Akbar-a-baad, as first established by the Mughals, and now the historical city of Agra has risen to international fame over the years. The Taj Mahal in all its magnificence has manifested the name of Agra in the itineraries of tourists across the world. Agra houses a wonder of the world- the Taj Mahal, a monument that has been poetised by literary geniuses across centuries. Established by the Mughals, Agra is a centre of beauteous architecture and a well-planned sophisticated township. The city of Agra was first chosen to be an administrative centre of Sikandar Lodi in the year 1501. Babur, the Mughal ruler, captured Agra during his invasion of India in 1526. Agra flourished to its zenith under the rule of Babur’s later descendent Akbar. He built the glorious town of Fatehpur Sikri and made it his capital in 1585. After a brief stay at Lahore, the Mughal dynasty based itself at Agra.
Even though the later Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, shifted their capital to Delhi, he rendered Agra unforgettable by constructing the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan’s desire to commemorate his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal turned Agra into an international tourism destination. The Mughals have built numerous forts in this city. In 1760 and 1770 the Jats and the Marathas captured Agra destroyed the former splendour of Mughal architecture. Next, the British took over Agra in the year 1803 and rebuilt the worn city in their own architectural patterns. The Agra that you now see has been well preserved since the British rule of India. The roads and bazaars have been properly structured by the English architects. The rule of myriad dynasties has led to Agra’s transformation into a multicultural zone that oozes an aura of stateliness.
Before becoming a centre of governance in the middle ages, the city of Agra was a seat of Sanskrit learning. The present city of Agra finds mention in the great Hindu epic of Mahabharata under the name of Agra-van. This location was a renowned pilgrimage spot during the Vedic ages, as described in the Hindu scriptures. This ancient city also forms a part of Alexander the great’s map that consisted of all the great cities that he had conquered.
To the north of the Agra fort, there is the ancient city surrounded by the centuries-old kinari bazaar. The city fort has the Agra cantonment to its south with the Sadar bazaar and the mal road flanked on its either sides. The mal road of Agra consists of the entire tourism department. The tourist agencies of India have constructed a number of hotels, offices, rest houses and shops at this zone. Such initiatives have been taken for the benefit of all the tourists hailing from all over the world. A little away from the Taj Mahal there is a local bazaar called raja ki mandi. This mandi is situated right beside the railway station is a great instance of the vibrant life of the city of Agra.
Tourist attractions in Agra
Even though the prime attraction in Agra is Taj Mahal, this city offers many more things other than this beautiful monument. This city has many monuments that showcase the glory of the Mughal era. It is also home to a few marvelous gardens. Here are the best tourist attractions in Agra.
Of all the architectural wonders produced during the Mughal rule in India, the Taj Mahal built during Shah Jahan’s era is epochal. This grand mausoleum, created in the loving memory of Mumtaz, is claimed to be the supreme creation of all times. An intricate structure carved out of white marble is said to be the prime of its category on the face of the earth. This piece of architecture is famous worldwide for its lofty celebration of the most beautiful emotion of love. The Taj is believed to come alive in all its grandeur on moonlit nights of autumn. Crowds of tourists flock to experience the beauty of this epitome of love when illuminated by starlight/moonlight.
It is believed that the Taj Mahal changes colours at various hours of the day. The milky white monument turns into celestial silver at night; it further acquires a rosy tinge at the break of dawn. If you can make time for observing the Taj throughout the day, you would be stunned to witness this awe-inspiring transformation. This mausoleum in its silver glory often seems to float like a supernatural ferry drifting on the river Yamuna.
At the start of the day, when the moon turns limpid, the luminal Taj seems to waver like a ship in motion. This extraordinary monument takes on a golden hue at dusk. The bird’s eye view of Agra surrounding the beauteous Taj is undoubtedly breathtaking. The tourists are advised to view the sunrise from a guests’ pavilion built of red sandstone on the east of Taj. Equally mesmerising are the sunsets, viewed from the masjid on the west of Taj.
Arzoomann, a princess of Bengal, assumed the title of Queen Mumtaz Mahal after being wedded to the Indian emperor Shah Jahan. Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s second wife who died giving birth to their fourteenth child after seventeen years of marriage. Her death was greatly mourned by the state, and after fourteen months, her coffin was shifted from an anonymous grave in Bengal to Agra. The construction of Taj began in the year 1631 and attained completion after seventeen years. The massive structure was built by twenty thousand artisans and riches worth forty lakh pounds were spent on it.
