Corporate tourists take a morning superfast train to Agra, visit Taj Mahal, Red Fort, a marble inlay atelier and then leave for Delhi happily in the evening by another superfast train after savoring Indian culinary delicacies in one of the many 4 star hotels of the Taj city.
Traditional tourists stay one night in Agra and add Baby Taj I’timad-ud-Daula, Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra and if their tour is oriented towards Rajasthan they add also the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri in their itinerary. Still, for the interested voyageurs, Agra has much more to offer.
Mentioned in the Mahabharata as Agravan forest, Agra came into prominence when Sikander Lodi made it his capital in 1505. In 1526, in the first battle of Panipat, the invading army of Zahīr-ud-Dīn Muhammad Babur killed Ibrahim Lodi and it marked the beginning of the Mughal Empire in Hindusthan for the next few centuries. Agra remained in prominence till 1648 when Emperor Shah Jahan built Shahjahanabad in Delhi.
The Mughal made their presence felt mainly by construction works. From Babur to Akbar to Shah Jahan, Agra had been transformed into a riverfront city on the banks of the Yamuna river. The orientation of the city was towards the river is best exhibited in the plan of the Taj Mahal. The nobles built their palaces on the riverside and used to travel by the river transports. Even Shah Jahan visited the Taj Mahal by boat. It is for an interested tourist with ample time to discover the 17 old palaces from the Mughal era on the left bank and 45 others on the right of the Yamuna river.
The first Mughal building almost opposite of the Taj Mahal is Babur’s Chahar Bagh garden Bagh-i- Hast Bihisht which comes down to us in the name of Ram Bagh garden. It is an effort to introduce Timurad garden with running water channels where tents could have been pitched for short stays. The proximity of the garden to the Yamuna was functional. The garden at present is undergoing restoration work supervised by the archeologists.
From Ram Bagh turning left and crossing the longest highway of Asia from Bengal to Peshwar, you reach I’timad-ud-Daula. We would suggest to those staying two nights in Agra to go and have a look at Chini-ka-Rauza is the adjacent area before I’timad-ud-Daula. It is the resting place of poet, astronomer, and mathematician Afzal Khan whose brother Amanat Khan created the calligraphic inscriptions of the Taj Mahal and also of his brother’s tomb. The name of the monument refers to the mosaic of glazed tiles which is an exotic element of the Mughal architecture.
Your driver now parks the car just outside the city-faced boundary walls of the mausoleum of I’timad-ud-Daula as there is no proper parking area here. It was never thought to construct a parking area here like Taj Mahal as very few tourists frequent this monument. This monument shows not only the first inlay work on marble to be later perfected on Taj Mahal, it also tells the story of three generations of the family of the queen of Taj Mahal Arzuman Banu begam Mumtaj Mahal. Like Taj Mahal, the tomb building is in a traditional Chahar Bagh garden on the riverfront but unlike Taj Mahal it is not oriented towards the river but in a more orthodox tradition is situated in the middle of the garden. It was built between 1622 and 1628 by third Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s powerful wife Nur Jahan for her parents Ghiyas Beg Tehrani I’timad-ud-Daula and his wife. The inside tomb chamber of the monument is richly painted with a variety of floral motifs whereas the outer walls show artistically done inlay work mainly with fossil stones. It is a real pleasure to look at it.
Now as it is almost midday, you will feel to enter the Taj city by a colonial period bridge and move forward-looking from the car at the Taj Mahal across the river on your left while the imposing Agra Fort stands as a stone sentry on your right side. Have your lunch in one of the many multi-cuisine restaurants of Agra before visiting the Fort for an hour. Stroll through the spacious gardened pavilions and other utility buildings that are open to the public with your guide who will narrate the exquisite lifestyle of the Mughal royal palaces and harem Sarai. The Fort was built primarily as a residential palace complex in red sandstone by the greatest Mughal Emperor Akbar and later redesigned by his son Jahangir and grandson Shah Jahan in white marble. The Fort offers a splendid view of the Taj Mahal.
It is 4 pm, the most appropriate time to visit the Taj Mahal at sunset. The security at the entrance gates is robust with different entry gates for foreign visitors and for the Indians. Your first stop will be in front of the great gate Darwaza-i-rauza. It is a traditional Mughal gate already existing in Sikandra. Covered with red sandstone and white marble, it displays sura 89 of the Quran that invites believers to paradise. The gate has inlaid floral designs in coral and malachite with 22 small decorative domes on the top.
Once you pass through the gate, an 18-hectare Chahar Bagh garden building complex with the Taj Mahal is in front of you. Like, everybody, you held your breath and start clicking. Taj Mahal needs no explanation. It explains itself though your guide will not stop from narrating the stories and myths related to the Taj Mahal. He will even take you inside the mausoleum building and with the help of a small torch borrowed from the gatekeepers will show you the fantastic inlay work in and out. The rituals are perfected by years of experience!
The next day early morning after breakfast in your hotel, you set out for a full-day tour of Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri. Situated 11 km from Agra towards Delhi Sikandra houses the tomb of Emperor Akbar inside a 50 hectare Chahar Bagh garden where you will see monkeys and Indian gazelles. The entry gate is one of the best examples of floral and geometrical inlay design of the world with four long marble tower. The mausoleum building is multi-storied in Buddhist pagoda-style trying unsuccessfully to obey the Islamic tradition of the uncovered tomb to receive blessings coming from heaven.
Your final destination is Fatehpur Sikri. It is a small village on the outskirts of Agra used by Emperor Akbar as an advance military post for expeditions to Central and South India. The two main visits here are the Jama Masjid and Royal Palaces. The royal places constitute a complex of many utility buildings in baroque style built in red sandstone. The Turkish Sultana Begam palace has exquisitely carved vegetal and religious designs whereas Akbar’s palace and Mariyam Begam palace have faded mural paintings.
Accompanied and solicited by the local people who sell garnet and other semiprecious stone necklaces only for 50 rupees (sic!), you climb the steps stairs of the mosque. Leave your shoes at the gate and covering your lower body part and shoulder you enter the inner courtyard that houses the prayer hall and the mausoleum of Sufi saint Sekh Salim Chisti who was revered by Emperor Akbar and still today by many Indians. People pray here all day and tie a yellow or red thread on the marble jail as a sign of respect to the Sufi saint who in their first meeting uttered a blessing to Akbar: HE who gives without asking, will bless you with three sons.