Sometime back a childhood friend called me up. And said. Hey where are you mountain man? I knew what he was hinting at, but acted I didn’t quite understand and queried. What do you mean? I am seeing you traveling all around in the hills, he replied. And then I quizzed him. Are you free this weekend? Yes, more or less. Why? Keep it free as I would be taking you to a destination away from the hills that is sure to breathe new love into your life 💕
He agreed and we decided to start our love journey. Come we are off to Agra 🕌
Once you reach Delhi, it is a short trip to Agra and we decided to make it a short trip of just two nights. We took the Shatabdi Express which starts at six in the morning and takes you there by eight. Very comfortable journey, with your breakfast added in. As you come out, the station looks so nice. Agra Cantonment.
You have other options too for visiting Agra. One of them which people frequently use is to hire a car for the to and fro journey. I am one who loves to save wherever I can without compromising on comfort and use it for some other activity or pleasure. Our hired cab was waiting for us and we were soon off towards our hotel.
Agra is a city on the banks of the river Yamuna in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India. It is a major road and rail junction and a commercial and industrial centre known for its leather goods, cut stone, and handwoven carpets. Tourism is a major factor in the city’s economy. Agra is also a major tourist destination because of its many Mughal-era buildings, most notably the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, the deserted Mughal city, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Agra is included on the Golden Triangle tourist circuit, along with Delhi and Jaipur and the Uttar Pradesh Heritage Arc tourist circuit of UP state, along with Lucknow and Varanasi, also known as Benares.
The region around the modern city was first mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, where it was called Agrevaṇa derived from Sanskrit meaning “the border of the forest”. Sultan Sikandar Lodi (1488–1517) was the first to move his capital from Delhi to Agra in 1506. He governed the country from here and Agra assumed the importance of the second capital. He died in 1517 and his son, Ibrahim Lodi, remained in power there for nine more years and built several palaces, wells and a mosque in the fort during his period. He was finally defeated at the Battle of Panipat in 1526. Between 1540 and 1556, Afghans beginning with Sher Shah Suri ruled the area. It was the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1648.
The golden age of the city began with the Mughals. It was known then as Akbarabad and remained the capital of the Mughal Empire under Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Akbar made it the eponymous seat of one of his original twelve imperial provinces, bordering (Old) Delhi, Awadh (Oudh), Allahabad, Malwa and Ajmer. Since Akbarabad was one of the most important cities in India under the Mughals, it witnessed a lot of building activity. Babar, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, laid out the first formal Persian garden on the banks of river Yamuna. The garden is called the Aram Bagh or the Garden of Relaxation. His grandson Akbar raised the towering ramparts of the Great Red Fort, besides making Agra a centre for learning, arts, commerce and religion. Akbar also built a new city on the outskirts of Akbarabad called Fatehpur Sikri. This city was built in the form of a Mughal military camp in stone. His son Jahangir had a love of flora and fauna and laid many gardens inside the Red Fort or Lal Qila.
Shah Jahan later shifted the capital to Delhi during his reign, but his son Aurangzeb moved the capital back to Akbarabad, usurping his father and imprisoning him in the Fort there. Akbarabad remained the capital of India during the rule of Aurangzeb until he shifted it to Aurangabadin in the Deccan region in 1653. After the decline of the Mughal Empire, the city came under the influence of Marathas and was called Agra, before falling into the hands of the British in 1803.
The history books and all memories of childhood during my first visit to this historic city along with my father, mother and three elder sisters, when I was just seven came rushing back. I realized we had reached our hotel.
Our money saved on a round trip hired cab option from Delhi was used to splurge in ITC, Mughal a place that I fell in love with when we had visited for a National Conference of our organization couple of years back. We got a good money saver deal with breakfast and dinner added in. And were promised a complimentary early check in, if rooms were available. Luckily rooms were. The rooms are great with vast options to choose from, food just awesome and the most that I had loved about this place was it’s vast expanse of green.
We settled in and after a big mug of a much needed strong black coffee, we were off to the first destination that most travelers visit Agra for. Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal meaning “Crown of the Palaces” is an ivory-white marble mausoleum in the south bank of the Yamuna river in Agra. The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631, to be built in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. Construction started in 1632, and the mausoleum was completed in 1643, while the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. The imperial court documenting Shah Jahan’s grief after the death of Mumtaz Mahal illustrates the love story held as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. It also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan, the builder. The tomb is the centerpiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated battle ready walls.
Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653. The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
The Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. It is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history. There are three gates to enter the Taj Mahal. We used the South Gate and once we were in, it was a visual paradise. Let’s go around.
The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Mughal buildings including the Gur-e-Amir (the tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty in Samarakhand, Humayun’s Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb (also called the Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan’s own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones. Buildings under his patronage reached new levels of refinement.
The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin.
The base structure is a large multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners forming an unequal eight-sided structure that is approximately 55 metres (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. Each side of the iwan is framed with a huge pishtaq or vaulted archway with two similarly shaped arched balconies stacked on either side. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered corner areas, making the design completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower level.
Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. Hence, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right, towards Mecca. Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph is placed at the precise centre of the inner chamber on a rectangular marble base of 1.5 by 2.5 metres (4 ft 11 in by 8 ft 2 in). Both the base and casket are elaborately inlaid with precious and semiprecious gems. Calligraphic inscriptions on the casket identify and praise Mumtaz. On the lid of the casket is a raised rectangular lozenge meant to suggest a writing tablet. The pen box and writing tablet are traditional Mughal funerary icons decorating the caskets of men and women respectively. The Ninety Nine Names of God are calligraphic inscriptions on the sides of the actual tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.
