Highlights of Agra

Entering Agra district, we first visited Sikandara, the mausoleum of Emperor Akbar. The mausoleum was a beautiful red sandstone structure in the middle of a well-maintained lawn, which had deers roaming around the park. Emperor Akbar had started the building of his own mausoleum but it was completed by his son, Jahangir, after his death. We walked into the tomb, after removing our shoes at the entrance. It was a dark passage and we followed some other tourists going inside. The passage became darker and darker as we went further inside and we were a bit uncomfortable. We reached the inner tomb and it was pitch-dark. As we turned to leave, a loud voice within the tomb cried out ‘Allahu Akbar’. Though I reasoned out that there must be a recorded voice activated by someone stepping over some particular stone or touching a wall, the unearthly voice did startle us for a moment.

Sikandara2.JPG

Leaving the tomb, we walked around the premises. Emperor Akbar was renowned for his generosity and his fair-minded principles. Perhaps because of that or not, there was an atmosphere of calm and peace in the place.

Sikandara3.JPG

After checking in at our hotel, the local guide arranged by our tour operator arrived to take us to Agra Fort. Started by Emperor Akbar, the construction of the fort was completed by his grandson Shah Jahan. We walked through a doorway into the courtyard, where the Emperor used to hear the public’s grievances.

Agra Fort_Hall of public audience.JPG

We walked inside and entered the royal apartments, where according to our guide, nearly 5000 women had once resided in tiny cramped rooms. Though the living quarters were tiny, they opened onto a nice courtyard with a fountain in the middle. The courtyard had been used for growing grapes for wine. And, the dancers performed in front of the fountain, while Shah Jahan watched from his rooms at one end. Shah Jahan’s rooms had a lovely view of River Yamuna and the Taj Mahal.

Palace for eldest daughter.JPG

It was also in these rooms that he had been placed under house arrest by his son Aurangzeb, during the last eight years of his life. As his health was failing, he had been cared for by his eldest and favourite daughter, Jahanara. On either side of his rooms were the identical apartments of his eldest and youngest daughters and the guide pointed out that Jahanara’s apartment had been built in marble, which was her parents’ favourite choice of building material. After her father’s death, Jahanara moved to Delhi and is credited with the design of Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest markets in Old Delhi.

Inside the royal apartment_Agra fort.JPG

We walked into the next section of the fort, which is one of the earliest surviving buildings from Emperor Akbar’s time and was the zenana for his wives. It is called Jahangir Mahal perhaps because Akbar’s son, Jahangir, also chose it as his residence without building a new set of apartments as his son, Shah Jahan, did later. Jahangir Mahal was built in red sandstone, the material of choice of Emperor Akbar. The royal apartments opened onto a courtyard with a pool in the middle. There were two sets of identical apartments on either side. One side had windows, while the other didn’t. They were supposed to be the summer and winter palaces respectively. For such a huge fort, it was amazing that the living quarters were so cramped.

Jehangir's part in Agra fort.JPG

After our visit to Agra Fort, we drove to the Taj Mahal. As the Taj Mahal was a considerable distance away from the parking area, the guide arranged for a horse-cart/ tonga to take us closer. My mother especially enjoyed this tonga ride and it seems to be her favourite memory of our visit to Agra.

Passing the security gates, we entered the Taj through the Eastern Gate into a courtyard where the four gates faced each other. Each entrance was for a specific purpose in the old days, one for the Emperor and royal dignitaries, the other for public etc.

Northern Gate to Taj Mahal.JPG

As I approached the Northern Gate, my anticipation of a treat increased but our way was blocked by men with photo albums trying to get us to buy a photo package with them. With difficulty, we extracted ourselves and entered the gate feeling harassed. And, there we were at the famous spot where the Taj has been photographed a countless times and I had expected it to be the best highlight of our trip. It was an underwhelming moment as the crowds were quite distracting.

The famous shot2.JPG

As we walked closer to the lovely marble structure, I started seeing the beauty of it. The longer you looked at some face of Taj Mahal, the more appealing you were going to find it. Unfortunately, the rain clouds started gathering above and it was very windy.

