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On a sultry summer day spent in exploring Old Delhi, a short walk from Red Fort offered me shade in the ruins of a fort with a difference. While Red Fort is mainstream this fort offers a riveting story in its relative anonymity. A closer look has a few surprises too! By- Ayush Khar
The unique structure marks a remarkable journey: a prison that has endured the twists and turns of history to be celebrated today as a symbol of the freedom struggle.
Located on the northeast side of the Red Fort Complex, Salimgarh Fort stands tall against the test of time. The Salimgarh Fort is covered by solid rubble masonry walls and is somewhat polygonal in shape.
Apart from the impressive architecture what makes this fort an engineering landmark is the fact that it was built on a manmade island by Islam Shah Suri, son and successor of Sher Shah Suri in 1546 AD, much before the world woke up to the age of science and reason.
This grand structure was then connected to the Red Fort by Shah Jahan, and the fort finally became a state prison during Aurangzeb’s rule. Ironically, the colonizers found merit in subjugation and continued using it as a prison.
Leaders of the Indian National Army (INA) were imprisoned here in 1945, whose memorial has been developed inside the fort. The fort has now been renamed as Swatantrata Senani Smarak (Freedom Fighters` Memorial).
Having seen the grandeur of the Suri and the Mughal dynasty and the infamous trials of INA Officers in 1945, the place boasts of a rich history that has earned it a place of respect in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Once inside the prison, it is a journey into an era of denial, deprivation and dismay. The walls of the prison rooms scream of pain. One of the few rooms inside the jail that served as the last surviving solitary confinements that supposedly housed the three INA soldiers namely Col. Prem Sahgal, Col. G.S Dhillon and Major Gen. S.N Khan (before the famous Red Fort Trials in 1945).
Aurangzeb’s daughter Zeb-Un-Nissa who was an antithesis of her father’s persona and politics was imprisoned here too. Zeb-un-Nissa was both a Sufi and a gifted poet. The Divan-i-Makhfi – a major divan – is credited to her name. Given her father’s dislike for poetry and her core DNA, he imprisoned her here until her death in the fort premises.
Legend has it that the fort is haunted by the ghosts of those enslaved. You can sense the pain as you meander along the dimly lit rooms though claims of actual moans reportedly observed by caretakers does not have any official endorsement.
The myths that shroud the fort make it a haven for those who seek a thrill in ghost hunting and take an interest in witnessing supposed paranormal activity.
The ruined mosque and the solitary jail cells combined with the lush green gardens of the Fort make it look very picturesque. The entry to the Fort is absolutely free and photography is allowed. There are no charges to it (photography) other than the ticket for entering the Red Fort premises.
All this and more makes the Salimgarh Fort a paradise for Shutterbugs who can get aesthetic shots of buildings that out date the rest of Delhi skyline.
Due to the convenient location of the fort one can easily access the famous eat-outs which serve authentic Delhi-cuisine such as Karims, Ghantewala (sweet shop), Paranthewali Gali, Natraj hotel, Chor Bizarre of Broadway Hotel, Daryaganj`s Flora, Peshwari and the Moti Mahal Restaurant making it the perfect trip for foodies as well.
Transcending eras and enduring emotions of despair, pathos and hope, Salimgarh Fort is the ultimate tribute to the spirit of freedom. For connoisseurs of art, design, architecture, history, this is a perfect date. The sheer variety of food on offer is a bonus to be enjoyed over a few fabulous clicks of history in motion.
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