Thursday 23 May 2013

India: Return to the Red Fort

Diwan-i-Am - Red Fort, DelhiLahore Gate guards - Red Fort, DelhiA previous visit to the Red Fort in Delhi was memorable for the wrong reasons: decaying buildings, scruffy gardens, intimidating soldiers, pickpockets and shocking amounts of litter.  In 2007, a year after our visit, the fort was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2009, the Archaeological Survey of India published an impressive Comprehensive Conservation Plan which is well worth reading (click here).

Returning seven years later, my expectations might have been a little too high. Security is much tighter. The entrance is guarded by shadowy figures behind towers of sandbags covered in blue plastic and rope netting. Sleepy gun-wielding soldiers needlessly frisk the private parts of visitors before they are allowed to enter through the Lahore Gate to run the gauntlet of pashmina salesmen in the Chatta Chowk arcade. Inside the fort, more soldiers lollop among crowds of locals enjoying the afternoon sun which happened to have raised the temperature to around 47C on this particular day. Having lived in the dry heat of Oman and more recently in the humidity of Singapore, I found the conditions quite acceptable as I was able to walk more than a few paces without sweating like a garden sprinkler.

Chatta Chowk - Ref Fort, Delhi
There were signs of conservation activity. Many of the pillars in the Diwan-i-Khas, Tasbih-Khana and the Rang Mahal palaces were wrapped in scaffolding, although there did not appear to be anyone doing any work; perhaps it was their tea break. Nonetheless, it was a glimmer of hope. The litter situation had definitely improved. 

Diwan-i-Khas - Red Fort, DelhiAfter our brief thirty minutes of tourism, my colleague and I found our driver who requested that we walked several paces behind him back to the car, a strategy which might have been necessary to avoid being challenged by the authorities as an unlicensed tour guide.

On the way back to the hotel, the driver stopped off at the heavily fortified ‘Jaipur Gem Palace’, a place designed for extracting money from gullible tourists. I haggled for a pair of earrings for Mrs M but after a very long and tiring week, it was all too much for my colleague who needed to escape the constant badgering of the staff. We headed back to the hotel for much deserved showers and beers.

1 comment:

so forgetful said...

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