Usually in our armchair travels the last place we visit before moving from one country to the next is the capital city. In this case I have made an exception and left the city of Agra as the last city we’ll visit in India. This is because this city is home to the fabulous Taj Mahal. Agra sits on the banks of the Yamuna River in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The Taj Mahal is one of the finest monuments ever built. In 1983 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. This world-renowned wonder at times is referred to as the epitome of love. It was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Construction was started in 1632 and completed in 1653. The lovely monument sits on the bank of the Yamuna River. There are two smaller red stone buildings, one is a mosque and one a rest house. To be able to enter the mausoleum you have to put a cloth around your feet just like for any other temple in India. It is possible to rent a piece of cloth. You can see impressive marble carvings decorated with precious and semi-precious colorful stones.
Within the Taj complex, on the western side of the garden you’ll find the small but excellent Taj Museum. On display are a number of original Mughal miniature paintings, among them a pair of 17th century ivory portraits of Emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. There are also some well-preserved gold and silver coins, architectural drawings of the Taj Mahal and some celadon plates. It is said that these plates will split into pieces or change color if the food served on them contains poison.
The Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah is a Mughal mausoleum. People also refer to it as a jewel box, Baby Taj and even a draft of the Taj Mahal. This tomb was commissioned by Jahangir’s wife Nur Jahan, for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who had been given the title Itimad-ud-Daulah or Pillar of the State. The mausoleum sits in a large cruciform garden that is criss-crossed by water courses and walkways. The walls of the mausoleum are white marble, encrusted with semi-precious stone decorations such as cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx and topaz.
In Sikandra, in the suburbs of Agra is the tomb of Akbar the Great. This is an important Mughal architectural masterpiece built between 1605 and 1613. It was Akbar himself who began the construction of the tomb, according to Tartary tradition. The South Gate of the tomb is the largest with four white marble chatri-topped minarets. The buildings were built from deep red sandstone. An inscription on the mausoleum reads: “These are the Gardens of Eden, enter them to dwell eternally”.
Mankameshwar Mandir is an ancient temple devoted to Lord Shiva. Legend says that the Shiv linga here is covered by silver metal and it was founded by Lord Shiva himself during the Dwapara era. A flight of stairs will take you down into the sanctum sanctorum. The temple complex includes several small temples.
Mehtab Bagh is a garden complex that overlooks the Agra Fort and the Yamuna River. The name of the garden means moonlight garden. It counts as one of the most scenic spots in Agra. It is one of the eleven similar gardens built by the Mughals. It was built by Emperor Babur and offers an awesome view of the Taj Mahal. The garden is a recreational complex with pools, fountains and trees.
One of India’s most historic structures and a UNESCO World Heritage site is the Agra Fort. The fort was the seat of the Mughal Empire. It took 4000 workers and eight years to build the fort. It was completed in 1573. The 94-acre fort has double ramparts with massive circular bastions. The fort is accessed through four gates. The grandest gate is Delhi Gate and was the gate for the king’s formal entry.
Take a look at the impressive Octagonal Tower which is also known as Musamman Burj. It was built by Shah Jahan and dedicated to his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The tower was built for the ladies, it has a fountain outside and a huge verandah. Unfortunately this was the place that Shah Jahn spent his last years, imprisoned by his son. From here he could gaze out and see the Taj Mahal. When he died his body was taken by boat to the Taj Mahal.
Another structure in Agra Fort is Jahangir’s Palace, where the Rajut wives lived during the rule of Akbar. It was built in a mix of Hindu and Central Asian architecture. This palace was a token of the great Mughal emperor, Akbar to his beloved son Jahangir, who later succeeded him as emperor. There is a huge bowl which is known as Hauzi-Jahangir, carved from a single stone and holds fragrant rose water.
Kinari Bazaar is a most colorful market. Here you can purchase most anything clothing, shoes, fabrics, jewelry, spices and even marble work. There are many snack stalls. Don’t be surprised to see a buffalo or a working elephant making their way through the crowds.
Soami Bagh is a huge, white marble mausoleum which houses the tomb of Sri Shiv Dayal Singh Seth, the founder of the Radhassoami Faith. It took 80 years to build. Inside you’ll find a 1904 painting that shows what the mausoleum should look like when finished, complete with a gold-latticed dome. This has become a work-in project undertaken by devotees.
Chini-ka-Rauza is the Persian-style riverside tomb of Afzal Kahn. He was a poet who served as Shah Jahan’s chief minister. The tomb was built between 1628 and 1639. It sits in a wonderful spot down an avenue of trees on the east bank of the Yamuna.
On the banks of the Yamuna River is the lovely Rambagh Garden. This was the very first garden of the Mughals that was built in India. The garden was created to entertain the Emperor’s guests and as a place where the Emperor and his loyal people could relax. The garden is popular for its design and natural setting. There are four main sections that are criss-crossed by waterways and pathways. Since it sits on the banks of the Yamuna River the garden draws its water from it. The water gets distributed throughout the park in a cascade that has been built over three terraces. You can also see some ruined houses that were built from red sandstone. The first level of the garden has flowers and vegetables, flower beds on the second and tanks and terraces on the third.
When visiting Agra take the time to visit the lovely city of Fatehput Sikri, just around 25 miles away. This city was built between 1569 and 1585 and due to lack of water was abandoned. Now visitors are starting to return to this ghost town. Here you can see ornate Mughal architecture and tour mosques, squares and palace rooms. It is advisable to rent an electronic audio guide. It is now a UNESCO Heritage site.
Visit the pearly white Moti Masjid, a holy place in Agra. It was built by Shah Jahan so that court members had a place to worship. It consists of 12 arches facing from the North, East and South. The main entrance is on the east side. The prayer chamber is ornamented with intricate designs. The sanctuary is sheltered by three bulbous-sized domes.
Relax by the lovely Keetham Lake also known as the Sur Sarovar. This is a most scenic lake in pentagonal shape. There are artificially created islands for shelter and breeding grounds for migratory birds. Here you can find over 100 species of migratory and resident birds. Some of the important aquatic birds that make their home here are: Little Gerbs, Cormorants, Darter, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Paddy Bird, Cattle Egrets, Large Egrets, Smaller Egrets, Little Egrets, Night Heron, Indian Reef Heron, Black necked Stork, white Ibis, Spon Bill, Greying Goose, Bar headed Goose, Lesser Whistling Teal, Ruddy Shelduck, Pintail, Common Teal, Spot Billed Duck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Shoveler, and Comb Duck.