Today we had a leisurely start, as once you have seen the Taj Mahal, there are a limited amount of things left to see in Agra.
Sushil collected us at 9.30, right on time as arranged, and we picked up our guide (Saurabh) in town, before heading off to Agra’s famous Red Fort, the main seat of the Moghul Empire up until the middle of the 17th Century, when Delhi became preferred.
The fort was built in the 16th Century, and improved upon by successive Moghul Emperors, culminating in the white marble buildings created during the reign of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal.
One of the good things about having a driver is they can get you close to the entrance – stopping, where normally you can’t, then quickly getting you out of the vehicle. It saves loads of time as you are pretty much where you want to be, and the driver can park elsewhere, returning to collect you later. No parking worries!
Agra Fort is huge, originally defended by two moats – one filled with water and crocodiles, and one dry with tigers.
Inside, after the fort defences, it is a succession of palaces, gardens, market areas and vineyards built by different Emperors in different styles.
We also found a number of interesting things on our tour – one was a huge bath, carved from a single piece of stone, for the Emperor Jahangir.
Another was the summer palace, which contained an early air con system, with a tank of water on the roof which filled the hollow walls of the palace, before draining into a well.
There were the bed chambers of the Emperor Shah Jahan, built from the same white marble that he later used to create the Taj.
Finally, there was the grave of John Russell Colvin, Lt. Governor of the North West Provinces during the Indian Mutiny. He died of cholera in Agra in 1857, just before the fall of Delhi, and was buried in Agra as they were unable to take his body out of the fort. The location of the grave seems deliberately provocative as it is placed in front of the area that Emperors would have greeted their subjects.
We returned to our hotel, for a quiet morning, before meeting our driver again and heading for lunch at a local restaurant. Once again, very cheap prices for high quality food – a Thalli costing about 500 Rps (£5.50)…and we’d eaten loads when we took the picture!
Next up was the Tomb of I’timad ud Daulah, Grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, in honour of whom the Taj Mahal was built. It is also known as the Baby Taj, and considered to be a prototype as it was the first such tomb to be built in white marble.
It is a simple but beautiful building, with lots of marble inlay work, and a simple interior.
It is surrounded on four sides by identical gatehouses (on the outside, at least) one of which leads to the river.
Finally, we visited the Mahtab Bagh (Moon Garden), completed in 1635 by Shah Jehan.
There are only really two reasons to visit the gardens…one is to see the foundations for the Black Taj, which was intended to be the last resting place of Shah Jehan, opposite that of his love, who rested in the White Taj…that is the myth anyway…in reality, most modern archaeologists believe that it is more likely to be foundations for another pool into which the Taj could be reflected, given Shahs obsession with symmetry something I can relate to!!!
…and the other reason for visiting the gardens? Well, it is obvious really…
I’ll be sad to leave Agra, but leave it we must tomorrow as we are heading to the jungles of Ranthambore.