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INDIA NORTH TO SOUTH – UTTAR PRADESH, AGRA – TAJ MAHAL, RED FORT OF AGRA, FATEHPUR SIKRI

May 18, 2012

AGRA

Agra’s magnificent white marble Taj Mahal stands like a bulbous beacon, drawing tourists like moths to a wondrous flame. Despite the hype, it’s every bit as good as you’ve heard. While Agra itself is a sprawling, bloated and polluted industrial city that few travellers seem to have a good word for, the Taj is not a stand-alone attraction. The legacy of the Mughal empire has left a magnificent fort and a sprinkling of fascinating tombs and mausoleums, while the Yamuna River provides a suitably sacred backdrop. The Mughal emperor Babur established his capital here in 1526, and for the next century Agra witnessed a remarkable spate of architectural activity as each emperor tried to outdo the grandiose monuments built by his predecessors.

The city has a lively but chaotic chowk (marketplace) and plenty of places to stay and eat, but the hordes of rickshaw-wallahs, touts, unofficial guides and souvenir vendors can be as persistent as the monsoon rain.

Many tourists choose to visit Agra on a whistle-stop day trip – made possible by the excellent train services from Delhi.  However, Agra’s attractions are much more than can be seen in a day, and if you have the time you can enjoy several days’ sightseeing with side trips to Fatepur Sikri.

More than 3 million people each year pour into Agra to see the architectural wonder that was created by the 17th-century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who had the Taj constructed as an exquisite mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal after she died during childbirth.

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Through the Window of Taj Mahal (A Poem)

By

Mahmud Kianush


Lost in amazement,

He was standing in the Palace of History

And through the window of Taj Mahal

He could see the elephants marching

From the Gate of Emerald,

All the way to the coast of Blood.

The redness of blood had made his heart heavy,

And emerald had dazzled his eyes

In such a way that he had forgotten

The Teacher of History:

“O child,

If you fail to understand the past,

You will never know the Future;

Read History!”

And the train of elephants came from the past,

And he, amazed by that glorious game,

asked:

“Father,

Were the Maharajahs good men?”

Frustrated and helpless,

I was standing in front of Numbers;

The numbers I had:

1 wife, 2 shirts, 3 children;

And the numbers I wanted:

1 justice, 6,000,000,000 brothers and sisters,

And 1 window;

And the numbers that frightened me:

Or filled me with hatred,

With nausea,

With anger,

With…

Frustrated and helpless,

I was standing in front of those numbers,

And no comparison was possible.

Stupidly naive,

I was wondering

If for only one day

All the people of the world

Would stop wearing perfume,

Then for how long

The flowers that would not die prematurely

Could scent the air,

And for how long Famine would remain in retreat!

This was my thought when he said:

“Father,

Were the Maharajahs good men?”

More frustrated, more helpless than before,

From the snake pit of Numbers, I said: “No!”,

And he asked:

“Were they great people?”

I said: “No!”

And he asked:

“What then were they?”

I said: “They were only Maharajahs!”

And my son began to laugh and said:

“Maharajahs were only Maharajahs!”

And he was still laughing when,

In a serious tone, I said:

“My dear son,

Go and read your History,

And let me read my Daily Paper!”

I saw him watching the past

Through the window of Taj Mahal

With amazement,

still not remembering

—-

History of Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal of Agra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, for reasons more than just looking magnificent. It’s the history of Taj Mahal that adds a soul to its magnificence: a soul that is filled with love, loss, remorse, and love again. Because if it was not for love, the world would have been robbed of a fine example upon which people base their relationships. An example of how deeply a man loved his wife, that even after she remained but a memory, he made sure that this memory would never fade away. This man was the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who was head-over-heels in love with Mumtaz Mahal, his dear wife. She was a Muslim Persian princess (her name Arjumand Banu Begum before marriage) and he was the son of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir and grandson of Akbar the Great. It was at the age of 14 that he met Mumtaz and fell in love with her. Five years later in the year 1612, they got married.

Mumtaz Mahal, an inseparable companion of Shah Jahan, died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child. It was in the memory of his beloved wife that Shah Jahan built a magnificent monument as a tribute to her, which we today know as the “Taj Mahal”. The construction of Taj Mahal started in the year 1631. Masons, stonecutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from Central Asia and Iran, and it took approximately 22 years to build what we see today. An epitome of love, it made use of the services of 22,000 laborers and 1,000 elephants. The monument was built entirely out of white marble, which was brought in from all over India and central Asia. After an expenditure of approximately 32 million rupees (approx US $68000), Taj Mahal was finally completed in the year 1653.

