More famous as the place where the Taj Mahal stands, Agra is 200 kms away from Delhi. Home to two other UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri besides the famous Taj; Agra also has many other buildings and tombs from the Mughal Empire.
During that time the city was the capital of the dynasty. Akbar named the city Akbarabad after himself and went on to refurbished Agra fort and built Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar’s grandson Shah Jehan built the Taj Mahal – the mausoleum of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj is constructed in white marble and took 20 years to construct, and is now known as a monument of love. Legend has it that Shah Jehan wanted a replica of the Taj constructed in black marble that would be his final resting place. Shah Jehan was, however, eventually buried in the white Taj, next to his beloved wife.
The Taj Mahal is one of the New Seven Wonders of the world, and one of the three World Heritage Sites in Agra. Agra is commonly identified as the ‘City of Taj’. The perfectly symmetrical monument is built amidst landscaped gardens.on the south bank of the River Yamuna.
It can be observed from Agra Fort from where Shah Jahan gazed at it for the last eight years of his life, a prisoner of his son Aurangzeb. Verses of the Quran are inscribed on it and at the top of the gate are twenty-two small domes, signifying the number of years the monument took to build.
The Taj Mahal was built on a marble platform that stands above a sandstone one. The most elegant dome of the Taj Mahal has a diameter of 60 feet (18 metres), and rises to a height of 80 feet (24 metres); directly under this dome is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. The interiors are decorated with fine inlay work, incorporating semi-precious stones.
The 42-acre complex includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. The Taj sees many tourists visit the structure every year with a large portion of them, foreigners.
Agra Fort also called the Red Fort is located nearby and was commissioned by Akbar in 1565, and is another of Agra’s World Heritage Sites. A stone tablet at the gate of the fort states that it had been built before 1000 but was later renovated by Akbar. The red sandstone fort was converted into a palace during Shah Jahan’s time, and reworked extensively with marble and pietra dura inlay.
Notable buildings in the fort include the Pearl Mosque or Moti Maha; the Diwani-e-Khas (halls of public and private audience), Jahangir’s Palace, Shish Mahal (mirrored palace), and the Musamman Burj. The fort is a typical example of Mughal architecture.
Around 35 kms from Agra is Fatehpur Sikri built by Akbar and is also a World Heritage Site. He wanted to make this his capital and headquarters, so he built a majestic fort; due to shortage of water, however, he had to ultimately move his headquarters to Agra Fort.
Buland Darwaza (Mighty Gate) was built by Akbar in this complex to commemorate his victory over Gujarat. It is approached by 52 steps and is 53.63 metres (175.95 feet) high and 35 metres (115 feet) wide. It is made of red and buff sandstone, decorated by carving and black and white marble inlays. An inscription on the central face of the Buland Darwāza demonstrates Akbar’s religious broadmindedness; it is a message from Jesus advising his followers not to consider this world as their permanent home.
The Jama Masjid, Tomb of Salim Chishti, Panch Mahal and Birbal’s House is also at Fatehpur Sikri. Bus services are run by the Agra Municipal Corporation. There are also auto rickshaws. But passengers need to negotiate rates and they are usually expensive.
There is a system of ‘Tempo’ which are autorickshaws that run on specific routes called out by the drivers. Tempos take around six people simultaneously and are the most economical and practical. Polluting vehicles are not allowed near the Taj Mahal, so one needs to take electric autos or tongas from a few kilometres outside the Taj Mahal.
The Mughlai food is very tasty and the Butter chicken is a must-try. The jalebis and chaat on the street are delicious. There are many types of petha available but, for the authentic experience, try either the plain one (white) or Angoori Flavored (rectangular, yellow).
There is accommodation available in the city from budget lodges to expensive five-star hotels and one can choose which suits them better. The best time to visit Agra is from November to March when the city is cool and the weather is pleasant.
Agra is not an ideal place for backpackers as the tourists flocking have made the city a commercial hub. But it is a must-visit space for those wishing to tick off a wonder of the world from their list by visiting the splendid Taj Mahal.
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