The Red Fort is a large complex in the centre Old Delhi, and for 200 years, until 1857, was the main residence of the Mughal emperors. In addition to accommodating the emperors and their households, it was the ceremonial and political centre of the Mughal state and the setting for events critically impacting the region. Sadly, the Red Fort today is not what it was once was. The fort was plundered of its artwork and jewels during Nadir Shah’s invasion of the Mughal Empire in 1747. Most of the fort’s precious marble structures were subsequently destroyed by the British following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The fort’s defensive walls were largely spared, and the fortress was subsequently used as a garrison. The Red Fort was also the site where the British put the last Mughal Emperor on trial before exiling him to Rangoon in 1858.
As we walked up to the entrance I was drawn to a couple of things, the first being the many stray dogs hanging around and secondly the ramshackle framework that was being used by the men working on the renovation of the walls. These were not the solid-looking metal scaffolding that are used by workmen in the US and Europe but were instead were made from bamboo (which to be fair is very strong) and lashed with rope. I can only imagine what health and safety would say if you tried to suggest using this type of framework on a building site back home.
Feral dogs can be seen everywhere and seem to be tolerated, if not revered, by the locals, who feed them tidbits. It is a part of the culture to give scraps to the feral animals, because when you pass into the afterlife these kindnesses will be rewarded. Apparently, there are some 30 million feral dogs in India, which is all well and good, but 20,000 people die each year from rabies, which means that 35% of human deaths from rabies happen in India. Sounds like a problem! On the other hand, cats are thought to be unlucky, by some, so you don’t see so many of those around.
Security at the Red Fort was tight, evidenced by the many armed soldiers and armored vehicle on the approach to the entrance. The reason for this level of security is the fact the Red Fort is an active military base and reflects the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan – terrorist attacks in India are sadly too common. At the entrance two lines formed; one for men and one for women. The men have to climb on to a platform where you get to be frisked by a gruff soldier, whilst the ladies, to protect their modesty, get to stand behind a curtain, where they are frisked by an equally gruff female soldier.
Once inside you get to appreciate the scale of the complex, with elegant gardens and numerous stately buildings. Sadly, many of the original structures were demolished by the British and replaced with barracks buildings. What remains of the original Mughal buildings are the imperial apartments, consisting of a row of pavilions connected by a water channel known as the “Stream of Paradise!” These buildings had been allowed to fall into a bad state of repair, but the government has stepped into refurbish them. Unfortunately, they are closed to visitors, so we could only stand and admire them from the outside.