India’s most-visited tourism city and home to many historical marvels, Agra, reminisces the grand history of the nation, especially during the Mughal regime. It is the maximum-frequented tourist destination in India and holds a must-visit position in the to-do list of almost any traveler. Standing in testimony to the architectural grandeur during the Mughal rule, Agra houses so many monuments — including Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Panch Mahal, Khas Mahal, to name a few.
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Agra: Its history
Agra forms the Golden Triangle of Indian tourism along with Delhi and Jaipur. It boasts a prolonged history — whose genesis can be traced to the days of the Mahabharata, which mentions it as Agrevana, meaning a forest border. Sikandar Lodi of the Lodi Dynasty officially founded Agra during the 16th century and commissioned the construction of multiple forts, step-wells, mosques, among others. He even shifted the capital from Delhi to Agra and following his demise, his son ruled the kingdom for nine years. After this, Sher Shah Suri was the ruler. From 1556 to 1658 the Mughal Empire named Agra as its capital in India.
When the Mughals ruled Agra, they named the city Akbarabad. In this period, India saw several great rulers, including Akbar, Jehangir, and Shah Jahan. They had such an immense love for architecture, gardens, art, and culture that they completely changed the city’s appearance. From constructing spectacular Persian gardens by Yamunas banks to colossal monuments, they spearheaded Agra’s golden age. After the fall of the Mughal dynasty, the Marathas took over Agra and renamed it to its current name. In 1803, the British Raj assumed control of the city.
How to reach Agra?
Agra, being a prime tourist destination, poses no challenge when it comes to reaching and navigating the city. You can arrive in the city via road, rail, or air. It is located by the bank of the river Yamuna, at a distance of 210 km from Lucknow and 125 km from Delhi. You may choose to land at Agra’s Kheria Airport, which is only 12.5 km away from the city’s heart. Taxis to take you to your lodging place are available all day round. Another way is to arrive via train on any of the railway junctions — Agra Cantonment, Agra Fort, Idgah Agra Junction, and Raja ki Mandi.
If you are planning to travel to Agra from Delhi, you can catch India’s fastest train, the Gatimaan Express, which takes only 100 minutes to reach its destination. Via road, you can take the Yamuna Expressway from Delhi and drive on your own vehicle or book a cab. There are multiple buses that run from all the major cities such as Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur, and Gwalior. They stop at the Taj Depot, Inter-State Bus Terminal, Ford Depot, and Idgah Bus Stand.
Taj Mahal — The 7th Wonder and Agra’s Pride
Yes, Agra holds innumerable sites of tourist interest. However, one name that’s synonymous with this historical city is the Taj Mahal — an epitome of love, poetry, and art. This white-marble tomb is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is India’s pride. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628 – 1658) marked the apex of Mughal architecture when he built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
He commissioned it in 1632 as a tomb to preserve his beloved wife’s memories. The tomb stands in the midst of a 42-acre complex, that also has a mosque and a guest house. There are magnificent gardens, gracing its boundaries, bordered by three crenelated walls. It is said that Shah Jahan, during his last days of being confined to the walls of his prison, spent his final time, gazing at the Taj.
The Taj is spectacular for so many reasons. It is completely carved from white marble, showcases the finest details, and has verses from the Holy Quran inscribed on it. Sparkling gemstones adorn its walls and the entire structure displays intricate inlay work. The magnificent mausoleum is so symmetrical that it looks identical from all four sides.
The Taj Mahal — Its History
As per historical records, the Taj completed its construction in 1643. However, work on additional parts of the mausoleum continued for another decade, leading to its all-inclusive completion in 1653. Its estimated cost was around INR 32 million rupees, and as per current statistics, its present-day cost would amount to over INR 60 billion. It employed around 20,000 artisans to execute the project, guided by a board of architects, under the lead architect, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal is defined as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.” Attracting approximately 8 million visitors annually, it is among the Seven Wonders of the World and a dream destination for couples, travelers, and historians.
Taj Mahal — Then and Now
The Taj Mahal used to remain open to anyone and everyone until the 1960s and it did not require any ticket to gain entry. People visited this site, especially to witness the grand spectacle called the; chamki phenomenon — when the Taj glitters like diamonds on a moonlit night. Currently, gaining entrance to the monument does require a ticket. It remains open every five nights each month and allows only 200 visitors in batches to 50 to witness the ‘chamki’ spectacle. Moreover, it is one of the most heavily ticketed sites in India.
But, owing to incessant pollution and less effort in its upkeep, the Taj Mahal is turning a bland shade of green. Although ASI says that this condition is due to algae infestation, we should know better. Most of the past sparkle and grandeur are gone. The previous glitter and white shine is rapidly diminishing. Taj Mahal is facing a big threat from pollution. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Environment, Agra’s pollution levels have skyrocketed, owing to growth in industry, traffic, and population. As precautionary measures, the government has now banned vehicles from within 500 meters of the monument’s vicinity. An LED display highlights a running count of air pollution.
However, the Taj still looks striking and you can visit it to admire it from up and close. Do note that it remains shut on Fridays and entry time is from 6 am to 6 pm. Entry fee for Indians is Rs 20 and for foreign nationals, it is Rs 750.