• Agra
  • The labyrinthine streets of the old city wind sinuously behind the mosque. Except the mosque, there is nothing of great architectural interest to see, as Agra's fame rests on its Agra Fort and its mausoleums (Taj Mahal, Tomb of Akbar, Tomb of It-Mad-ud Daula etc.), which were built in what was the surrounding countryside. But for a tourist on Same Day Taj Mahal Tour or Agra city tour, it is possible to watch craftsmen at work. Shopping for bargains can be most rewarding.

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The thoroughfares of Agra are narrow and, except on Mondays when most bazaars close, claustrophobically jammed with people. The people weave nonchalantly between assorted animals which never fail to amaze and amuse western visitors. Pigs snuffle, goats munch cigarette cartons, oxen masticate plastic bags, gibbering monkeys perform tight-rope acts on overheads wires, green parakeets survey the scene from vantage points. The liveliest time is late afternoon/early evening but if any form of festival is being held it will be impossible to move at more than a snail's space. Most streets of greatest interest intercommunicate and shopkeepers will explain how to reach them. Being a society characterized by ethical values and practices, those who prefer to be guided will find many cheerful men willing to assist. This aspect of social values of India can amply be felt in Agra as well. Experience the essence of social lifestyle while on Same Day Taj Mahal Tour or Agra city tour.

Behind the mosque is the cloth market, to the right of this, the main shopping thoroughfare of Old Agra snakes northward, beginning at Johri Bazar. Explore the hand-made carpets known as 'durries' (flat woven rugs) which can be made to specific designs and colours. Traditionally, the patterns are geometric and the yarn used is cotton, but slightly cheaper wool versions are also available. There are many shops which offer reliable post-home service. Walking sticks with carved handles in a variety of designers are sold in fascinating shops. The Kinari Bazar is the market where many jewelers are to be found. Panni Gali, an alleyway, is famous for workshops of exquisite gold-thread embroidery.

Nearby the Jama Masjid of Agra is to the Malka Bazar, renowned for its kite market. While passing through the alleys of the Malka Bazar, find the ladies waving from upper windows, who seem to think they know you.

An interesting crafts area, north-west of the city, Nai Ki Mandi, is where the art of petra-dura inlay is continued by many descendants of those who worked on the Taj Mahal. Trays, table tops and small boxes, all of Makrana marble, are the most popular items produced. It is fascinating to watch the highly-skilled craftsmen painstakingly engaged in setting of the semi-precious stones. As this is a Muslim trade, no work takes place on Fridays which is always a religious holiday. Another traditional craft of Agra in Nai Ki Mandi is shoemaking.

The British build their cantonment to the south of Agra. Similar residential areas were planned on the outskirts of many Indian cities of importance from the early nineteenth century onwards. Like New Delhi, Agra's cantonment is laid out with spacious, leafy avenues, which are too spread-out to tour comfortably on foot. Anglican and Roman Catholic cemeteries are located beside each other in Grand Parade Road, to the south; a colorful Victorian Gothic gate-house forms the entrance. It is a surprise to discover that an envoy of Elizabeth I, John Mildenhall, who died in1614, is buried here.

On Gwalior Road find the Tomb of Firoz Khan, a minor Mughal. His mausoleum, raised on a plinth, is prettily reflected in water, in the manner of the Taj Mahal.

St George's Church, build in 1826 by Colonel J.J. Boileau, is Agra's Anglican Church. It stands at the Gwalior Road/ Taj Road junction.

As Agra has emerged as a globally renowned tourist destination, amazingly galaxy of modern hotels, restaurants and malls have mushroomed all-around. Though all these aspects of Agra can't be seen and experienced on Same Day Taj Mahal Tour but other tours of larger duration, encompassing Agra, make you see and feel the essence of Agra, the city more known for the Taj Mahal.

