It surely is the wonder of all wonders, but the presence of the Taj Mahal is so overwhelming that many forget to look past its perfection. There is no contradicting the fact that its pristine beauty, shining like a million pearls in the sun, has no match, but Agra is surely much more than being stereotyped as the ‘City of Taj’. Here are all the places and experiences that don’t make it to many itineraries, but definitely should!
Around 10 km from the city centre, this is where Akbar was entombed. Following Tartary custom of building a tomb in one’s lifetime, Akbar commissioned the construction of over more than 100 acres at the start of the 17th century which was completed by his son Jahangir in 1613. A place not attracting as huge number of visitors as the Taj Mahal, this place has certain calmness to itself. That also gives you enough time and space to admire the detailed ceilings and other works. The sight of free-spirited deer roaming among the foliage and cacophony of birds and langurs on the trees is like a perfect picnic.
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Or the original red fort is a World Heritage Site. Inside its huge gates dwarfing humanity, stand opulent palaces in red sandstone and marble you could keep looking at for hours. Originally built for military purposes it was later used as a palace and reflects collective brilliance of three Mughal generations – Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. On a clear day it gives a wonderful view of the Taj Mahal, the sight Shah Jahan held dear till the day he died after being imprisoned in the fort by his son Aurangzeb. The Diwan-i-Aam that once housed the famous peacock throne and Diwan-i-Khas where kings and dignitaries were welcomed are notable for their decorated columns and arches. While Sheesh Mahal was the royal dressing room and is stunning with mirror-like mosaic layout, Khas Mahal is a beauty in marble. Apart from the immaculate geometric gardens, the fort houses many other structures which can make you lose time and way too.
Another World Heritage Site and a fine example of Mughal architecture at its best, Fatehpur Sikri is 40 km away from Agra. After the birth of Prince Salim, Akbar built this new city and made it his new capital. It was, however, soon deserted. Some say due to shortage of water and some claim that Akbar grew out of the place as it was nothing but a result of his whim, hence also referred to as a ghost city. Yet, its Buland Darwaza is said to be one of the largest in the world, and the five-storey palace made for the royal women is the most fascinating structure here. The tomb of Salim Chishti in the complex is made in white marble with delicate carving.
Sometimes called Baby Taj for sitting pretty in white among manicured gardens, or hailed as the first tomb in the country made out of marble, it has an interesting story to it. The very daughter that Mirza Ghiyas-ud-din or Ghiyas Beg wanted to abandon for the lack of money to feed her got this impressive mausoleum made for him. After the wails of the child changed his heart, Beg found a caravan that took him from Persia to the court of Akbar. After Jahangir became the emperor, he made Beg his chief minister and gave him the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah (the pillar of the state). The emperor also fell in love with his beautiful daughter who later came to be known as the empress Noor Jahan. The structure’s layout, symmetrical designs, pietra dura and latticework are precursor to the craftsmanship at the Taj.
–Aram Bagh, full of water courses and fountains, are the gardens built by Babar on the banks of Yamuna to bear the heat and dust.
-Sacred to the followers of Radha Swami faith, the memorial at Dayal Bagh is made in white marble and blends various religious architectures. The construction that started more than hundred years back never finished and there is a belief that it never should.
-Within the precincts of old Roman Catholic cemetery stands Red Taj Mahal. If the original was from a husband to a wife this one is vice versa.
-Believed to have been founded by Lord Shiva himself when Lord Krishna was born, Mankameshwar temple, where everyone’s heart’s wishes come true attracts a large number of devotees.