The Lal Quila which translates to ‘Red Fort’ is a 15th Century fortress situated in Old Delhi opposite Begum Samru’s Palace built in 1806 known today as Bhagirath Palace was constructed under the orders of Mughal Emperor ShahJahan which also served as the Capital of the Mughal Empire up till 1857. It houses many monuments within its precincts and is one of the most popular tourists spot in Delhi and deemed in 2007 as a UNESCO World Heritage Complex.
Diwan-i-Aam or the ‘Hall of Public audience’ is situated beyond the Lahore Gate in a large open area that once served as a courtyard of this Hall. This Palatial Hall is seen with a large pavilion with an ornamental throne balcony with Jharokhas placed at the centre of the hall for the Emperor and also has a gold and silver painted railing in front of it that separates the Emperor from the audience where the King would host a grand Imperial public audience attended by all courtiers. It was this hall that the Sikhs had briefly occupied on 11th March 1783.
Diwan-i-Khas is another beautifully ornate Hall known as the ‘Hall of Private audience’ covered with polished marble. The pillars of the pavilion are seen decorated and carved with floral designs and the walls inlaid with semi precious stones. This Hall was mainly used as a private chamber by the Emperor where he would host private parties and meetings with the Royalties of other states. The private apartment of the Emperor is situated behind the Imperial Throne and lies on the eastern edge of the fort lined with a row of pavilions that sits on a raised platform overlooking the Yamuna River.
Nahr-i-Behisht or the ‘Water Stream of Paradise’ is a long stretch of water channel that flows right through the centre of the pavilions lined across the private chamber of the Emperor and are interconnected with each other and hence the name was derived. The water is literally sucked from the Holy Yamuna River into these channels through a Tower named Shah Burj which means the ‘Imperial Tower’ that lies on the north-eastern corner of the Lal Qila. This Palace was in fact designed to create a paradise like haven as described in the Holy Book ‘Quran’ which has a couplet that is seen repeatedly inscribed in the walls of this Palace that reads that if there is a paradise on earth then it is here. These pavilions also display various elements of Hindu designs that greatly influence the Mughal architecture and hence this Palace is regarded as one of the best monuments that showcase a blend of Indian and Mughal imprints in its designs.
Zenanas are private chambers located on the two southern most pavilions of the Palace used by the Royal ladies with the larger one named as ‘Rang Mahal’ which is lavishly decorated with intricate carvings on its ceilings and homes a ‘Hammam’ bath or Marble pool bath that feeds water from the ‘Nahr-i-Behisht’ and used by the Royal Ladies especially during the hot summer months while the other Zenana is called the ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ which is also beautifully decorated and used by the Royal Ladies for resting and relaxation which has currently been converted into a Museum.
The Moti Masjid which means the ‘Pearl Mosque’ lies on the western end of the Hammam bath which was added later in 1659 by Emperor Aurangzeb as his private mosque to be used for his special prayer sessions on Fridays. This mosque shines like a pearl especially during full moon nights and hence the name was derived. Though small in structure, this mosque has three dome shaped roofs with a three-arched opening carved completely of pure white marble that leads directly to its courtyard which faces the Hayaat Bakhsh Bagh or the ‘Garden that bestows life’ on its northern side that is perfectly dissected into two parts by a narrow water canal with pavilions set on either side of this canal. The third pavilion at the centre of the water channel that connects the other two canals was added later by the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II in 1842.
The lal qila does promote its grandness through these monumental delights that once gave refuge to more than 3000 people during the Uprising of 1857. The residence Palaces within this fort was unfortunately damaged by the British who demolished them to create their Army headquarters here. Later, the trial of the last Mughal Emperor Zafar II was held here from where he was deported to Rangoon on exile to die with no honour. This fort also saw the court martial of three Indian Officers of the National Army in 1945 and post independence in 1947, the Indian Military took control of the Lal Quila and handed it over to the Delhi Tourism Board on December 2003 which was then converted into one of the most spectacular and the largest tourist site in Delhi.
The Lahore Gate entrance point leads you through a small shopping arcade selling craft work and jewelleries while the Indian War Memorial Museum can be visited in close proximity which houses paintings of Indian martyrs and other war memorabilia while the Archaeological Museum also lies within a close reach.
Every evening the historical tales of the bygone era is narrated along with a light and sound show. Many might notice the Monuments in a fairly reasonable condition but unfortunately, the pathways are seen in a crumbled condition and the most of the marble flooring seem to have been looted by thieves while a few of their decorative features remain intact. For these reasons, the Hammam bath and the Moti Masjid remain closed to public view; however, one can take peek into their interiors from the outside. Public conveniences are available at the entrance of the Fort and inside and a small restaurant is also seen in a functional state. Visiting hours are between 1000 hours and 1600 hours with entry fee of Rs. 5/- per person for Indians and Rs. 100/- per person for Foreign Nationalities. Extra charges of Rs. 25/- is levied for video and camera usage per person.