On the eastern side of Chandni Chowk, close to the western banks of the Yamuni river, stands the Red Fort. Commissioned by Shah Jahan, famous for building the Taj Mahal in Agra, it was the stronghold of the Mughal emperors from the 17th to the mid 19th century. It is a fortified palace compound, surrounded by impressive walls of red sandstone, which gives it its name. In Hindustani, it is called Lal Qila, which translates to Red Fort. After leaving the hustle and noise of Chandni Chowk behind, I first walk along the wall to Delhi Gate on the south side of the fort. The moat appears green, and contrasts nicely with the deep red of the massive walls, with defensive towers at its angles. Delhi Gate is closed to the public, and I walk back to Lahore Gate, the official entrance, where I pick up my foreigner ticket.
Both Delhi and Lahore Gate can only be accessed by making a 90 degree turn; a clever way to prevent a full-out attack on the openings in the wall. After walking through Chatta Chowk, full of handicraft shops, I reach a small rotunda with flowers. Behind it, a white building appears: the Naubhat Khana. I walk through it, then reach the Diwan-i-Am, or the Hall of Public Audience, where the emperor could meet ordinary people. This has two corridors of arches resting on columns. To my dismay, I find its famous throne wrapped in plastic, and closed off to us, the common people. I stand there and wait, until the wind unveils some of the white marble with inlaid precious stones depicting flowers and birds, partly made in Florence, Italy, and completed by local workers.
From the Diwan-i-Am, I reach the eastern part of the Red Fort, and I visit the Mumtaz Mahal, which houses a small museum, and walk north. Close to one another, I find precious building here: the Rang Mahal, Khas Mahal with its finely carved marble filigree screen, and the Diwan-i-Khas. This was the Hall of Private Audience, where the emperor would address his highest nobles. It is, therefore, the finest building of the entire Red Fort, even though its masterpiece, the Peacock Throne, was taken as booty by Nadir Shah. Unfortunately, the Diwan-i-Khas cannot be entered, so I stand close to the blue rope, taking in the views of the ceiling, the columns, arches, and semi-precious stones with elegant flowers at the base of the columns. From here, the Moti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque, is just a few steps away - it was specially built as a private mosque for Aurangzeb. Behind the small mosque which is also closed, the Hayat Bakhsh Bagh gardens extend all the way to the northern part of the Red Fort. There are more richly decorated marble buildings here. The channels that were once filled with water, are dry now. The only water left in the Red Fort is the small pool in front of the Khas Mahal and Rang Mahal. Under the trees, I see many Indians taking a break, and enjoying the peaceful surroundings of the Red Fort, before heading back to Lahore Gate and the chaos of modern-day Delhi.
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