Sitting at the edge of the majestic Yamuna River, Agra was once the glorious capital of the mighty Mughal Empire at the peak of its power. However, in today’s world, Agra is synonymous with one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Taj Mahal. It is a major tourist destination because of its many splendid Mughal-era buildings, most notably the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri – all three of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Agra is included on the Golden Triangle tourist circuit, along with Delhi and Jaipur. The legacy of the Mughal Empire had left after its rule a magnificent fort with a liberal sprinkling of fascinating tombs and mausoleums. The examples of art and culture in this historic city are not only breath-taking, but are also mirrors of the artistic talents of the Indian population during the grand past – not to forget this culture is best imaged in the bustling bazars (marketplaces) of the city.
The city has its unique style of traditional paintings, folk dances, folk music and embroideries. Agra is also a popular shopping destination where you can buy marble with inlay work, semi-precious stones, jewellery and handicrafts. The city is also very famous for its superior quality leather goods like bags, belts and jackets. One can also buy beautiful silk, wool rugs and carpets with Mughal motifs here.
THE BYGONE TIMES:
Believed to have been built in 1475, Agra even finds a mention in the epic Mahabharata where it is called Agraban (meaning paradise). Ptolemy, the renowned second century geographer had also spotted ‘Agra’ in his world map. The present Agra city was established by Sikandar Lodi of the Lodi Dynasty in the 16th century and was the capital of the Lodi and Mughal dynasties.
It was Mughals who finally nurtured Agra with the finest monuments that the architects could design: The Taj Mahal of Shah Jahan, Agra Fort of Akbar, Itmad-Ud-Daulah and neighbouring Sikandra are few of the many that spangle the city, each of which stands in mute testimony to the city’s grandeur over the ages. Its proximity to cities like Mathura and Vrindavan also influences the post – Mughal era’s history of Agra that saw the rule of the Jats, Marathas and finally the British taking over the city.
Exhibiting a rich heritage and interesting culture, Agra is a historical city that was ruled by various different rulers at different times. Ruled by Rajput rulers before Moguls and Lodi, Agra also showcases a part of their legacy in the form of handprint crafts and delectable cuisine. Influenced by aplenty, the culture of this fame city today can be thus seen in the city’s structure and age old beliefs.
ENGAGINGNESS OF THE CITY :
- Taj Mahal
The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. The death of Mumtaz left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to have turned grey virtually overnight. Construction of the Taj began the following year and, although the main building is thought to have been built in eight years, the whole complex was not completed until 1653.
Not long after it was finished Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort where, for the rest of his days, he could only gaze out at his creation through a window. Following his death in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried alongside Mumtaz. Every year, tourists numbering more than twice the population of Agra pass through its gates to catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of what is widely considered the most beautiful building in the world. Closed on Fridays, the entry fee for domestic Indians is Rs 40, and for foreign nationals it is 1,000 Rs.
- Agra Fort
Besides the Taj Mahal, among the other famous monuments of Agra is the Agra Fort which was built by Emperor Akbar, who was undoubtedly the Greatest Mughal emperor of India. The construction of Agra fort commenced in the 1565, completed in 1571. Built with red sandstone, Agra Fort is a mixture of the Islamic and Hindu styles of architecture.
The red sandstone fort was converted into a palace during Shah Jahan’s time, and reworked extensively with marble and pietra dura inlay. Notable buildings in the fort include the Pearl Mosque or Moti Masjid, the Diwan-e-Am and Diwan-e-Khas (halls of public and private audience), Jahangir’s Palace, Khas Mahal, Shish Mahal (mirrored palace), and the Musamman Burj. Open all days of the week from 06:00 am to 06:00 pm, the entry pass for Agra Fort is Rs 20 for domestic people and for foreigners it is Rs 300.
- Fatehpur Sikri
Constructed by Emperor Akbar as part of his plans to build a grand capital for his empire, the World Heritage Site of Fatehpur Sikri is 39 km away from Agra in Uttar Pradesh. Fatehpur Sikri served as the Mughal capital from 1571 to 1585. Spread across eight sq km, the city is about three miles long and one mile wide.
Built with red Sikri sandstone, the city’s architecture is a blend of Islamic and Hindu styles. Fatehpur Sikri had royal palaces, halls for public and private audience, the zenana or the quarters for women, courtyards and grand avenues. Open all days of the week, except Fridays, from 07:00 am to 07:00 pm, the entry ticket for Indian visitors is Rs 20 and for foreigners – Rs 260.
Nicknamed the Baby Taj, the exquisite tomb of Mizra Ghiyas Beg should not be missed. It doesn’t have the same awesome beauty as the Taj, but it’s arguably more delicate in appearance thanks to its particularly finely carved jali (marble lattice screens).
This was the first Mughal structure built completely from marble, the first to make extensive use of pietra dura and the first tomb to be built on the banks of the Yamuna, which until then had been a sequence of beautiful pleasure gardens. Open all days of the week, the entry ticket charges are Rs 10 for local residents and Rs 250 for foreign nationals.
- Akbar’s Tomb, Sikandra
Sikandra, the last resting place of the Mughal Emperor – Akbar the Great, 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 Jahangir completed construction of this pyramidal tomb in 1613. Open all days of the week, one can visit Akbar’s tomb between 06:00 am to 06:00 pm.
This Persian-style riverside tomb of Afzal Khan, a poet who served as Shah Jahan’s Chief Minister, was built between 1628 and 1639. Rarely visited, it is hidden away down a shady avenue of trees on the east bank of the Yamuna.
