Built by Shah Jahan, the most prolific architect and builder of the Mughal Empire, Lal Qila must have been a very modern departure from the comparatively labyrinthine Agra Fort.
Named after the red sandstone used in its construction, the Red Fort covers an area of almost 2kilometers. It was also the seat of Mughal power from the years 1639 to 1857.
Visitors enter through the three-story Lahore Gate, one of six impressive gateways; pass through Chatta Chowk, where there are quaint shops selling cheap souvenirs and arrive at the Naqqar Khana, which served as minstrel’s gallery and where the emperor’s musicians used to play.
From here you get to look up into the Diwan-I-Am, the 60-pillared “hall of public audience,” from where the good Emperor Shah Jahan used to receive and dealt with to his subjects’ queries and complaints as he sat cross-legged upon the beautifully carved throne.
Behind this is found the Rang Mahal, the royal quarters of the wives and mistresses, and the Mumtaz Mahal, probably used by a favored wife or by Princess Jahanara, who evoked such envy in her sister’s heart.
Then there is the Khas Mahal, where the emperor’s personal quarters was located. It is said that the Emperor would stand at his balcony and wave at his subjects across the River Yamuna on some days. There is also the gilded Diwan-I-Khas, where the emperor would hold court with his inner circle from the famous jewel-encrusted Peacock Throne.
Unfortunately, visitors will not be able to see this particular throne for it was taken by the Persian invader Nadir Shah in the year 1739. It remains in Iran to this day.
Finally there are the Hammams, or royal baths, where its fountains of scented rose water would put most modern day spa facilities to shame.
In front of the Hammams is the Moti Masjid, built by Shah Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb, exclusively for his own use — a far cry from the Jami Masjid his father built to celebrate the faith along with thousands of his subjects.
A few examples of beautiful carving, inlay, and gilding remain, particularly in the Diwan-I-Khas. Unfortunately, after so many years of successive plunder it takes some focus and imagination to picture the beauty of the palaces and gardens must have had in their heyday. Most of the landscaping were ruined when the British tore up the gardens and built their sterile military barracks. Incidentally, much of the Fort remain a military stronghold so some areas may be off-limits to tourists.
Tourists are advised to consider hiring a guide at the entrance, but negotiate the fee up front and don’t expect much by way of dialogue. Most guides have already memorized their spiels and may find it difficult to answer questions outside their usual tour-guide speech. If you’re staying at a slightly more upscale hotel, you may arrange a guide through the concierge.