Situated on the banks of holy river Yamuna, Agra is almost synonymous with Taj Mahal. History of Agra dates back to hundreds of years. Being on bank of river Yamuna, makes it quite strategic. It has been ruled by Rajput, Jat and Mughal rulers for centuries. Agra remained capital of Mughal empire till Aurangzeb shifted capital to Delhi (Shahjahanabad). Various gigantic but beautiful monuments speak about its glorious past.

Being in proximity of Mathura and Vrindavana, Krishna Janmashtami & Holi are celebrated with gusto. Being home to large Muslim populace and Mughal rule, Islamic festivals like Id and Ramjan are also observed with religious fervor.

There are many Mughal monuments like Taj Mahal, Baby Taj, Agra Fort, Tomb of Akbar in Sikandara and many more in Agra. Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Ourist Attractions of Agra Enquire

Taj Mahal: Undoubtedly, Taj Mahal is star attraction of India and attracts highest number of tourists. Built of Makrana white marble, Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in fond memory of her beloved wife Arjumand Bano Begaum, popularly known as Mumtaj Mahal.

The entire structure of Taj Mahal is built with white marble. The delicate and tapering minarets form the frames of mausoleum at the four corners of its podium. Challis cluster around the dome appears as if seeking maternal protection and thus making their contributions to the compactness of the design. The three bays between each iwan, one of which are angled, are identical and lead the eye around the octagonal building, thereby augmenting its three-dimensional quality. Absolutely nothing but sky impinges on the purity of the Taj Mahal's contours and keeps it invariably pale blue. As a result, the Taj Mahal evokes a floating desert mirage.

The dome plays a more prominent part in the design of Taj Mahal than in any other Mughal monuments and buildings. The dome of Taj Mahal towers over the four minarets evokes a majestic view as if the white balloon swelling with air which is about to float gently skyward taking the remainder of the structure with it. The similarity of form between the minarets and space rocket increases this illusion. At any moment, it seems, the minarets of Taj Mahal might ignite to assists take-off! Each of the marble slab that makes up the minarets is firmly delineated by black pointing, possibly to prevent the eye being directed from the composition by the slender white tower melting into the hazy sky. It is said that the minarets are slightly tilted so that they would not strike the mausoleum if they fell.

But perhaps the most important feature of the buildings is its dimensions. Uniquely among India's Mughal buildings, the height above podium level of the Taj Mahal almost precisely equals its diameter: the building would thus fit neatly within a cube. Renaissance architecture discovered that, for some unknown reason, cubic dimensions are particularly appealing, a discovery that was put into practice by the English architect Inigo Jones, who invariably designed his rooms in multiples of cubes.

Shah Jahan was particularly fond of Hindu-style cusped arches. Even the Jama Masjid in Delhi demonstrates Hindu-style cusped arches, but here, the clean lines of the Persian arch appear throughout, with no examples of foliation. In fact, apart from the four 'chattris' clustered around the dome and the metal finials; Taj Mahal is a very 'Persian' building.

As the steps to the podium are reached, it will be noted that they form the only asymmetrical feature of the building. It seems strange that a double flight was not constructed thus preserving complete symmetry. Footwear must be discarded at this point.

On the pavement of the podium the marble shimmers but is clearly not dead white in the manner of Italian carrara marble, as it often appears to be in photographs. Almost every slab incorporates veins of grey and cream; some even have a green or pinkish hue. The stones came from the Makrana quarry near Jaipur and Makrana marble was the marble used almost exclusively for Mughal buildings. Makrana marble's smoky quality is chiefly responsible for the material's pearl-like appearance and changing response to variations in light. Makrana marble is still quarried and utilized for better-quality artifacts.

It soon becomes apparent that the decorative themes of the Taj Mahal are restricted to calligraphy or stylized floral patterns. The entire Koran is incised on the stonework of the complex. On the archways, the calligraphy is executed so that the actual size of the characters increases with height, thus giving an impression of uniformity. Most floral patterns are in multi-colored petra dura work, but some below dado level are monochrome reliefs, an effective combinations.