As the common axiom goes, “the Mughals started like titans and finished like jewellers”, the mere planning of Taj was a superfluous affair. The monument was primarily designed by a Persian architect Ustad Isa Khan along with the ideas of Emperor Shah Jahan himself. Skilled architects from Baghdad, Italy and France were paid to create the Taj in all its grandeur. The gate of Taj is crafted out of red sandstone and has verses from the holy Koran engraved on it. The pathway leading to the grand structure is divided at the centre by a water basin bounded on all sides. It contains a number of fountains in it. You will get a perfect mirror image of the magnificent monument in its water.
Situated by the banks of Yamuna, the Taj embodies a chessboard like a pattern on its walls that has the entire Koran engraved into it. Initially, the Taj had thirty-five precious atones encrusted into it. So intricate a work, it still remains unmatched in a world of multitudinous wonders. Delicate marble latticework comprising geometrical patterns transmits and directs the sunshine upon the two tombstones, deep inside the mausoleum. This marble framework was previously a frieze of pricy gemstones. The door of the Taj is said to have been moulded out of pure silver. All the expensive metals and stones were replaced with lesser expensive materials during the reign of Aurangzeb.
This wondrous monument has encountered the damages of many invasions and rueful rulers, yet it stands tall against the adversities of time. However, this epitome of love and grace runs the risk of severe damage and corrosion due to the multiple chemical factories around it.
In the year 1565, Akbar had an enormous fort built beside the Yamuna River. Taj Mahal is situated at a distance of three kilometres from this fort. When it comes to defence, the security within this ancient fort is of the highest order of safety. The fort is bounded by seventy feet high walls on all three sides. On the inside of the fort, the high walls are lined with a forty feet deep gutter. Beyond the well-like gutter, there are higher walls. Among the three gates of the forth only the south gate, known by the name of Amar Singh, is used.
The later Mughal rulers have added many more features besides whatever Akbar had got constructed. The fort remains open for tourists from sunrise to sunset with free entry allowed every Friday.
At the very entrance of the fort, Akbar built a massive palace for Jahangir. Beside Jahangir Mahal, there’s another palace built in honour of the Rajput queen Jodha Bai. These palaces have been fashioned after the architectural patterns prevalent in Bengal and Gujarat during the middle ages.
During the reign of Shah Jahan, he built his palace at the north of the fort. Other exceptional structures built during his reign are the Diwan-i-Aam and Diwan-i-Khas. The former was built in the year 1627 and was used as a court exclusively for the commoners. The Diwan-i-Aam was primarily built of red sandstone which imparted the red colour to its floor and roof. The court was so designed that the ruler sat at a balcony jutting out from the centre, and the subjects could hear him from down below. The Diwan-i-Khas (build during 1636-1637) was on the other hand used for personal and more important appointments, which normally involved rulers or messengers from other provinces
The Diwan-i-Khas was exceptionally decorated to speak well of the state in front of important guests. It consisted of detailed friezes and housed the popular peacock throne which Aurangzeb later shifted to his court at Delhi. The staircase from the southern part of the Diwan-i-Khas leads to a grand underground quarter. This hidden chamber was built for the king to take refuge within its cool ambience during summers. The Diwan-i-Khas has a huge courtyard, and to its north, there’s the begums’ harem known called the Sheesh Mahal.
For this beloved queen Mumtaz, Shah Jahan had built a separate two-storied, gem-encrusted building and named it the Mussaman Burj. Later, Aurangzeb kept his father the former Samrat, captive in this very building till his last breath in 1666. Shah Jahan spent his last years looking at the image of Taj in a mirror within the Mussaman Burj.
Near Mumtaz’s private quarters, there is a small masjid that goes by the name of Nagina. At the south-east end of the masjid, there is another two-storied complex called the Macchi Bhawan. This building housed many aquariums and royal bathing areas. A bazaar was constructed near this Macchi Bhawan that was exclusively meant for the women residing within the fort.
The Agra fort also contains the world’s largest marble masjid, the Moti masjid inside of it. Another beautiful structure built near the Agra Fort is the Jami masjid that was built by begum Jahanara.
This historical mausoleum is situated around six kilometres away from the Taj Mahal, on the other side of the river Yamuna. This mausoleum was a brainchild of Jahangir’s wife Noor Jahan and was built in honour of her parents, baba Ghiyasuddin begh and his wife. Its construction began in the year 1622 and got over in 1628. This mausoleum is said to be a precursor of Taj Mahal since it’s the first known Mughal sepulchre built of white marble. This two-storied structure, though smaller in size compared to the other humongous Mughal architectural wonders, is an instance of impeccable engineering. The delicate frieze is a unique combination of indo-Mughal artwork. This monument also has certain features that are heavily influenced by Persian architecture. The magnificence of Itmad-ud-daula sometimes outshines the splendour of the Taj Mahal. This sepulchre is open to tourists from sunrise to sunset.