It was soon after the completion of Taj Mahal that Shah Jahan was deposed by his own son Aurangzeb and was put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Shah Jahan, himself also, lies entombed in this mausoleum along with his wife. Moving further down the history, it was at the end of the 19th century that British Viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908, as a measure to restore what was lost during the Indian rebellion of 1857: Taj being blemished by British soldiers and government officials who also deprived the monument of its immaculate beauty by chiseling out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. Also, the British style lawns that we see today adding on to the beauty of Taj were remodeled around the same time. Despite prevailing controversies, past and present threats from Indo-Pak war and environmental pollution, this epitome of love continuous to shine and attract people from all over the world.

WE DEPART DELHI FROM THE DELHI RAILROAD STATION

DELHI RAILROAD STATION PLATFORM

ENTRANCE TO THE TAJ MAHAL

TAJ MAHAL FIRST VIEW AS ONE ENTERS THROUGH THE GATE

TAJ MAHAL REFLECTION

TAJ MAHAL

TAJ MAHAL DOME

TAJ MAHAL AS SEEN FROM BELOW

ENTRANCE TO THE TAJ MAHAL TOMB

TAJ MAHAL ENTRANCE AS SEEN FROM THE TAJ MAHAL BALCONY

TAJ MAHAL SIDE VIEW

INDIAN TOURISTS ARE LINED UP AROUND THE TAJ MAHAL FOR ENTRAMCE

YAMUNA RIVER SEEN FROM THE TAJ MAHAL

TAJ MAHAL MINARET

TAJ MAHAL MINARET (DETAIL)

TAJ MAHAL TOURISTS

TAJ MAHAL VISITORS

TAJ MAHAL VISITORS

TAJ MAHAL GUARDS

TAJ MAHAL VISITORS WITH THEIR COLORFUL SAREES

TAJ MAHAL SIDE GATE

TAJ MAHAL REFLECTION AT DUSK

AGRA RED FORT

Brief Description

Near the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the important 16th-century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses, within its 2.5-km-long enclosure walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It comprises many fairy-tale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jahan; audience halls, such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and two very beautiful mosques.

The Red Fort and the Taj Mahal bear an exceptional and complementary testimony to a civilization which has disappeared, that of the Mogul Emperors. Agra’s history goes back more than 2,500 years, but it was not until the reign of the Mughals that Agra became more than a provincial city. Humayun, son of the founder of the Mogul Empire, was offered jewellery and precious stones by the family of the Raja of Gwalior, one of them the famous Koh-i-Noor. The heyday of Agra came with the reign of Humayun’s son, Akbar the Great. During his reign, the main part of the Agra Fort was built.

The Red Fort of Agra is a powerful fortress founded in 1565 by the Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) on the right bank of the Yamuna; it is placed today on the north-west extremity of the Shah Jahan Gardens which surround the Taj Mahal and clearly form, with them, a monumental unity.

This bastioned fortress, with walls of red sandstone rising above a moat and interrupted by graceful curves and lofty bastions, encompasses within its enclosure walls of 2.5 km, the imperial city of the Mogul rulers. Like the Delhi Fort, that of Agra is one of the most obvious symbols of the Mogul grandeur which asserted itself under Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan.

The wall has two gates, the Delhi Gate and the Amar Singh Gate. The original and grandest entrance was through the Delhi Gate, which leads to the inner portal called the Hathi Pol or Elephant Gate. But now the entrance to the fort is only through the Amar Singh Gate.

The citadel comprises a large number of fairy-like palaces: the Khas Mahal, the Shish Mahal, the octagonal tower of Muhammam Burj, as well as reception rooms: Diwan-i-Khas, built in 1637 and the many pillared Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), constructed in 1628, under the reign of the luxury-loving Shah Jahan (1630-55). Within the palatial complex, there are two very beautiful mosques of white marble, the Moti Masjid or the Pearl Mosque, constructed in 1646-53 by Shah Jahan and the Nagina Masjid built under the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707).

Several of the buildings are made from pure marble with beautiful carvings; all of these monuments mark the apogee of an Indo-Muslim art strongly marked by influences from Persia which already manifested itself in Timurid art.

Emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in Agra Fort, from which he had a view of the building erected for his deceased wife. Shah Jahan is said to have died in the Musamman Burj, a tower with a beautiful marble balcony.

GATE AND WALLS RED FORT

AMAR SINGH GATE – This gate, which was originally tiled, is placed perpendicular to the walls for defensive purposes. After passing through the gate, you have to pass through yet another gate, the Akbari Darwaza, before getting inside the fort.