It was a trip back to history and then it was time to spend some time relaxing in the green green gardens.
The complex is set around a large 300-metre (980 ft) square Charbagh or Mughal garden. The garden uses raised pathways that divide each of the four quarters of the garden into 16 sunken flowerbeds. Halfway between the tomb and gateway in the centre of the garden is a raised marble water tank with a reflecting pool positioned on a north-south axis to reflect the image of the mausoleum. The elevated marble water tank is called al Hawd al-Kawthar in reference to the “Tank of Abundance” promised to Muhammad.
Elsewhere, the garden is laid out with avenues of trees labeled according to common and scientific names and fountains. The garden has a design inspired by Persian gardens, was introduced to India by Babur, the first Mughal emperor. It symbolises the four flowing rivers of Jannah (Paradise) and reflects the Paradise garden derived from the Persian paridaeza, meaning ‘walled garden.’ In mystic Islamic texts of the Mughal period, Paradise is described as an ideal garden of abundance with four rivers flowing from a central spring or mountain, separating the garden into north, west, south and east.
Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular with a tomb or pavilion in the centre. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the tomb, is located at the end of the garden. With the discovery of Mahtab Bagh or “Moonlight Garden” on the other side of the Yamuna, the interpretation of the Archaeological Survey of India is that the Yamuna river itself was incorporated into the garden’s design and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of Paradise.
After spending some wonderful time lazing around, it was time for some quick lunch. We chosen a decent restaurant as suggested by our driver where the Mughlai food turned out to be royally Mughal.
The next stop, Agra Fort. Come let’s go in and see some more beautiful creations. The Agra Fort, also known as the “Lal –Qila”, “Fort Rouge” or “Qila-i-Akbari”, is the highlight of the city of Agra, then capital of the Mughal Sultanate. Few forts in the world have a more fascinating story to tell than the Great Fort of Agra. Originally planned as an impregnable military structure by Akbar, the Agra Fort, over a period of time, acquired all the elegance, lavishness and majesty of an imperial palace. Situated 1 km upstream of the Taj Mahal, on the right bank of the Yamuna, the Agra fort was built under the direction of Akbar, by Mohammed Quasim Khan, his commander-in-Chief and Governor of Kabul. It took eight years to complete and entailed an expenditure of three and a half million rupees.
The day was so relaxing. The best part about Agra is that the places we visited were all in close vicinity including our hotel which is on Taj Road, almost next door to Taj.
We got up early the next morning and went walking all around the property. And walked bare foot on the green lawns with a little bit of overnight dew. Freshened up, had our breakfast and were soon all set to make the best of the day. Our first stop, Salim Chisti Dargah inside the Jama Masjid (Mosque) complex.
The Tomb of Salim Chishti is famed as one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture in India, built during the years 1580 and 1581, along with the imperial complex at Fatehpur Sikri and facing south towards Buland Darwaza, within the quadrangle of the Jama Masjid which measures 350 ft. by 440 ft. It enshrines the burial place of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478 – 1572), a descendant of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, and who lived in a cavern on the ridge at Sikri. The mausoleum, constructed by Akbar as a mark of his respect for the Sufi saint, who foretold the birth of Akbar’s son, who was named Prince Salim after the Sufi Saint and later succeeded Akbar to the throne of the Mughal empire, as Jahangir.
The door to the main chamber is intricately carved with arabesque patterns and bears inscriptions from the Quran. Brown marble borders the interior bays while the relief panels – with the quran verses – have a blue background. The carved and painted tomb chamber has a white marble floor, which is inlaid with multicolored stones. Devotees ask for the blessings of the saint and seek fulfillment of their wishes. It is believed that tying a thread on the marble screens of the main tomb building serves as a constant reminder to the saint of their wishes. This tomb is known for Child Birth Blessing.
Salim Chisthi Darga
Our next place of visit was around 40 kilometers away as we drove on towards Fatehpur Sikri. This fort cum palace is built by the side of an artificial lake about 3 kilometer long and 1.6 kilometer wide.This complex of palaces, mosques, gardens, and pavilions is a rich legacy of the Mughal era. Still perfectly preserved, you can stroll through the Emperor’s bedroom, climb to the top of the Panch Mahal, the five tiered palace and look down on the Pachisi courtyard. Then move to the Anup Talau, the sandstone platform on a pond, where Mian Tansen once sang. I hope you once again enjoy this visual treat going around with us.
We now moved to the other must visit places while in Agra. And first, Itmad-Ud-Daulla a perfectly proportioned marble mausoleum on the left bank of the Yamuna which is another historical landmark. Noor Jehan constructed this splendid marble monument in her father’s memory. This double storied marble tomb is replete with mosaic, inlaid with semi-precious stone.
Our last stop for the day was to watch the sunset on the other side of River Yamuna, behind the Taj Mahal. Come let’s enjoy some quite moments with a last view of the Taj from Mehtab Bagh.
As we walked back towards our car, how could we leave without some Chai(Tea) in a roadside shop. The proud owner made us feel comfortable and as he was preparing the special tea for us, he told my wife in Hindi. The chair you are sitting on is very special. And so you too are very special. I asked him why. And he said. Sahab (Sir) Katrina Kaif was sitting on this chair after a hectic shooting session in Mehtab Garden few years back 😁. For my readers outside India, Katrina is a famed Indian actress. Felt so good seeing him so happy and pointing to a framed photograph.
Agra. The land of historical monuments. The land of Taj.
Come to Agra. Enjoy creativity. Enjoy India Beautiful 🇮🇳