A promenade around the mausoleum will confirm that each side is identical. On the north side, the River Yamuna flows directly beneath the Taj Mahal. It was formerly possible to take a ferry to and from the opposite bank but this service has been terminated as a security measure. Tavernier, a contemporary French traveller, reported that Shah Jahan intended to build his own private mausoleum in the form of a black marble facsimile of the Taj Mahal, on the north bank of the Yamuna River. Both mausoleums were to be linked by bridge. Apparently, Aurangzeb, on seizing the throne in 1658, ordered the scheme to be abandoned. However, there is no corroboration of this story which was probably based on a fanciful rumour.

What may be seen on the far bank of the river is a small mosque, a rare building from Humayun's interrupted reign.

The four-part 'Charbagh' garden is the only Mughal example in either Agra or Delhi where still water courses regularly through it. However, this is cut off at intervals so that the channels may be cleaned. The cleaning work usually takes 3 days, so during those three days a visitor will unfortunately miss the refraction of Taj Mahal in the water. Peach trees originally franked the channel but they have been replaced by cypresses.

The garden was completely restored for Lord Curzon (1899-1905) and its English appearance is a result of this work rather than one of Lady Willingdon's enthusiasms, which might have been suspected.

The Taj Mahal's interior is entered from the south side. Visitors were not admitted to the tomb chamber during the Mughal period. The octagonal central chamber is situated directly beneath the great dome, smaller corner chamber lies, symmetrically, below the four 'chattris'.

In the main chamber, the cenotaphs of Mumtaj Mahal and Shah Jahan are enclosed by an exquisitely carved marble screen, designed to filter the light. The grave of Mumtaj Mahal is centrally positioned. Grave of Shah Jahan, inscribed as usual with a pen box to indicate the male sex, lies to one side, set on a slightly higher base. This asymmetrical configuration is taken by some to indicate that Shah Jahan intended to lie elsewhere; possibly, the derivations of the black marble mausoleum stone. However, the Tomb of It-Mad-ud-Daula and his wife exhibits a similar configuration and was certainly planned that way.

Originally, the chamber was somewhat lighter but birds became a nuisance. Therefore, it made necessary to erect glass panels to keep them out. The walls of the chamber are decorated with Quranic calligraphy and petra dura work but the finest example of the latter is on the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal, where the graduation of the colors of the flower petals is exquisite. Viceroy Lord Curzon presented the lamp suspended above the cenotaph in 1905.

As is usual, the grave of the mausoleum's occupation lie in a chamber below. This is invisible until someone loans a torch for a few rupees. Originally, the chamber was lined with gold sheets but Aurangzeb removed them after his father's death.

The two building erected of the mausoleum are identical. On the west side is the mosque but of red sandstone and surmounted by three domes. A strange optical trick occurs here: walking from the back of the mosque toward the arch of the screen, the Taj Mahal appears to retreat; in the reverse direction it appears to advance. Only from the mosque, shortly after drawn, the Sun appears adjacent to the Taj Mahal, thus providing a popular composition for photographs.

The mirror-image on the east side is known, understandably, as the Jawal (Echo). It appears to have been constructed primarily for reasons of symmetry. Claims that visitors were accommodated within, or that it serves as an assembly hall, are pure guesswork. It is undoubtedly the best place from where to watch the semi-precious stone set in the marble of the mausoleum sparkle, as either the sun and moon rises. From November to January it is possible to gain some impression of the moonlight effect, even at 7pm (but better at 7.30pm). Few visitors appear to know that this sparkling occurs: it is rather as if myriad glowworms were colonizing the mausoleums. Set in the pavements, in front of the Jawal, is a representation of the final of the Taj Mahal's dome.

One last questions remains. Is the Taj Mahal the most beautiful building in the World? There is, of course, no answer to this, because, as is well-known, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. But perhaps it can be said with some confidence that no other building moves so many people entirely through the abstract purity of its architecture.

