Saturday, March 7, 2009


Agra-hosting the 'monument of love'

So synonymous is Agra with the Taj Mahal, that one tends to forget which is what. There is something about this famed memento of love - the Taj Mahal - that an Emperor constructed to internalize the memory of his dead wife and got the hands of the artisans lopped off so that it cannot be imitated. There truly is no second Taj and a look at the white-marbled monument leaves one with an impression that it is too pretty to be a funeral shrine, and one tends to give in to the argument that it is actually a proud display of grandeur of an equally proud emperor who wanted to get his name embossed in the pages of history. Whatever be its genesis, Agra is beelined by blue-chip couples and honeymooners worldwide, for their postcard snapshot with the Taj behind them.

Tale of the City

The architectural marvels hewn across the city is a clear reminder of the Mughal presence here in their once Capital. While its significance as a political center ended with the transfer of the capital to Delhi in 1634, its architectural wealth has secured its place on the international map.


Fatehpur Sikri (39 km): This was Akbar's walled palatial city in red sandstone. The Emperor had no heir and as lores go, only after visiting the saint Sheikh Salim Chishti of Sikri, he was blessed with a son. He was so bemused that he decided to build his capital there in Sikri. Other places of historical importance there are Panch Mahal, Dewane-e-Khaas, Dewane-e-Am, Buland Darwaja, Jodha Bai Palace and Birbal Bhawan.

The Taj Mahal: A visit to the Taj Mahal is sine qua non for tourists visiting India. This architectural wonder in white marble is inlaid with mosaic studded with precious-stones, Quranic inscriptions, four minarets, each 42 m high, flanking the onion shaped central dome. Avante garde writer Salman Rushdie puts it beautifully when he insists that the Taj must be seen "to remind us that the world is real, that the sound is truer than the echo, the original more forceful than its image". In fact, the beauty of this Mausoleum is beyond the grasp of lexicon. Except Fridays, which is the holy day for the Muslims, it is open everyday between 6 am to 7.30pm.

Agra Fort: A Mughal dynasty architectural grandeur in red sandstone, the Agra Red Fort or the Lal Quila is like a palatial city that houses some beatific buildings, including Moti Masjid, Diwane-i-Am, Diwane-i-Khas, Khaas Mahal, Sheesh Mahal and Musamman Burj, where the Emperor Shah Jahan died in imprisonment.

Akbar's Mausoleum: A blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture, this deep-red sandstone and marbled Mausoleum at Sikandra, was designed by the emperor himself and modified by his son emperor Jehangir. The Buland Darwaza or the Gateway of Magnificence at its entrance seems more majestic than the Mausoleum itself at times.

Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb: It is a 17th century tomb, built by Empress Noor Jahan, in memory of her father, Ghias-ud-Din Beg. It was here that the "Pietra Dura" - the inlay work on marble, so characteristic of the Taj, was first used. The yellow hued marble is highlighted with white and black marble inlay, and the lacy pierced marble screens and rich, jewel-inlaid mosaics have a delicate, feminine quality that is pure enchantment.

Jama Masjid: A large mosque built by Princess Jahanara Begum, who seem to have inherited her father Shah Jehan's aesthetic sensibility. Notable for its unusual dome and absence of minarets.

Radhaswamy Samadhi, Dayalbagh: The headquarter of the Radhaswamy sect is another architectural wonder in the making, just that the process begun almost hundred years back and is still continuing. This grandeur in marble is built by the progeny of the laborers who built the Taj - some family craftmanship that gets passed on as an heirloom.


The insignia of the Taj echoes through the markets and right from the print on the fabrics to the miniature sculpture piece in silver, it is a popular brand. So you will not have dearth of souvenirs to carry back from from this land of the World's Seventh Wonder. The Taj 'industry' apart, Agra is famous for its marble and soft stone inlay, as well as zardori-embroidered fabrics, leather goods, brass ware, carpets, and jewelry. Head for the Govt. Emporiums if you want to carry some local made stuff. Agra also offers semi-precious stone jewelery that is typical of the ornate Moghul style. Fatehabad Road and M.G. Road has some good shops that you can check out. Else, shopping at Delhi (which has almost everything that can be bought in Agra), is a recommended option. This tourist hub sells over-prized commodities more than often.


Mughal cuisines and their aesthetic sense are undeniably supreme. And Agra's kitchens exude that scrumptious Mughal aroma. The tandoor (earthen oven), was perhaps one of the most remarkable Mughal introduction that has become the stamp of Indian food in the dining tables worldwide. The kebabs, pulaos and kheer and petha are all must eats. These are safe bets if had from authentic restaurants, and let your taste buds taste and wonder what they are.

For some amazing Mughlai khana, go to Peshawari (Mughal Sheraton, M G Road), Mughal Room (Clarks Shiraz), where live ghazals (poetry readings) romanticize the atmosphere. The rates maybe higher, but after gorging the lot you will know that your pennies were worth it.


Taj Mahotsav: Come February and Agra bursts into an orchestra of colors with the best handicrafts, cuisine, dance and music, bedecked elephants, camels, folk artisans, drum-beaters from all over U.P. blending about the Taj. Venued at Shilpgram, just next door to the Taj, this 10 days festival is a must visit.

Taj by the moonlight: Since 2005, the Taj has been opened for night viewing for 5 days each lunar cycle - the full-moon night and 2 nights before and after that. The ban on night viewing lasted for 20 years (due to terrorist threats) and now too, it can be viewed only from a certain distance. It can't be kept open every night for tourists because that would require floodlights and this might cause harm to this pristine marbled wonder.

The Taj is a delicate darling. In 1996, there were fears that the sound system at a concert by Greek musician Yanni may have damaged the delicate marble structure. Pollution has actually got it an yellowish tinge.


Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary (54 km): The Park which used to be the Siberian Crane's, and a host of other migratory birds wintering destination, needs no introduction for ornithologists worldwide. Even if you don't know much about birds, its 350 species of multi-colored avian metropolis will leave you infatuated. Don't forget your binoculars.

Hindu Pilgrimage destinations: Mathura (or Brajbhoomi, 47 km NW of Agra), is Lord Krishna's birthplace; Vrindavan (10 km from Mathura) is where He spent his chilhood and Gokul (16 km south of Mathura) is where Krishna was secretly raised; Govardhan Hill (25 km from Mathura) is the hill Lord Krishna lifted with his small hillock to save the villagers from torrential rain.

Location :
In Uttar Pradesh, SE of Delhi

Go there for :
Taj Mahal, Agra Fort

Climate :
21.9-45 °C (Sum); 4.2-31.7 °C (Win)

When to Go:

Local Tongue:

Literacy :

STD Code :
+91 - 562

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