DIWAN- I-AM – Diwan-I-Am
The Diwan-I-Am was constructed by Shah Jahan between 1631-40. It is believed that from here Shah Jahan addressed the general public as well as the nobility. The Diwan-i-Am or Hall of Public Audiences measures 201′ by 67′. It has two majestic arched gateways of red sandstone on the northern as well as on the southern sides. This flat roofed rectangular assembly hall is open on three sides.

DIWAN-I-AM ROOF DETAIL

SHEESH MAHAL OR GLASS PALACE – It is believed to have been the harem dressing room and its walls are inlaid with tiny mirrors which are the best specimens of glass-mosaic decoration in India. The Sheesh Mahal is composed of two large halls of equal size, each measuring 11.15m x 6.40 m. Both are connected in the centre by a broad arched opening and on the sides by two narrow passages.

SHEESH MAHAL INTERIOR

SHEESH MAHAL – This pavillion with curved Bangla roof overlooks the Yamuna river to the east and imitates the shape of Bengali thatched huts, in one of the characteristic styles of 17th century Mughal building.

SHEESH MAHAL OR GLASS PALACE – There are two tanks with fountains interconnected by a canal and a waterfall that were meant to keep the palace cool. Glass Mosaic of high quality work has been done on all the walls and ceilings.IN the distance one can see the Taj Mahal.

SHEESH MAHAL OR GLASS PALACE – It is supposed to have been the royal dressing room and its walls are inlaid by means of small mirrors, one of the most excellent specimens of glass mosaic decoration in India.

SEESH MAHAL OR GLASS PALACE (DETAIL)

JAHANGIRI MAHAL  –   This is the first notable building inside the Agra Fort. It was built by Akbar as women’s quarters and is the only building that survives among his original palace buildings. It is built of stone and is simply decorated in the exterior. This elegant, double storeyed building reflects a strong hindu influence with protruding balconies and domed chhatris (are elevated, dome-shaped pavilions used as an element in Indian architecture).

JAHANGIRI MAHAL – Jahangiri Mahal may be the most noteworthy building inside the Agra Fort of India. The Mahal was the principal zenana (palace for women belonging to the royal household), and was used mainly by the Rajput wives of Akbar.

JAHANGIRI MAHAL WALL

ZAHANGIRI MAHAL ROOF

ZAHANGIRI MAHAL – ROOF  (DETAIL)

ZAHANGIRI MAHAL DETAIL

THE MOATS AT THE RED FORT – Enemies attempting to attack the fort were confronted with several layers of defense. Surrounding the fort was a moat filled with crocodiles. Those successfully crossing the moat to the strip of land between it and the wall were then forced to contend with the tigers inhabiting the area.

A VIEW OF THE TAJ MAHAL FROM THE RED FORT IN AGRA

FATEHPUR SIKRI

Fatehpur Sikri, constructed between 1571 and 1585, was the Mughal emperor Akbar’s capital for 15 years. It’s in the modern state of Uttar Pradesh, about 40 km from Agra. It’s built with red sandstone, and though the workmanship is ornate, it’s also understated.

Akhbar was not only a conqueror – he was also a statesman, who believed in religious conciliation and in alliances, and he had Muslim, Hindu and Christian wives, all of whom had their quarters in Fatehpur Sikri. The city was built quickly, and deserted just as quickly, as the strategic interests of Akbar’s empire shifted.

Fatehpur Sikri bears exceptional testimony to the Mughal civilization at the end of the 16th century. It offers a unique example of architectural ensembles of very high quality constructed between 1571 and 1585. Its form and layout strongly influenced the evolution of Indian town planning, notably at Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi).

The ‘City of Victory’ had only an ephemeral existence as the capital of the Mughal empire. The Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) decided to construct it in 1571, on the same site where the birth of his son, the future Jahangir, was predicted by the wise Shaikh Salim Chisti (1480-1572). The work, supervised by the great Mughal himself, was completed in 1573. In 1585, however, Akbar abandoned Fatehpur Sikri to fight against the Afghan tribes and choose a new capital, Lahore. Fatehpur Sikri was to be the seat of the great Mughal court only once more for three months in 1619, when Jahangir sought refuge there from the plague that devastated Agra. The site was then finally abandoned, until its archaeological exploration in 1892.

This capital without a future, some 40 km from Agra was, however, considerably more than the fancy of a sovereign during the 14 years of its existence. The city, which the English traveller Ralph Fitch considered in 1585 as ‘considerably larger than London and more populous’, comprised a series of palaces, public buildings and mosques, as well as living areas for the court, the army, servants of the king and for an entire population whose history has not been recorded.

