Red Fort

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This is one of the highlights of a trip to Delhi and on most tourists’ tick list.

There was very tight security at the Red Fort, with two separate queues for men and women. We were frisked for knives and our bumbags inspected for knives, food etc.

It was hot and busy inside especially round the main buildings with people lying on the grass in the gardens.

Entry is through the Lahore Gate, an imposing gateway flanked with semi octagonal towers. A Sandstone bastion was added later to make it more difficult for the enemy to enter the fort. The windows in the tower were filled in with sandstone during 1980s as there were concerns they could be used by snipers trying to shoot the prime minister during the Independence Day speech. After Independence many political speeches were given by Nehru and Indira Gandhi to crowds on the open grassed area outside. On Independence Day (15 August) each year, the prime minister raises the India Flag on the Lahore Gate and addresses a huge crowd.

The Lahore Gate led into the covered Chatta Chowk, a vaulted arcade. Originally there would have been shops selling silks, jewellery, gems and silver ware to the Mughal courtiers and noble families. There were tea shops where nobles met to discuss court gossip and news. On Thursdays, the gates were closed to men and only women were allowed inside. The Meena Bazaar was staffed by women and sold goods to the ladies of the court. Now it is full of high class gift shops.

The Naubat Khana, (Drum Tower) faces Chatta Chowk. This is a large gateway with four floors. Everyone except the royal family had to dismount and leave horses or elephants here and walk. Ceremonial music announced the arrival of princes or other royalty. The front of the building is plain as the decoration was removed to hide bullet damage during the mutiny. The back is still beautifully carved with flowers. Inside you can still see the decorative panels of trees and flowers on the walls.

Diwam-i-Am (Hall of Public Audiences) faces the Drum Tower. This was as far into the palace as most nobles went. It is a long low building with slender carved pillars made of red sandstone, which originally was hidden by a thin layer of white plaster decorated with floral motifs. This was made by grinding white marble and was an elaborate mixture of lime, gum, bael fruit and marble dust called lime panni. There is a suggestion that the British stopped using traditional masons to save money.

The pietra dura throne on a platform in an alcove could be seen from all over hall. Originally there would have been marble panels inlaid with precious stones but these were looted following the Uprising. The Emperor sat here to carry out official and domestic duties. He heard reports from the provinces, tax and revenue matters and had official appointments. The Chief Minister sat below the emperor and listened to complaints or disputes from the people and relayed them to the emperor. Sentences were brutal but swift – often carried out on spot.

Behind the Diwan-i-Am was the private part of the fort with small palaces, gardens with pavilions and the now dry stream.

Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences) is white marble, topped by small chhatris (small domed canopies). At the centre was the the Peacock Throne which was made of solid gold with peacocks made from precious stones. This was taken to Persia in 1739 and all that remains is the marble pedestal. It is still an impressive building with white marble pillars covered with pietra dura decoration. The precious stones, gold, silver and enamelled paint were stripped by the Persians when they stole the marble throne. Traces of the original can still be seen and parts have been restored.

The Hamman (Bathhouses) and Moti Masjid are kept closed as they still have some original decorations.

The Rang Mahal (Women’s Quarters) can only be viewed from the outside and is patrolled by guards who get very upset if anyone tries to enter. The remains of the mirrors which decorated the walls and ceilings can still be seen. The Stream of Paradise originally flowed along the length of the building, helping to cool it. In the centre is a beautifully carved lotus flower which would have been surrounded by ivory fountains. Marble jali screens ensured privacy.

We went for a walk through the Life Bestowing Gardens.These were landscaped with pavilions, fountains and watercourses dividing the garden into square areas. The pavilions are now ruined and the pietra dura has been robbed of its precious stones. The water courses are dry and the area is grass and trees. The huge barrack blocks which housed British soldiers can still be seen.

There are plans to restore three buildings, the Naubat Khana (main gateway to the royal audience hall), the Hamman and Rang Mahal to their original colour using Mughal lime plaster Mughal lime plaster which was used by the Mughal rulers as it gave a smooth finish which feels like marble to the touch.

This was a fascinating visit and we were pleased we allocated a couple of hours for it. You could easily spend half a day here. We had a guide with us, although there is so much information on the internet, this isn’t really needed. However it would be useful to have a car and driver.

Our pictures of the Red Fort begin here.

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