Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India
emblem of India's sovereignty, the Red Fort or the Lal Quila spreads across
a vast expanse of Old Delhi, reminiscent of the regal ancestry the present
India is born out of. In the eve of India's independence in 1947, from the
heart of this citadel resounded the singular voice of the nation's first
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, "..At the stroke of the midnight hour,
when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom..". And
ever since the Red Fort has been the peerless locus of the Indian Prime
Ministers' speech every Independence day.
The heritage that is Lal Quila
When Mughal emperor Shah Jehan shifted his capital from Agra in 1638, the
walled city Shah Jehanabad and the Quila were concieved. The enclosure is
peppered with the shopping arcade Meena Bazaar, the Diwan-i-Khas and the
Diwan-i-Am - the erstwhile Parliament houses, numerous palaces, Hammams or
the royal baths, Moti Masjid (the Pearl Mosque), Museums and a plethora of
ancient royal architecture befitting the Indian capital of yore. In its
premises was once the jewel-constellated Peacock Throne where the emperor of
India proudly sat and administered. A legion of plunderers, especially the
British ruthlessly swelled the Victorian heirloom with India's treasures.
The Red Fort was made the seat of India's First War of Independence of 1857,
degradingly tagged the Sepoy Mutiny by the British.
It took nine years to weave roads and residences, bazaars and mosques
enclosed in a rubble wall with 14 gates, some of which still exists. A 1.5
miles of 60-110 ft battlement wall frames the fort opening at two gates -
the Lahore Gate and the Delhi Gate. The Lahore Gate leads to the vaulted
shopping arcade called the Chatta Chowk or the Meena Bazaar where the royals
shopped every Thursday. Just above the musicians gallery or the Naubat
Khana, is the Indian War Memorial Museum that houses a priceless collection
of armours, guns, swords and other items used during the war. The large
manicured lawn houses the Diwan-i-Am and five other palaces - the Mumtaaz
Mahal (Palace of Jewels), Rang Mahal (Palace of Colors), Sheesh Mahal
(Palace of Mirrors), Khas Mahal (the emperors private rooms), Tasbih Khana
(where the emperor used to worship) and so on. The Diwan-i-Khas or the Hall
of private audience was once extolled by Persian poet, Amir Khusrau - "If
there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here". But
today, the Diwan-i-Khas is only a withered reminder of the glorious past.
The evenings at the Fort come alive with a sound and light show in both
English and Hindi, recreating the legacy of the Lal Quila. Tourists should
not miss a visit to the fort if you want to 'feel' India in a few hours.
Though it is impossible to 'feel' India in its entirety, this rapturous
brush can be considered at least an initiation.