One of the faces of the Taj.JPG

We hurried into the tomb, after wearing our shoe covers, so that we would escape the rains. Following a long queue, we walked inside the tomb which was quite dark. The guide pointed out the difference in designs of the resting places of Arjumand Banu Begum and Shah Jahan. We came out of the tomb and walked along its outer perimeter and came to the face overlooking river Yamuna. The guide pointed out the ruins of the foundations that had been laid by Shah Jahan, for his own mausoleum – the Black Taj, across the river. He had intended that his mausoleum face that of his wife’s in perfect symmetry down to the fountains. However, his son Aurangzeb refused to build it for him and instead buried him alongside his wife. While this act is considered somewhat dishonorable of his son, I think it is perfect that the couple celebrated for their love for each other be buried next to each other. We sat for a few minutes resting on the steps and then decided to turn back. The rain started pouring so we rushed back to our car.

Taj.jpg

I think I would have loved my experience of Taj Mahal more, had I visited it earlier in the day before it became crowded as we had done with Sikandara.

Is Taj Mahal on your travel wish list? If you have visited it, what was your experience of the Taj?

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #5Wanderful Wednesday and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

Untold Morsels

Wanderful Wednesday

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44 thoughts on “Highlights of Agra

  1. The Taj Mahal is very firmly on my list. Love your photographs, it all looks so fascinating (the voice in the tomb would have startled me too!) #farawayfiles

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  2. I really enjoyed this, Ahila, and loved reading the stories behind the buildings. My own experience of visiting Agra was much better than that of Delhi so this brought back some good memories. I remember being entranced by the beauty of the Taj Mahal. We did go quite early – so there weren’t too many people around. Thanks for linking up to #FarawayFiles

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  3. Definitely on my travel wish list. I had heard of the desire for the mirroring Black Taj – can you imagine how cool that would be? But I do appreciate that they are married together as well. This is stunning and thank you for sharing Ahila! #FarawayFiles Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

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    • The white and black Taj facing each other would have been simply amazing and beautiful beyond words. Shah Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb was someone who did not like extravagance. His own tomb is one of the most inconspicuous burials among possibly all Mughal rulers. He actually saved money for his burial place by writing copies of the Quran and selling them, as he did not think it was right to take money for personal expenses from the treasury.

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  4. I would love to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal Ahila. You have captured the beauty of the Taj Mahal wonderfully and I love all the background you have given. So interesting! My grandmother spent her early childhood near here also so I feel like it is an area I would like to see for many reasons. Thanks for sharing with us on #FarawayFiles

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    • Thank you, Katy. How lovely that your grandmother spent her early childhood in Uttar Pradesh! Does she have any pleasant memories from those days, though perhaps she would have been too young to remember?

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    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Trish. Glad you are enjoying the posts. And yes, I found it both funny and adorable that my mother loved her tonga ride 🙂

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    • Yes, there are so many historical sites in Agra, since it was an important city during the Mughal rule in India, that one would need to choose places to visit to avoid sensory overload.

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  5. Touristy “must-sees” like this are always so tricky. On the one hand, I feel obliged to visit but on the other hand, I absolutely hate the crowds! I guess I would visit the Taj very early in the morning too if I had the chance. And I guess watching the sunrise there must be pretty special too!

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  6. I definitely would like to see the Taj Mahal one day! I would definitely try to go as early as possible to avoid the massive crowds though! I have such a love hate relationship with big toursit attractions. I feel like you have to see then, but they can also get SO overwhelming!

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    • Thank you. I do not know about the closing but I have read that the sheer amounts of visitors to the site was having a negative impact on preservation efforts. One of the biggest income earners for the state, I do not think they will close it off to the public. If they do, I hope they allow a few viewing hours each day or set a cap on the number of visitors as it would be a shame to close off such an amazing heritage site to the world.

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    • Thank you, Rhonda. There is so much more behind the famous view of the Taj. I recently saw part of a documentary on the architectural/ engineering marvels in its construction – loved the part about the optical illusion created as you near the gates.

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  7. This post makes me really wanting to visit Taj Mahal soon.It is in our list of must visit attractions.Glad I could see more views of Agra than the very popular view of front view of the tomb.

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  8. Interesting to learn that the Emperor had a place where people could share their grievances with him. Seeing all of these amazing architectural sites made me think about the people who once lived their everyday lives within the walls. Your story of walking through each section and the history behind it made me think about what it might have been like living here.

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    • Glad that my story evoked your imagination on lives that had lived in the past. Imagining what life might have been like within the the walls of historical places is part of the beautiful experience of exploring places, isn’t it?

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