Agra - An Architectural Magnificence 😍
Taj Mahal has been in my bucket list since the day it dawned upon me that it is one of the seven wonders of the world. However, it was only in the year 2017, that we planned a trip to Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur & Kumbhalgarh. We immediately booked air tickets to Delhi and also a taxi from Delhi to Agra from savari.com. We planned a 3 nights 4 days stay in Agra in order to suit our itinerary for Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.
On the day of departure everything fell in place and went as per schedule. Our flight reached Delhi on time and the savari.com driver picked us from Delhi airport as scheduled. We were racing towards Agra via Yamuna Expressway. The journey between Delhi to Agra is a 4 hours drive. The Yamuna Expressway is just like the Mumbai -Pune expressway with cars zooming around at a speed of 100-150 kms per hour. This Expressway has surely reduced the distance between Delhi and Agra. If you are driving, you have to be careful of reckless drivers who drive at high speed. We too encountered one such group of youngsters recklessly driving on the Yamuna Expressway and we fortunately missed the accident due to the presence of mind of our driver. You can also visit Mathura and Vrindavan which is on the way to Agra. We reached our Hotel Atulyaa Taj by 3 pm. We had booked the hotel Atulyaa Taj as it had shown its location within 5 min walking distance of Taj Mahal. However, to check all the details about the ticket counter and entry point we took an evening stroll at about 6.30 pm. In the evening we enquired with the security guards near the east gate regarding the entry points to Taj and also checked out the ticket counter. The security guards were helpful and polite. They also told us that the ticket counter opens at around 6.30 a.m. We also strolled around our hotel to check out the other sweet shops and the chat stalls (thela). As we had a late lunch we decided to end the day with some Alu tikki chat and dahi bhalle. After a light chat dinner I was tired due to the long day journey & discussed with Ganesh about the time of our visit to Taj Mahal. I also hinted of visiting Taj by around 10 a.m. but Ganesh raised a valid point that Taj would be brighter & we wouldn't be able to click good photos if we reached after the sun is up and morning calm rays of the sun would be an idle time to visit Taj Mahal. Also, we could enjoy more in the early morning rather than once the sun is on our heads.
Taj Mahal :
Next day as planned we reached the Taj Mahal's ticket counter at 6.30 a.m. The ticket cost for Indian citizens in 2017 was Rs. 40/- per person (now it is Rs. 200/- per person). After purchasing the entry ticket we reached the east gate of Taj Mahal. We saw separate queues for men & women and also noticed that there were many foreigners in the queue. After standing in the queue for 5 minutes the local guides informed us that we were in the queue for foreign citizens and we should stand in the queue for Indians. Surprisingly, the queue for foreign citizens was longer than the queue for Indian Citizens and we entered the Taj Mahal's premises in 5 minutes. Entry premises had few trees and gardens around the pathways which lead to the main entry gate to the Taj Mahal. As it was early morning there were fewer tourists and we could hear the early morning chirping of birds which had a pleasing effect on us.
After entering the Taj Mahal premises we also finalized a guide who showed us important places and carvings of Taj Mahal. Though we knew the history of Taj Mahal, we were not aware that Mumtaz mahal died while giving birth to the 14th child of Shah Jahan. The guide then continued further informing us that Mumtaz Mahal died in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh in June, 1631. After Shah Jahan had finalised her final resting place for Mumtaz Mahal in Agra, on the banks of Yamuna River, her body was then transported from Burhanpur to Agra in December, 1631. It was the design of Ustad Isa Afandi of Turkey which was selected by Shah Jahan for Taj Mahal. The construction of Taj took 22 long years & our guide showed us 22 chhatris/umbrellas on the main gate of Taj Mahal.
The other gates for entry to the Taj Mahal premises are the East Gate, West gate and South gate. The southern gate faces the old Mumtazabad and it was normally used by the workmen who built the Taj Mahal. Eastern gate faces Fatehabad. The western gate faces towards Agra cantonment and Agra city. Both these gates were used for the general public to enter Taj Mahal.
After hearing the brief history round about Taj Mahal, we followed our guide through the huge main entrance of the Taj Mahal complex. Through the gateway of Taj Mahal we caught the first glimpse of the huge milky dome structure as we passed through the group of tourists to enter the landscape garden and fountain area of Taj Mahal. We found the Taj much further than what we saw when we were at the gate. Our guide told us this was a USP for the designers of Taj Mahal.
The distance between the Taj Mahal and its main gate is 500-600 meters. This area is covered by eye soothing gardens beautifully designed and the fountains which add to the beauty of these gardens. Our guide informed us that the water in the fountains and the running canals was drawn up from the river Yamuna by a system of buckets and was collected by big reservoirs and then taken through iron pipes to the fountains and canals. The beauty of Taj Mahal is mesmerizing and the early morning rays which shine on the white marble only adds to its beauty. We stood there looking at the beautiful historical monument which was in front of us.
This widely acclaimed symbol of love is really an astonishing structure and we couldn't believe our eyes that we were actually seeing the structure standing in front of us. After a couple of minutes when we came to our senses, like all the other tourists started clicking pictures of the Taj Mahal and selfies with Taj. The water canals in the Taj Mahal complex give photographers a new composition for clicking pictures of the Taj Mahal alongwith its reflections in water. After crossing the gardens and water canals we arrived near the Mausoleum.
