AGRA - November/December 2018

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November 23rd 2018
Published: November 23rd 2018
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The pace of this group tour is fast, very fast but we are still enjoying every moment but so much to take in, we are only just touching the surface of this extraordinary country.

Our Air India Varanasi to Agra flight took just over an hour and we were quickly driven to our next hotel, the Trident Agra by Sanjay who is our designated driver. We do not have a tour guide as our group is only 6 people so we pick up different guides as we make our way around Northern India at the forts, temples and palaces we visit but we keep Sanjay as our 'constant' and he is a great guy. Married with three children he spends long days away from them at the height of the season in India.

The Trident hotel was set in beautiful gardens and only a short distance from the Taj Mahal so it was in an ideal location. The low rise white and red building, reminiscent of the Mughal era which seemed to fit in nicely here was designed around a landscaped central courtyard with small swimming pool and fountains but sadly we are not getting enough free time to enjoy the facilities with the fast pace of the tour.

Agra rose to prominence in the 16th Century as the capital of the Mughals when the city was beautified with gardens, waterfalls, bathhouses and canals. Set on a bend in the sacred Yamuna River it has held a strategic defensive position throughout its history but now is more famous as the home of the Taj Mahal and the highly impressive fort which overlooks the river, as well as a number of significant tombs and mausoleums from the Mughal period.

Today the bustling streets are home to a thriving carpet industry, leather goods and marble and sandstone sculptors, some of whom claim to be descendants of the craftsman who helped build the great Taj Mahal.


Our visit - Another early morning start but to visit the Taj Mahal in the changing light of the rising sun is a truly magical time to gaze at this wonder and avoid a few of the crowds. However I think everyone was trying to do the same thing and we joined a long queue, men on one side and women on the other. On lots of the site visits here men and women go through different checking systems. Surprisingly the long queue to enter moved very quickly and the ‘boys and girls’ were soon reunited inside!

The Taj Mahal which means Crown Palace is widely recognised as the world’s most beautiful building and most people know it was built by Emperor Shah Jahan on the death of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal in memory of his eternal love for her. The Emperor said on its creation that it made ‘the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes’.

As you enter through an elaborate arched gateway you get your first glimpse of the monument, the wonderfully symmetrical landscaped gardens leading your eye to the intricately carved white creamy marble domes and towers - just awesome.

As you get closer you can make out the intricate detail on every facade -some with semi precious glistening stones and others with beautiful patterns covering the marble surfaces everywhere, it belies believe that anyone could produce such beautiful work at all and and in pure white marble with its special lustre and fine texture. The marble was obtained from Makrana in Rajasthan. The main structure is surrounded by gardens, fountains and pools. The mausoleum is controlled by guards and with great respect, the crowd revolves around a perforated marble screen, bordered by inlaid semiprecious stones, behind which are the two cenotaphs.

Brief Background History - In 1612, aged 20, Mirza Shahab-ud-din Baig Muhammad Khan Khurram (Emperor Shah Jahan) married Arjumand Banu Begum, who became known by the title Mumtaz Mahal, on the auspicious date chosen by court astrologers. The marriage was a happy one and Shah Jahan remained devoted to her. She bore him fourteen children, out of whom seven survived into adulthood. In addition, Shah Jahan had two children from his first two wives.

Sadly Mumtaz Mahal died, aged just 37 in 1631, while giving birth to her last daughter, the cause of death being haemorrhage which caused considerable blood-loss after a painful labour of thirty hours.Shah Jahan was noted as being ‘paralysed by grief’ and with weeping fits.Mumtaz’s body was temporarily buried in a walled pleasure garden but the Shah constructed the beautiful Taj Mahal where she was later reburied. Built between 1631 and 1653 by 20,000 labourers and qualified craftsmen the beauty you see in photographs is nothing compared to what you see up close with your own eyes . … …

In 1657, Shah Jahan fell seriously ill, which set off a war of succession among his four sons, in which his third son emerged victorious.Shah Jahan recovered from his illness, but Aurangzeb put his father under house arrest in Agra Fort where for the rest of his days he could only gaze out at the building through a window, he died at the fort in 1666.

Following his death in 1666, his two daughters arranged for him to be buried alongside his treasured wife, Mumtaz. She got the centre position though in the mausoleum directly under the dome but he lies beside her in all eternity. Actually the coffins you inside see are copies, as the bodies of both of them are several feet underground in the crypt.


The Taj Mahal is visited annually by 4 million visitors, making it the most visited monument in India, we really enjoyed our visit and as we left were greeted by a troop of monkeys posing for pictures at the exit!

