Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan himself may have not known that the mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, he built for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal will become a most valued gem of an art for India and the world. This beautiful edifice took 22 years and over 22,000 construction workers to build from1632 to 1654. It has become a symbol of eternal love since then and a great Muslim architecture; it is Shah Jahan’s legacy to the world.
Today, the immense, celebrated masterpiece of world heritage (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is visited by about 200,000 o 3000,000 a day or over 6 million tourists annually. For many who haven’t gone to Agra yet, know that there is much to the place to see and experience. With India’s rich history of royalty, cultural heritage, sagas of romance, chivalry and more, there are many reasons to come to Agra and its nearby towns or provinces. Here are some great extra reasons to enjoy a Taj Mahal excursion.
History & Culture
- Agra Fort: This red sandstone Agra fort facing the river was built in 1565 by Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1565 and reformed with pietra dura inlay and marble during Shah Jahan’s rule,. Illustrious structures in the fort are Diwan-e-Am, the Pearl Mosque, Jahangir’s Palace, Diwan-e-Khas, Musammam Burj, Shish Mahal and the Khas Mahal.
- Itmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb: This Mausoleum was erected for Mirza Ghiyas Bagh, bestowed the title of Itmad-ud-Daula, upon the order of his daughter Noor Jahan (wife of Jahangir). The mausoleum was built in white marble and encrusted with semi-precious stones.
- Fatehpur Sikri: Built by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1569, it stands as a symbol of the infamous Mughal architecture deserted after its completion due to natural disasters and the closeness of the Rajputana areas.
- Akbar’s Tomb – Sikandra Gatway Agra: Built in 1605-1613 for the great Akbar. It was Akbar himself who begun the construction according to Tartary tradition. This great asset of India was built using red sandstones with traces of white marble.
- Sikandra Fort: The actual mausoleum of Akbar, it is a preserved monument in India. Initiated by Akbar but completed by his son, Jahangir, it served as the foundation for Sikandra Fort. It bears the features of the great emperor with its intricate carvings and gorgeous garden.
- Jodha Bai ka Rauza: This was built by Akbar’s favorite queen. This is a simple yet elegant piece of architecture. The structure is said to represent a marriage of Hindu and Muslim architecture, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Other edifices that are part of India’s culture and history loved by history and culture buffs are the Octagonal Tower or Musamman Burj built in 1631-1640 by Shah Jahan and dedicated to his wife Mumtaz Mahal; Jahangir’s Palace, a token of Akbar to his son, Jehangir, who succeeded him as an emperor; Chini ka Rauza that houses the tomb of Alamo Afzal Khan Mullsh, a Prime Minister during Shah Jahan rule; and Radha Swami Samadhi or Soamibagh, a tomb of the founder of the sect Radha Swami lovingly called as ‘Swamiji Maharaj’.
- Jama Masjid: This faces Agra Fort and built by Shah Jahan in 1648 in honor of his daughter Jahanara. It is made of marble and red sandstone and marble.
- Moti Masjid: This is also called as “Pearl White.” It was constructed Shah Jahan as a place of worship with a prayer chamber festooned with elaborate, lavishly decorated parapet and sheltered by three globular domes.
- Bageshwarnath Temple: This place of Baba Bageshwar sees a throng of worshipers being amongst the most holy places in Agra. It is an old place of worship and temple of Lord Siva. It is so famous it serves as a landmark in the area.
Two other religious structures that attract a horde of tourists are Guru Ka Taal, the Sikh pilgrimage devoted to the 9th Sri Guru Tegh Bahudar Ji that goes as far back as the 17th century, and Soami Bagh Samadh that is of historic meaning to the Samadh of Soamiji Maharaj.
- Mehtab Bagh: This moonlight garden is near Taj Mahal across Yamuna River. It is a perfect square-shaped garden designed to be partly flooded during heavy downpour. It was built by the Mughal emperor Babur, the last of the 11 built by the Mughals. Its intricacy in design and construction in the terrace pattern sets a fresh standard for Mughal architecture.
- Ram Bagh: It is the foremost garden of the Mughals built in India built for the relaxation of the Emperor and to amuse his guests. The beautiful garden is celebrated for its distinctive style of design and eye-catching layout portraying the love of the Mughal for nature.
Other Tourist Destinations Near Agra
- Mathura: This birthplace of Krishna is a major pilgrimage destination for the Hindus and an illustrious attraction or domestic and international tourists. Some spots to visit in Krishna’s life are Vishram Ghat, Shri Krishna Janam Bhumi, Gita Mandir and Dwarkadheesh Temple.
- Delhi: India’s capital is just 216 km away from Agra, a fast-growing city that offers a lot of possibilities for tourists – Red Fort, Qutb Minar, India Gate as well as Akshardham Temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, Jama Masjid, Sacred Heart Cathedral, malls and more.
The Flavors of Agra
Taj Mahal in particular and Agra in general can fill your eyes with amazing cultural and historical sights it will be hard to think of something else. But wait, once you’re here, don’t miss the opportunity of filling your tummy too with exotic gastronomies that abound in Agra.
Agra’s Mughlai’s epicurean trait is known for its creamy sauces. Its cuisine is a marriage of India’s local spices – cumin, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and chilies, India’s local spices – and Muslim ingredients – apricots, nuts, curry leaves, saffron, hot chilies, tamarind, mustard seeds, yogurt, coconut milk and cream – with the addition of garlic and ginger.
Some of India’s classic fares with Mughal’s origins and influences are korma and its derivatives (dopiaza and rogan josh), gravy with cream and yoghurt, and biryani, a rice-based dish with meats, eggs, nuts and spices. A classic dessert is the halwa made with ghee and semolina, topped with nuts like cashew and pistachio. The flat bread is called naan. The meal is washed down by the traditional cool, yoghurt drink, the lassi, which can be sweetened with mango.
Once in Agra, avoid tourist traps. You can check out the eating places suggested in the article
“Agra’s Top 10 Restaurants: Eating Out in Uttar Pradesh” posted in India. The list includes
- Dasaprakash: It specializes in South Indian vegetarian fares.
- Esphahan: A traditional restaurant serving the must-try Kerala shrimp curry.
- Shankar Ji: It is a local dhaba (snack bar) that offers the very best of the local authentic cuisine.
- Pinch of Spice: It is known for the best tandoori kebabs and creamiest curries. Try murg boti masala (chicken tikka) and paneer lababdar (fresh diced cheese in a hot sauce).
- Joney’s Place: This is loved by the locals, so that tells you much. If you want it cheap, but delicious, this place is perfect. Don’t forget to sample their banana lassi and malai kofta.
Other restaurants in Agra are Shankara Vegis, Jahanpanah, Lakshmi Vilas, Jhankar and Stuff Makers.