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Things to do in Agra
Often considered a day trip outside the capital city of Delhi, Agra is a definite treat for history buffs. Popularly known as the home of the Taj Mahal, Agra was once the seat of the Mughal rulers. The city occupies a prominent position on India's tourist map with its rich historical sites. But the highlight of the city is its only attraction, the Taj Mahal. Besides the Taj, other attractions in Agra that will fascinate history buffs are the Agra Fort, Itmad Ud Daula's Tomb, and Metab Bagh. The city is home to three World Heritage Sites, including Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, and the rather predictable Taj Mahal.
However, Itimad-ud-Daulah's tomb is an off-beat attraction in Agra. Commissioned by Jehangir's wife, Nur Jahan, for her father, Mirza Beg, who was given the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah or Pillar of the State, the mausoleum is often referred to as the Taj Mahal or the Draft of the Baby Taj, as it features various elements identical to the wonders of the world. It's also called the Jewel Box because it's not as grand as other mogul structures, but it's uncompromising in its complexity. Itimad-ud-Daulah's tomb is made of white Rajasthani marble, with semi-precious stones on the walls and painted with various objects such as vases, bouquets, and fruits. Construction began in 1622 and was completed in 1628. The monument is surrounded by gardens criss-crossed by footpaths and waterways. Located on the right bank of the Yamuna River, it is an exact replica of the Taj Mahal, including its interior. Mirza's Beg tomb is next to his wife's tomb, inspired by the Taj Mahal. The tombs of many of Nur Jahan's relatives are also kept at the memorial.
One of the country's ancient Shiva temples, the Mankameshwar Mandir holds great religious significance as legend has it that Shiva himself installed a lingam here. Not only Mughal architecture attracts tourists to Agra, but temples like this also draw people. The temple is close to the Agra Fort and other attractions such as the Taj Mahal. According to legend, after the birth of Krishna, Shiva went to Mathura to see a little boy. During his descent from Mount Kailash, he rested and meditated upon seeing this temple, stating that if he could reach there in time to meet Krishna, he would place Swaroop here. And on the way back he kept his promise and there was a silver encrusted lingam. Today, Shiva devotees from different parts of the world visit this temple. To reach the Mankameshwar Mandir, you have to descend the stairs. It is surrounded by other idols of Shiva's family and behind this complex of temples are other temples dedicated to other deities such as Saraswati, Krishna, and Hanuman.
One of Emperor Akbar's favorite projects was to build a walled city on the outskirts of Agra. He named it Fatehpur Sikri and ruled it for some time until he was forced to move due to lack of water. Nevertheless, surviving monuments testify to his bravery and great achievements. Fate means victory in Persian. The city survived and his three walled sides are still intact. Akbar took great interest in its architecture and layout, and it took about 15 years to fully plan and build. When completed, it had palaces, harems, buildings, courts and mosques. But one of Fatehpur Sikri's finest architectural wonders is Buland Darwaza, the magnificent gateway to the walled city. 52 red sandstone steps lead to a 55m high archway with two inscriptions. Akbar's favorite pastor, Birbal, also has a memorial in Fatehpur, where his Sikri is called Birbal's House. Since he was a Hindu, the architecture differed from the usual Mughal buildings.
During his lifetime, Akbar the Great built several magnificent monuments, one of which was his tomb itself. He even chose where he wanted to be held. His final resting place, Sikandra, is where Akbar's tomb is located. His son Jehangir completed the construction of his father's tomb in 1613, beautifully carved in red sandstone. Just 1 km from Akbar's tomb is the tomb of Mariam, wife of Akbar and mother of Jehangir. The memorial is open to the public on weekdays from 6am to 6pm. Entrance fee is 15 rupees for Indians and 110 rupees for foreigners.
The Taj Mahal is not Agra's only UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is home to the Agra Fort, a centuries-old red sandstone fortress that was once the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. Sightseeing here is like walking within a city. The most notable building in the Agra Fort is the Jahangir Mahal. This is a massive palace that combines stunning Hindu-inspired features (such as overhanging enclosed balconies) with Central Asian architectural elements (such as distinctive pointed arches). Inside, tourists can see the gilded courtyard where royal ladies once spent their days. Tourists will appreciate the Anguri Bagh (a courtyard with puzzle-piece outlines of gardens surrounding waterways), the Khas Mahal (a palace with pavilions of white marble and red sandstone) and the Musamman Burj (octagonal intricate marble inlays). and Diwan-i-Khas (conference hall with two black and white marble thrones).
Prominent attractions around Agra make tourists addicted to marble inlays. If you want to bring this craftsmanship home, visit Subhash Emporium. The boutique has been a favorite of Agra's stone handicrafts for decades. Inside, you'll find a myriad of travel-friendly marble-encrusted souvenirs, including floral coaster sets, animal statuettes, little boxes and candle holders. The shop also sells large items such as lamps, tabletops and carved marble trays, delivered directly to your door. Even if you don't feel like shopping, stop by one of Agra's top attractions, the Subhash Emporium, for its captivating performances. The skilled craftsmen here demonstrate the precise technique of inlaying small pieces of polished stone into hard marble.
The Jama Masjid
One of India's largest mosques is located in the historic centre of Agra, directly opposite the Agra Fort. The Jama Masjid, built in the 17th century during the reign of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, is still the city's main mosque. The striking red sandstone structure stands on a platform and features striking white marble inlays with blue washed ceilings and walls. Throughout the interior, visitors can see exquisite inlays resembling the Taj Mahal. Friday prayer services draw large crowds to the Jama Masjid, but outside of this time it is relatively empty. The mosque encourages silence for visitors to this sacred site.
Agra's bustling markets and department stores are a shopaholic's paradise. Visit these places and soak up the city vibe like a local. Kinari Bazaar is Agra's wholesale market where you can buy a variety of textiles, handicrafts, leather goods, glassware, spices, marble work and more at affordable prices. Sadar Bazaar is a well-known shopping destination, but it also attracts shoppers with its range of ethnic clothing, accessories, handicrafts, shoes, leather goods and delicious sweets.
No trip to Taj Nagri is complete without exploring the famous street food of Uttar Pradesh. If street food tours are on your list of things to do in Agra, here's a short list of what to try and where to try:
Peta (Punch Peta, Hari Parwat Junction)
Parathas (Ram Babu Parantha Bhandar, Gopal Bazar)
Chicken Kebab Wrap (Mama Chicken Mama Frankie, Sadar Bazaar)
Gol-Gappa and Chaat (Agra Chat House, Chaat Gali, Sadar Bazar)
Bedai and Jalebi (Deviram Sweets, Pratap Phra)
As we can understand why the Great Taj Mahal is the first thing that comes to mind when Agra is mentioned, it would be a shame to overlook the many other notable attractions and UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort), making it a city rich in history. If you are planning to travel to Agra soon, soak into the beauty that this city has to offer and understand that Agra has several important monuments that tell the history of India, it just needs someone to listen to the tales.
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