Plans are best when they are un-planned :) and made at the spur of the moment! Something similar happened last weekend – one of our American friend was in Bangalore for work; and impromptu decided to visit us in Delhi. It was Sunday morning, and after a rich, heavy, and tasty Indian meal, we started our voyage for the most prominent, but probably also the most ignored national heritage site in India – THE RED FORT.
Besides the soaring mercury of over a hundred degrees, it was a fantastic trip! We parked our car about a mile away, and then took a joyful rikshaw ride to the entry gate. Joyful because it costed us just forty rupees (less than a dollar), but provided us with more than forty experiences! We saw thousands of people, lots of tourists, street-hawkers, beggars, people running after buses, trinket sellers, a short glimpse of Jama Masjid and much much more.
Anyway, once we got there – surprisingly and thankfully, we got lucky! As my friend was with me, we could skip the ‘very’ long line for tickets and go to the foreign ticket counter. It was more of less empty, and this saved us a good half hour. Not to forget to mention, there was no line to enter the red-fort; unlike about a thousand people who were waiting in line to get in when we came out. Tip 1: Go early :)
Ok, enough laundering around – now about the fort: You enter the fort from ‘Lahori Darwaza’. It’s a huge, say about 5 storey high entry point which speaks of the mughal era. Once inside the gate, you immediately hit a large market that sells trinkets and ancient articles: like itra (purest perfume made from flowers), stamps from the British era, and loads of other collectibles. And obviously, the price depends on the dress you are wearing and the language u speak ;) In other words, prepare yourself to negotiate the prices down to one-third to half of the vendor price. We did well at this! Oh, between – this place is called the Chatta Chowk.
And next, finally – u see the internals of the grand palace. Right in front of you is Naubat Khana, apparently where drums were kept and music was made (boring! – hehe, to me atleast). But, no - this single structure is currently the talk of the town – guess why? Because it is being painted white by ASI (archeological survey of India) as it believes that this was the original color of the structure under the Mughals. Where as the useless politicians or some sects of public think that its destroying the sanctity of the red color (it’s called Red Fort, remember!). Well, just like all other pointless politicized issues in India – this is just another one; so we moved on!
Then comes the Diwan-i-am. You got to understand the culture in the Mughal era a bit here – the kings usually had two courts: one where he used to hear the public pleas and was open to the general junta. The other was his special court – where only the elite and the elitest were allowed, and this is where the more critical decisions were made by the king. ‘am’ in hindi means ‘general’ – so obviously you can guess that Diwan-i-am was the public court. Pretty plain red-stone construction; however, the king’s seat was made in marble and stood out at the Diwan-i-am.
Keep walking past the Diwan-i-aam and lots of lush green gardens and then you reach the buildings at the rear end of the palace. These include Mumtaz Mahal, Rang Mahal, Diwan-i-khas (the special court), and quite a large section of the king’s personal quarters. Let’s go one by one – Mumtaz Mahal: I believe Mumtaz was either the wife of one of the kings, and/or Mumtaz was the most common name of the queens in the Mughal era! Does not matter – now the mahal is a museum, with tons of artifacts, manuscripts, letters, swords and portraits. Pretty nice experience (and its free)! The Diwan-i-khas was fantabulous – in pure marble (like most other buildings in this area), and it had a very nice architectural feel to it; plus the roofs had some kind of adornment which looked beautiful.
All this apart, now let’s come to my absolute favorite – the water system inside the palace. Both of us being engineers, my friend and I spent a lot of time to understand its construction and value to the palace. Brings us back to the hundred degrees; and add on to it - no air-conditioners. So how does the palace remain cool? Turns out that this waterway was so designed that it went through the entire palace – sometimes below the ground and sometimes visible and accessible – keeping the whole place very cool. And then, this water would be left go to irrigate the numerous gardens of the palace. Brilliant engineering!! Structures like this make me think that our predecessors were seriously ahead of us in terms of engineering :)
So well – we ended it there. There were a few places left (like the royals baths and the kings quarters), but the sun god demanded that we return back home for our next sumptuous meal!