Pictures by Eeshaan Kashyap
My earliest reminiscences of Agra are because of my mother, who shared many tales of her school days spent at St. John’s School. She smiled each time she spoke of it: “It is the best-known college in Agra, with its striking part Gothic-part Rajput design…and, it’s more than a century-and-a-half old, having been founded in 1850,” she would say, proudly. Utterly taken together with her stories, I resolved to go to the town myself, someday.
On a crisp morning in January, I drive from Delhi to Agra with a few my associates, taking the newly constructed Yamuna Expressway, where it’s not unusual to encounter stray cows and scooters heading within the improper course. As an aesthete and a educated chef, I’m wanting ahead to setting eyes upon some spectacular buildings and indulging in a grand gourmand feast — each of which individuals from the world over come here to take pleasure in. Agra didn’t disappoint!
We get there just in time to sample the quintessential native breakfast, referred to as bedai (often served between 9 a.m. and midday), which consists of a deep-fried Indian puffy bread with potato curry. Rich in carbs and energy-boosting, it was a totally-worth-the-fat type of start to the trip. One of the best place to attempt the delicacy is Deviram Sweets (Pratap Pura). One other good place that serves the breakfast merchandise is Sri Dauji Mishthan Bhandar (situated near cinema corridor Bhagwan Talkies), nevertheless it’s slightly further off. Through with the bedai, we opt for petha, a sweet North-Indian delicacy that one should attempt when in Agra. For probably the greatest pethas in the metropolis, go to the Panchhi Petha Store. The outlet closest to the Taj Mahal is situated at Noori Gate. It’s the most crowded of the lot, but here you’ll get to witness the artwork of petha-making, stay.
With full bellies, we get busy with some critical sightseeing. We determine to start out with the jewel-toned tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah — also referred to as the Child Taj — thought-about to be the inspiration for the renowned monument everyone involves Agra to see. It was constructed by Nur Jahan for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who was given the title Itimad-ud-Daulah or ‘the pillar of the state’ by Jahangir. The unbelievably detailed designs of cypress timber, wine bottles, reduce fruits and vases are encrusted with quite a lot of semi-precious stones including carnelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx and topaz. Mild penetrates the interiors via delicate jali screens product of intricately-carved white marble, illuminating the area with a heat, familiar glow, making it a very particular place.
Next on our itinerary is Chini Ka Rauza. Also referred to as China Tomb, that is the mausoleum of Allama Afzal Khan Mullah, who served as a Persian poet in Mughal emperor Jahangir’s courtroom and later turned the vazir throughout Shah Jahan’s rule. I am enthralled by the glazed tile work on the structure’s exterior, referred to as kashi or chini in Mughal-era buildings. Each Itimad-ud-Daulah and Chini Ka Rauza are good choices to start out with before making your approach to the larger monuments, notably because they are typically much less crowded.
We then proceed to the Pink Taj Mahal, located inside the Roman Catholic Cemetery. One of many earliest indications of European presence in Agra, the Purple Taj Mahal or John William Hessing’s tomb was built by his wife, Anne, in his memory, and is a miniature duplicate of the Taj Mahal, manufactured from purple sandstone. Additionally current within the cemetery is the grave of Jerome Veronio, who, based on some data, contributed to the design of the Taj. As I full my tour with the help of the guard on the graveyard, who’s pleasant but expects a tip, I can’t help but mirror on the truth that India was a magnet for individuals of so many various nationalities.
A 30-minute drive from Agra is Akbar’s Tomb at Sikandra. The emperor’s embracing of numerous faiths is reflected in the construction’s distinctive mix of Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and Jain types of structure. One of many key elements of the development is that it highlights the evolving type of Mughal structure, and each little detail makes it visually engaging from the second you enter via the primary gates. It’s an imposing construction with three-storey minarets on its four sides, typical of Islamic structure. Upon getting into the tomb, we walk down a hall before shifting right into a simple unadorned domed room, with a phenomenal filigree lamp hanging from the centre.
The guard, who sits beside the grave, demonstrates the echo of the dome by singing a verse from the Quran, making our visit all of the more poignant. Publish this tiring sightseeing session, we are aching for top tea at The Oberoi Amarvilas. Sipping on the floral-flavoured Earl Grey tea, we gaze out the window and marvel at the superb Taj Mahal that we’re to visit quickly.
