The house of royalty in all its splendour

India’s symbol of Independence and Delhi’s pride – the Red Fort – has recently undergone a significant amount of restoration. The Archaeological Survey of India has successfully restored the arched cells just above the legendary Meena Bazaar to their original form.

A few months back, the Delhi Gate of the fort got a much-needed face-lift after tonnes of malba dumped at its feet by the British was removed. And, work at the Zafar Mahal and fountains at the beautiful Hayat Baksh Bagh is in full progress. There is much to be discovered at the 17th century palace complex now in its new shining avatar.

It is difficult to tell at first glance that there is something amiss with Lahori Gate – the imposing structure with seven bulbous domes and flag aflutter, which forms the standing image of the fort itself. However, on closer inspection, you will see that the large windows of the gate have been closed on purpose. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb blocked them with red sandstone to make the gate further impregnable to which his father Shahjahan famously reacted: “You have put a veil across the face of a beautiful woman.” While unblocking the Lahori Gate is a task next to impossible now, the arched cells at its entrance certainly deserved to be restored to their original beauty and health.

The 32-arched cells stand above the grand Meena Bazaar – a weekly market that was held exclusively for the royal women – and even now serves the tourists visiting Red Fort with souvenirs, ethnic clothing, jewellery and decorative items. It is said that the heavy Rajput-style wooden doors of Lahori Gate could not be opened by anyone but elephants. As royal men and women riding elephants would enter the fort through the gate, maids standing in the cells would shower them with rose petals.

The other gate of the fort - Delhi Gate - consists of three storeys and is decorated with square, rectangular and cusped arched panels. Red sandstone adorns the gate while the pavilion roofs are in white stone. Between the two pavilions is a screen of miniature chhatris with seven miniature marble domes, and flame-shaped battlements encompass the wall. Near it on the right, the last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was imprisoned after the 1857 Mutiny. Between the inner and outer gates stand two large stone elephants without riders. They were demolished by Aurangzeb but later rebuilt by none other than Lord Curzon.

Zafar Mahal, where Bahadur Shah Zafar spent many a peaceful days discussing poetry with the greatest poets of that time, is in a pitiful state at this time. The beautiful pool formed by Yamuna just below the mahal has been demolished and is being reconstructed. But one can be sure that it will add to the splendour of the fort when ready.  

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