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City Info / Agra
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The city of Agra is famous the world over for that inimitable creation in marble Ė the Taj Mahal. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Agra was the capital of India under the Mughals, and its superb monuments date from this era. They include a magnificent fort and the building which many people come to India solely to see - the Taj Mahal. Away from its handful of imposing monuments, thereís little to distinguish Agra from any other northern Indian city: it has the usual dense chowk (market), a large cantonment, lots of predatory rickshaw-wallahs and highly polluted air. The Yamuna River, which flows through the city and is the backdrop to the Taj and Agra Fort, has become an open sewer - scientists recently declared it incapable of supporting any life form.
Agra is worth more than a flying visit, particularly if you intend to see the nearby deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri. The Taj certainly deserves more than a single visit if you want to appreciate how its appearance changes under different light.

History
Badal Singh is credited with building a fort on the site of the present Agra Fort in 1475, but this didnít stop Sikander Lodi making his capital on the opposite bank of the Yamuna in 1501. Babur defeated the last Lodi sultan in 1526 at Panipat, 80km north of Delhi, and Agra then became the Mughal capital. The city reached the peak of its magnificence between the mid-16th and mid-17th centuries under the reigns of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. It was during this period that the fort, Taj Mahal and Agraís major tombs were built. In 1638 Shah Jahan built a new city in Delhi, and Aurangzeb moved the capital there 10 years later.
In 1761 Agra fell to the Jats, who looted its monuments, including the Taj Mahal. It was taken by the Marathas in 1770, before the British wrested control in 1803. There was heavy fighting around the fort during the Uprising of 1857, and after the British regained control, they shifted the administration of the north-western provinces to Allahabad. Agra has since developed as an industrial centre.
Agra is on the western bank of the Yamuna River, 204km south of Delhi. The old part of the city and the main marketplace (Kinari Bazaar) are north-west of the fort. The spacious British-built cantonment is to the south, and the main road running through is called The Mall. The commercial centre of the cantonment is Sadar Bazaar.
The labourers and artisans who toiled on the Taj set up home immediately south of Mausoleum. This area of congested alleyways is known as the Taj Ganj and today it contains most of Agraís budget hotels. The Ďtourist classí hotels are predominantly in the area south of here.

Climate (deg C): Summer- Max.45, Min.21.9
Winter- Max.31.7, Min.4.2.
Rainfall : 66 cms (June to September).

The best season to visit is from October to March.

Tourist Information : The Government of India tourist office (Ph: 363959) is located at 191 The Mall. It has maps of Agra and a good brochure on Fatehpur Sikri.

The helpful UP tourist office (Ph: 360517) is at 64 Taj Rd

There is a Tourist Information counter (Ph: 368598) at the Agra Cantonment train station

The Foreignersí Registration Office (Ph: 269563) is at Police Lines, Fatehpur Sikri Rd.

The Archaeological Survey of India (Ph: 363506) is at 22 The Mall. You need to make a booking here if you want to stay at the Archaeological Survey Rest House when visiting Fatehpur Sikri.

Tourist Places : Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is famous for being one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, this poignant Mughal mausoleum was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife, Arjumand Begum (a.k.a Mumtaz Mahal meaning ""Elect of the Palace"", whose death in childbirth in 1631 left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to turned grey overnight.
Construction of the Taj begain the same year and was not completed until 1653. In all, 20,000 people from India and Central Asia worked on the building (some later had their hands or thumbs amputated, to ensure that the perfection of the Taj could never be repeated). The main architect is believed to have been Isa Khan, who was from Shiraz in Iran. Experts were also brought from Europe - Austin of Bordeaux and Veroneo of Venice both had a hand in the Tajís decoration - which allowed the British to delude themselves for some time that such an exquisite building must certainly have been designed by a European.
There are three entrances to the Taj (east, south and west); the main entrance is on the western side. Thereís no charge to visit the Taj on Friday. Therefore, Friday tends to be impossibly crowded and not conducive to appreciating this most serene of monuments.
The grand red sandstone gateway on the south side of the interior forecourt is inscribed with verses from the Quran in Arabic. It would make a stunning entrance to the Taj, but unfortunately these days you only exit through here. The entrance is now through a small door to the right of the gate, where everyone has to undergo a security check. Food, tobacco, matches and other specified items (including, thankfully, the red-blotch forming paan) are not allowed to be taken inside. Thereís a cloakroom nearby for depositing things for safekeeping. Cameras are permitted, and thereís no problem taking photos of the outside of the Taj, despite the ambiguously worded signs that state Ďphotography and trespassing on the lawn is not allowedí. However, guards will prevent you from taking photographs inside the mausoleum.
A long watercourse in which the Taj is reflected divides paths leading from the gate to the Taj. The ornamental gardens through which the paths lead are set out along classical Mughal charbagh lines - a square quartered by watercourses. To the west is a small museum thatís open 10 am to 5 pm daily except Monday and Friday. It houses original architectural drawings of the Taj, information on the semiprecious stones used in its construction, and some nifty celadon plates, said to split into pieces or change colour if the food served on them contains poison (handy for those dodgy Taj Ganj meals!). Entry to the museum is free.
The Taj Mahal itself stands on a raised marble platform, north of the ornamental gardens. Purely decorative white minarets grace each corner of the platform - as the Taj Mahal is not a mosque, nobody is called to prayer from them. Twin red sandstone buildings frame the Taj; the western one is a mosque, the identical eastern one is purely for symmetry. (It canít be used as a mosque because it faces in the wrong direction).
The central Taj structure has four small domes surrounding the bulbous entral dome. The tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are in a basement room. Above them in the main chamber are false tombs, a common practice in mausoleums of this type. Light is admitted into the central chamber by finely cut marble screens. The echo in this high-domed chamber is superb, and there is always somebody there to demonstrate it.
Ironically, only the tomb of the man who built it disrupts the perfect symmetry of the Taj. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, Aurangzeb placed his casket next to that of Mumtaz Mahal. His presence, which was never intended, unbalances the Mausoleumís interior.
Although the Taj is amazingly graceful from almost any angle, itís the close-up detail which is really astounding. Semiprecious stones are inlaid into the marble in beautiful patterns using a process known as pietra dura. As many as 43 different gems were used for Mumtazís tomb alone. The precision and care that went into the Taj Mahalís design and construction is just as impressive whether you view it from across the river or from armís length.

