The city of Agra is synonymous with the Taj Mahal. What most people do not know is that this city of Uttar Pradesh, located on the banks of river Yamuna, was famous even before the Taj was built.
Agra has been referred as “AryaGriha” or the abode of the Aryans. It also finds its mention in the Mahabharata as Agravana. It is said that Sultan Sikandar Lodi the Ruler of Delhi Sultanate founded Agra in the year 1504. After the Sultan’s death the city passed on to his son Sultan Ibrahīm Lodī. He ruled his Sultanate from Agra until he fell fighting Babar, in the First battle of Panipat fought in 1526.
It was during the Mughal Empire that Agra (then was known as Akbarabad, after the famous king Akbar), began to develop. It was the capital city of the empire from where Jahangir, his son Akbar and grandson Shah Jahan ruled. The city holds the architectural stamp of those times even today.
Agra – the heritage, travel and honeymoon destination
It is to experience the rich cultural and architectural heritage and vast pool of knowledge about the history of India, that tourists make a beeline to this ancient city.
This is also an ideal locale for a honeymoon stopover on the way to Dharmashala or any place in the north. Travellers love the idea of visiting the Taj, which has since time immemorial been the epitome of love.
The city is also famous for its handicrafts, marble inlay work or the craft of Pietra Dura, used extensively in many of the architectures of the Mugal era.
Like most cities in India, the city of Agra has been in the past ruled by different rulers, who have influenced the culture and the religion in the city. Nonetheless, Agra has been mostly influenced by the Mughals and hence, people speak Hindi and Urdu. This city is an apt example of an Indian city where Hindus and Muslims live together in harmony.
One, must-have sweet dish for all travellers is the “Agra ka Petha”, a very famous sweet made up of Pumpkin. You will find Panchi Petha outlets all around the city.
Agra is a perfect example of modernity amalgamated with the traditions and cultures of yesteryears. Today Agra is as much a modern destination as it is a heritage city. Good educational institutions, opportunities for trade, jobs and industries can be seen in the city. The Agra University is one of the Oldest Universities in India. With industrialization, and proximity to Yamuna River, many small scale industries have cropped up in Agra. The government is taking necessary steps to preserve the National Monuments by having strict control on pollution levels.
The tourism industry provides livelihood to most of the natives of Agra. Others have opened shops with beautiful Marble work and handicrafts. Taking advantage of this the government has even provided occupation to prison inmates, who earn an honest living by making the famous bamboo and banana fibre sarees and dress materials sold in all handloom houses of the city.
Climate and best time to visit
Summers are extremely hot and arid in the region, with mild rains during monsoons. Hence winter time, between November to March, is ideal to visit Agra.
Agra is a tourist’s delight. Some famous destinations across Agra are:
The Taj Mahal
The TajMahal; which is actually the mausoleum of Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal is one of the most famous buildings in the world. It is one of the New Seven Wonders of the world, and one of three World Heritage Sites in Agra.
Completed in 1653, the Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal king Shah Jahan as the final resting place for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Finished in marble, it is perhaps India’s most fascinating and beautiful monument. This perfectly symmetrical monument took 22 years (1630–1652) of labour and 20,000 workers, masons and jewellers to build and is set amidst landscaped gardens.
Built by the Persian architect, Ustad ‘Īsa, the Taj Mahal is on the south bank of the Yamuna River. It can be observed from Agra Fort, from where Emperor Shah Jahan gazed at it for the last eight years of his life; spent as a prisoner of his son Aurangzeb.
It is an acknowledged masterpiece of symmetry. Verses of the Koran are inscribed on it and at the top of the gate are twenty-two small domes, signifying the number of years the monument took to build. The TajMahal was built on a marble platform that stands above a sandstone one. The most elegant dome of the TajMahal has a diameter of 60 feet (18 m), and rises to a height of 80 feet (24 m); directly under this dome is the tomb of MumtazMahal. Shah Jahan’s tomb was erected next to hers by his son Aurangzeb. The interiors are decorated with fine inlay work, incorporating semi-precious stones.
Agra Fort also known as the ‘LalQuila’ or the Red Fort is a 17th century constructed fort which was later renovated by was the great Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1565. It served as the residence for the Mughal Emperors until the time of Shah Jahan and was later a declared as World Heritage site. Notable buildings in the fort include the Pearl Mosque or Motī Masjid, the Dīwan-e-‘Am and Dīwan-e-Khas (halls of public and private audience), Jahangīr’s Palace, KhasMahal, Shīsh Mahal (mirrored palace), and the Musamman Burj. It is one of the architectural marvels of the Mughal times in India
Mughal Emperor Akbar was also known as ‘Sikandar’ meaning ‘brave warrior’. Sikandra, the last resting place of the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, is on the Delhi-Agra Highway, only 13 kilometres from the Agra Fort. Akbar’s tomb reflects the completeness of his personality. The vast, beautifully carved, red-ochre sandstone tomb with deers, rabbits and langurs is set amidst a lush garden. Akbar himself planned his own tomb and selected a suitable site for it. To construct a tomb in one’s lifetime was a Turkic custom which the Mughals followed religiously. Akbar’s son Jahangīr completed construction of this pyramidal tomb in 1613. The 99 names of Allah have been inscribed on the tomb.
Just one km away from the Tomb of Akbar in Sikandra is located the tomb of his wife, Mariam-uz-Zamani. A former Rajput Queen, she was the mother of Jahangir.
The Empress NūrJahan, Jehangir’s twentieth wife, built I’timad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb, for her father, MirzaGhiyas Beg, who was the Chief Minister of the Emperor Jahangīr, and her mother. Located on the bank of the river Yamuna, the tomb is set in a large cruciform garden, criss-crossed by water courses and walkways. On each corner are hexagonal towers, about thirteen meters tall. Small in comparison to many other Mughal-era tombs, it is sometimes described as a jewel box. Its architecture holds many similarities to the Taj, hence, is also referred to as the ‘Baby Taj’.
Jama Masjid in Agra is also popularly known as the Jami Masjid or ‘Friday Mosque’. It is one of the largest mosques in India.The Mosque was built by Shah Jahan in 1648 and dedicated to his favorite daughter, Jahanara Begum. The beauty of the Jama Masjid is such that travelers frolic to visit this Masjid from far off placed. It required six years and 5,000 workers to finish. It was made by using red sandstone and marble.
The oldest Mughal garden in India, the Ram Bagh was built by the Emperor Babar in 1528 on the bank of the Yamuna. It lies about 2.34 km north of the Taj Mahal. The pavilions in this garden are designed so that the wind from the Yamuna, combined with the greenery, keeps them cool even during the peak of summer. This was where the Mughal emperor Babar used to spend his leisure time and where he eventually died. His body was kept here for some time before sending it to Kabul.
Taj Mahal Museum in Agra is one of the most famous museums in the city. It is visited by hundreds of tourists who wish to delve deep into the history of Taj. The museum was constructed in 1982 and is found in the Jal Mahal, inside the Taj Mahal. There are a total of one hundred and twenty one antiques showcased in the Agra Taj Mahal museum and are broadly classified into Mughal manuscripts, Mughal miniature paintings, inscription samples, royal decrees, drawings and plans of Taj Mahal.
Chini ka Roza
Mulla Shukrullah Shirazi was the Prime Minister of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and also a famous poet, who was better known under the pseudonym of ‘Allami’. For his own mausoleum, he chose glazed tiles as his medium to create the masterpiece that would enshrine his tomb forever. Every portion of this unique monument is profusely adorned with bright color schemes, known as ‘Chini ka Rauza’.