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Agra Travel Guide - A Visit to Taj Mahal
The sleepy little town of Agra began its career in the 16th century of the Mughal emperors. Tourists swarm here today to view Agra's famous marble tomb.

The Taj Mahal

This famous marble tomb was built between 1631 and 1653. It took 20,000 laborers, masons, stonecutters, and jewelers to complete the task. The final product is a masterpiece of symmetry. The landmark is so famous that every visitor's first reaction is to exclaim how much smaller it is than they had believed.

The Taj was constructed as a monument to love. Mumtaz Mahal was 20 when she was married to Shah Jahan, fourth in the illustrious line of Mughal rulers that began with Babar. The lovely Mumtaz was Shah Jahan's second wife, but his favorite. She bore him 14 children before dying in childbirth in 1631. Hearing of her death while away at battle, he vowed to build for her the most extravagant monument the world had ever seen. That monument became the Taj Mahal, universally acknowledged for centuries to be one of the world's most perfect pieces of architecture.

The size of the Taj Mahal is an illusion. The tomb actually seems to float in the air (an impression that is much heightened at sunrise) and somehow it is so delicately balanced that it fosters countless optical illusions. The main illusion is experienced if you face the Taj from the entrance gate, walking forward a few steps and then back. The building appears to move toward you. A fountain-filled reflecting pool leads up from the entrance gate, and the mausoleum is flanked by four gentle minarets, which lean slightly outward so that they'd fall without damage to the main structure in case of an earthquake. A red sandstone mosque to the left is matched by an identical building on the right, purely for the sake of architectural harmony.

Inside the Taj, an intricately carved marble screen shields the tombs of Mumtax and her husband. These tombs are fakes placed directly over the real tombs, which are in the chamber underneath. The marble walls are exquisitely decorated with semi-precious stone inlay. This work is so exquisite that your fingers cannot detect the joints. Behind the mausoleum, an open terrace looks across the river to a crumbling red stonewall that is generally believed to have been the site for a replica of the Taj in black marble for Shah Jahan. Upon its completion, the two were to be linked by a black and white marble bridge. Before this could be built, Shah Jahan was deposed and arrested by his son. When he died in 1666 he was buried beside his beloved wife.

One should see the Taj Mahal at sunrise and again under moonlight. But it's beautiful at any time of the day.


The Red Fort

This fort is massive and is strategically located. The outer wall is almost two miles long and 70 feet high and the fort adjoins the broad Jumna River. It was built from 1565 to 1573 and is an impressive combination of military fortress and delightful palace.

The octagonal Musamman Burj is the palace where Shah Jahan spent his final years gazing up the river at his beloved Taj Mahal. The Grape Garden is the most beautiful part. Here is where the women of the harem lived and played. Nearby is the Palace of Mirrors with thousands of tiny, concave reflecting glasses inset into its walls. Here were the hot and cold-water baths and a stairway leading down to the moat for those who wished to swim in the open.

The Motl Masjid (Pearl Mosque) is the largest of its kind in the world and took Shah Jahan seven years to build. Machchi Bhawan is an inner courtyard of the fort, which was once filled with water and stocked with fish, which the various emperors delighted in catching as they sat on a throne above.


Itimad-Ud-Daula

This magnificent tomb was built between 1622 and 1628. It is notable chiefly for being the first example of inlay stonework which features precious stones intricately recessed in marble tile. The whole place is covered in this. Like the Taj, it has the real tombs downstairs and replicas above. This was so visitors could not walk across the real graves.


An Excursion To Fatehpur Sikri

During its early history the glorious city of Fatehpur Sikri was the talk of the civilized world. It was called a fairytale city of marble and sandstone. It grew out of nothing in the first place and almost as suddenly it was abandoned. By the end of the 16th century it had been forgotten. It has remained a ghost town in the desert ever since.

The Mughal emperor Akbar came to the tiny village of Sikri in 1568 to seek the blessings of a mystic who might help his become pregnant. When his wife did become pregnant, the emperor was so overjoyed he decided to build a fabulous city overlooking the village. Even today, it's still quite a place and it's not hard to imagine what the court life must have been like in the early days. There are marked tiles in the huge courtyard where Akbar played Parcheesi - using dozens of dancing girls as living pawns. In a three-room house Ankh Michauli, Akbar played blindman's bluff with members of his harem. The recessed stone tank in the courtyard was filled with water and coins, which were distributed to the poor. Most of the buildings here are outstanding.

Maryam's House has gilded frescoes and brightly painted ceilings. The House Of The Turkish Sultan is one of the most richly decorated buildings in the world. Every inch is ornamented with elaborate carvings. The most noticeable building is the tapering Panch Mahal, so called because of the open five-storied structure, each floor with half the pillars of the preceding one. There are no walls. Many other buildings are worthy of attention, such as the impressive mosque, with its vast courtyard and the white marble mausoleum, which contains the tomb of Salim Chishti, the holy man who predicted the pregnancy of the emperor's wife. At the south end of the mosque, overlooking the village of Fatehpur, is the enormous Buland Darwaza, a lofty gate 134 feet high. The whole city is fabulous and it's hard to believe that it's this old.

It's not known exactly why this city was abandoned. Historians suggest that political troubles may have caused it or that the water supply was running out.
About the Author
Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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