Surrounded by massive red sandstone walls that enclose the Red Fort ( Lal Qila) was built by the emperor Shah Jahan to serve as his palace when he shifted capital to Shahjahanbad. The Red Fort is a much visited site today as it gives an insight into the past glory of the Mughal era. Even today on entering the portals of the Red Fort, a sense of calm prevails eliminating the hurly burly of the outside world.
Entering through the three-storey Lahori Gate, you will come to the booking office that sells entry tickets and provides guides. Inside, the Chatta Chowk or covered bazaar has arched cells that originally housed shops selling gems, jewellery, carpets, silks, brocades and velvet for the royal inhabitants. Now there are some souvenir shops. Beyond the archway is a small restaurant, and to the left a museum run by the Archaeological Survey of India. The Swatantrata Sangram Sangrahalaya (Museum of Freedom Struggle) exhibits photographs, paintings and maps focusing on the independence movement.
Going past the military barracks on the left, you reach the Naubat Khana (Drum House). Here everyone except the royal princes had to dismount from their horses and approach the inner quarters on foot. Music was played from the Naubat Khana five times a day. An orchestra of nagara (kettledrums), shehnai (ceremonial wind instrument) and cymbals performed in praise of the Emperor.
A path running down east through extensive lawns reaches the Diwan-I-Am or Hall of Public Audience. This long pillared hall on a raised platform was originally plastered with a thin white coating on which floral motifs were painted. Silk carpets, tapestries and heavy curtains embellished the interiors, where the emperor would appear to hear grievances and administer justice to his subjects. In the western wall is a high platform that housed the emperor’s marble throne.
Along the eastern wall of the fort overlooking the river are the palaces or living quarters. The sprawling gardens on the western side were used for animal fights to entertain the royal inhabitants. Designed in the Islamic charbagh pattern (gardens of Paradise), the gardens had pavilions, fountains and water channels running through. East of the Diwan-I-Am is the Rang Mahal or Palace of Colours, used by the wives of the emperor. Divided into six compartments, the palace had mosaics of mirrors, and ceilings painted and elaborately decorated with gold and silver inlay work. A central lotus pool had an ivory fountain while a cool stream of water flowed through the chambers.
The Mumtaz Mahal, south of the main zenana, was also used by the royal princesses. Now it houses a museum which exhibits textiles, weapons, carpets, elaborately carved chess sets, metalwork and other items used in the royal court. The Khas Mahal was the emperor’s personal palace, with separate enclosures for praying, sleeping and sitting. The Tosh Khana or Robe Room has an exquisitely carved marble filigree screen on the north wall. A Scale of Justice is outlined in the screen. Seen from the north side, there are suns surrounding the scales, while the view from the south makes them appear like moons.
At the Mussaman Burj or octagonal tower overlooking the Khas Mahal emperor Shah Jahan would appear every day before crowds gathered on the banks of the River Yamuna. A balcony added to this tower in 1809, was used by King George V and Queen Mary, who sat before the citizens of Delhi during the Delhi Durbar. The Diwan-I-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience, was used by the emperor to confer with his nobles.
The royal baths or Hammams had sunken tubs in the marble floor. The Hammam was divided into three apartments separated by corridors with water channels running through. Two of the apartments had hot and cold baths while the last one was a dressing room with rose water fountains. Patterns on the inlaid floor and light coming through stained glass windows created a luxurious environment in a seductive play of coloured light passing through water. Aurangzeb built the small Moti Masjid or Pearl Mosque at the northern end of the fort in 1662. Made of white marble with elaborate decorations, the mosque has fallen into a state of disrepair.
Every evening, a Sound and Light show is put up by the Delhi Tourism department at the Red Fort. The palaces and other monuments within the fort are lit up and a dramatic recount of history is presented through commentary and music. The show is presented after sunset, first in Hindi and then English with tickets priced at Rs. 10 and Rs. 20 respectively. Timings vary from summer to winter.