Only one tiny part of the city (where the large buildings are concentrated) has been until now, studied, visited and relatively well preserved. Fatehpur Sikri, constructed on a rocky plateau, south-east of an artificial lake, created for the occasion and today partially dried up, is bounded on three sides by a 6 km wall, fortified by towers and pierced by seven gates (the best preserved is the Gate of Agra, the second from the north). This spacious enclosure defines the limits of the new foundation rather than assuring its defence.

The majority of the important monuments are found to the north of the road from Gaza to Agra; constructed of red sandstone, they form a homogeneous group, even if the eclecticism of their style is evident and is based on borrowings from Hindu, Persian and Indo-Muslim traditions. Among the numerous palaces, gazebos, pavilions, etc., may be cited in particular:

Diwan-i-Am, the Hall of Public Audience, is encircled by a series of porticos which are broken up by the insertion of the imperial box where Akbar, surrounded by his ministers and officers meted out justice. This box communicates directly with Daulat Khana (Imperial Palace), flanked to the north by Diwan-i-Kas (Hall of Private Audience), called the ‘Jewel House’, a monument known for its central plan, which comprises an extraordinary capital surmounted by a circular balcony: the ‘throne’.

Other monuments of exceptional quality are the Ranch Mahal, whose elevation of four recessed storeys recalls certain Buddhist temples, the pavilion of Anup Talao, or the Turkish Sultana, the palace of Jodh Bai, the palace of Birbal, the caravanserai and the problematic ‘stables’.

Owing to the piety of Akbar, many religious and votive monuments were constructed at Fatehpur Sikri. The great mosque (Jama Masjid), one of the most spacious in India (165 m by 133 m) could accommodate some 10,000 faithful; it was completed in 1571-72 and according to the dedicatory inscription deserves no less respect than Mecca. It incorporates, in the centre of the court, the tomb of Shaikh Salim, an extraordinary Christian masterpiece of sculpted decoration, further embellished under the reign of Jahangir.

To the south of the court, the Buland Damaza, completed in 1575, commemorating the victories (the taking of Gujarat in 1572) to which the city, their monumental symbol, owes its existence and its name.

DIWAN-I KHAS (Hall of Private Audience)
The Diwan-i-Kas is also known as the Jewel House or the Ekstambha Prasada (Palace of Unitary pillar)
Inside the building there’s a central stone column. It supports four crisscrossing walkways that go across the upper level.

DIWAN-I-KHAS (INTERIOR) Inside, there’s only one room, with this ornately corbelled column, atop which Akbar is said to have sat in council, master of the four quarters. There are other interpretations, more favored these days: the building is said to have been purely symbolic, for example, with the central column representing the cosmic axis and with the squared design symbolizing the four corners of creation. The jalis, those pierced screens forming a balustrade, are restorations–obviously so, once it’s pointed out.

ASTROLOGER’S SEAT
Akbar had astrologers on staff, who he consulted before making important decisions. He used Hindu astrologers and Muslim munajjims, just to play it safe. This is where they made their pronouncements.

DIWAN-I-KHASS
WALL ORNAMENT

ASTROLOGER’S SEAT (OUTSIDE DETAIL)

Turkish Queen’s residence
Akbar liked variety in his wives (especially if marrying them cemented alliances). He had a Christian wife and a Hindu wife, and this one was Turkish. (In the local parlance she was the Rumi Sultana, which sounds to me like a flavor of ice cream.)
Though it doesn’t look like much at this point, the quarters were on the left. The pool in front is Anup Talao, and was a famous spot for music.

PANCH MAHAL, FATEHPUR SIKRI –
Panch Mahal is located on the northeast direction of Jodh Bai’s palace. It is a five-floored pillared pavilion. This extra ordinary building was called badgir or wind tower, which was constructed to alleviate the heat and is a very popular architectural mechanism of Persian architecture. Originally, it was connected with main Royal chamber and Jodh Bai’s palace.
The first floor has 84 pillars with row of eight pillars arranged in north to south direction and row of six pillars arranged in east to west direction. The second floor has 56 pillars with row of six pillars in north to south direction and row of four pillars in east to west direction and also beautiful carved pillars with unique designs. Capitals of these pillars also contain beautiful carved designs like floral vase, arch or rosette pattern. This floor also has a projecting chhajja and a carved frieze.
The third floor is composed of 20 pillars with smaller in size. It contains row of five pillars from north to south and row of three pillars from east west direction having double pillars at northeast corner. The fourth floor has 12 pillars in two rows. Pillars on eastern side are double. This floor also has beautiful jalied balustrade. The top of the building is decorated with beautiful square chhatri with a cupola.

