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Published: January 1st 2020
Home to the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, Agra is situated on the banks of the River Yamuna in the state of Uttar Pradesh, 200klm SE of Delhi. This beautiful city, where the Mughals have left a permanent impression, is rich with India’s heritage and culture.
The magical allure of the Taj Mahal draws tourists to Agra like moths to a flame, and it never fails to mesmerise. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with magnificent Agra Fort and the deserted imperial city of Fatehpur Sikri. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra's days of glory as the capital of the Mughal empire, which we hope to visit.
I had bought e-tickets to the Taj Mahal before I left home, timed between 6-9.00am, but after the fog yesterday saw no point in being there at 6.00am. So Hariom collected us at 7.00am and dropped as near as possible to the West Gate, as there is a 500 metre exclusion zone around the Taj where no vehicles are allowed.
We were amongst the first to arrive. Our ticket included the services of a guide who became rather annoying, continuously wanting
Ginny’s phone and asking us to pose here and there. Eventually we had to tell him no more photos, as neither of us is interested in taking selfies.
The Taj Mahal was beautiful surrounded by fog, it looked a little ghostly. Our guide pointed out different aspects which we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. The Taj is a perfect symmetrically planned building, with an emphasis on bilateral symmetry along a central axis on which the main features of the complex are placed. In other words, everything lines up perfectly.
After leaving The Taj, we headed back to our homestay for breakfast. The family welcomed us to their table and prepared a traditional north India breakfast, and the food just kept coming, along with lots of hot tea. They all spoke excellent English and sat down to eat with us, as well. It was a lovely meal and gave us a good start for the day, I could have hoarded a couple of slices of that spicy plum cake... Hariom was back to collect us at 10.00am, first stop was Akbar’s Tomb.
Akbar's tomb is the tomb of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, and is an important Mughal
A seperate building in the complex, it was locked so we couldn’t get inside.
architectural masterpiece, situated in 119 acres of grounds in Sikandra, a suburb of Agra.
Akbar fell ill to dysentery, a deadly disease during the 17th century, when he was in his 60s. He was ill for several weeks and died without recovering. While on his dead bed, he planned many elements of his tomb, including the location. After his death in 1605, his son Jehangir commenced building the tomb and completed it in 1613.
During the reign of Aurangzeb, Akbar’s grandson, Jats, a traditionally agricultural community, rose in rebellion and Mughal prestige suffered a blow when they ransacked and plundered Akbar's tomb. According to one account, even Akbar's grave was opened and his bones burned.
The tomb itself is surrounded by a walled enclosure over 100 metres square. The tomb building is a four-tiered pyramid, surmounted by a marble pavilion containing the false tomb. The true tomb, as in other mausoleums, is in the basement. The acoustics inside the dome shaped crypt were perfect, echoing towards the ceiling as they faded away.
The tomb also houses the remains of two of Akbar’s daughters. Unlike any other Mughal tomb, it faces towards the east rather than towards
Inside Akbar’s Tomb, the crypt was through the doorway. Beautiful wall painting still existing here.
Next stop was Itmad Ud Daulah Tomb, commonly known as The Baby Taj, or The Jewel Box, because of the semi precious stones used in the wall inlay work.
The tomb, built between 1622-1628, was built for Mirza Ghiyas Beg, a Persian who had obtained service in Akbar’s court, and his wife. On Jahangir’s succession in 1605 he became Wazir (chief minister). Jahangir fell in love with his daughter, Mehrunissa, who at the time was married to a Persian. When her husband died in 1607, she entered Jahangir’s court as a lady-in-waiting. Four years later Jahangir married her. Shah Jahan married her niece, Mumtaz Mahal and built the Taj Mahal in her honour.
Stylistically, the tomb marks a change from the sturdy and manly buildings of Akbar’s reign to softer, more feminine lines. The star features of the tomb are the marble screens, pietra dura artwork and the tomb chamber itself. The perforated screens with complex geometric lattice work are carved out of a single slab of marble and the yellow marble caskets appear to have been carved out of wood.
Next we visited a seldom visited tomb called Chini Ka Rauza or China Tomb.
It’s a kilometre from Itmad Ud Daulah, situated down a dusty side street off the main road where Hariom dropped us.
Overlooking the river, it was built in 1628-39, and has crumbling glazed china tiles on the facade, and is the first building in India to be decorated with glazed tile work. It was free to visit, and inside we found fading paintwork on the ceiling and inscriptions from the Koran around the walls.
Agra Fort, also called Red Fort, was our final stop for the day. It was established by the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great in 1565, and, in its capacity as both a military base and a royal residence, served as the seat of government when the Mughal capital was in Agra. The fort complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, and the complex of buildings, with its Persian architectural features, forms a city within a city.
Situated on the site of earlier fortifications, it is connected to another of Agra’s renowned monuments, the Taj Mahal (downstream, and around a bend in the Yamuna River), by a swath of parkland and gardens. The walls of the roughly crescent-shaped fort are around
2.5klm long and 21 metres high, and the complex is surrounded by a moat.
I had visited here with Intrepid Tours in 2013, but my memories are vague. New visit, new photos...
Hariom dropped us back at the homestay after Agra Fort. Later we walked to Tourquoise Cottage, a very modern and upbeat bar and restaurant for dinner and a few drinks. They suggested we stay for NYE, a big night was planned, but we knew our day had been big enough. Both of us were quite content to give NYE celebrations a miss this year.
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