Agra Fort: One of the two UNESCO World Heritage sites of Agra, Agra Fort shows you evolutionary phases of Mughal rule in its architecture. The Agra Fort was primarily built by the Rajput rulers. It was built of bricks but Akbar renovated and further fortified it with red sandstone. There are several buildings inside Agra Fort.

The walls of Agra Fort were built as a double structure. The inner and outer defenses had been separated by a moat which used to get continuous water supply from river Yamuna. Quasim Khan, Akbar's surveyor, was in charge of the project. As at Red Fort Delhi, three gateways punctuate the wall, on the west, south and east sides. The most important was the west gate of Agra Fort and is called Delhi Gate. The Delhi Gate leads directly to a second, inner gateway, the Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate). Unfortunately, neither may be inspected closely, as the entire western section of the Agra Fort is now occupied by the military. Within the inner arch of the Delhi Gate is inscribed the date 1600, indicating that it was rebuilt soon after Akbar's return to Agra in 1599.

The only public entry to Agra Fort is now from the south via the Amar Singh Gate. The name of the gate commemorates Rao Amar Singh, originally destined to become Maharajah of Jodhpur, but disinherited by his father in favour of his younger brother Jaswant Singh. Apparently, Rao suffered from an uncontrollable temper which led to unacceptably rash deeds. His rashest and last took place in the Diwan-i-Aam of the Agra Fort. He took exception to the statements made by the court treasurer and killed him, all this in the presence of Emperor Shah Jahan, who was not impressed. Allegedly, Rao, sensing that this time he might have gone too far, mounted his horse and attempted to leap the wall of the ramp and escape from Agra Fort. The horse fell and threw Rao to the ground where he was set upon the guards and put to death. The Amar singh Gate was stormed by General Lake in 1803.

Tickets are purchased to the left of the public entrance, the first of three structures that make up the gate. The path curves right to the second archway, but further on, location at right angle to the path, is the most impressive part of the Amar Singh Gate. Great domed tower, connected by an open gallery, flank a relatively small archway. Apart from the stylized, floral patterns of the blue tiles, the appearance of the structure is entirely Hindu, and typical of the early period of Akbar's region, when his architect departed from the Muslim architectural tradition which has been long-established in India. Similarities between the Amar Singh Gate and the main entrance of the Rajput Fort at Gwalior have been noted. It was near this point that Amar Singh was slain, hence the gateway's name.

Jama Masjid : The Jama Masjid of Agra, situated in the middle of the old city, is an example of early Mughal architecture.

Tomb of It-Mad-ud-Daula: Known also as Baby Taj, the Tomb of It-Mad-ud-Daula is built in white marble and predates Taj Mahal.

Chini Ka Rauza: The Chini ka Rauza is a tomb of one of the chief ministers of Shah Jahan, Alami Afzal Khan Shirazi. Alami Afzal Khan Shirazi built this tomb for himself with glazed tiles of 'Chini Mitti

Ram Bagh: Aram Bagh, a persian 'Charbagh' style garden, was built by Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty in India. Aram Bagh later in local parlance came to be popular as Ram Bagh.

Tomb of Akbar: The Tomb of Akbar at Sikandara is situated at the outskirts of Agra. The Tomb of Akbar is a splendid showcase of architectural evolution of Mughals with blend of Hindu architecture as well.

Mariam's Tomb: Mariam was a Hindu queen of Akbar and mother of Jahangir. Mariam's Tomb, as she later got converted into Chritianity, at Sikandara is an evidence early Mughal architecture.


How to reach Agra:

Agra by Air: Agra does have an airport but it is not for civil aviation purposes. The nearest airports to Agra are New Delhi (225 Kms) and Jaipur (235 Kms). Delhi and Jaipur airports connect to all major cities of India.

Agra by Rail: Agra, the seat of world famous Taj Mahal, is well connected to Delhi, Varanasi, Jhansi, Bhopal, Mumbai and other parts of India.

Agra by Road: Situated on the banks of river Yamuna, Agra has a good network of roads. Agra is connected by frequent public and private buses and road transport to Delhi and all the major towns of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and nearby areas.

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