Beyond The Taj – Agra’s Other Stunning Structures

The city of Agra is perhaps one of the most visited by foreign tourists coming to “discover India.” From Delhi, the Gatimaan Express (the fastest in the country) gets you to Agra in about 100 minutes, serves a meal, and even has hostesses, as the public sector attempts to up their tourism game.

But as soon as you step in to what was once capital of the great Mughal empire, you see that it is utterly chaotic, underdeveloped, and a challenge to navigate. It is quite unfortunate that the divide between the rich architectural history, and the current state of affairs is so extreme.

Nevertheless, Agra has plenty for the tourist apart from the Taj Mahal, which will no doubt be the crowning glory of a trip to the city.

Fatehpur Sikri

To get here from Agra, we booked a cab online with Gozocabs. The driver was well-spoken and knew where he was going, although a little on the expensive side. On the drive there, we encountered groups of religious protesters carrying swords and chanting slogans. It freaked us out when the driver turned around to make sure our doors were locked. They didn’t seem interested in passersby though, but our heart rate took a while to come back down again.

A little over an hour’s drive from Agra, Fatehpur Sikri was conceptualised and constructed by Akbar, and functioned as his capital for about 14 years before the fresh water source dried up and they all had to pack up and move to Lahore.

To get to the structures, you have to park your car below the fort, and a government bus takes you up to the gates for 20 rupees. There is a shocking lack of signs and information – perhaps a way to keep business coming to the guides, who will bargain with you to no end. Don’t pay more than 600 rupees to see both sections though!

fatehpur1
Fatehpur Sikri – you have to take your shoes and socks off at the entrance and cannot slip them into your bag. They are very particular about it as it is considered a religious site.
fatehpur2
Fatehpur Sikri – the courtyard inside.
fatehpur4
Fatehpur Sikri – Buland Darwaza or victory gate on the inside. It was constructed to commemorate Akbar’s victory in Gujarat, and one feels completely dwarfed in the shadows of its might.
fatehpur3
Fatehpur Sikri – the white structure is Salim Chishti’s tomb – the Sufi saint also known as ‘Bade Baba’ who answered Akbar’s prayers and blessed him with a son. You will walk past vendors selling silk cloth and other offerings. You don’t have to do it, but legend has it that any wish made inside the tomb comes true – only so long as you keep it a secret. Nicolas Sarkozy is said to have prayed here for a son.
fatehpur7
Fatehpur Sikri – there isn’t much else to do around here, so packing some lunch with you is recommended. I felt like I was cheating a tiny bit as I sat in Akbar’s courtyard and ate my Costa Coffee sandwich. The ancestors would not be impressed!
fatehpur5
Fatehpur Sikri – people close to the royal family were presumably buried here. The men rest outdoors, while the women’s graves are indoors.
fatehpur6
Fatehupur Sikri – the Buland Darwaza from the outside.
sikri1
Fatehpur Sikri – the gardens upon entering the residential and personal quarters of the royal family.
sikri4
Fatehpur Sikri – courtyard with the queens’ abodes and the famous Diwan-i-khas.
sikri3
Fatehpur Sikri – the Diwan-i-khas was Akbar’s hall of private audience, where he met with important ministers, administrators, and leaders of different faiths.
sikri2
Fatehpur Sikri – inside the Diwa-i-khas, where Akbar sat in the centre.
sikri5
Fatehpur Sikri – one of the queens’ palaces.
sikri7
Fatehpur Sikri – yet another queen’s palace. You can spot remnants of beatiful frescos that once adorned these walls.

Sikandra

The Mughals found immortality in stunning, expensive mausoleums. Some were commissioned by their progeny or grieving spouses, and some were designed by the emperors themselves, for themselves. Akbar’s Tomb is located in Sikandra, a district in Agra. Through the years it has been plundered, stripped of its jewels and gold, and even had Akbar’s bones removed and burned by political enemies. The British ended up restoring it, although quite understandably not to its former glory.

sikandra1
Akbar’s Tomb – Akbar designed it himself, and it was completed by his son Jahangir.
sikandra2
Akbar’s Tomb – built in red sandstone, it is interspersed with white marble.
sikandra3
Akbar’s Tomb – a 5 storey pyramid with the false tomb on the top, and the real tomb in the basement. You are allowed to go right into the chamber that holds the true tomb – which is now dark, eerie, and devoid of any art.
sikandra4
Akbar’s Tomb – no getting down from stairs please!

I’tmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb

Often referred to as the Baby Taj, this mausoleum was constructed by Empress Nur Jahan (wife of Jahangir) for her father I’tmad-ud-Daulah. It is located on the banks of the Yamuna river, which you can see from one end of the structure.

itmad1
Itmad-ud-Daula’s Tomb – made of Rajasthani white marble, this structure shines brilliantly in sunlight and is built on top of a plinth. You can get shoe covers to put over your footwear so you don’t ruin the flooring.
itmad2
I’tmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb – the earlier Mughals commissioned structures out of red sandstone, and this tomb shows that later Mughal love for marble. It also become Shah Jahan’s favourite material.
itmad3
I’tmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb – the entire surface is covered in pietra dura work, or the inlay technique of using polished stones and gems in patterns on the marble. The insides are pretty degraded and the frescos have almost faded away.
itmad4
I’tmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb – view of the entrance gate. All of the beautiful fountains are now dry.
itmad5
I’tmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb – view from another inner gate-like structure. If you turn around here, you can see the river.

Agra Fort

This fort has been of supreme importance to the Suris, Mughals, and subsequent dynasties as well. When Akbar made Agra his capital, he had many structures restored and rebuilt in red sandstone. Shah Jahan made his love for white marble evident with later additions within the campus. You can walk around to appreciate the courtards, palaces, balconies, meeting halls, prayer halls and entertainment buildings inside.

Shah Jahan was later imprisoned in the fort by his son Aurangzeb, and it is said he died taking in the view of the Taj Mahal which he had constructed in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.

fort2
Agra Fort
fort1
Agra Fort
fort4
Agra Fort – no scribing please!
fort5
Agra Fort
fort6
Agra Fort – later marble structures
fort7
Agra Fort – palace details.
fort10
Agra Fort – marble prayer hall.
fort8
Agra Fort – view of the Yamuna river and the Taj Mahal.
fort9
Agra Fort – windows in the courtyard provide lovely views of the Taj.

Travel to Agra is recommended in the cooler months!

2 thoughts on “Beyond The Taj – Agra’s Other Stunning Structures”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *