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Agra, the Home of Mughals and Monuments
Home of the world-famous Taj Mahal, the northern Indian city of Agra certainly isn’t short of admirers. Blessed with a trifecta of UNESCO World Heritage sites and festooned with multiple outstanding examples of Mughal architecture, Agra offers an insight into the monumental heritage of one of India’s greatest ruling empires. For this reason, it is understandably a top destination for those who seek to understand India’s heart. Agra owes its fame to its history, but there’s more to the city than its monuments. From gardens and markets and great food, Agra offers something for everyone.
The Mughal Capital and Modern City
While the city of Agra was known throughout the classical era, it was the mighty Mughals who put the place on the map by making it the capital of their eponymous empire. Babur, the dynasty’s founder, laid a garden called the Aram Bagh on the banks of the Yamuna River close to the modern site of Agra in the 16th Century. While this still stands as the country’s oldest Mughal garden, Babur’s descendants were responsible for glorifying the area with even greater works. His successor Akbar the Great erected both the imposing Red Fort as well as the nearby city of Fatehpur Sikri. But it was Shah Jahan, another Mughal scion, who gave Agra the iconic Taj Mahal. Today, this structure stands south and east of the core of the modern city, overlooking the Yamuna. In terms of layout, the bulk of the city’s attractions are sprinkled in this area, following the crescent of the waterway as it curves east.
The Taj Mahal and the Red Fort
The Taj Mahal and the Red Fort are Agra’s most famous sights. The former is a white marble structure topped with graceful domes and towering crenellations. Commissioned in 1632 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to hold the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, his favourite wife, the Taj Mahal is a vast mausoleum complex complete with a reflecting pool, mosque and gardens. While some consider it to be the finest example of Mughal architecture in the world, many are simply drawn to the spot for its romantic connotations. This structure, after all, was a labour of love and a monument that has stood firm against the ravages of time. But travellers will notice that not all of Agra’s monuments are founded on sentimentality; a visit to the Red Fort – sometimes called the Agra Fort – shows Mughal defensive architecture at its zenith. Travellers can wander through this imposing sandstone structure, exploring its passages, gates and gardens at their leisure.
Agra’s Other Sites
While the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort are the city’s top-billed attractions, Agra does have a wealth of other sites worth exploring. Fans of Mughal architecture can head 20 miles west of the city to continue their love affair with the dynasty’s monumental legacy at Fatehpur Sikri. Built by Akbar the Great, this site was intended to be the emperor’s headquarters, but his plans were stymied by a lack of fresh water. Today, visitors can take in the towers and gateways of this imposing red sandstone complex. But if you’d prefer to keep central, the city itself is bursting with Mughal-era sites and tombs. For something different, visitors can also head to one of the city’s many stately baghs or Persian-style gardens, the oldest of which is the Aram Bagh on the northern bank of the Yamuna. But if it’s a souvenir you’re after, look no further than either the Kinari or Sadar bazaars for local handicrafts and goods.
Food and Accommodation
Should you be struck by a snack attack while in Agra, rest assured that you’ll not go hungry. The city is well-known for dishing up an array of chaat or snacks, little bites that are especially handy for staving off hunger on the go. Visitors will find a wide selection of eateries dotted just off the Mahatma Gandhi Road/National Highway 44. When it comes to accommodation, visitors will note that Agra’s hotels are clustered near the Taj Mahal. Though there are some hotel venues in central Agra, there are a huge selection of properties conveniently close to this attraction. In addition to big name chains, there are a number of independent hotels in Agra. While they may vary in degree of luxury, travellers will find that – given the sheer profusion of properties here – there is an Agra hotel to suit every need. Those after an alternative to hotel-style accommodation can seek out one of Agra’s many B&Bs and lodges.