Though a Delhite it had never occurred to me to explore Old Delhi, having heard of it as only being ‘dirty and crowded’. And it was not until my work as a travel writer pulled me with a great fascination to any place new or unknown, that I grew excited and impatient about the idea of wanting the see and experience Purani dilli.
A most appealing opportunity came when work took me there. No need to fish out time, wait for weekends or holidays to visit it now! We got a project with the Archaeological Survey of India to publish a guidebook on Red Fort.
After mounds of research and a rough draft with all information collated, we got ready to make trips to the fort, to photograph and experience it for our self. Armed with cameras and any/every permission required, we went about capturing the fort, inside-out.
The imposing Lahori Gate
The red walls of the fort
There is a lot more to Red Fort than meets the eye. It took me at least seven (if not more) visits to the fort to be able to experience and capture it in its entirety – a general walk around the complex on day one, and thereafter a close look at all the palaces, museums, gardens and the adjoining Salimgarh fort.
Diwan-i-khas and Khas Mahal
Walking through Rang Mahal
The marble pavillion in front of Shah-Burj. The Nahr-i-Bihisht or the 'stream of paradise' that flowed through all the palaces started from the beautifully carved alcove set in the wall.
Peeking into every corner otherwise out-of-bounds for visitors, climbing on to the ramparts and exploring it by the inch, we fell in love with the fort. The romance and grandeur of the fort undoubtedly came alive with all its tales and legends that we had gathered.
Scanning through their pictures
Lace-like jaali screens in Khas Mahal
Us, taking a tea break sitting outside Naubat Khana
The eastern wall with the palace complex seen through Muthamman Burj
Gilded rich ceiling of Diwan-i-Khas, the hall of private audience
Diwan-i-Am with its multiple arches
End of it, I had visited the fort at all times of the day possible – shooting it in the early morning light, exploring the indoor spaces when the sun was overhead, walking through the gardens in the evening breeze, and seeing the little shops in Chhatta-Chowk aglow in the dark.
The domed Muthamman Burj where the emperor came out to give a public appearance every day
Ceiling in Sheesh Mahal
The colour and tinsel of shops in Chhatta-Chowk
Chhatta-chowk in the evening light
And needless to say, once we were done with our work, all visits to the fort would be accompanied by exploring some part of old Delhi! Visit to Jama Masjid, eating at Karim or Al Jawahar… shopping for silver at Dariba Kalan…rickshaw ride through the galis – the crowded, jostling Chawri bazaar, the tinsel Kinari bazaar, and Nayi sadak with its rows of stationers and bookshops…eating at Paranthewali gali and having a lassi in khullar with rose essence sprinkled on top from Kinari bazaar… aah what life!
The Red Fort project was thrilling not just because of the visits to old Delhi, but because it was to be my first design project! The first Goodearth guide that I design! And looking back I’d say designing the book wasn’t as much a task as it was to make a selection of the pictures, from the zillion we’d all ended up taking! So much for our zeal and enthusiasm!
Here is a glimpse of the pages.
The guide is available with the Archaeological Survey of India at their Janpath office. For any one remotely interested in the monument, I’d suggest you grab it, for you’d surely feel the fort coming alive for you once you’ve immersed yourself in the legends and history surrounding it!