Agra is globally renown as the city of the Taj Mahal. But this royal Mughal city has, in addition to the legendary Taj, many monuments that epitomise the high point of Mughal architecture. In the Mughal period, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Agra was the capital of India. It was here that the founder of the dynasty, Babar, laid out the first formal Persian garden on the banks of the river Yamuna. Here, Akbar, his grandson raised the towering ramparts of the great Red Fort. Within its walls, Jehangir built rose-red palaces, courts and gardens, and Shahajahan embellished it with marble mosques, palaces and pavilions of gem-inlaid white marble.
The crowning glory of the city is obviously the Taj, a monument of love and imagination, that represents India to the world.
What to See
The Taj Mahal stands serene and awesome, on a raised marble platform, by the banks of the Yamuna, testifying to the timelessness of art and love. Its pure white marble shimmers silver in the soft moonlight, exudes a shell - pink glow at dawn, and at the close of the day, takes on the tawny, fiery hue of the majestic sun. Shahjahan built the monument in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the 'lady of the Taj', who died giving birth to their 14th child. It has been called the most extravagant monument ever built for the sake of love. The construction of the Taj commenced in 1631, and was completed in 1653. Workers were gathered from all over the country and from Central Asia, and about 20,000 people were recruited to translate this wild dream into a reality. The main architect was Isa Khan, who was brought all the way from Shiraz in Iran. After he was deposed and brutally imprisoned in the Agra Fort, by his son Aurangzeb, Shahjahan spent the rest of his life looking wistfully at his wife's final resting place, just across the river. The Taj remains a symbol of eternal love where the heart - broken Shahjahan was subsequently buried, re-united finally with his beloved Mumtaz.
Among the other monuments that Agra takes pride in is the Agra Fort, built by three of the greatest Mughal emperors. The construction of this massive structure began in 1565, under Akbar, and continued till the time of his grandson, Shahjahan. Armed with massive double walls, punctuated by four gateways, the fort houses palaces, courts, mosques, baths, gardens and gracious pavilions within its premises. Among the fascinating structures that are to be found within the fort is the red sandstone Jehangiri Mahal built by Akbar for his Hindu queen, Jodhabai, was one of the earliest constructions illustrating the fort's change from a military structure to a palace. The palace is also notable for its smooth blending of Hindu and central Asian architectural styles. The Diwan - i - Am, the Diwan - i - Khas, the Khas Mahal, the Palace of Mirrors, the Pearl mosque, the Nagina Masjid, the Garden of Grapes, and the Fish Pavilion are the other monuments in the fort complex.
Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah
The Itmad-ud-daulah tomb stands in the centre of a grand Persian garden, an architectural gem of its times. It is the tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, Emperor Jehangir's wazir, or Chief Minister, and also his father - in- law. The structure was built by Empress Noorjehan, between 1622 and 1628 and is very similar to the tomb she constructed for her husband, near Lahore in Pakistan. This splendid garden tomb is believed to be the precursor of the magnificent Taj Mahal, and was the first Mughal structure to be built entirely of marble, and the first, again, to make use of pietra dura, the inlay marble work that came to be typical of the Taj. Near the Agra Fort, is Jami Masjid, built by Shahjahan in 1648. An inscription over its main entrance indicates that it was built in the name of Jahanara, the emperor's daughter, who was imprisoned with the hapless emperor by Aurangzeb.
10 km north of Agra lies Akbar's tomb, in Sikandra. Named after the Afghan ruler Sikander Lodi, Sikandra is the final resting place of Emperor Akbar. Akbar began the construction of his own garden mausoleum during his lifetime, a red sandstone structure in a chahar - bagh, or 4 - square formal garden. An impressive marble - inlaid gateway leads to the spacious four - tiered monument which is crowned by a white marble cenotaph and screen. This last was added by Jahangir, who completed the tomb after the demise of his father.
40 km west of Agra, is the perfectly preserved 'phantom city' of Fatehpur Sikri. Between 1570 and 1586, during Akbar's reign, the city served as the capital of the Mughal empire, and was then abruptly abandoned. Today, albeit deserted, the city's palaces, courts and other monuments stand in mute testimony to the greatness, and amazing vision of the greatest emperor of all times, who was also a fine human being. The dargah or tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti, the renowned saint, set in the courtyard of the Royal Mosque, still draws hordes of pilgrims who come to have their wishes fulfilled.
55 kilometres from Agra is Bharatpur, which has an early 18th century Rajput Fort, but is better known, today, for one of the finest bird sanctuaries in the world. Called Keoladeo Ghana, the sanctuary is a 40 sq. km area of swampy light - wooded terrain, which was once the private hunting and shooting preserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur. Today, it is the protected breeding ground of hundreds of species of birds and home to migratory birds, especially the Siberian Crane, that spend their winters here.
Other places to visit include, Mathura and Brindavan. Mathura, on the banks of the river Yamuna, is the birthplace of Krishna, and Brindavan, the land of thousands of shrines and temples, which still echoes with stories and songs that recount the exploits of this charming God.