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A real eye-opener to pre-colonial India, Red Fort – known locally as Lal Quila – is a something of a time capsule from the mid-17 th century. It was built as a home for the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty when they moved their capital from Agra to Delhi, and sure has that wow factor.
What stands out here are the signature red sandstone walls, built in a fusion of Timurid and Persian styles – they’re just beautifully preserved. The architecture was way ahead of its time, and you can spot echoes of its style cropping up around the rest of the city. And while the outside of the fort might be red, within those octagonal boundary walls a multitude of coloured buildings reveal themselves among beautiful lawns and gardens.
With the wealth of craftsmanship on display here, you really could spend all day exploring. Whichever way you turn, the luxury of an emperor’s residence is here to admire – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason. The building functions chiefly as an attraction, but every year the Prime Minister addresses the nation on Independence Day from the front of the building. In spite of the Fort’s chequered history (this was where the Brits put the last Mughal Emperor on trial before exiling him to Rangoon), its spirit of patriotism has lasted though the centuries.
The Fort is pretty incredible from the outside, but the long red walls are just the beginning. Once you’re inside, wander around the sweeping grounds and admire grand building after grand building. Marvel at paintings and engravings that remain intact, and even those that are just a shell of their original design – they’re still pretty spectacular. You will find that some buildings have been totally left as they were, while others have been transformed into museums.
Check out the new museum featuring material from 1857 – the year of India’s first war of independence – plus the Archaeological Museum and the Indian War Memorial Museum. Information plaques are dotted all over, so even without a tour guide you can get to know the history of the place fast.
The Red Fort’s historical attractions include royal apartments, beautifully crafted pavilions and white marble courts. Give yourself time to see the Diwan-E-Aam and the Diwan-E-Khas, arguably the most stunning courts. It’s also worth going to one of the Fort’s Gates – make sure you look for the life-size stone elephants guarding the Delhi Gate.
As well as admiring the amazing surroundings, you can treat your senses to a sound and light show in the evening, which gives you the lowdown on the fort’s history. Stop in at the tea house – set in a historic building – for a bite to eat or cup of masala chai. And next to the Lahori Gate, there’s a thriving market alleyway – the Chhatta Chowk – where you can barter for traditional Indian food, clothes and ornaments.
Red Fort is in the heart of Old Delhi in the city centre, easily accessible by public transport. Get the bus to the Red Fort stop, or the metro to Lal Quila, which both drop you right outside. The metro will most likely be the quicker option.
The fort is open every day except Monday, from sunrise to sunset.
Light shows are from 6pm in Hindi and then in English.
For a foreigner, a ticket costs 250 rupees to explore the whole site, and there is no camera fee. A ticket for the light show is a separate purchase and will set you back 60 rupees on a weekday and 80 rupees at the weekend. Security around the fort is quite tight, and the wait to deposit large bags can be quite long, so best to bring the bare minimum with you and skip the queues. If you’re in a mixed group, bear in mind there’s often a separate queue for men and women, and waiting times can vary.
No dress code here, as the fort’s mosque is closed to the public. Keep it respectful to the local tradition (after all, this is one of the oldest and most important buildings in Delhi), and cover those knees and shoulders.
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