City Walk – Red Fort’s Backside, Ring Road
A different perspective.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Great stories, they say, can also be told backwards, or sideways. Like the Red Fort. You must have seen the Mughal-era monument in all its red glory—the sandstone ramparts spread out along a great length of Delhi’s Netaji Subhash Marg. Now start afresh by heading to the Ring Road, behind. Launch a leisurely walk from Raj Ghat towards Kashmere Gate. Here the Lal Qila is sans its Lal. The Red Fort appears pale white.
This is back of the fort. Indeed, the Red Fort has the distinction of being the only monument in the Capital whose rear doesn’t appear like a rear at all (try that with Jama Masjid or Hauz Khas ruins). Instead, it opens up like a book that tells the same story but in a very different style.
In the old times, this side of the fort faced the Yamuna—you might have seen it in old paintings. Today the river has drifted further east and the fort has ended up facing this traffic-heavy avenue. Whatever, the much-neglected rear side offers something that the classic frontside doesn’t —a view of the innards of the fort, built by Emperor Shah Jahan as his palace when he shifted his capital to our city some 400 years ago.
The fort’s rear is bordered by Dilli Chalo Park. Named after a call raised by freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose, this place was until some decades ago the site of a footpath market selling all sorts of bargainable knick-knack.
This evening, the gates are locked and the fountains are dry. Beyond the sandstone wall in the distance, above a tall platform, a few pigeons are hovering about a white dome that used to be the emperor’s apartment, the Khas Mahal. It is flanked by his harem, the Rang Mahal. Then there’s the Diwan-e-Khas that had the peacock throne. You see all this from the Ring Road.
Walking ahead, you realise that barely anything of the Red Fort appears to be red, except the ramparts. Indeed, almost all the private apartments of the royals were built in white marble. The Lal Qila wasn’t even originally called the Lal Qila. It was Qila Mubarak, the Blessed Fort.
In the walk’s final stretches, the fort wall comes so close towards the pavement that you could almost touch the old stones. In certain places, the pathway is home to homeless men, sitting silently in their motionless postures, indifferent to the historic landmark, as if it were nothing.
The pale-white Red Fort