Agra Fort
Emperor Akbar began construction of the massive red sandstone Agra Fort on the bank of the Yamuna River in 1565, though additions were made up until the rule of his grandson, Shah Jahan. In Akbarís time the fort was principally a military structure but during Shah Jahanís reign it had partially become a palace.
The auricular fortís colossal double walls rise over 20m in height and measure 2.5km in circumference. They are encircled by a fetid moat and contain a maze of buildings that form a small city within a city. Unfortunately not all buildings are open to visitors, including the white marble Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque), regarded by some as the most beautiful mosque in India.
The Amar Singh Gate to the south is the sole entry point. Thereís a lot to see in the fort, so you may find a guide useful.

Diwan-i-Am The Hall of Public Audiences was built by Shah Jahan and replaced an earlier wooden structure. His predecessors had a part in the hallís construction, but the throne room, with its typical inlaid marble work, indisputably bears Shah Jahanís stamp. This is where the emperor met officials and listened to petitioners. Beside the Diewan-i-Am is the small Nagina Masjid or Gem Mosque. A door leads from here into the Ladiesí Bazaar, where female merchants came to sell goods to the ladies of the Mughal court. No males were allowed to enter the bazaar except Akbar, though according to one apocryphal story he still enjoyed visiting in female disguise.

Diwan-i-Khas The Hall of Private Audiences was also built by Shah Jahan, between 1636 and 1637. Itís where the emperor received important dignitaries or foreign ambassadors. The hall consists of two rooms connected by three arches. The famous Peacock Throne was kept here before being moved to Delhi by Aurangzeb. It was later carted off to Iran and its remains are now in Tehran.

Musamman Burj The exquisite Musamman Burj (Octagonal Tower) stands close to the Diwan-i-Khas. Shah Jahan died here after seven years imprisonment in the fort. The tower looks out over the Yamuna and is traditionally considered to have one of the most poignant views of the Taj, but Agraís pollution is now so thick that itís hard to see. The Mina Masjid was Shah Jahanís private mosque during his imprisonment.
Jehangirís Palace Akbar is believed to have built this place for his son. It was the largest private residence in the fort and indicates the changing emphasis from military to luxurious living quarters. The palace displays an interesting blend of Hindu and Central Asian architectural styles - a contrast to the unique Mughal style which had developed by the time of Shah Jahan.

Other Buildings Shah Jahanís Khas Mahal is a beautiful white marble structure used as a private palace. The rooms underneath it were intended as a cool retreat from the summer heat. The Shish Mahal or Mirror Palace is reputed to have been the harem dressing room and its walls are inlaid with tiny mirrors. The Anguri Bagh or Grape Garden probably never had any grapevines but was simply a small, formal Mughal garden. It stood in front of the Khas Mahal.

In front of Jehangirís Palace is the Hauz-i-Jehangri, a huge bowl beautifully carved out of a single block of stone. According to one traditional story Jehangirís wife, Nur Jahan, made attar (perfumed essential oil) of roses in the bowl; itís also fabled to have been used for preparing bhang.

The Amar Singh Gate takes its name from a maharaja of Jodhpur who slew the imperial treasurer in the Diewan-i-Am in 1644 and, in a bid to escape, reputedly rode his horse over the fort wall near here. The unlucky horse perished, though it is now immortalised in stone. Amar Singh survived the fall but not Shah Jahanís wrath. Justice tended to be summary in those days; there is a shaft leading down to the river where those who made themselves unpopular with the great Mughals were hurled without further ado.

