Mughals, who ruled India for over 200 years, have created some of the finest architectures in the history of India. Some of the most splendid Mughal-era buildings of all times are in Agra, city about 200 Km from the national capital, Delhi. No trip to India is complete without at least one visit to the Taj.
While many people associate Agra only with Taj Mahal, there are a lot more things that Agra has to offer for history and culture lovers. We would recommend 2-3 days in Agra if you are visiting for the first time. Here are the top 6 things you must do:
1. Taj Mahal
Lets start with the obvious: Taj Mahal. This symbol of eternal love from the 17th Century is an architectural marvel. The actual tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are kept in the lower level of Taj Mahal. The 4 pillars on the corners are the tomb are inclined at about 2 degrees outwards to ensure that the tomb is safe in case of any natural disaster such as earthquake. Such tiny details gave us goosebumps.
When you enter through the darwaza to see Taj Mahal, try walking forward and backward into the darwaza. Intuitively, when you walk closer to the monument, it should appear bigger. However, the monument appears smaller when you walk closer to it. a A guided tour is highly recommended for you to appreciate the architecture and the construction of this historic site.
Visiting hours of Taj Mahal are sunrise to sunset & it remains closed on Friday. The tickets can be bought at the site itself if you are seeing it during the day. However, if you have the flexibility around the dates, do visit Taj Mahal in the night during Full Moon days. Taj Mahal looks so mesmerizing in the night and gleams like a sparkling diamond in the moonlit sky.
You can find the detailed schedule and price of night tour here.
Do book the night tour atleast 6-7 weeks in advance as you may not get a slot. The maximum number of people allowed are 400, divided in 8 batches of 50 people each. We did not know this and hence missed the opportunity. If you are seeing Taj Mahal during the day, go early in the morning. You will beat the crowd and the heat, especially in the scorching summer season between April to July.
2. Mehtab Bagh
Mehtab Bagh was built by Emperor Babur and it is the last of the 11 Mughal built gardens on the Yamuna coast. It is said that Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor wanted to create a Taj Mahal look alike in black marble.
No one knows if this is true and there are believers on both side of the story. Ruins of the foundation of the blackened marble monument in Mehtab Bagh seems to support this legend. Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s son saw it as a wasteful expenditure and imprisoned him in the Agra Fort. Mehtab Bagh is also a great place to take pictures of Taj Mahal. We went in summers so the gardens were dried up but we can imagine it to be very picturesque during rainy seasons.
3. Agra Fort
The Agra Fort is indeed the most important fort in India. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Almost all the great Mughals (Babur, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb) have governed the empire from here. Akbar died in this Fort. Both Jahangir and Shah Jahan were coronated in the Agra Fort. Once Shah Jahan was imprisoned in Agra Fort he spent days and nights looking at Taj Mahal in the memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Jahanara Begum Sahib, Jahan’s first daughter, voluntarily shared his 8-year confinement and nursed him in his dotage. As Shah Jahan was getting older, his vision got weaker and he found it difficult to view the symbol of his love. Jahanara Begum brought him a pair of glasses so that he can continue to see Taj Mahal until the end.
4. Jami Masjid
Fatehpur Sikri is about 36 Kms from Agra and takes about an hour to reach by taxi. Fatehpur Sikri served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585 under Akbar’s reign. The monuments at Fatehpur Sikri reflect Akbar’s acumen in assimilating diverse regional architectural influences within a holistic style that was uniquely his own. The city is famous for Jami Masjid, the Buland Darwaza and the Tomb of Salim Chishti. The mosque, Jami Masjid was built in 1648 by Emperor Shah Jahan and dedicated to his loving daughter, Jahanara Begum. The Tomb of Salim Chishti is believed to be a sacred tomb to fulfill all wishes of those who visit. The Buland Darwaza is on the main entrance to the palace of Fatehpur Sikri and is the highest gateway in the world. Akbar built this Darwaza as a symbol of his victory over Gujarat. The place was overly crowded so we could just take a picture with our mobile phones.
The Fatehpur Sikri Palace
5. Panch Mahal
It is a five-storey palace made in red sandstone in Fatehpur Sikri. It also means wind catcher tower. Built on the pattern of a Buddhist Temple, Panch Mahal was basically a pleasure palace of the emperor Akbar. He primarily used it for relaxation and entertainment purpose since it is located close to Lady’s House or Harem.
6. Akbar’s Tomb in Sikandra
‘Akbar the Great’ planned his own tomb and selected the site for it neat the Jamuna river. Unfortunately, Akbar died in 1605 when its construction had just begun. Jahangir, son of Akbar completed the tomb in 1612 in the memory of this father. The tomb is a beautiful double storey tomb built in Iranian style. It is seated in the heart of a vast garden with hosts many deer and peacocks. There are benches on the side so you can sit and enjoy the view while admiring the majestic monument. The more we read about Mughals, the more we wish to have born during the period of Mughals. So much richness and authenticity has never been experienced in any other period. The era of Mughals has left a mark that will last until the end of time…