An alternate view | Red Fort, Delhi

The first point to be ‘ticked’ off the list when a traveler visits Delhi is usually the Red Fort, the beautiful red-sandstone-and-marble citadel built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1648 AD. Though not much of its splendor remains, visitors are still touched by the imagined beauty of the palaces where Mughal life once thrived. The fort underwent many changes after the British overthrew the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar after the Revolt of 1857…to the extent that royal pavilions, chambers, and gardens had been altogether removed and replaced by barracks occupied first by the British officials and later- after independence- by the Indian army. It was only as late as 2003 that these barracks were vacated and the fort started to be developed exclusively for tourism purposes.

Today, unfortunately, the palaces within the fort are cordoned off with thick ropes to keep visitors from entering the inner chambers. So all you can really do is peek around the ropes and try to get a glimpse of what once was a marble palace encrusted with jewels and gilded to perfection.

But hold on! There’s more to this gorgeous fort than meets the eye! The path designated for visitors will usually take you through the Lahore Gate, Chhatta Chowk or Meena Bazaar, Naqqar Khana, Diwan-e-Aam, and then on to the inner palaces. But there are treasures galore in every corner of this citadel…and like any medieval period fort it has its share of mysteries, intrigues and bloody stories. Secret entrances to the fort, escape tunnels supposedly leading all the way to Agra, old prisons and step-wells are only a few of its well-guarded treasures. Who knows what else lies buried within the layers of dust and years?

So when I went there with my intrepid friend (let’s just call her F for now) on an early morning last week, we tried to explore the paths NOT meant for the tourists. Of course we were met by guards at every corner- some angry, some amused- but all of them telling us how we were not allowed to be there. But a bit of slyness, another dose of coyness, and of course a big portion of impudence, did the trick.

F and I ventured to the roof of the Meena Bazaar and saw the back of the famous Red Fort rampart where the Indian tricolor is unfurled, until some dogs barked so ferociously that guards appeared out of nowhere and ousted us from the roof.

Next we escaped some guards to take a good look at the pre-Mughal baoli (step-well), whose cells actually imprisoned some of the leaders of the 1857 Mutiny.

Then on we went to the little known Salimgarh fort at the corner of the Red Fort, a smaller fort built by Sher Shah’s son during a brief hiatus in the Mughal rule when the Surs had seized power. Going to Salimgarh was very much permitted, but once inside, when we saw all that remains are British barracks and jails housing museums, we decided to look around further inside. A guard stopped us on our tracks and pleaded when we argued, ‘Madam kachhe baniyan mein rehte hain wahan pe, please mat jayiye’ Β (apparently the buildings house private security guards nowadays, and to go into their domain would be to risk seeing them in undergarments! Of course 2 women should not be allowed to do that!).

From the bridge connecting the Red Fort to Salimgarh, we saw an almost beautiful view of the Inner Ring Road, where the river Yamuna once flowed. From the foot-over bridge inside the smaller fort, we looked down on the thoughtlessly-created railway line that cuts through the fort with zero respect for heritage conservation.

Back in the main Red Fort complex, we got into trouble once again for approaching too near the Shah Burj, a corner pavilion where the king sat once upon a time. Visitors today are not allowed a glimpse of either of the corner bastions, cordoned as they are by thick ropes. Sigh!

Here are a few pictures of our escapades at the Red Fort. I am sure there would have been many more if the world did not have as many security guards and ropes cordoning away parts of our history from us! But it is what it is…

The Meena Bazaar or Chhatta Chowk in the early morning….shutters still closed
An opening in the bazaar, for sunlight to pour in. Roaming around here gave us the idea… how about getting on to the roof somehow?
An open door, unguarded! Shall we quickly scamper in? (Thanks to one of the shopkeepers for the advice)
Laterally inverted! The ramparts from which the Indian flag is unfurled, as seen (surreptitiously) from the roof of the Chhatta Chowk.
One of the bastions, guarded so fiercely by dogs that we had to hurriedly turn away
Instead of walking straight on towards the fort palaces, we veer left towards British barracks, an old baoli, and little-known Salimgarh Fort
An old pre-Mughal baoli (step-well) where visitors are not permitted (unless they are sly and hell bent πŸ˜› )
Colonial mansions inside the Red Fort abound…built after removing Mughal buildings and gardens
The bridge connecting the Red fort with an older fort- Salimgarh (built by Sher Shah’s son Salim Shah in 1546 AD)
Foot over bridge to Salimgarh fort
Train from Ghaziabad. This railway line, built during British rule, truncates the Salimgarh fort and grazes along the Red Fort- a rather thoughtless initiative I think
Inside Salimgarh…nothing but British barracks now housing security personnel and some museums
Remains of a mosque- blown open during the mutiny of 1857?
Jail that imprisoned the mutineers
A view of the Inner Ring Road from the fort
Back inside the Red Fort…one of the beautiful garden pavilions built by the Mughals
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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Naushirvan says:

    it is really very frustrating that such a large portion of what remains of the Red Fort is out of bounds for visitors. I believe acts of vandalism may have had a part to play . The baoli within is quite well-preserved- a state it owes to the fact that the general public is not allowed anywhere near it ( except for those courageous members of the public who would brave the hounds of hell were they to prove an impediment to their plans). Readily-accessible step-wells have had a record of turning into mucky pools of plastic bottles,trash and dead animals. This is a very surprising and ultimately harmful trend- when confronted with a beautifully designed, historical source of water, most people choose to use it as a garbage bin.
    As William Dalrymple notes in his book, the hideous,gray barracks erected by the British seem to be cared for, whereas the actual (surviving) buildings of the Red Fort are in a state of neglect.

    1. wanderfool says:

      Yes, I do understand that….but I wish the ‘authorities’ would realize that they are punishing us wrongly for acts of vandalism done by a few mischief mongers. Our heritage is ours, it should not be cordoned away from us! Of course if people were a little more sensitive, none of this would happen in the first place.

  2. I wish you success in this .

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks a lot Daoud, means a lot to me!

  3. Emm says:

    Lovely pictures:)

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thank you very much! Glad you enjoyed them, Emm.

  4. mj says:

    These are great pics… and a refreshing view of a monument Delhi walks over and through every day without paying heed… thanks for sharing this. Lovely!

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks very much, mj. Glad you enjoyed it, and welcome to this blog πŸ™‚

    1. wanderfool says:

      Zee Ke…do try it sometime πŸ˜‰

  5. saurabh says:

    great work done. thanks for revealing this part of red fort.

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks Saurabh πŸ™‚ Was great fun exploring it this way!

  6. surya says:

    well done

  7. Awesome Dear. Thanks for the great info…

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks Amit….I don’t maintain this blog any more but receiving such comments from readers and fellow travellers still means a lot πŸ™‚

  8. Shahab Kabeer says:

    Amazing images from Red fort i never seen when i born in Delhi.

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