Founded by Muhammed Aurangzeb Alamghir, the 6th Moghul Emperor in 1673. One of the, if not the largest mosques in the world in terms of area, it can reputedly hold 100,000 worshippers in its 529 square metre courtyard. Built yet again in red sandstone, its embellishment has Indo-Greek, Central Asian and Indian architectural influences and perhaps its most striking feature is the line of 3 massive onion domes reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, they were fantastic. The normal format of 4 side gateways could not be adopted due to the neighbouring river so to keep symmetry only 2 were built.
In its time it has been damaged and desecrated many times, the Brits even used it as a barracks before returning it to the muslims. That was only after they had knocked down one side of it so that it couldnt be used as a fort against them though! I grew tired of tenacious guides and ended up playing the dumb Frenchman to ward them off, leaving one persistent chancer perplexed that I didnt speak English. Otherwise a very relaxing spot to wander around.
The origin of the fort is obscure, attributed to the "Epic Age", 1200-800BC. Certainly it was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols, rebuilt and then destroyed a second time a century later. Moghul Emperor Akbar rebuilt the present brick structure around 1566 and it has been regularly added to since, indeed the outer walls and moat were not built until circa 1800. Similarly to the neighbouring mosque, the Brits moved in in 1846 and stayed until 1927 whereupon it was instituted as the ancient archaeological site it is today. Typically, they again defortified it partially so that it couldnt be used to effect against them. I entered through the impressive peach coloured Alamgiri Gate, wide enough to allow passage of several elephant in unison, and then up the "elephant path" ramp which leads into a very large open park area, so large that you dont even feel as though you are enclosed within the walls. The Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) is now stark and in poor repair, built by Shah Jahan of Taj Mahal fame in 1644 as his personal family place of worship. He also added the nearby Diwan-i Aam, a Hall of Public Audience where he would appear daily and receive visitors.
Next was a series of small but impressive museums which contained delicate paintings of court scenes and figures, an armoury, a now obviously surplus bronze statue of King George V and many landscapes paintings of battle scenes. These seemed to show a history of the Sikh Wars with the Battles of Moodkee and Ferozshah, Dec. 1845, the ensuing Battle of Aliwal in jan. 1846. Then the Battles of Ramnagur, Nov. 1848 and Battle of Goojerat (Gujerat) in Feb.1849. Finally the Battle of Chillienwallah in 1849 with another of the Storming of Mooltan (Multan) 2 weeks earlier. Each one perhaps predictably portrayed the Brits in the main, lots of cavalry and cannon fire. It was here that I saw for the first time ever moulds for the production of cannon balls and musket shot, both like large tongs resembling nutcrackers which opened up to reveal the newly set ordnance. Finally a stuffed horse, presumably an emperors favourite, was preserved in decorative gear. Upon leaving you could descend down the "elephant stairs", a shorter alternative to the path, broad steps whose surrounds had been brightly painted in red and yellow, broad and shallow for the mounts to negotiate.
The traffic encountered outside was the worst I had had to endure anywhere so far, very noisy, polluting and hectic. I came close to injury several times and was hurt once as I got crushed between vehicles in the melee. A shared autorickshaw was another first, a different format with 3 forward facing seats, 3 rearward facing, and the guy up front unshrouded like on a normal motorbike. That evening I found the renowned "Food Street" with the Spano-Swiss chic I had been keeping company, we had a rare change in very large Roe fish, spicy as ever. It felt almost Mediterranean in the table lined pedestrian promenade surrounded by buildings of neglected grandeur. Even a Hindu temple here was unidentifaible from the street, an innocuous staircase led up to the classic form of an angular stupa where 7 families now lived instead. It was here that I also tried another unusual food offering for the first time, though the name escaped me it was basically a small concoction of spices, herbs and a little coconut all wrapped up together in a leaf. Though perhaps intended as a breath freshener it had the taste and texture of gritty toothpaste and much though I tried not to I had to spit it out in the end. Maybe thats the effect that eating nothing but spice does to your palate, the locals obviously considered them a treat.
The next day I had a very slow and frustrating net session where at least I managed to check the security situation up in Peshawar, important since there had been a major military operation in nearby North Waziristan against Al Qaeda/Taliban forces. Cynics couldnt help remarking perhaps with some justification that after months of inactivity, it just happened to immediately precede Hillary Clinton's visit. The Pakistani's had to be seen to be doing something in the war against terror yet were most probably the source and/or supporters of half of it. I got my train ticket to Peshawar booked in due course with Matt, a young Ozzie guy from Hobart and Swedish Alex tagging along for company.