Agra - An Ancient Heritage Destination for Tourists
An Important Spot in the Golden Triangle
Agra happens to be one of the most frequented cities in India, both by the domestic as well as overseas tourists. This ancient city is located at the eastern point of the famous tourist's destinations called Golden Triangle, comprising Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. This tourist station of international fame has not only one of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal but also has many other historical and UNESCO World Heritage declared sites. A visit to the northern part of India will remain incomplete without visiting nearly five and half centuries old city Agra and experiencing the grandeur and architectural supremacy of these heritage buildings of 16th and 17th century.
Agra is located at the western bank of river Yamuna, about 200 kms from Delhi on National Highway (NH-2). The city was founded by Sikandar Lodi who shifted the capital from Delhi to Agra in 1504. Agra has served as a capital during Mughal period and has numerous historical monuments depicting perfect Mughal architectures in and around it. Three monuments, namely Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri are world famous structures which tourists like to visit to experience the heritage of the Mughal dynasty. The city remains a hub for the cultural, political, commercial and economic activities in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The city has very hot summers and chilly winters but March to October (Spring to Autumn) is the best time to visit
Taj Mahal, one of the Wonders of the World
UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world. Built by Shah Jahan, Mughal Emperor, in memory his wife Mumtaj Mahal, there is an incessant pouring in of tourists to this Mausoleum every day. Built entirely of white marble, it is a labour of 20,000 artisans and workers for over 20 years to complete this most fascinating monument. A mix of Persian, Turkish and Indian decoratives, the interiors and exteriors are marvellous pieces of architecture. The monument is in a complex of buildings and garden, each one keeps the tourists engaged..
It also has Tomb of Shah Jahan which was erected by his son Aurangazeb adjacent to the tomb of Mumtaj Mahal. It is an irony of fate that Shaj Jahan was kept as a prisoner in Agra Fort for about 9 years by his son Aurangazeb, who could have a glimpse of Taj Mahal from a window only and his son never visited him in the jail.
Inside Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal is beautiful not only from outside. Inside of it is equally charming. The walls are decorated with flowers in marble. One can imagine the time taken during a period when most of it might have been done manually. The excellence of the stone work speaks volumes about the skills of the workers at that time.
Not far away from Taj Mahal (about 2.5 kms), there is another UNESCO World Heritage site called Agra Fort. Located on the bank of river Yamuna, this huge complex with 70 feet high walls has four gates and fortified residences for Mughal Emperors and others. This red sandstone super structure was completed in eight years by Emperor Akbar at a young age.
Later, many palaces, courts, mosques and gardens were added by Emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Each of these structures is a tourists attraction these days.
Dewan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience)
It is a huge assembly hall where Emperor used to address the general public. The grievances and petitions of the public were heard in this tastefully designed Hall with large seating capacity.
Dewan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience)
This used to be a special Hall where dignitaries would meet the Emperor. By making a separate Hall the dignity of the visiting kings and their privacy were maintained. Both the Hall had their separate identity.
Stone cut window at Agra Fort
Stone cut windows are of Persian architectural design. Found at many of the Mughal period monuments, the primary purpose of putting stone cut windows was to segregate the women and provide them a space for peeping through. I remember the guide at Agra made me to stand at one point to glance at these windows which looked like painted glasses whereas I found that air could pass through the cuts. Certainly such windows might have helped these monuments to have some cooling effect also. Stone windows are certainly master pieces of the architect.
Delicate inlaying work on marble can be seen in abundance at Agra Fort. It involves cutting and engraving marble shapes manually and requires lot of precision. Many Mughal buildings have architectural everlasting beauty created through inlaying marble called Pietra Dura.
Taj View from Agra Fort
This is how Taj Mahal looks from Agra Fort. It looks like photo framed. But it also served a prison for Shah Jahan the Emperor (irony of fate).
Fatehpur Sikri - Buland Darwaja (Gate of Magnificence)
Fatehpur Sikri was built by Akbar at a place called Sikri but renamed as Fatehpur (Victory town) Sikri to celebrate his victory over a Rajput Emperor after attacking it seven times. In next fifteen years lot many buildings including a Mosque, Courts, Palaces and others came up in the Complex. Later, 54 metres high Buland Darwaja (Victory Gate) was built to commemorate victory of Emperor Akbar over Gujarat.
Surprisingly, the Complex was abandoned soon after its completion, reportedly due to shortage of water and other strategic and pressing demands of the times. The Emperor shifted his capital to Lahore.
Built in 1571, Jama Masjid at Fatehpur Sikri is one of the first buildings constructed in the Complex. The entry is through Buland Darwaja and Friday congregation is prevalent at this mosque.
Dewan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), Fatehpur Sikri
Emperor Akbar was known for his justice. Diwan-i-Am was exclusively used for hearing general public petitions. There is a throne chamber facing east where Akbar used to sit. The Emperor was known for worshiping sun. There was a portion for the royal ladies with usual screens to maintain privacy. The Hall is situated near Agra Gate of the Complex.
Dewan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), Fatehpur Sikri
The Hall is situated in the northeast corner of the Complex. The Ministers and Nobles used to sit in this Hall while Akbar addressed them or had entertainment times. From the outside the building looks simple with four beautiful kiosks on corners, yet the central portion of the building has exclusively designed pillar with masterpiece carvings.
The interiors of Dewan-i-Khas are of special attraction as it has a richly carved central pillar showing multi-religious elements. It speaks high about religious tolerance of Emperor Akbar. The platform above the central pillar was the seat of the Emperor which looked elegant.
It is a centrally located red sand stone water pool with a raised seat on a platform in the middle. Many important building in the royal campus surround it and it has four approach bridges. There used to be a fresh water regulating system feeding this pool.
This is another great building supported by uniquely carved 176 columns and with five storeys (having 84, 56, 20, 12 and 4 columns respectively), each diminishing in size symmetrically. It served as a Wind Tower and used to be a pleasure place for Emperor Akbar.
Other Prominent Attractions - Akbar Tomb - Magnificent Entrance
Akbar Tomb, Inside
About 13 kms away from the Agra Fort, Akbar Tomb is the resting place of Emperor Akbar. Planned by Akbar himself as per prevailing traditions, this Tomb is another example of rich architecture of the Mughal period.
Magnificence of the Tomb can be visualised by a look at its Entrance shown above
Ceiling of Akbar Tomb
The interior designing and decoration of the ceiling of the Akbar Tomb is marvellous. The carvings on the stone are wonderful and they say these were gold plated earlier.
Regular visitors of Akbar Tomb
The lush green gardens around the Tomb attract many tourists and these Langurs seem to be regular visitors here. Also they are seen to be enjoying life free from worries. No wonder, tourists are taken as source of entertainment by them.
Roman Catholic Cathedral
They say Agra has a Colonial face also. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a pale yellow and white imposing building with architectural supremacy of its time. Built in XIX century this magnificent building attracts tourists as much as the other buildings of Mughal era.
There is another Church called Akbar's Church. This was built on a land donated by Emperor Akbar. It speaks of the religious harmony at that time
Other Attractions - Snake Charmer
Snake charming is quite common in India and most often than not it is an inherited profession. Snake charmers move from place to place to perform and wear a typical dress. It is not uncommon to find them at Agra and because of the historical importance of Agra they do concentrate on various tourist spots to earn their livelihood.
Taj Mahal Replicas
Many tourists like to carry back a model of Taj Mahal. The replica is available on many shops in the city. It is available in different sizes and can be carried in small boxes in dismantled form.