Agra

Overview

Home to one the Seven Wonders of the World the Taj Mahal, Agra is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. It is as loved by Indians as it is by foreigners who throng here in large numbers to admire its beauty.  Along with Delhi and Jaipur, Agra forms the Golden Triangle of tourism in India. Situated in Uttar Pradesh, Agra is synonymous with the Taj Mahal however there’s lot more to the city than this world-famous monument. Right from the epic Mahabharata to the Mughal Dynasty, Agra has been monumental and has played a significant role in shaping India’s history. The city was first mentioned in Mahabharata as Agrevana which means the border of the forest. It was later established by Sikandar Lodi of the Lodi Dynasty in the sixteenth century who built many structures including forts, step wells, mosques, etc in Agra. He moved his capital from Delhi to Agra and after his death, his son ruled the city for nine years. Later, Sher Shah Suri ruled Agra and from 1556 to 1658 it was the capital of the Mughal Empire. Under the Mughal reign Agra was called Akbarabad and was ruled by greats like Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, etc. Their love for architecture, gardens and art and culture added a new dimension to Agra’s personality. From Persian gardens on the banks of the Yamuna to monuments and mausoleums, Agra’s golden age started during their rule. It was after the decline of the Mughal Empire and during the reign of the Marathas that Akbarabad became Agra. By 1803, it came under the British Raj that remained strong for most part until India gained independence in 1947.

What also shaped Agra’s culture were the different religions that were born and flourished here. From Din-i-Ilahi to the Radhaswami Faith, these beliefs had followers from Akbar’s time. Runukta of Hinduism and Shauripur of Jainism too have their links to Agra.

With so many prominent rulers having ruled the city, Agra is home to several important monuments including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. A trip to Agra is incomplete without paying a visit to these that will take you back to an era of its glorious past.

 

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Attractions and Places to Visit

Taj Mahal

The very first thing every tourist who comes to Agra wants to do is see the beauty that is Taj Mahal. No matter how many times you’ve been here, it will leave you mesmerized with its intricate carvings and architecture. The Taj Mahal is certainly the main attraction that draws millions of tourists to Agra every year and rightly so. Called the epitome of love, it was constructed by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal whose tomb rests right under the central dome of the monument. It took 22 years and over 20,000 workers to construct this marvel. Shah Jahan spent his last years imprisoned in the Agra Fort gazing at his creation and after his death, his tomb was placed inside the Taj Mahal next to his wife. The white marble monument is an architectural marvel with fine detailing, on the south bank of the Yamuna River. Verses from the Holy Quran are inscribed on it, gemstones adorn its walls and the intricate inlay work adds a touch of magnificence to the structure. Another brilliant fact that makes it a masterpiece is its symmetry, which is why it looks the same from all four sides.

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Agra Fort, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Another architectural jewel in this city is the Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by Mughal Emperor Akbar with the help of 4,000 workers who worked for eight years to finish its construction in 1573. Agra Fort is made of red sandstone and was the seat of the Mughal Empire. Some of the major attractions in Agra Fort that will leave you mesmerized are structures like the Sheesh Mahal, Moti Mahal, Jehangir’s Palace and Khas Mahal. The fort has four large gate of which the Delhi Gate was used for the king’s formal entry. Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Aam were reserved for royal audience and the public respectively. Agra Fort has been prominent during the Mughal reign. Even though Akbar built it, during the rule of Shah Jahan, he renovated it by adding marble work and converting the raw red sandstone structure to a palace. Years later, his son Aurangzeb imprisoned him in the same fort at Mussaman Burj. Do pay a visit to this part of the fort as it offers one of the best views of the Taj Mahal. Despite these changes, Agra Fort is an epitome of Mughal architecture at its best and shouldn’t be missed. Agra Fort is open to tourists all days of the week from 7 am to 6 pm.

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Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, India

One of Emperor Akbar’s pet projects was building a walled city a little away from Agra. He called it Fatehpur Sikri and even ruled here for sometime before he was forced to move out due to shortage of water supply. Nevertheless, the surviving monuments tell a tale of his valour and great work. Fateh in Persian signifies victory. The city survived and three of its walled sides are still intact. Akbar paid keen interest in its architecture and layout and it took about 15 years to plan and build it completely. Once ready, it had palaces, harems, buildings, courts and a mosque. But one of the best architectural wonders of Fatehpur Sikri is the Buland Darwaza, a grand gateway to the walled city. Made of red sandstone, there are 52 steps that lead up to its 175 ft high archway that has two inscriptions. Akbar’s favorite minister Birbal too has a monument in Fatehpur Sikri called Birbal’s house. Since he was a Hindu, the architecture is different than the usual Mughal buildings.

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Akbar's Tomb

Akbar the Great built some majestic monuments in his lifetime and one of them was his tomb itself. The task of commissioning your own tomb is part of Turkic custom that Mughals adhered to. He even selected the site where he wanted to be kept. His last resting place, Sikandra is where Akbar’s Tomb is. His son Jehangir completed the construction of his father’s tomb in 1613 and it was beautifully carved, made of red sandstone. Just 1 km away from Akbar’s Tomb is Mariam’s Tomb, who was Akbar’s wife and Jehangir’s mother. The monument is open for visitors on all days of the week from 6 am to 6 pm. 

