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Sightseeing in Agra

Famed for nestling Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the modern world, a visit to Agra is a trip to remember if one wishes to take a glimpse of the history of India. One cannot get enough, gazing at the beautifully crafted royal forts such as Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar Fort, Diwan-i-Am, Diwan-i-Khas, Sheesh Mahal & Khas Mahal to name a few. Of course, Taj Mahal remains the hot spot among the tourists.

The Taj Mahal

Emperor Shah Jahan built this white marble mausoleum for his queen Arjumand Bano Begum or Mumtaz Mahal. The building aside, the Taj Mahal is one of the most glorious symbols of love. Great builder that he was, the Emperor commissioned a building that has lasted centuries to remain a thing of rare breathtaking beauty. The building was commissioned in 1631 and decorated with the landmark technique of intricate marble inlay work.

Situated on the banks of the River Yamuna, the Taj Mahal stands at the northern end of formal gardens. The white marble came from Makrana in Rajasthan and the red sandstone from Fatehpur Sikri.

Precious stones like jade, crystal, turquoise, lapis lazuli, sapphire, jade, coral and diamonds were brought from far-flung places in Tibet, China, Sri Lanka, Persia and Afghanistan. It is believed that a fleet of 1000 elephants was used to transport the material.

The main entrance to the monument is of red sandstone, with domed pavilions in the Hindu style. The gateway is inscribed with verses from the Koran, the lettering of which appear the same size through an illusion created by the craftsmen who enlarged and lengthened the letters at different positions.

The gardens enclosed by high walls are divided into four parts or the charbagh, which symbolises the Gardens of Paradise in Islam. There are fountains and water channels flowing through the garden, representing the rivers of water, milk, wine and honey. The monument itself stands on a raised platform with four minarets in the corners. The minarets have a slightly outward incline, to prevent them from falling on the monument during an earthquake. You have to remove your shoes before getting on to the platform. Socks, or cloth shoes available at the base, should be kept on since the marble gets very hot during the day.

A huge dome, rising 44 feet high with a brass spire on top crowns the Taj Mahal. Inside is a central chamber with high ceilings that houses the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. A delicately carved trelliswork marble screen encloses them. The empress’ tomb, which is directly under the dome, has the 99 names of Allah inscribed on it. Shah Jahan’s cenotaph is higher and to the left. It has a pen box inscribed on it, which symbolises a male ruler. Just below these cenotaphs are the real graves, in a dark and humid crypt filled with incense. If you donate a few coins to the attendant, he will lay them as offerings on the graves.

Surrounding the central chamber are four octagonal rooms where the other members of the royal family were to have been laid to rest. The base is carved with floral motifs, of roses, tulips, and narcissi. Some of the designs have upto 60 pieces.

On both sides of the Taj are two identical red sandstone mosques. The one to the left holds Friday prayers even today. The one to the right, the jawab (answer) was built only for symmetry and holds no prayers since it faces away from the Mecca.

On the western wall of the compound is the museum there is a good collection of Mughal miniature paintings - portraits of the Mughal rulers, ancient coins and porcelain. The museum also has a gallery with the original drawings of the Taj Mahal on display. They show how meticulously the building was planned, including an accurate estimate of the time to be taken for its construction.

Agra Fort

Akbar, the greatest empire-builder of the Mughals, commissioned the Agra Fort in 1565. Shah Jahan made alterations by pulling down many of the original buildings and replacing them with marble ones.

His son Aurangzeb, who was in constant conflict with local chieftains and neighbouring principalities, added the outer ramparts.The tourist entry is through the Amar Singh Gate, which was used by General Lake and his army to capture the fort. The main entrance, the Delhi Gate, is now closed. Much of the fort is occupied by the army and is out of bounds for visitors. However, the buildings open to the public have some superb architectural sights.

The Diwan-I-Am or the Hall of audience is a pillared hall whose centrepiece is the throne alcove. This marble structure was inlaid with precious stones in floral motifs, and was built to house the Peacock Throne. The exquisitely crafted throne was taken to Delhi by Shah Jahan and was looted by Nadir Shah and carried away to Persia.

The Diwan-I-Khas, where the emperor held audience with visiting dignitaries, was built in 1635. It had two thrones on the terrace, one in white marble and one in black slate. Emperor Shah Jahan is believed to have used the marble throne for repose, and the slate throne to watch elephant fights in the courtyard.

The Khas Mahal, where the emperor slept, had cavities in its flat roof to insulate it from the hot winds of summer. The Macchi Bhawan, or fish chamber, had fountains, tanks and water channels stocked with fish. The emperor and his courtiers amused themselves by angling here.

The Nagina Masjid was built in marble by Shah Jahan to be used exclusively by the women of the zenana or harem. Below it is the Zenana Meena Bazaar where the ladies could look at goods without being seen. The Sheesh Mahal or Palace of Mirrors, whose mirrored walls reflected and enhanced the lamplights, was used by the women for bathing. A two-storied octagonal tower, the Musamman Burj, is said to be the place from where Shah Jahan last saw the Taj Mahal before dying.

Itmad-ud-daulah, popularly known as ‘baby Taj’,is the tomb of Mirza Ghiyath Begh, who was wazir or Chief Minister in Emperor Jahangir’s court.

He became a very powerful person, more so when the Emperor Jahangir married his daughter Noor Jahan. The tomb was designed by Noor Jahan and was the first Mughal building using marble inlay work.

The Jama Masjid was built by Shah Jahan and dedicated to his favourite daughter Jahanara Begum. It is surrounded by the crowded bazaar, which is interesting to wander through on foot.

A kilometre away from Itmad-ud-daulah is Chini ka rauza, the mausoleum of Afzal Khan, and the son of Mirza Ghiyath Begh. The tomb derives its name from the glazed tiles (chini) on its façade. The Ram Bagh, laid out by Babur in 1528 is said to have been the resting-place of his body before it was taken away for a final burial in Kabul.

Akbar’s mausoleum at Sikandra, 10 kms from Agra, can be visited by hiring an autorickshaw for the day. The construction of the mausoleum was begun by Akbar himself, and completed in 1613 by his son Jahangir. In a way, it is a synthesis of the bold masculine red sandstone structures built by Akbar and the delicately crafted white marble buildings of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The entrance is through a huge gateway that blocks view of the tomb from outside.

The tomb is in the centre of the char bagh, gardens laid out in four quadrants. The mausoleum is four storeyed, the first three in red sandstone, and the one on the top in white marble. Inside, the original ceilings had frescoes in blue and gold. Some of it has been restored. Around the tomb you will find some interesting wildlife in the form of monkeys, deer and black buck.

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