We were fortunate to return later and have lunch overlooking this amazing structure. It is every bit as impressive in real life as it is in the carefully-posed pictures that everyone was trying to perfect and of course their were plenty of people surrounding the ‘Diana Seat’ - and of course we had to pose there as well … … …

Sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit the Taj Mahal and we were only supposed to see it at sunrise and over lunch, but our guide took us back to the opposite side of the river to view it at sunset. Seeing it from across the river was amazing and put it into perspective. We could see a massive queue of people waiting to enter, so glad we visited in the early morning. As we gazed across the water we stood on the very site where Shah Jahan was planning to build himself a Black Mausoleum but only the foundations were completed before his imprisonment - what a sight that would have been to see.

AGRA FORT - stunning palace inside the fort

After our visit to the Taj we visited nearby Agra Fort where Shah Jahan had been imprisoned. A magnificent 16th century fortress with 20 metre high walls, the Red Fort is a vast sandstone complex which was converted into a lavish palace by Shah Jahan. This was the emperors’ main residence during the years when Agra was the capital city. As mentioned in an earlier blog the fort was abandoned when the emperor decided to move his entourage to the fort in Delhi.

It remains one of the finest Mughal forts in India and a collection of impressive buildings can be seen inside. Many of these forts along the Golden Triangle have a whole city within their red sandstone walls complete with mosques and palaces. There are several mosques, including the exquisite Nagina Masjid, originally used by the ladies of the court and the elaborate Mirror Palace, as well as the white marble tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned for eight years by his son.

Agra Fort is also known as Fort Rouge and Red Fort of Agra, not to be confused with the Red Fort in Delhi. The architecture is similar, but the layout less so, as Agra Fort is 2.5 times smaller than Delhi's Red Fort.


The Itimad-ud-Daulah is a lavish 17th century tomb which houses the mausoleum of Mirza Ghiyas Beg and his family. The main link between the so called ‘Baby Taj’ and its far grander and more famous namesake, the Taj Mahal, is that the latter was built as the final resting place for Mumtaz Mahal, the granddaughter of Mizra Ghiyas Beg who’s body lies beneath the Baby Taj and was the first such tomb to be built on the bank of the River Yamuna.

It is located in a very tranquil area and was the first building in the city to be clad entirely in marble. Although far smaller than the Taj Mahal, it is exquisite in its detail with extremely delicate carvings and elaborate architectural flourishes. Four corner minarets surround a rooftop pavilion, intricate inlay work completely covers the structure, and a superbly carved latticework wall screens the tombs from initial view.

Inside the layout is not unlike that inside the Taj Mahal, albeit on a much smaller scale, with a room containing the cenotaph lying in the centre of the floor - the body being interred some way below it and completely inaccessible and with a series of rooms running around it.

The inlaid decoration and marble screens were quite beautiful with the highest standards of craftsmanship and overall it felt somehow more delicately and sensitively rendered than that of the Taj Mahal where one was a little overpowered by the sheer size of the structure.

We noticed that many of the decorative elements bear a striking resemblance to logos and patterns associated with many fashion designers - perhaps they got their inspiration from a visit here!

Our guide let us wander off for a while and emerging on the far side of the building we found a calm spot to digest all we had seen whilst looking out over the panorama of the Yamuna River. We stood and watched for a while as a young lad tried to get us to throw money down to him and he kept doing a Usain Bolt’s victory salute.

In our opinion we found the Baby Taj to be a beautiful building with great historical interest and so much more peaceful to wander around that the Taj Mahal as it was less crowded and had stunning gardens.

FATEHPUR SIKRI (the City of Victory)

The next morning we left Agra and headed south stopping en-route at Fatehpur Sikri, a magnificent deserted red sandstone city located just 37km from Agra. The city built in the late 16th century was designed as a tribute to the Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chisti who predicted the birth of Emperor Akbar’s son and heir. Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire only for a very short as it was abandoned some 15 years later due to a shortage of water. The complex of monuments and temples, all in a uniform architectural style, includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid and the marble Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti.

After our visit we continued to Bharatpur for our first Indian train journey. Compared with many train journeys in India we only had to travel 183km to Sawai Madhopur to visit Ranthampore National Park - Namaste, see you there.

Additional photos below
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Four million visitorsFour million visitors
Four million visitors

annually visit the Taj

25th November 2018
View of Taj foundations of Black Taj

I didn't knew of this
I knew of the plans to build a black TM but I didn't know that they actually started to lay out the foundations. We missed that when we were in Agra. Bummer! /Ake
5th December 2018
View of Taj foundations of Black Taj

Black Taj
Maybe next time!

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