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Mehtab Bagh

Translating to moonlight garden, Mehtab Bagh is the perfect spot for admiring the beauty of the Taj Mahal. Built by Babur, it is a square garden that was once resplendent with pools, fountains and trees. Today, it makes for a recreational tourist spot. A Mughal garden, it is perfectly aligned with the Taj Mahal along the Yamuna River and was described by Shah Jahan as the ideal spot for viewing the Taj Mahal. Due to frequent floods and extraction of building material by the villagers, the garden lay in ruins by the ‘90s. However, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) intervened and started work to restore the garden to its original state. They even made sure that the plants used in Mehtab Bagh were ones that were originally a part of Mughal gardens. These included guava, Ashoka, jamun, neem, hibiscus, etc. There were four sandstone towers too in the garden at its four corners, however, only one remains now. During the restoration, other structures were added to Mehtab Bagh that were not originally a part of it. Some of these include a statue of BR Ambedkar holding the constitution of India, a temple and nurseries. Visit Mehtab Bagh between 6 am to 7 pm, it is open on all days of the week. 

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Mankameshwar mandir

One of the ancient Shiva temples in the country, Mankameshwar Mandir holds much religious importance as according to the legend, Shiva installed a lingam here on his own. The Mughal architecture isn’t the only thing that draws tourists to Agra, temples like these are also crowd-pullers. The temple is close to Agra Fort and near other tourist monuments like the Taj Mahal. As per the legend, Shiva wanted to go to Mathura after the birth of Krishna to get a glimpse of the little baby boy. During his descent from Mount Kailash, he rested and meditated at the sight of this temple and declared that if he is able to reach in time to see Krishna, he will install his swaroop here. And so, on his way back he kept his word and there was a lingam here covered in silver.

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Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah

Another display of Mughal architecture, the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah was commissioned by Nur Jahan, Jehangir’s wife, for her father Mirza Beg who was given the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah or pillar of the state. The mausoleum is often referred as the draft of Taj Mahal or Baby Taj as it has various elements that are identical to the Wonder of the World. It is also called a jewel box as it isn’t as grand as other Mughal structures yet there is no compromise on its intricacy. The Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah is made of white marble from Rajasthan and has semi-precious stones encrusted in its walls that display different objects such as a vase, bouquet, fruits, etc. Its construction began in 1622 and was completed in 1628. A garden criss-crossed by walkways and water courses surround the monument. It is located on the right bank of the Yamuna River and is a close replica of the Taj Mahal including its interiors. Mirza Beg’s tomb rests next to his wife’s tomb which was inspired by the Taj Mahal. Many of Nur Jahan’s relatives’ tombs are also kept in this monument.

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Moti Masjid

Built by Shah Jahan, the Moti Masjid is also called the Pearl Mosque. It is one of the architectural wonders in Agra. The reason it is called the Pearl Mosque is that it radiates like a pearl especially when the sun is shining bright. The mosque was exclusively built by the emperor for his royal court members. The mosque was built between the years 1648 and 1654. It stands on a sloping ground. The pearly white insides of the mosque are enthralling to the eye. In the centre of the court is situated a marble tank. There is also a sundial made of a marble pillar and octagonal shaped in the vicinity. The main entrance is located to the East of the structure. It is huge and opens up to a better view of the mosque than the other gates. The large prayer chamber is flanked by multiple arches. There are 21 bays inside the prayer chamber and some of them have vaulted soffits. The Western wall is the one that intrigues the most. The beautiful carvings on this wall leave you spellbound. There are even prayer halls for women at the Moti Masjid. This space is separated from the main hall. A marble screen separates the women’s prayer chamber from the rest.

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Jodha Bai ka Rauza

 This is the palace of one of Akbar’s queens who was his favourite. Also called Jodha Bai’s Palace it is a simple yet sophisticated building. It is situated in the vicinity of the Jahangiri Mahal. Inside the palace there are slits in the wall. You can see the Taj Mahal through these small openings in the wall. The architectural design of this palace incorporated Rajasthani and Gujarati designs. Located in Fatehpur Sikri, this palace is yet another example of Akbar’s strong taste and talent in architecture. There are some aspects of the Jodha Bai ka Rauza that have resemblances to Hindu architecture. In fact many facets of this structure combined the finest details of Hindu and Muslim architectural designs. This place is guarded by a portal. Here were the residences of Akbar’s favourite queen. It is said that Jodha Bai was the third queen of the emperor. Also called the Marium Uz Zamani Palace, the queen was actually a Rajput princess. The design of the spaces here has been made in keeping with the taste of ladies. Hence you find that the designs here are simple and elegant. When you peer up, you see the triangular shaped ceiling. There are plenty of mural designs such as peacocks, elephants, lotus, and ghant mala. All these are Hindu designs. This indicates the religious harmony that existed in Akbar’s period and how people appreciated each other’s culture. There are plenty of hotels around this palace for tourists looking for places to visit in Agra. You can find hotels suiting various economies here. Jodha Bai’s Palace is an important monument in the imperial harem regime of the Mughals. It showcased their taste in aesthetics and how they treated their ladies. The architectural style of this palace combines several architectures. The fusion of multiple designs makes this palace an exciting structure to view and photograph.

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