Agra is one of India’s best known tourist destinations. Home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World – the Taj Mahal – Agra is literally oozing history from every pore. Situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, it’s a treasure trove of some of the most fantastic monuments, palaces and forts anywhere in the world. For long the capital of the mighty and far-flung Mughal Empire, Agra’s architecture, culture, heritage and cuisine reflect the wide variety of influences that’ve shaped them. Today, Agra is a bustling business city with a large cosmopolitan population that’s proud of its history soaked, yet progressive and multi-hued city. Here are just the top 10 places to visit in Agra, from a copious list of many more.
The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most enduring symbols of love – and the most magnificent. A timeless, epic poem of love in white marble that has to be seen to be really appreciated, the Taj has inspired millions of odes to its softly iridescent beauty, its eternal allure, and the pathos it evokes when reading about Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s love of his queen Mumtaj Mahal, which inspired him to build this one of a kind mausoleum for her; and his last days, spent in lonely imprisonment in Agra Fort across the Yamuna, gazing mournfully at the white marvel that enshrined the mortal remains of his beloved queen. Both lovers now rest peacefully here; and the huge throngs come here as much to marvel at this wonderful monument to love, as also to indulge for a few moments in the vicarious pain of their mortal separation. Great as its beauty is by day, the Taj is even more magically rendered at night, especially by the light of the full moon. A sight not to be missed, an experience best shared with your loved one.
This huge, handsome sandstone structure was originally intended to be a fort by Emperor Akbar; but his son Shah Jahan, who succeeded him, converted it into a marble palace. And in a cruel twist of fate, Shah Jahan’s son Aurangzeb overthrew him and this palace became his cage, from where he gazed wistfully for eight long years across the river at his queen’s tomb until he died in 1666.
This romantically named park – mehtab in Urdu, the beautiful court language of the Mughals, stands for “the soft rays of the moon,” and bagh for “park” – provides some of the best views of the Taj. However, until a few decades ago, it was a sandy wasteland: dust blown from here was causing serious erosion damage to the delicate marble of the Taj, to prevent which the park was restored to its original glory, as envisaged by the first Mughal Emperor Babur. If you’re looking for a really good vantage point, the best place is from across the fountain at the entrance.
A tomb fit for a great king and outstanding ruler – that’s what this beautiful mausoleum commemorating the greatest Mughal Emperor Akbar is. An impressive monument combining the favorite building materials of the Mughals – marble and sandstone, this magnificent tomb is characterized by its red minarets with white inlays at each corner of an immense courtyard fronted by an awesome gateway.
Mizra Ghiyas Beg, himself of noble Persian descent, was both Emperor Jehangir’s chief minister as well as his father-in-law – the emperor having married his daughter Nur Jahan. Upon his death, Nur Jahan had her father interred at this beautiful tomb in Agra, very similar to the tomb that contains Jehangir’s remains in Lahore in Pakistan.
Afzal Khan, Emperor Shah Jahan’s chief minister and a poet in his own right, rests in magnificent Chini-Ka-Rauza, in lush green, peaceful surroundings on the Yamuna’s east bank. This beautiful monument, built in Persian style by Shah Jahan between 1628 and 1639, is rarely disturbed by visitors. Even today, the erstwhile grandeur of this monument is evident in the blue tiles lining its exterior in parts, and the intricate floral motifs on the interior.
Samadhi Swamiji Maharaj Bagh
The members of the Radhasoami faith revere the sect’s founder and their guru, Sri Shiv Dayal Singh Seth and upon his death, began building this stunning marble monument, simply called Swami Bagh, in his memory – following a detailed plan in the form of a painting circa 1904 housed in the magnificent tomb itself. Nearly a century after it was started, construction is still going on, contributed for and supervised lovingly by his devotees.
Royalty, justifiably, is a suspicious breed, and this museum has a collection of celadon plates that were supposed to shatter or change color if poisoned food was served on them. For the architecturally inclined, the museum also displays a few original building plans of the Taj.
Subhash Emporium and Shilpagram
At Subhash Emporium, a 35 year old marble curio making shop, you’ll find one of those rare specimens of occupational integrity who charge high prices but whose exquisite workmanship and quality of service are well worth the price. And in Shilpagram, you can quench your thirst and restore your tissues at the bar and café, while shopping for curios like handicrafts and some small art items in their open-air stalls.
Taj Nature Park
And when all is said and done, just take an intimate, hand-in-hand stroll through this little nature preserve with fine views of the Taj, and take home indelible memories of a great emperor’s incredible gift of love to all eternity!
This small list of the top 10 places to visit in Agra will leave you feeling quite overwhelmed with all the architectural splendor, the unbelievable romantic ambience and the intense awe that all things extremely beautiful invoke. But then, this is just a teaser: there’re so many more places to visit in and around this ancient city, you’ll never want to leave!