Tour of Agra 
(20 January 2005 - Thursday)

 Agra,  The City of Taj 


Besides being the city of the Taj, Agra also boasts of a rich historical past.  It finds mentions in the Mahabharata, – the popular Indian epic dating back to the third century B.C.  Then it was called Agrabana or the Paradise City.  The city came to prominence in the 16th and 17th centuries during the reign of the Mughals when their capital alternated between Agra and Delhi.  Today, Delhi reigns over India, but Agra reigns over a glorious past created by people skilled in craftsmanship, art and architecture.

The state of architecture in India came to its fullest eminence during the Mughal rule.  With the arrival of Akbar, the Mughal era saw the beginning of an unparalleled building activity.  All that was best in the building tradition of India came to life, with Shah Jahan taking the Mughal architecture to its climactic best in the famous Taj Mahal.  To some, the Taj Mahal is just an over-rated and over-iced wedding cake.  To others, it is a sublime experience to be ranked with the Pyramids of Egypt, the Palace of Versailles or the Parthenon of Athens as the aesthetic epitome of a civilization.  And to still others, it is simply the greatest love story ever told!

Arjuman Banu, the niece of Jahangir’s queen, Nur Jahan, was the second wife of Emperor Shah Jahan.  After her marriage with Shah Jahan in 1612, she took another name by which she was to be known to posterity – Mumtaz Mahal.  She bore him fourteen children and it was in childbirth that she died.  Shah Jahan vowed to build her a memorial surpassing everything the world had ever seen in beauty and, it must be admitted, in wild extravagence!  Indeed, the Taj is a long lyric of love in marble and has no parallel anywhere in the world.

With craftsmen brought from Persia, Turkey, France and Italy and with a huge army of 20,000 labourers in action for 22 long years, this magnificent edifice in marble and sandstone came up on the shores of the River Yamuna.  It is one of the wonders of the world and stands out as a hallmark to the creative ingenuity of mankind, luring millions of visitors to this country.  It is a monument that needs to be approached and observed at different times of the day from far and near to get an adequate experience of the sheer beauty that it evokes.  It is said that the Taj looks especially splendid on a full moon night, presenting a feast to the eyes and making the tourists thrilled and enthralled by its sheer beauty.




The construction of the massive Agra Fort was begun by Emperor Akbar in 1565, and additions were made until the time of his grandson, Shah Jahan.  While in Akbar’s time, the Fort was principally a military structure, by Shah Jahahn’s reign it had become partially a palace.  A visit to the Fort is an Agra ‘must’ since so many of the events which led to the construction of the Taj took place here. There  are  many  fascinating buildings within the massive walls which stretch for 2.5 km, surrounded by a moat over 10 metres wide.  Inside the Fort is really a city within a city.  This Fort also is on the banks of the river Yamuna.

The average traveller on a trip south from Delhi tends to close his camara case after visiting the Taj Mahal.  At Fatehpur, about 40 kms from Agra, is a perfectly preserved historic city built on a small hill called Sikri.  It is a sleeping beauty and its entire history sounds like a fairly tale.  The tale began when a desperate Akbar, because he had no heir, decided to visit a Muslim holy Imam, Shaikh Salim Chisti, who lived in a small village.  The Shaikh blessed him with a son, whom he named Salim (Jahangir).  The grateful Akbar decided to move his capital to the village, popularly known as Fatehpur Sikri.  It is a town complete with caravan serais, gardens, courtyards and the bath houses, besides the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience) and Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Special Audience).  The unity in the architecture of the Fatehpur Sikri is something which fascinates all visitors.



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