PANCH MAHAL, FATEHPUR SIKRI –
WALL DETAIL

TREASURY BUILDING

TREASURY BUILDING –
WALL DETAIL

TREASURY BUILDING – THRONE ROOM

PANCH MAHAL, FATEHPUR SIKRI

PANCH MAHAL, FATEHPUR SIKRI    (DETAIL)

BULAND DARWAZA – (INSIDE VIEW)
Buland Darwaza Agra
Buland Darwaza Agra, India The Buland Darwaza is a grand gateway located in Fatehpur Sikri near Agra. This triumphal arch was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, when he defeated the king of Khandesh or Gujarat in 1573.
The name Buland Darwaza means ‘High Door’ and this victory arch rises to a height of 40 meters or 175 feet. It is the most striking monument in Fatehpur Sikri and can be seen from quite a distance. Rising impressively towards the sky, the Buland Darwaza is approached by a series of steps. You will pass under the massive arch of the Buland Darwaza when you enter the city of Fatehpur Sikri. You can see the impressive Buland Darwaza on tours to Agra with Agra Hub.
The Buland Darwaza is a magnificent structure built in red sandstone with decorations in white marble. With calligraphic inscriptions from the Quran on its front and pillars and chattris on its height, the Buland Darwaza is an impressive sight. The Buland Darwaza is also evidence of the religious tolerance of Akbar the Great. The inscription on the Buland Darwaza is attributed to Jesus Christ. It reads, “The World is but a bridge, pass over but build no houses on it.”
Situated on a hill where the Jama Masjid Mosque is located, the Buland Darwaza is the entrance gateway to the Jama Masjid mosque in Fatehpur Sikri near Agra India. The soaring gateway of the Buland Darwaza is one of the grandest of Mughal monuments and one that you should not miss, on tours to Agra with Agra Hub.

BADSHAHI DARWAZA —
Badshahi Darwaza or the Royal Door was reserved for emperor to join the congregational prayer. It was situated on the eastern side of the mosque facing Agra and was the main entrance to the mosque. Projecting out in the form of a half hexagonal porch, it has two kiosks and merlons at the top. The gateway is adorned with bands of buff sandstone carved in geometrical designs. It has two arches one on top of the other.
The cusped small entrance arch inside is ornamented with lotus bud and leads to a hexagonal vestibule. The roof of this vestibule is in the shape of a segmented-shaped dome crowned by a flat roof. Its upper storey houses a gallery and it has arched recesses on either side and cusped arches

BULAND DARWAZA – (OUTSIDE VIEW)

VIDEOS;

Taj Mahal, India

The Taj Mahal is without a doubt the most iconic site in India. With its white shining marble, the Taj is actually one of the most iconic sites in the world. For more info on Taj Mahal, India, visit:

“..The story behind Taj Mahal started when the Mughal emperor to be, Shan Jahan, met a Persian nobles daughter, Arjumand Banu. They quickly fell in love and married five years later.

By then, Shan Jahan already had two wives, but Arjumand would become his favorite wife. When Shan Jahan became the emperor in 1628, he bestowed her with the title “Mumtaz Mahal” — meaning “Jewel of the Temple”
Death of the Jewel
When Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to their 14th child, in 1631, Shan Jahan was devastated. Some say “The Taj” – as it is sometimes referred as – was built as a last request from his wife. Others say it was simply a way to honor her. Either way, Shan Jahan gave the order to build what would be one of the most magnificent tombs ever — one certainly worthy of his very own “Jewel of the Temple”.”

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Red Fort, Agra – Ancient Mughal Empire

The Red Fort, at Agra, is a real eye-opener. Built over many centuries, of red sandstone and inner exquisite marble buildings, carved and inlaid with ebony and semi-precious stones. It is a monument to human ingenuity and design, attempting to give grandeur and honor to tyrannical emperors of the Mughal Empire.  (Excellent description of the Red Fort, apart from magazine promotion at the end).

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7 Wonders of India: Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri is a city and a municipal board in Agra district in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The buildings of Fatehpur Sikri show a synthesis of various regional schools of architectural craftsmanship. Built during the second half of the 16th century by the
Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri (the City of Victory) near Agra was the capital of the Mughal Empire for some 10 years. The complex of monuments, all in a uniform architectural style, includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid.

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Agra, Old City

(A QUICK VIEW OF AGRA, OLD CITY)

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