forgotten in the age of computers. And of course, the war equipment without which a museum is never complete.
War Memorial Museum
This is irrespective of the fact that there is a complete war memorial museum on top of the Naqqar Khana or the drum house. Which has everything that was used in the independence war? From uniforms to insignias and ribbons of order, to flags, to guns and bullets. Models of ships, boats, and trucks, to communication equipment. There is a gallery showcasing the young martyrs’ paintings.
A Unesco sign says that it is a world heritage site. But having been to 20 other heritage site, I must say this was the most badly maintained site I have visited. There are garbage and filth all around. The stone slabs everywhere were broken, there was construction material lying all around. The trees have been cut and the gardens carry a sad look. The signboards hardly tell you anything, they are a one-liner and do not tell anything about the details of the place. I am sure there are lots of things which made the fort made it to the heritage list, but where are the details. There are small things like an intricate jaali on a wall, but no board explaining its random appearance in the fort.
The world heritage series on Red Fort was not available. Which I have found even in remote places like Bhimbetka. There was no literature available whatsoever to take and read. There is a lot of history, culture, architecture and even mathematics to learn in the fort. For example, how the pavilions were made in such a way that wherever you stand you could see the emperor. If it is not possible to run the fountains, some video or a painting of how the place would look with all of them running would help. It is explained that the engraved marble slabs were studded with gems and precious stones. So can there be a sample placed in one of the museums to showcase that? There are inscriptions and motifs that need to be explained.
Guides & Restaurant
The guides are as usual focused more on giving you a quick tour with spiced up stories. The restaurant inside the old tea house is virtually empty even at the lunchtime. The manager there tells me that most people come here to sit and hardly eat anything as they find this place very costly. This restaurant is the cleanest part of the whole fort. There is a small shop on the side near the bazaar where you would see people eating. This place can definitely be made to look better and fit into the ambiance of the fort. So that visitors have an overall better and coordinated experience. Something needs to be done to make this monument more attractive.
I was told by the museum maintenance office that on an average about 10-15 thousand people visit the fort every day and on a Sunday the number goes up to 20+ thousand. With an average ticket of Rs 10/- also, the revenue should be good enough to provide the basic maintenance of the fort of such importance. What I liked about the visitor population was that it had the representation of all kinds of people. Large school groups, college groups, visitors from across the country with a fair number of people from remote areas, local families, foreigners, and dignitaries.
Having that said that I am not too sure if this place should be allowed to be used as a picnic spot. As groups and families spread themselves on the lawns and leave the garbage behind, with least interest in the heritage value of the place.
Another important thing that I noticed was that there were no beggars anywhere around the red fort or even in roads around it. There were lots of small-time vendors, some even carrying the merchandise on their arms, but no one was begging. In fact, I had some extra food that I wanted to give away, but could not locate anyone to whom I could give it and hence had to bring it back home.
You should go there with loads of imagination. Whatever you would have read in history books, the grandeur you would see in movies and whatever you would have expected to see here will have to come alive only in your imagination. And it has to be a very strong-willed imagination. As you would have to remove so many layers of people around you, the noises, the filth, visualize the missing pieces, ignore the aberrations and then imagine how it would have been in those days to live in forts like this.
It is an important monument of Delhi, India’s history and hence deserves a visit.
Recommend you to read the following Places to Visit in Delhi on my Travel Blog.