Agra

The ancient city of Agra is soaked with history, opulence, and stories of love and betrayal. A visit will take you back in time-to an era when a Mughal emperor hired 20,000 workers to build a symbol of his love, when a son imprisoned his father until his death, and when elephants were used as court judges. Walk into remnants of this rich past, touch a piece of Indian history, and watch the tales come alive. The Taj Mahal needs no introduction; it is one of the most famous monuments in the world. The iconic white shrine comes with a story as dramatic as its beauty. Shah Jahan built this mausoleum after the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died during the birth of their fourteenth child and it took over fifteen years to build her tomb. Unfortunately, sad stories of Shah Jahan’s imprisonment by his son Aurangzeb haunt this beauty as well. It is believed that the king was held captive in the Agra Fort that had a tiny window through which he looked at his wife’s beautiful tomb, until his death. Today, visitors can see the exquisite jewels inlayed in the pristine marble, read the geometrically perfect koranic verses that adorn entrances, and see clear reflections of the Taj Mahal in the courtyard pool. This epitome of love is a good enough reason to travel to Agra but is not all that the historic city has on offer. Agra is also home to the Agra fort, where the lovelorn king was imprisoned; the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri built by Akbar; and a beautiful Bear sanctuary. This city demands a visit. Besides, any trip to India is incomplete without a photo with the iconic Taj Mahal in the background.

Sights & Activities

Taj Mahal, Agra

The Taj Mahal, aka the monument of love, needs no introduction. You may have marveled at pictures of this white marble mausoleum, built by the famous Mughal king Shah Jahan, in loving memory of Mumtaz Mahal, his third wife. You may have heard of the finesse of its Mughal architecture, which seamlessly blends elements from Ottoman, Persian, Islamic, Turkish and Indian styles. And you may know that it took 10 years and thousands of artists and craftsmen to complete this UNESCO World Heritage listed masterpiece. But to stand before the Taj Mahal – bathed in the warm glow of sunrise or glowing white in striking contrast against the crimson hues of sunset – to stand there in person and witness the sheer magnificence of this manmade wonder, is to finally realize that you are indeed, in India.

Agra Fort

If the Taj Mahal is a testimony of love, the Agra Fort, only a couple of kilometers away, gives testimony to the bravado of the Mughal Empire. While the fort pre-dates the Mughal era and played a significant role in India’s freedom struggle, it was at its peak during the Mughal reign, when Agra gained prominence as India’s second capital and the fort became the residence of the Mughal emperors. The size of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is akin to a walled city, with several ancient palaces, step wells and mosques within its midst, and four grand monumental gates surrounding it. It is easy to lose yourself within this magnificent structure that fuses Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, and in the intricate inlay designs painstakingly carved on the white marble façades within, many of them depicting religiously significant images.

Itmand ud Daulah

The I’timād-ud-Daulah is often thought of as the predecessor of the Taj Mahal. It was built in the 1620s by Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, for her father, who was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, in whose memory the Taj Mahal was built. Unlike the Taj Mahal however, it is not entirely made in white marble; it uses red sandstone like most early phase Mughal-era monuments. The I’timād-ud-Daulah is sometimes referred to as a jewel box, and stands amid beautiful gardens and the ruins of other Mughal-era monuments.

Mehtab Bagh

On the opposite bank of the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal and perfectly aligned with it, lies the square-shaped garden complex of Mehtab Bagh. It is the best place to view the Taj Mahal in its moonlit glory (Mehtab Bagh literally means moonlit garden), and was built with the same intention. The original gardens were surrounded by stoned walkways and water fountains, and after years of flooding and plundering by locals for cheap building materials, the gardens have been somewhat restored to their past glory for viewings of the Taj.

Sikandra

Sikandra is the final resting place of one of the most secular Mughal emperors, Akbar The Great, who started building his tomb during his own lifetime. The bold carving designs, the striking minarets build in red sandstone and inlaid in patterns of white marble, the blend of Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain themes are all believed to represent Akbar’s own personality. It is here that you can marvel at complex mosaics and colored stones assembled together to form the most intricate patterns. Surrounding the tomb are tranquil Charbagh gardens typical of the Mughal era, and a portico adorned with stucco paintings.

LODGING IN Agra

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