The following day, we lastly arrive on the metropolis’s pièce de résistance, the Taj Mahal from the East Gate, which is comparatively much less crowded than the others. This Marvel of the World is open to the general public from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. by way of the week. In the event you’re less than walking, electric buses ferry guests from the parking zone to the doorway gate. Be prepared to elbow your means via the various tour guides — official and unofficial — who will invariably accost you and supply their providers. The Taj Mahal was constructed as a memorial for Shah Jahan’s favourite spouse Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving start to her 14th baby. Development on the mausoleum and its surrounding buildings and backyard started in 1631, and was lastly accomplished in 1648. The construction’s most spectacular function is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb, typically referred to as an onion or guava dome due to its form. Outdoors the partitions are a number of further mausoleums, including those of Shah Jahan’s different wives, and a bigger tomb for Mumtaz’s favorite servant. A walk across the gardens of the monument is enchanting, and the museum on the Taj, referred to as the Naubat Khana, can also be value a visit.
Exhausted, we head to our lodge — the Trident — for a pleasant meal and plenty of sleep so that we are nicely rested for the subsequent day’s activities. After a scrumptious breakfast, we set out for the purple great thing about the town, the Agra Fort. Made with pink sandstone, the huge construction was constructed by Emperor Akbar in the 16th century on the banks of the Yamuna. Later, Shah Jahan used marble to beautify the monument additional. The first attraction upon entry is the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque). To the suitable of this is an open area, the diwaan-e-aam, the place the emperors would take heed to the pleas of petitioners. A stroll up the staircase leads to the Nagina Masjid (Gem Mosque) which was constructed in the 17th century, and the ladies’ bazaar. From this corridor, you possibly can see the Taj Mahal within the distance. The ultimate attraction at this grand fort is the Jahangiri Mahal (Jahangir Palace), the emperor’s quarters. Opposite the Agra Fort lies the Jama Masjid, also called Friday Mosque, which is likely one of the largest in the nation.
On the advice of our guide, we visit the Mehtab Bagh, located on the other aspect of the Taj Mahal. This garden is adjoining to the land the place the rumoured black-stone Taj duplicate was alleged to be constructed, and is considered to be a really perfect spot to get an image of the Taj in all its glory.
Quickly after, we drive by the headquarters of the Agra submit workplace. The artwork deco constructing is situated within the metropolis’s cantonment area and is bathed in an immaculate white, with deep-red trimmings, a nod, little question, to the official color palette of India Submit.
Subsequent, it’s time for buying, so we head to Sadar Bazaar and Mughal Bazaar for hides, fabrics, ethnic garments and bangles. A go to to Agra can be incomplete without taking residence wares and mementoes crafted from Agra marble. And, for local leather-based footwear, head to Hing Ki Mandi.
The town can also be recognized for its well-known chaat (road food), which you’ll be able to take pleasure in at any time of the day when you’re taking a break between monument-hopping. Giving the street food a miss, we choose as an alternative for the Indian speciality restaurant, Peshawri, at the ITC Mughal. Here, you possibly can partake of the genuine flavours of Mughlai delicacies, whilst you watch the meat being barbequed and Indian breads being baked in the restaurant’s display kitchen. Bask in dal bukhara, paneer tikka, Sikandari raan and naan bukhara — heaven!
Our final stop on this two-day whirlwind tour is the famed city of Fatehpur Sikri, based by Akbar in 1569 and which served as the capital of the Mughals for 10 years till the shortage of water led to the town being deserted. The first thing that we saw here was the 54-metre-tall Buland Darwaza — the very best gateway in Asia — which commemorates Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat. Subsequent is Salim Chishti’s dargah, which many women go to to wish for a son — as Akbar’s spouse did a number of centuries in the past. Then there’s the Panch Mahal, a five-storey structure with carved columns. And eventually, the structure of the Diwan-e-Khas or corridor of private viewers for the emperor’s ministers and generals is certain to captivate with its intricate carvings.
The visit to Fatehpur Sikri marks the right end to our trip, and leaves us feeling both nostalgic and impressed. Since it’s situated on the outskirts of Agra and in the other way of Delhi, we circumvent the town to succeed in the Yamuna Expressway and make our method house. This intense trip leaves an impression that’s positive to final a long time, additionally compelling us to dream of one other model of reality. Whereas the Taj Mahal is an ode to the love of Shah Jahan’s life, Fatehpur Sikri is an instance of how one should reside in concord with fellow men.