Agra Beyond Taj Mahal

26th Sep 2021
Photo of Agra Beyond Taj Mahal 1/4 by Ramya

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The drops of first rainfall on the earth not only give a fresh lease of life to the weary natives, plants, and animals, but it also awakens the traveler inside me. The monsoons indicate finally the oppressive summer of North India is over. Now is the time to pack bags and explore all those historical gems which were deemed inaccessible due to sultry heat.

Agra has always enticed me because of its monuments, and also due to its strategic importance in Indian history. This city witnessed the departure of the Lodhi dynasty and the arrival of Mughals. It further displayed the dedication of an empress towards her parents, the love of an emperor for his deceased wife. But it subsequently witnessed the cruelty and helplessness of a son to keep his father’s magnificent dreams in check. This is also the town that finally paved the way for the downfall of the mighty Mughal Empire. It will be incorrect to associate Agra only with the Taj Mahal.

Apart from the historical monuments, if you are a nature lover then too Agra has a lot to offer. Migratory birds flock to the famous Keetham Lake in the city. In short, this city offers something to all kinds of travelers.

Agra is approximately 211 km from Delhi, via Taj Expressway, which is roughly 4 hours road trip. Anyone who has traveled via expressway will vouch for the fact – the drive-in itself is sheer bliss. With miles of open land on both sides, no car in sight, balmy sun soothing the senses, gentle breeze playing with your hair, one would fall in love with the whole experience. The expressway is graced with the presence of multiple eateries, public conveniences, workshops, petrol pumps, etc. at comfortable intervals.

We wanted this trip to be an experience and not some rush-rush affair. Keeping the same in mind we started early from Delhi to beat the city traffic. By the time we reached our quaint bungalow-style homestay, it was already drizzling.

This was my first time exploring the city during monsoons, most of the monuments are made of marble and sandstone, stepping on marble in the scorching heat is the worse idea. But this time the weather coaxed us to leave our room for an exploration trip.

We have seen the front view of Taj an ample number of times, it was time to check into other options. We decided to explore the monument from the back. Taj Mahal is built on the banks of the Yamuna river, generally, the river dries up in the summer, but during the monsoon, it offers a welcoming sight.

There were many boats parked on the bank, for a ride. Unfortunately due to heavy rains and high water levels, the banks were cordoned off. Without getting our mood dampened we sat on the benches and enjoyed the surroundings. A group of Flamingos found their home on the floating debris. They were truly enjoying the free ride on Yamuna River while hunting for worms or food leftovers in the collective waste.

The next day the chirping of birds woke us from our slumber. This was the day dedicated to the exploration of other important Mughal monuments. After designing a compact day plan, we started with Agra Fort. For the initiators, Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Itmaut Daulah are located next to each other. No one is suggesting covering all of the above places in a single day, as it would be a gross injustice.

Photo of Agra Beyond Taj Mahal 2/4 by Ramya

Agra Fort has witnessed the change of powers and the beginning of the downfall of the Mughal Empire. It was built in an era when invasions and fortifications were often marked by the construction of imposing palaces, forts, and other grand buildings. The sight of the splendid structure inspires awe in the traveler. The landscape, craftsmanship, the latticed screen with ornamental patterns reflected the magnificence of Islamic Architecture. This fort also addressed as “Fort Rouge”,” Qila-i-Akbari” was the capital of the Mughal Sultanate.

Initially, the fort was under the occupation of the Lodhi dynasty. After the fall of Lodhis in the battle of Panipat, mighty Mughal Badhshah Babur sent his son Humayun to get hold of the fort. Prince Humayun not only captured the fort but also the vast treasures it contained. Incidentally, he was also coronated here in 1530. The fort got its present shape under Emperor Akbar who ordered its renovation. Till today it has retained its semi-circular shape and four gates on each of its sides opens to a river. It contains many monuments, but only a few are open for the public rest are within Indian Army control.

Photo of Agra Beyond Taj Mahal 3/4 by Ramya

Next on my list was Itmad ud daulah, built by empress Noor Jahan, wife of the emperor Jahangir. This mausoleum contained the graves of her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg and her mother. This monument is significant as it marked the transition of Mughal architecture from red sandstone to white marble, constituting pietra dura inlay. It also unknowingly paved the way for the Taj Mahal. It is again made on the banks of river Yamuna, is breathtakingly beautiful, surrounded by gardens and water bodies. One needs to understand Mughals’ definition of paradise, which constituted gardens surrounded by water bodies on all sides. Thus all the monuments reflected this ideology.

Photo of Agra Beyond Taj Mahal 4/4 by Ramya

On the last day of our trip, our final stop was -Taj Mahal, a sight straight out from the picture book welcomed us. The beautiful marble structure stood proudly amidst the black rain-filled clouds hovering over it. The monument was commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The best of the marble i.e. Makrana marble, precious stones were ordered from across the world. Skilled and renowned craftsman from far and wide- Persia, South India, Afghanistan was involved in the making of the monument, under the leadership of Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.

But there is also a dark side to the monument, according to few theories the construction of the monument drained the Mughal Empire coffers and pushed it into debt. This bleeding of funds prompted Aurangzeb to imprison his father Shah Jahan. The emperor wanted to build a black Taj Mahal on the other side of the river, containing his grave. We can easily imagine the cost that would have been involved.

As a true travel buff, I decided not to be judgemental, the brains behind all these monuments were also humans, they had their own whims and fancies. And let’s not forget their quirks gave them an important place in history.

This trip imparted an important lesson, look at things with an open mind and ensure the ugly part never gets repeated again.