While we usually associate Delhi with the Mughals, the original capital of the empire was Agra. The Mughals reached their zenith under Akbar, who had the Agra Fort built over the ruins of an existing fort of the Lodi dynasty and from then on, it came to be the stronghold of the Mughal empire.
The Mughal seat of power
Agra Fort is a 5 minute drive from Taj Mahal. Our driver dropped us at the entrance but we stopped by the road to buy some delicious guavas. Lost in picking the fruits, we were astonished when we glanced to the side and spotted the massive Fort wall !
That's when we understood how mighty the Mughals must have been. It is one thing to read history and another to actually see the places where it played out.
At the Agra Fort too, we did not have to buy tickets thanks to the World Heritage Week celebrations. While the Red Fort and Taj Mahal usually steal the limelight, we felt, the Agra Fort should actually be on top of the list. Look at the formidable entrance.
Walking inside the fort, you get a hang of the famed Mughal architecture.
In the above picture, the building on the right is the Diwan-e-aam or the Assembly Hall of the Commons. This writer could almost recall images of the history textbook pages on the Diwan-e-aam and the Diwan-e-khaas ! Here is a look inside the Diwan-e-aam. The enclosed place is where the Emperor would sit and address the audience.
There are steps from the Diwan-e-aam leading up to the top level of the fort. When you reach the top, you are floored by the beauty of the buildings and the landscape.
Delicate arches of marble and red sandstone all around you, the beauty lay in the simplicity and elegance. Walking through the corridors, we found ourselves humming "Jashn-e-bahara", A.R.Rahman's classic tune catching the subtle love of Jodha and Akbar, whose story is supposed to be set in the Akbar Fort. This is a perfect setting for love to blossom !
This arch also frames the Diwan-e-khaas or the Private Assembly Hall of the Emperor. One is not allowed inside the Diwan-e-khaas but we managed to click a picture through the grill enclosing the hall.
When you see the intricate artwork and carvings on the marble walls and you will know why the hall features as the best example of Mughal art.
Perhaps, the most interesting thing about the Agra Fort is that whichever part of the fort you visit, you get to view the Taj Mahal. Of course, the fort wasn't designed that way because it was built before the Taj Mahal. You get the view because just behind the fort the Yamuna flows and you can see the Taj Mahal all the way across the river bed.
It was a foggy day, so our view of the Taj wasn't very clear but this is a nice spot to stand and gaze at the world famous monument and the Yamuna river, though there is hardly anything left of the river except the slushy bed.
The Agra Fort was the centre of Mughal power starting from reign of Babur to Jahangir, Shah Jahan had shifted the capital to Delhi but he was brought back to Agra under house arrest by his son Aurangzeb. This is where he must have spent his final days looking at the Taj Mahal from his confinement.
We walked further down to another section of the Fort, private quarters of the princes, charming marble buildings, landscaped gardens, evidence of the Mughal luxury.
The lawns are of recent origins but the once upon a time, these very places must have housed the famous Mughal gardens.
On the first floor of one of the buildings, one can see "whispering walls", where you can speak into one of the corners of the walls and the person on the opposite wall can place their ear near a corner and hear the whispers. We were told there is some kind of a hollow space behind the walls and the sound waves travel across to the opposite wall. Here is one of those walls.
It is easy to spot these walls because you will find people huddled near a wall trying to hear the whispers. These ancient monuments have such fascinating features, wonder why modern architecture doesn't try such creative ideas.
After spending about an hour walking around the fort, we thought we were done with the fort but spotted the Jahangir Mahal. Though named after Jahangir, this part of the fort was built by Akbar and housed the Queens' chambers, especially, the Rajput princess' that Akbar married.
Like the rest of the fort, you can see the Taj Mahal from the corridors here. Wonder how they chose the location for the Taj so as to be visible from any part of the Fort, considering that the Fort was in existence much before Shah Jahan had the Taj Mahal built.
Made of Red sandstone, these quarters are simple but the buildings look like they would have competed with the grace of the women who once lived in them.
This is probably Mughal architecture at its best.
As we were preparing to leave, we made a quick visit to the ruined part of the fort called the Bengali Mahal, which was built by Akbar and was part of the harem.
The information board says the harem had some 5000 women ! What were their lives like? History never ceases to fascinate.
We wound up our visit to Agra Fort after this. If you ever wondered why some seemingly undeserving people get all the good things in life, one should consider the example of the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, is what we concluded.
Back to our cab, we were ready to head to Fatehpur Sikri. Enroute, we spotted a famous eatery, Deviram Sweets. We had read about it online and their special Bedhai or the local variety of Puri, served with a potato curry and a topping of curd.
The place was doing insane business with people relishing the hot Bedhai and curry in the cold weather. If it is good food, we cannot be far behind, we joined the crowd. Bedhai with Jalebi is how you do it at Devirams. We had asked for a plate of Jalebi but in this part of the world, a plate means 200 to 300 grams of Jalebi ! Simply indulge in the crunchiest, juicy Jalebis !
Once you are done with the Bedhai and Jalebis, look for a juice cart adjacent to Devirams, we had the most refreshing, healthy vegetable juice. It had beetroot, carrots, greens, amla, name a healthy vegetable, you would find it in that juice ! Here is a quick click of the magic drink before we emptied it.
We had 2 glasses of it each. If only healthy eating was as delicious as that, a "not to miss" in Agra !
Agra Fort is open from sunrise to sunset. The entry fee is Rs.40/- for Indian citizens.
Tickets can also be booked online here http://asimustsee.nic.in/index.php You may hire a guide if you want to know more, the official fee is Rs.250/-.
However, we suggest reading the history and information from ASI and other sites or take an audio tour.
One can spend 1-2 hours going around the Agra Fort. You are not allowed to carry eatable inside the Agra Fort.
Also, there will be a security check on handbags and backpacks, spare some time for security checks, if you are carrying bags.
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