The Agra Fort was built by a Rajput king, Raja Badal Singh. Sikander Lodi, the second last Sultan of Delhi built the mosques and palaces. The fort was constanly renovated by Akbar, as well as Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan built monuments out of white marble, and destroyed some of the previous ones for building his own.
As you enter the fort and turn right, you enter the main residential complex which includes the durbar hall, kitchen, etc. Moving further inside, you find the monuments built by Shah Jahan in white marble, for his daughters, his wives and himself. He also built the Meena Masjid, entirely from white marble. These marble monuments are studded with gems and stones brought from all over the world, from as far as Belgium, Iran, etc.
In the last years of Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb imprisoned him inside Agra Fort where he could see the Taj Mahal he built along the Yamuna river.
In the siege of 1857, the British East India Company fired a cannon at the fort, which is still visible today.
The Diwan-i-aam was the hall of the public audience. When Aurangzeb invited Shivaji, it was this place he was made to stand, behind the mansabdars, i.e. the military commanders. Shivaji took this as an insult and offended Aurangazeb. Thus enraged, he ordered Shivaji to be put to house arrest. Realising this, Shivaji made up a plan and escaped Agra Fort hiding in a basket of sweets. The Diwan-i-aam is constructed in such a manner that the king’s view won’t be blocked, even if viewed from any angle. Thus, no pillar here obstructs the king’s view.
Notice the resemblance of the diwan-i-aam to the set used in the set of the TV serial Raja Shivchhatrapati:
Many squirrels are found at the Agra Fort as well as the Gwalior Fort and the Taj Mahal. I got the opportunity to click a good photograph of one of them who was searching for something in my camera’s bag.
Let’s move on to the Taj Mahal now. For those who aren’t familiar, it was built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s third wife, who died during the birth of her fourteenth child. The Taj Mahal was completed in the year 1643. It has three entrance gates – east, west, and south. The Taj is open on all days except Friday, with Friday being meant for Muslims to offer prayers in the mosque.
The entrance to the Taj is built from red stone and there are two mosques on either sides of the Taj. The Yamuna river flows just behind the Taj. The gardens in front of the Taj are known as Charbagh.
Inside the main chamber, there are two tombs – one of Mumtaz and the other of Shah Jahan. Wait for a second, those tombs are just to deceive the visitors – they are fake! The real ones are in a lower chamber. The Taj Mahal complex also has an archaeological museum.
The area in and around the Taj is kept pollution free. Visitors’ vehicles are not allowed near the actual building. If you wish to enter from the East Gate, you need to park the vehicles at Shilpgram, about a kilometre from the gate. Golf cars and battery operated buses, manufactured by BHEL are the only public transport vehicles to transport tourists from Shilpgram to the East Gate.
So as you might be wondering, there are dark sides to the Taj Mahal too. Let us talk about them one by one.
Littering due to shoe covers
Everyone is required to remove their footwear before entering the main mausoleum. Hence, shoe covers are provided at INR 10 at the ticket counter, so that one can proceed without removing their footwear. If you didn’t get what I meant to say, you can refer the image below. There are two people wearing those covers on their shoes. However, after leaving from the mausoleum, people take out those covers and thus, these covers often lie on the ground, which pollutes the land near such an important wonder of the world. This rubbish keeps on littering and accumulating and it seems that nobody is responsible for punishing such offenders or spreading awareness about their acts, although armed police officials are deployed everywhere.
Acid rains pose a danger to the Taj in today’s world. The refineries at nearby Mathura release hazardous gases like SO2 into the atmosphere which get mixed with water vapour and condense to form dilute acids. As the Taj is made up of marble (calcium carbonate – CaCO3), it reacts with this acid to form calcium sulphate and thus degrades the Taj. Indicators showing the current levels and permissible levels of such gases are installed in one of the corner minarets.
Some of the walls of the Taj and its marble plinth were studded with diamonds and gems, which were later stolen by local thieves during the decline of the Mughal Empire and owing to poor maintenance. The slots of these gems can still be seen.
Black Taj theory
There are theories that Shah Jahan wanted to build a Black Taj Mahal for himself after building the white ones for Mumtaz. Some black marble stones found at Mehtab Bagh, on the opposite side of Yamuna support this theory. However, modern excavations state that these stones were blackened white stones and not originally black, thus opposing the theory. Hence, no Black Taj exists as of now.