The structure’s architectural style is ‘unusual’ because of the exotic architectural style in which it is built. Being ‘unusually plain’, Chini-ka-Rauza possesses a sultanate style unproportional dome. Open from 10:00 am to 05:00 pm, this tourist site offers free entry.
- Mankameshwar Temple
The Mankameshwar Temple is one of four ancient temples dedicated to Lord Shiva located on the four corners of Agra City. It is located near the Jama Masjid and is about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) from the Taj Mahal and less than 1 km (0.6 miles) from Agra Fort.
Being located in the old city, the temple is surrounded by markets, many of which date back to the Mughal Era. Open all days except Mondays, one can visit the temple between 07:00 am to 10:00 pm.
- Guru ka Tal
Built in Agra, near Sikandra, Guru ka Tal was originally a reservoir meant to collect and conserve rainwater. In 1970s, a gurudwara was erected next to the Tomb of I’tibar Khan Khwajasara. This gurudwara, namely Guru ka Tal is a holy place of worship for the Sikhs. Four of the ten Sikh Gurus are said to have paid this gurudwara a visit.
Enjoying both historical and religious importance, this shrine attracts a large number of devotees and tourists. With no entry ticket, the visitors can visit Guru ka Tal at any time they want to.
- Mehtab Bagh
Originally built by Emperor Babur as the last in a series of 11 parks on the Yamuna’s East bank, long before the Taj was conceived – Mehtab Bagh was invented to protect the Taj from the erosive effects of the sand blown across the river, the park was reconstructed and is now one the best places to view the great mausoleum.
Displaying perfectly aligned trees with an ideal view of the Taj, the Mehtab Bagh is open on all days from 06:00 am to 06:00 pm, the entry fee being Rs 5 for domestic nationals.
- Sadar Bazaar
Sadar Bazaaris one of the most popular shopping destinations for the tourist visiting Agra. Located close to Agra Cantt Railway Station, Sadar also stands conveniently to the residential area of Mall Road.
Each year, millions of tourists from different parts of India come to visit Agra and Sadar Bazaar is a spot they never miss to cover in the city. Closed on Tuesdays, there are a variety of shops in Sadar Bazar trading leather, petha (sweets), handicraft, garment etc.
- Taj Mahotsav
This cultural festival was started in year 1992 and has grown since then. The current year 2016 was the 25th year of this Mahotsav. Featuring in the calendar of events of the Department of Tourism, Government of India, the Taj Mahotsav attracts a large number of Indian and foreign tourists coming to Agra.
Held in the month of February, one of the objectives of this craft fair is to provide encouragement to the artisans by making works of art and crafts available at reasonable prices. Besides being the right destination for the arts & crafts, the Mahotsav is also a delight for the connoisseurs of good food as it is the ideal place to pamper the taste buds of the visitors with endless varieties of scrumptious dishes.
Holi- the festival of colors is celebrated with much glee all over the world. The festivities officially usher in spring, where Holi is celebrated as a festival of love. The festival has many purposes; most prominently, it celebrates the beginning of spring.
In 17th century literature, it was identified as a festival that celebrated agriculture, commemorated good spring harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colours and saying farewell to winter. To many Hindus, Holi festivities mark the beginning of New Year as well as an occasion to reset and renew ruptured relationships and end conflicts.
- Ram Barat
Ram Barat is a part of Ramlila celebration in Agra. It is one of the biggest annual events in North India. Ram Barat literally means Marriage procession of Shri Ram.
Every year a new locality is chosen in Agra and is elaborately decorated with lights & flowers. The area is given a major face lift befitting the venue for the divine marriage.
- Bateshwar Mela
Every year in late October to early November, a large cattle fair is held at Bateshwar (the exact dates depends on the lunar calendar and vary each year) coinciding with the most auspicious period for praying at Bateshwar and an important fixture for saints, sadhus, tradesmen and villagers alike.
The fair attracts large numbers of camels, horses, oxen, elephants, goats, and other cattle, as well as a multitude of tradesmen selling everything from traditional cooking utensils and spices to locally made furniture, handicrafts and cosmetics. The fair provides a colourful, vibrant and entirely authentic glimpse of rural Indian life.
- Taj Literature Festival
Taj Literature Fest, saw the brightest stars of the literary world manifest themselves on the earth of Agra. The fest comprised the greatest literary stalwarts of the literature world, to name a few – Muzaffar Ali, Shobha De, Prahlad Kakker, Raghu Rai.
With perfect shining stage the heritage city poured life at the Taj literature fest. The festival displays an attempt to rejuvenate the aesthetic spirit which is a soul of the historically rich city, Agra – the city that nurtured the likes of Ghalib, Tansen, Surdas, Nazeer and many more.
- Kailash Fair
The Kailash Fair is held in the town of Kailash, about 12 km from Agra, in the month of August/September. It is a major fair celebrated in honour of Lord Shiva who is believed to have appeared here in the form of stone Lingam.
The devotees of Lord Shiva remember his visit and offer prayers to him by participating in all the fun and mirth of the fair. The ambience is very cheerful as one can witness the joyousness of the large crowd which gathers on the occasion of the fair. Many shops are set up and it is indeed a visual delight to see the colorful people in this state of great happiness.
Also known as the “festival of lights”, Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in October or November every year. Arguably the most important festival in Hinduism, the festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.Its celebration includes millions of lights shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, around temples and other buildings in the communities and countries where it is observed. The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five-day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu solar month Kartika.
Enveloping a world of its own, Agra – the city of love welcomes you open-heartedly to experience its magical allure and warmth!