Asia · Five Month Trip · India · Travel

A Surreal Trip to Delhi’s Red Fort (Lil Quila)

In the Old Delhi district of Chandni Chowk stands a vast red wall surrounding one of Delhi’s most popular tourist hot spots, Delhi’s Red Fort. We decided to visit on our first full day in India.

Delhi’s Red Fort

Delhi’s Red Fort, (Lal Quila) was the home of the Mughal emperors from 1639 to 1857, It was the centre of the Mughal empire until the British Raj put the last emperor to trial and exiled him. The architecture shows hints of the entire sub-continent; Hindu, Persian and Islamic. After the British moved in, they used it as a garrison and built their own buildings in there too. They also destroyed many of the original structures, stripping the ones they left of their valuables. They did, however, save the gardens and these green spaces are still very lovely despite the water features being left to ruin.

The Red Fort from the front.
The Red Fort from the front.

Visitors enter through the Lahore Gate on the fort’s Western side. There is two-tier pricing, something common to most Indian sights. Indian nationals pay far less than foreign visitors. Once you have paid the entrance fee, you pass through the covered bazaar, now full of tourist tat, and come out into the fort proper.

The Girls

Through the gates, we started to meander down the central main path. I noticed a couple of girls walking past us and smiling in our direction.

“Everyone in India is so friendly.”, I mused. Karl smiled wryly

“Well if you like that, you’ll love this. Turn around”.

I looked behind me and saw a group of girls in their teens gathering, giggling and whispering. The group had very dark complexions and so we guessed that were tourists from South India, not so used to the hoards of British backpackers and bucket-listers making their way around India’s golden triangle every day.

We decided to try and avoid the attention and so we peeled off to the right to look at an exhibition of children’s artwork housed in a small building.

The Exhibition

The exhibition space was cramped, hot and incredibly humid; a thoroughly unpleasant place to be sardined into. The school girls didn’t seem to mind. Into this room they squeezed; all of them. They didn’t so much as glance at the art work lining the walls but kept their gazes firmly on Karl and I. We had to take pigeon steps due to the crush and so it took five whole minutes to edge our way around. By the time we forced ourselves out, we were gasping for fresh air.

Quickly, we made our way down to look at a carving. We stopped to look at the intricate work and marvel at the sun-baked preservation. It was then that I felt a small tug at the back of my head. Someone was stroking my hair. It was the bravest of the school girls. As I turned to see what was happening she quickly withdrew her hand and then gave me a small head wobble as if to say “It was only a quick rub!”.


The Photos

I must admit, this freaked me out a little bit. My hair isn’t that special, in fact, its tendency to go a bit ginger in winter means that I can either love it, or loath it from day to day. I smiled at the girl but tugged Karl away subtly.

We realised, the slow chase had meant we failed to take any photos so when we stepped through a large nicely carved gate, we paused to take a quick photo. At least, that was the idea. Instead, the school group emerged and so began a seriously awkward photo shoot. People joined in, people who would never see the photos but could now tell people that they did.

Rosie talks to the school girls
How can you say no to those faces!

It was like being a celebrity, but with discernible talent. Maybe this is what Big Brother contestants feel like!? A lady even tried to give me her baby to hold. I had never held a baby and the idea of dropping one that I was just borrowing filled me with apprehension, so I encouraged her to join in the photos too.

Rosie is surrounded by people
Random baby comes in!

The Boys

We made our excuses and moved off. As we slowly wandered around the ruins of the main area towards the back of the fort I noticed a couple of teenage boys filming up and trying to be subtle. I stuck my tongue out and moved in the opposite direction.

Emperor's residence, Red Fort, Delhi
The emperor’s residence with a corner of hammam in the background.

I still hadn’t quite grasped the scale of what was going on. We sat in the gardens at the back of the palace for a rest. Slowly, behind us, teenage boys started to congregate. It was like a scene from The Birds. Camera phones in hand, they snapped away without the slightest embarrassment. I didn’t really know what to do. Should I tell them to stop, soak up the attention or just move away? I decided to let it whoosh over my head. It was so hot, and what would I gain from trying to run away?

A smiling boy
This is one of the guys that was filming me, I decided to snap him back.
A man takes a photo of us
Another chap taking photos of us so I snapped him back too. Shamelessly, this guy came closer after this too.

The Hypocrite

I was just as bad in the end. We walked behind a baby that made me smile as she couldn’t take her eyes off Karl and I. I took my turn and grabbed a sneaky photo.

Indian baby stares at us.
Look at that fascinated and fascinating face!

“Just one photo”, was probably our catchphrase from our time in India. People asked us for photos several times a day. I sometimes marvel at how many mantelpieces around the subcontinent must have a picture of an Indian family smiling away with two slightly confused, bright white strangers in the middle.

And with that thought, I leave you with a chipmunk, a complete stranger that lives in my photo album…

Rosie xx

24 thoughts on “A Surreal Trip to Delhi’s Red Fort (Lil Quila)

  1. Haha, although I’m from the UK, my family are from India so I’ve been there a lot over the years & have heard so many similar stories to this! If you’re blonde especially, then you will (& you obviously did!) have huge appeal with locala when it comes to photography!

  2. I can imagine that it can get uncomfortable to be stared at, chased and photographed just because of how you look. I’m not sure how I would react. I’m brunette, so I’ve never been in that situation. I guess I can blend in easily in most places…

    1. I realised very quickly that it wasn’t ever a malicious thing and so I didn’t mind it afte a few days. I suppose that we were going around taking photos with just as much curiosity as they were. I now work in a job with a bright red uniform and so I get it all the time here too. It’s like when you are out in public wearing fancy but you feel very self-aware.

  3. Haha, I remember the pictures from when we were in India. “Ek photo ma’am!” was the phrase of our trip there. We went to the Gandhi Memorial and were mobbed by school children also visiting the monument at the same time. It was sort of fun being a celebrity. I also held multiple babies!

    1. It made me realise how it must be for celebrities. It was pretty exhausting in the heat sometimes but it was great to have o a photo with a random stranger every so often, it made our day and theirs. I never got the hang of the baby thing though, I still haven’t and I’m 30 now!

  4. So far, I have never been to a place where my appearance would draw so much attention 🙂 Perhaps, because I’m a brunette… Anyway, nice post and fun to read.

  5. I used to have blue hair that made traveling so much fun. People would always stop me to ask about it and take pictures. Its funny how we can visit these amazing places and then somehow become the main attraction! At least you got a funny story out of it!

    1. I swung wildly between hating it at first, to enjoying it, to being tired of it, to enjoying it again. This happened almost daily. It really gives you an insight into the world of celebrities, it’s exhausting 🙂 Next time, I think glamming it up is the way to go!

  6. Wow, that awkward photoshoot. I don’t think that’s ever happen to me. Well, on that grande of a scale anyways. Photo-shooting aside, it looks like a lovely place to visit, and at least you’ll have a lot of fun stories to tell 🙂

    1. Oh it was very cool and I might have thought it even more so had I not been so interested in what was going on around me. I’ve since enjoyed many an awkward photoshoot but they are much more fun now I know what’s going on. You’ll have to find a random bunch of school kids and shout “selfie”!

  7. I had purple and blue highlights when I traveled through Indonesia and this happened allll the time. At first it was weird, but everyone was so friendly about it. Shaking my hand, touching their hearts, and trying to speak what little english they knew to me (I got a lot of “Merry Christmas!”…in September). Fortunately I speak Indonesian so it was easy to communicate. That actually quite a few home cooked meals during my stay!

    1. Aww that’s fantastic. How you maintain your cool hair whilst you were travelling!? We had a lot of football teams shouted at us when we wre in Indonesia. It’s fun to talk when you both have no idea what the other person is saying 🙂

  8. I have blond hair and found the same photo fascination while I was in Egypt. My brother’s family lived in India for a year as an Expat and they have 2 blond haired kids. They learned to embrace this reality so it didn’t damper their experience. If you are prepared for this in advance, it helps. It’s a wonderful country!

    1. It took me a few days to get into the swing of things (in 2009, I had never travelled East from the UK) but once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed being invited into people’s family photos. I still wonder if I am on anyone’s wall from “the time we went to …… and met this blonde lady”. It is now in my top three countries and I am always after an excuse to go back.

  9. What a fascinating place! And I’m laughing at the girls wanting pics with you. I have a blonde 5 year old who is basically a walking tourist attraction whenever we are in Asia!

    1. Haha, I used to be that little blonde thing. Even in Italy my cheeks were red from always being pinched by little old ladies. I bet she gets you out of lots of scrapes when you are travelling!?

  10. Wow that fort looks amazing for how old it is! It’s fantastic that it’s been maintained so people could continue to visit it. Truly a historic treasure.

  11. I live in Delhi and have been to Lal Quila several times. Apart from the beautiful architecture and the history, the streets around this monument are filled with some amazing food joints!
    Nice post! 🙂
    The photo struggle is real, I have seen it happen once!

    1. Last time we were in Delhi, we were busy visiting new things that we had never seen before. i will definitely consider returning to area for the street food though. I have recently discovered a love of pani puri! These days, I give everyone a smile and get on with my trip. (I’ll jump into the odd family photo if asked nicely too hehe)

  12. I had never heard of this wall before, Rosie. Looks like something worth visiting. Kind of funny that the people were so amused by you and taking your photo. Deff something to consider when traveling in foreign countries!

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