Jama Masjid
Across the train tracks from the Delhi Gate of Agra Fort is the Jama Masjid, built by Shah Jahan in 1648. An inscription over the main gate indicates that it was built in the name of Jahanara, Shah Jahanís favourite daughter, who was eventually imprisoned with Shah Jahan by Aurangzeb. The mosque has no minarets but its sandstone domes have striking marble patterning.

Itimad-ud-daulah
On the opposite bank of the Yamuna, north of the fort, is the exquisite Itimad-ud-daulah - the tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg. This Persian gentleman was Jehangirís wazir, or chief minister, and his beautiful daughter, Nur Jahan, later married the emperor. Nur Jahan constructed the tomb between 1622 and 1628 in a style similar to the tomb she built for Jehangir near Lahore in Pakistan.
Ineterestingly, many of its design elements foreshadow the Taj, construction of which started only a few years later. The Itimad-ud-daulah was the first Mughal structure totally built from marble and the first to make extensive use of pietra dura, the marble inlay work which is so characteristic of the Taj. Though small and squat compared to its more famous cousin (itís known as the Ďbaby Tají), its human scale is attractive. Extremely fine marble latticework passages admit light to the interior, and the beautifully patterned surface of the tomb is superb.

Akbarís Mausoleum
The sandstone and marble tomb of Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors, lies in the centre of a peaceful garden grazed by deer at Sikandra, 4 km north-west of Agra. Akbar started its construction himself, blending Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian motifs and styles, juch like the syncretic religious philosophy he developed called Deen Ilahi. When Akbar died, his son, Jehangir, who significantly modified the original plans, completed the mausoleum. This accounts for its somewhat cluttered architectural lines.
It is an interesting place to study the gradual evolution in design that culminated in the Taj Mahal. Very tame langur monkeys hang out on the walkway waiting to be fed. The stunning southern gateway is the most impressive part of the complex. It has three-storey minarets at each corner and is built of red sandstone strikingly inlaid with white marble abstract patterns.
Sikandra is named after Sikander Lodi, the Delhi sultan who ruled from 1488 to 1517, immediately preceding the rise of Mughal power on the subcontinent. He built the Baradi Palace, in the mausoleum gardens. Across the road from the masoleum is the Delhi Gate. Between Sikandra and Agra are several tombs and two kos minars, or milestones.

Other Attractions
The alleyways of Kinari Bazaar, or old marketplace, start near the Jama Masjid. There are several distinct areas whose names are relics of the Mughal period, although they donít always bear relation to what is sold there today. The Loha Mandi (Iron Market) and Sabji Mandi (Vegetable Market) are still operational, but the Nai ki Mandi (Barberís Market) is now famous for textiles. Something entirely different is for sale in the Malka Bazaar, where women beckon to passing men from upstairs balconies. In the burcherís area next to the leather market, watch out for the festering bloody animal skins that are piled high in the streets.
The white marble Dayal Bagh Temple of the Radha Soami religion has been under construction since 1904 and is not expected to be completed until some time in 21st century. If youíre lucky, you may get to see pietra dura inlaid marblework in process. Although the building is architecturally unremarkable, the level of artisanship has to be admired. Dayal Bagh is 2km north of Agra and can be reached by bus or bicycle.
The squat Chini Ka Rauza (China Tomb), 1km north of the Itimad-ud-daulah, is the mausoleum of Afzal Khan, a poet and high official in the court of Shah Jahan. Its exterior was once covered in brightly coloured enamelled tiles, but due to years of neglect the remaining tile work merely hints at the buildingís former glory.
Ram Bagh, the earliest of Indiaís Mughal gardens, is also forlorn. Youíll need to use a lot of imagination to picture how it must have booked in 1528 when it was constructed by Babur. Itís on the riverbank 500m north of the Chini Ka Rauza

Shopping : Agra is well known for leather goods, jewellery, dhurrie (rug) weaving and marble items inlaid with coloured stones, similar to the pietra dura work on the Taj. Sadar Bazaar and the area south of Taj Ganj are full of emporiums of one kind or another, but prices here are more expensive than in the bazaars of the old part of the city. The best jewellery shops are around Pratapur, also in the old part of Agra, though you can still pick up precious stones cheaper in Jaipur.

Getting There : By Air: Indian Airlines connects Agra with Delhi, Khajuraho and Varanasi.

By Rail: Agra is connected by rail with major cities like Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Jaipur, Madras, Secunderabad and Trivandrum.

By Bus: Agra is connected by regular bus services from Mathura, Delhi, Khajuraho, Jaipur, Bharatpur, Gwalior, Haridwar, Lucknow, Brindavan etc.

Agra is connected by good motorable roads to Delhi- 204 km,
Jaipur-237 km, Khajuraho- 395 kms, Mathura- 54 kms, Gwalior- 110 kms, Lucknow- 257 kms, Bharatpur 54 kms etc.

Local Transport: City bus services, tempos, cycle rickshaws and tongas comprise the local mode of transport.

STD Codes : STD Code 0562

Language Spoken : Hindi

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