Our guide now gave us shoe covers as we were not allowed to enter the Mausoleum with our shoes on. The gateway of Taj Mahal is an octagonal shaped entrance hall surrounded by small rooms on both the sides. On the three sides of the gateway there are balconies. The gate is a masterpiece of fine craftsmanship on the white marble. Some Kuranik texts are inscribed in the black letters on the gate. The craftsmen have used different colored stones to create a flowery design. Inside the Mausoleum are the two graves of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan situated at the center below the main dome. Our guide informed us the original graves are in a chamber below these structures of graves.
The chamber is closed to the general public. At the four corners of Mausoleum there are 4 Minarets. The Minarets are not at 90 degrees but are at a wide angle and tilted outside. Our guide told us that the Minarets are not at right angles because the designers thought that if ever there is an earthquake the Minarets should not fall on the main structure instead fall away from the main structure. We roamed around the structure and noticed the river Yamuna was flowing calmly on the back side of this internationally acclaimed structure. Near the Taj Mahal there is also a mosque where the prayers can be offered.
After a 3 hours walk in the Taj Mahal premises it was time to return to our hotel for breakfast. Our guide took us to some shops which are famous for marble carvings and sarees. We purchased a banana silk saree and a small marble carving as a decorative and a momento of this symbol of love. We decided to visit Agra Fort as the next structure.
1. Normally taj mahal is open from sunrise to sunset. However 2 days prior to the full moon night, on a full moon night and 2 days after the full moon night taj mahal is also open in the evening. The limited number of tickets is available at the archaeological survey of India office in Agra.
2. The best time to visit Taj mahal is early morning or evening time. The guide charges in the year 2017 were around Rs. 800/- for 3-4 hours. The marble momentos are much cheaper in Fatelpur Sikri than in Agra.
3. Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. Agra Fort :
Apart from Taj Mahal, Agra fort is another important historical Monument to visit. After finishing our breakfast, we hired a rickshaw (after bargaining with a rickshaw driver fixed a fare of Rs. 50/-) for our visit to Agra fort.
The Agra fort is constructed by the Mughal king Akbar. This fort is also situated on the bank of river Yamuna and is surrounded by 2 big ditches. Out of this 2 the outer ditch has been filled while the inner ditch still exists. Previously the Agra fort had 4 main gates. But now only Amar Singh gate and Delhi gate are in use. The Agra fort has been built by using the red sandstone. Originally there stood old stone Badalgarh which was a strong foothold of the Rajput rulers. Akbar constructed this Grand fort in place of BadalGarh.
When our rickshaw stopped in front of the Agra fort, we were astonished to see the size and the area covered by the fort. This land fort covers an area approximately 94 acres and has walls as high as 70 feet. The Double ramparts have massive circular bastions with battlements, embrasures at regular intervals. After we entered through the gate we had a 2 min walk across a ramp to reach the main area of the fort. After another short walk across the garden we reached the palace area. In the palace courtyard there is a huge tank called the Jahangir's hauz (tank). This monolithic tank was used for bathing. We entered this double storied building of red sandstone which is Jahangir's palace, the walls and the ceilings are painted with bright colours in Rajput style.
From the Jahangir's palace we moved towards the Khas-mahal. Our guide explained to us this was built during the time of Akbar for his empress and the other ladies of his harem. In front of the Khas mahal is the beautiful Angoori Baug. Khas-mahal is a beautiful white marble structure and it housed ladies of the royal family. Our guide then led us to what is known as Diwan-i-khas, which is also a white marble structure and faces the river side. The ceiling of this structure is also decorated with bright / golden colours.
Now our guide took us to another beautiful palace called the Sheesh mahal which was used as the dressing room by the ladies and its walls are led with small beautiful mirrors. Inside the sheesh mahal there is a turkish bath which was used by the family members. The palace was built by Jahangir for his queen Noor jahan. Later it was remodeled by Shahjahan for Mumtaz Mahal. It is also called Jasmine tower because of beautiful, miraculous work of marble and semi precious colourful stones. Near this palace is the death place of Shahjahan where he was also imprisoned by Aurangzeb. From the prison, Shahjahan could see the Taj Mahal.
Though the Taj Mahal is on the other side of River Yamuna but if we see from a particular point the Taj Mahal appears closest as compared to the other places on the fort.
After having a tour of the royal palaces we moved towards Diwan-e-aam. Diwan-e-aam was constructed by Akbar with red sand stones; it was later remodeled by shahjahan who built its pillars and arches. The throne room was also built by shahjahan to hear the please of citizens.
Though we spent nearly 2 hours in Agra fort we wished to take another round to revisit the structures however as we had to visit Itmad-Ud-Daulah (Baby Taj), we took a rickshaw from Agra fort to Baby Taj.
Tip : Entry fee for Agra fort is Rs. 35/- for Indian citizens and Rs. 550/- for foreigners. Itmad-Ud-Daulah / Baby Taj :
This is another beautiful historic building in Agra. It is built by Noor Jahan in the memory of her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg. It took 6 years to complete this 2 storey structure. The tomb has many designs which are copied in the Taj Mahal.
This structure is also made of white marble and is based on the foundation of red sandstone. There are rectangular shaped tombs inside Baby Taj. This structure is enclosed by a beautiful garden. The garden is fenced by a high wall on three sides and the 4th side opens towards river Yamuna. As this structure has less footfalls we spent some peaceful time here in the evening.
The visit to these 3 structures exhausted us and by evening we returned to our hotel for planning a next day trip to Fatehpur Sikri.
To Be Continued......
- Mohini Nabar