CHEENI KA ROZA
Around a kilometre away from Itmad-ud-daula, another sepulchre stands tall gloriously in honour of Shah Jahan’s wazir and his begum. Shajahan’s minister Afzal Khan initiated its construction just before his death at Lahore in 1639. Tourists may visit this wondrous Persian architecture, that is decorated all over with ancient tiles of varied colours. However, this monument has lost its former beauty due to negligence.
Two kilometres away from cheeni ka, Roza, there is a Mughal garden built by Babur in 1526. Previously known as Arambagh, this royal town contained the burial site of Babur’s body before it was permanently shifted to Kabul.
There is another tourist spot eight kilometres away from Taj known as Dayal Bagh, and it is made of pink and white marble. Unlike the other famous structures in Agra, Dayal Bagh wasn’t built by the Mughal. This area was constructed in the year 1861 by a sect of Hindus who follow the teachings of Radhaswami. This town contains the headquarters of this religious sect, and the cremation site of their teacher Sri Swami Maharaj is located here. Dayal Bagh is popular for being an important shrine, and many tourists flock here throughout the year.
This town is located ten kilometres towards the north of the Taj Mahal and has the mausoleum of Akbar situated inside of it. This unique mausoleum has four gates built of red sandstone, and each gate is dedicated to a separate religion. Three of the gates highlight the practices of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. The fourth gate upholds the spirituality of Akbar embodied in a form akin to Mother Nature. An exotic garden surrounds this unique four storied mausoleum. A replica of Akbar’s tombstone is put on the topmost storey for display. Other than the Islamic phrase of ‘Allah-Hu-Akbar’, a total of ninety-nine deities find mention through engravings all over the mausoleum. This grand sepulchre was designed along with the ideas of Akbar, and its construction too was initiated by Akbar himself. Jahangir finally established it in the year 1613.
The town of Secundra was essentially named and established by the Afghan legend Sikandar Lodi. Despite his brilliant town planning and mesmerising infrastructural ideas, Sikandar Lodi’s contribution to this portion of Agra has been wiped out from the dominant discourse. At Secundra, tourists will find numerous marts that sell hand-crafted souvenirs, which majorly include replicas of the Taj and other wonderful structures of Agra.
This particular place is also famous for its traditional savoury called ‘dal moor’ and a sweet dish which is also a royal delicacy called petha.
Your Agra tour will remain incomplete if you miss out on exploring the gem of a township, called Fatehpur Sikri. This town is situated, around six kilometres away from central Agra was built in the year 1569 on the orders of Emperor Akbar. The birth of Prince Jahangir was believed to be a miracle brought about by the blessings of a fakir, sheikh Salem Chisti. Akbar decided to express his gratitude toward the Pir by setting up a township on the uppermost region of the fakir’s village. He set up his new capital here and also named his son Salem after the fakir. The royal quarters cover a region of about 150 acres and are walled on three sides and bounded by an artificial lake on the other side. This extravagant lake constructed for the recreation of the ruler led to the severe water crisis and ultimately led to the town’s abandonment.
One of the most important tourist attractions of this area is the 134 feet high and embellished Buland Darwaza. This marks the entrance to Fatehpur Sikri that translates into ‘the city of victory’, an idea that was conceived to celebrate the siege of Gujarat. Next to the Buland Darwaza is the world-famous Ibadad Khana, the place where Akbar discussed and meditated on all things spiritual. It is here that Akbar came up with his philosophy of Din-il-lahi that upholds the good in all religions and centres upon harmony. Of the many wonderful structures is a five storied royal palace, with pillars that recede in number as you go higher. To the west of this palace is the Jami masjid built along the Persian architectural style of Mecca. It had the capacity to provide space for around 10000 devotees who went three to offer namaz.
To its right is the dargah or shrine of the renowned pir or fakir, Salem Chisti which has been well preserved in all its prime till date.
Relish Mughlai cuisine
Agra has a lot to offer when it comes to delicious dishes especially Mughlai cuisine. From crunchy kebabs to scrumptious chicken tikka, travelers can taste lip-smacking Mughlai cuisine during their trip to this destination.
The Taj Ganj area is a good place to eat delicious Mughlai dishes. Visitors can also taste Chinese and continental dishes while they are holidaying in Agra.
The Moti Mahal Deluxe, Only Restaurant, and the Park Dining Room are good restaurants to taste lip-smacking non-vegetarian dishes.
Agra is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India because of its world-famous architectural marvels.
It is an ancient city which still has the traces of the rich golden era. With so many palaces, forts, Mughal gardens, and other beautiful attractions, visiting this destination shall be a mind-blowing experience.
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