Monday, November 24, 2014

The Taj Mahal & Agra Fort


Amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy city, lies one of the most visited and photographed monument of the world. Yes, I am talking about none other than the Taj Mahal. The symbol of love, Taj Mahal is located in the historical city of Agra that lies just 200 km from Delhi. And though I have visited there twice, I will visit the city again (and then I will post better pics). I always knew Agra was a centre of power during the time of Mughal rule, after reading a book recently on Mughals I realized a lot of politics and power revolved around Agra and hence this post.

The 197 km Delhi- Agra expressway is a smooth and easiest way to reach Agra from Delhi. In 2 hours we reached Agra and that too was a comfortable and pleasurable drive with two halts in between. Though most of the times I prefer a journey from train, this expressway is recommendable for a road journey.

Our first destination in Agra was Agra Fort. Personally I felt the magnificent Agra fort is quite underrated. I loved the fort more than Delhi’s Red fort. This architectural beauty was built by Akbar between 1565 and 1574, who chose Agra as his capital. Built of red-sandstone fort, on the bank of the Yamuna River it is spread in 2.5 kilometers. This fort houses number structures and masjids. There is a city within a city in this fort. Diwan-Khas, Diwae-e-Aam, Moti Masjid, Nagina Masjid, Sheesha Mahal are some names that I remember. Most of them are made of red sandstone or marble, and has beautiful carvings on it. If you are fond of Mughal architecture like me then you are going to love this fort. There is serenity, calmness and most importantly the royalty in this fort, which makes it worth visiting.

Though there are versions of stories told by guide there, only few sounded real. So, I would suggest all the visitors not to trust the guides there. The only real story told by our guide was of Musamman Burj and Khas Mahal, the magnificent white-marble octagonal tower and palace where Shah Jahan was imprisoned for eight years until his death in 1666, and from where he could gaze out at the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his wife. When he died, Shah Jahan’s body was taken from here by boat to the Taj. The now closed Mina Masjid, set back slightly from the eastern edge, was his private mosque. This version of story is believable as I have read this in two of the books on Mughals.

The fort is huge and it will take half of your day if you want to visit this fort properly. Moreover, you have to be rough and tough to visit this fort as it requires too much f walking. I was quite tired after the visit, hence it took a break had lunch and then headed to The Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is just 15 minutes from the Agra Fort. Do not get surprised by the entrance of the The Taj Mahal as you have to cross sloppy roads, lack of traffic management system and hoards of shops before entering this beautiful mausoleum.  But as soon as you will enter here you are bound to be lost in its beauty.

Built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the loving memory of his wife, Arjumand Bano better known Mumtaj Mahal, this is an epitome of love. It is said that it took over 20,000 skilled workers from across the country, working day and night, for 22 years for this architectural wonder to be created. Though with the passage of time and pollution the whiteness of the marble is reduced, still is a perfect example of grace, symmetry and beauty.

As I get nearer to the tomb my appreciation deepened; from a closer vantage point, the fact that the entire building is made out of white marble becomes more and more apparent and the way it’s intricately designed is simply spectacular.

The most interesting fact that our guide told us is about the four minarets. These four minarets are perfectly symmetrical to each other and they are constructed slightly outside the platform so that in case of natural calamity like earthquake the minarets will fall away from the tomb and there by leaving the main complex unaffected. Such was the farsightedness of the constructor.  

The walls of the tomb are beautifully carved with calligraphy and inlaid design of flowers.  I just sat at the e back side of the Taj Mahal where river Yamuna flows, and let the cool breeze refresh me from the day’s tiredness.  By this time the sun was already setting the whole ambience just let me forget that I was tiered. The whole feeling was simply rejuvenating.

To the west of the Taj Mahal is a Masjid built by Isa Muhammed and plays an important part in the overall design. It is made from red sandstone and very serene. The design of the floor of the mosque is in the shape of prayer mats. And to create a symmetrical effect, a guest house, which is of similar proportions and appearance to the mosque, was built to the east of the Taj Mahal tomb. The main difference in the guest house and Masjid is the interior of the Masjid that has Mihrab and Minbar. The Mihrab is a niche which indicates the direction of Mecca and the direction in which Muslims face to perform their prayers or salah. Circling the Mihrab are calligraphic inscriptions taken from Sura 91, The Sun, from the holy book of the Qur'an. Sitting by the Masjid near the Yamuna makes marveling the Taj a jaw-dropping experience.

Though I wanted to stay there longer, just wanted to relax and enjoy the cool breeze, the visiting time was getting over. So, with heavy heart and a determination that I will come here again I left the tomb.

Just to sum up the whole experience, there are few words of caution while visiting Agra.
  • Be ready of the dirt and shoddy roads
  • Beware of pickpockets
  • The roadside sellers are very pushy and it is quite difficult to shake them off.
  • Remember to always bargain and slash the price as low as possible, because the prices quoted have been inflated many times
  • Do not give your valuables to guide