Tejo Mahalaya theory
Historian P. N. Oak, in his book Taj Mahal: The True Story, claims that the Taj Mahal was originally a Shiva temple, called Tejo Mahalaya, built in 1155 CE. He claims that it was built by the Rajput king Jai Singh I. Some of the lotus designs found inside the Taj and radiocarbon dating of a few stones also support this theory. It is believed that the word ‘Taj Mahal’ is a corruption of this word used by Shah Jahan.
There is a unique kind of soda which is found here, in North India, known as Goti soda, found in a codd-neck bottle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codd-neck_bottle). Its mouth is sealed with a marble instead of a cap. It is opened by pushing this marble inside the bottle. It was patented and named after British soft drink maker Hiram Codd.
Agra (Taj Mahal) is about 220 km from New Delhi via the Yamuna Expressway, which has been now extended till Lucknow. The National Highway 46 connects Agra to Mumbai via Gwalior, Indore, Dhule, Nashik, etc. Agra also lies on the North South Corridor, i.e. the Srinagar Kanyakumari Highway, which was revamped as an almost freeway in the Golden Quadrilateral Project.
Agra has several important railway stations, such as Agra Cantt., Raja ki Mandi, Idgah Agra, Agra Fort, Yamuna Bridge, etc. Mathura, an important junction is also very close to Agra. There are several trains that ply between Agra and Delhi (including India’s fastest train – Gatimaan Express) and Agra and Bengaluru/Hyderabad/Vizag/Chennai (such as several Rajdhanis). In comparison, fewer trains ply between Agra and Mumbai. One of them and the fastest is the Nizamuddin LTT AC SF Express which runs once a week.
As of today, Agra has a small military airport which is also used for public transport. Not many airlines operate here. However, a new greenfield airport, the Taj International Airport is proposed to be built at Jewar, about 146 km from Agra and has been granted an approval by the Union Government.
A few words on my hotel… Although till date I haven’t named my hotel, this time I specifically chose to name it – Orient Taj Hotels and Resorts, Fatehbad Road (https://www.makemytrip.com/hotels/orient_taj_hotels_and_resorts-details-agra.html). That’s because in about INR 9600 for two days for two rooms, you get a plethora of facilities such as a badminton/tennis court, indoor games, swimming pool, gym, complimentary breakfast, etc. It also has a huge lawn and paved walkways for walking and jogging. The hotel is designed in the Mughal architectural style and its buildings are named after several emperors and their wives of the Mughal dynasty. Therefore, I would definitely recommend this hotel for your visit to Agra. MakeMyTrip gives you a cheap deal for the same.
At its peak, i.e. at the end of the 17th century, the Mughal empire constituted about 25% of the world’s GDP. Yes, almost quarter of the GDP of the world came from the Mughal empire alone! This is because it comprised of the modern-day territories of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. And of course, there were no other gigantic powers such as the USA then! The Mughals also had a great military strength, which they needed to crush frequent rebels in Afghanistan, by the tribes living there. Taliban wouldn’t have dared to come up in their presence. Probably the US military must learn a few lessons from them. Though the Mughals were incapable of defeating the Marathas, it was because of the inability of the successors of Aurangazeb and not the strength of their empire. If his successors would have been as able as him, an undivided India would probably still be under Mughal dominance; probably a somewhat softer version of Saudi Arabia in South Asia. Well, that would have positive as well as ill-effects, but the rise of fall of empires is regular. The Sultanate of Delhi rose, fell to the Mughals, the Mughals fell to the Marathas, who fell under the British East India Company, which was replaced by the British Raj, and finally the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. However, this cycle should now stop as we are quite a stable democracy. Although this often happens in the modern age in countries like Libya (2011), Iraq (2003), USSR (1991), Iran (1979), etc., it won’t happen with us and by God’s grace, must never happen. Do visit Agra to remember the Mughals and their glory, while respecting the sovereignty and integrity of the Republic of India. Several movies such as Taj Mahal (1963) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960) have also been made to spread awareness about their legacy. Presenting you a beautiful song from the movie Taj Mahal: