India & Sri Lanka - Fall 2013 travel blog

restored section

Red Fort

Red Fort

Red Fort

Red Fort

close up

parakeet visitor

Red Fort

birds at sunrise

birds

birds

hotel

hotel view of the ocean


This morning I had a bit of a lie in to recharge my batteries while Ken joined the avid birders in a dawn visit to Keoladeo National Park. Today this park is a bird sanctuary, but it used to belong to the rajahs who used the park as a hunting preserve. According to the sign in the park on November 12, 1938 Lord Linlithgow came with a hunting party holding 39 guns and killed 3,044 birds in the morning and 1,229 more in the afternoon. It’s a wonder there are any birds left.

Then we drove on to Agra to visit the Red Fort, one of three built under Mughal rule. In the 16th century Northern India had been mainly under Muslim rule until it was conquered by the superior skills of the Mughals, who claimed descent from Genghis Khan. Like the Romans before them, they provided a balanced approach to the people they conquered, allowing them to keep many of their previous customs and practices under the first few rulers. However, the lesser officials were not as enlightened and took everything they could from the peasants. When they died their wealth would revert to the emperor. You can imagine that resentment would grow over time.

When Akbar ascended to the throne at the age of 14 in 1556, he went on to rule almost fifty years and received ambassadors from Elizabeth England and Jesuit priests from Portugal. His policy of religious tolerance brought him the loyalty of the Hindus which had not been the case for his forbears. He had 300 wives and 5,000 concubines. He began to build the Red Fort in his capital city of Agra, which was named by the British for the color of the sandstone that was used to build it.

Today the immense fort has survived in surprisingly good condition. In addition to the military buildings one would expect in a fort, the part we toured felt more like a palace. The British tried to restore some of the inlay work in the ceiling and ran out of money and time after only doing a small corner. A mosque on the grounds contains the remains of the saint who predicted the birth of Akbar's long awaited son (despite the 300 wives this had been a concern.) The covered bazaar to the audience hall still contains the platform that held the gem studded peacock throne. One huge building was Akbar’s bedroom; another belonged to his wife(s). His mausoleum is also on the grounds.

After the fall of the Mughals, much of the red fort was looted, and you have to imagine the embroidered textiles, silver vessels, and jade bowls that are portrayed on the miniature paintings court artists made that give us an idea of how opulent their lives used to be. The moat which used to contain crocodiles is now a covered over street. We also had to imagine the Taj Mahal, which would have been viewable from the fort if only the haze and pollution had been less. Maybe tomorrow.

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