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India: Uttar Pradesh: Agra, Mirzapur, Varanasi
Agra, India: For the sake of love
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Thousands of workers toiled for 30 years to make a monument to prove that a man was indeed deep in love. The monument, of course, is the Taj Mahal. And the man - Emperor Shah Jahan who spent millions (pick a currency of your choice) in the 17th century to build this eternal classic in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Expensive proof but proof nonetheless.
I was driving from Gwalior to Delhi. And, unfortunately, could only spend a day in Agra. I had to pick 2 from a choice of 4 - The Taj Mahal, The Red Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and Dayal Baug. It's indeed stupid to be in Agra and not to do this fantastic four. And because I was helpless (read stupid), I picked The Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri which is about 25 kms away from Agra. I opted out of The Red Fort, since I had already visited The Red Fort in Delhi. The fort in Agra is quite similar. Dayal Baug is a marble masterpiece in the making. 3 generations of craftsmen are on the job… intricately carving motifs that are near to life. I have read about the making of Dayal Baug. Sadly, I missed the visit. Well, there's always a next time.
When Shah Jahan ruled, the Mughal Empire was at its glorious best. Shah Jahan's 3rd wife, whilst delivering their 14th child, passed away. Mumtaz Mahal, on her dying bed, took a promise from Shah Jahan that he would build, in her memory, a mausoleum - the best the world has ever seen before. Well, it was easy for Shah Jahan to say yes. He had the power and the money! Thus began the construction in 1632 and The Taj Mahal was completed, with garden and all, in 1652.
The Taj Mahal, is probably the finest example of Muslim architecture. Motifs and calligraphy that adorn the structure are truly captivating. The inner chamber, where lies the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, is witness to intricate jali work (mesh carved out of marble) and inlay work using precious and semi precious work. If you have a guide with you (the fees are negotiable; I paid Rs 80) he will throw light from a torch on some of the inlay work that jump to life with a natural glow of colours.
On the banks of river Jamuna, this work of art in marble, stands 240 feet proud amidst acres and acres of manicured gardens, big shady trees and water fountains. Entrance to Indians is Rs 20 whilst love struck friends from other countries pay Rs 750 each which includes a pair of socks (footwear is not allowed in the mausoleum) and a bottle of water (to help walk around the large, open-to-sun premises). People with rank and contacts in high places can visit the Taj Mahal on a full moon night - a time when this marble wonder looks all the more romantic. Friday is closed for visitors.
While it's easy to spend hours and hours at the The Taj Mahal, I was out in an hour or so to proceed to Fatehpur Sikri about an hours drive away.
Fatehpur Sikri was built in 1570 by Emperor Akbar of the Mughal Empire who moved the Capital from Delhi to Fatehpur Sikri and remained so until 1585. It was abandoned thereafter the reasons of which are unknown. Fatehpur Sikri or City of Victory (a lose translation), is a fine mix of red sand stone structures that seamlessly combine Hindu, Jain and Islamic design and architecture. It's here where Akbar's Navratna (9 Jewels; Birbal the Prime Minister, Todar Mal the Finance Minister and Tansen the legendary singer being amongst the 9) played their respective roles.
Atop a hill, the city has many religious and secular structures - each built with a definite purpose. Be it a hall for a private meeting, or a hall for general audience, or the grand mosque, or the terrace to play choupad (a board game), or the drum house to announce arrivals, or various palaces to house the queens following different faiths… they are all there. Also atop is the shrine of Salim Chisti, a Sufi saint who predicted that Akbar would have another son who would become a mighty warrior. Indeed, the son who was named Salim (in honour of the saint) was later to become Emperor Jehangir. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.
Cars need to be parked a few kms. away in parking lots. From there one can walk (which is not recommended) or opt for an auto rickshaw. To and fro fare is Rs 250 and if you negotiate it well, you can get a guide thrown in free! There's a nexus between the driver and the guide. The entrance ticket is Rs 10 and Rs 250 for Indian and foreign visitors respectively.
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