Saturday, August 12, 2017

Agra and Fatehpur Sikri

 I have visited Agra multiple times but last visit was many years back, so it was time to refresh the memories.

Colleagues from Chennai were visiting, so made a plan to visit Agra and FatehpurSikri during the weekend.

Though initial plan was to include Mathura also but later dropped the idea as it would have been a little hectic.

Agra is about 200 KMs south of Delhi and 350 KMs west of Lucknow. It is on the banks of the river Yamuna and is included on the Golden Triangle tourist circuit, along with Delhi and Jaipur.

Although Agra's history is mainly associated with Mughal Empire, the place was established much before it and was first mentioned in the epic Mahabharat, where it was called Agrevaa. Agrevana means “the front forest”, or from where the forest begins.

Taj Mahal gate
Babur stayed here and later Akbar made it the seat of power. Shah Jahan later shifted his capital to Delhi in the year 1649.

Akbar also built a new city on the outskirts of  Agra called Fatehpur Sikri. 

His son Jahangir laid many gardens inside the Red Fort at Agra.

Shahjahan later shifted the capital to Delhi during his reign, but his son Aurangzeb moved the capital back to Agra, usurping his father and imprisoning him in the Fort here. Agra remained the capital of India during the rule of Aurangzeb until he shifted it to Aurangabad in the Deccan in 1653.

After the decline of the Mughal Empire, the city came under the influence of Marathas before falling into the hands of the British in 1803.

In 1835 when the Presidency of Agra was established by the British, the city became the seat of government.

We started from Lucknow at around 645 AM, 45 behind planned schedule.

Lucknow Agra Expressway is awesome. Our Innova was just sliding effortlessly. On the way we stopped at Baangarmau for a much needed breakfast.

There was a couple of spells of rain on the way but overall the drive was good and we were in Agra at about 1030 AM.

We headed directly to the most famous icon of the City, The Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal, Agra Fort along with FatehpurSikri are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Taj Mahal Gate (from inside)
The ticket counter and other facilities for tourists are available at parking counter. Vehicles are not allowed beyond this point and only battery driven vehicles needs to be hired.

One can also take services of cycle rickshaw or horse driven "tanga".

After taking tickets we decided to cover the distance of about one KM by walk.

Many guides approached us but we turned them down. They were asking for charges ranging from Rs. 1000/- to Rs. 1500/-. I felt that as student of history, I have sufficient knowledge about these monuments. Moreover, I have observed that about half of the information given by these guides are not true. So needs to consult books/Internet anyways.

The gate of Taj compound is huge and magnificent. Similar architecture has been used for other famous buildings of era, like Akbar’s tomb, or Fatehpur Sikri etc.

The best view of Taj comes from the gate at entrance. We stayed there for some time clicking the pics.

Construction of the Taj was completed in 1643 but work continued for another 10 years for other surrounding buildings and is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at the then cost of about 3.2 crore (32 million) rupees.

The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.

The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631, to be built in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. 

Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632.

The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from other Mughal buildings including Humayun's Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj) etc.

The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building on either side.

Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower level, the stairs for which is at the entrance of main dome.

The most spectacular feature is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb. The dome is nearly 35 metres (115 ft) high.The four minarets at each corner are about 130 feet tall each.

The Taj Mahal complex is bordered on three sides by red sandstone walls; the side facing the river is open. Outside the walls are several additional mausoleums, including those of Shah Jahan's other wives, and a larger tomb for Mumtaz's favourite servant.

Next to central complex, on each side, there are two grand red sandstone buildings that mirror each other.  The western building is a mosque and the other is the jawab (answer), thought to have been constructed for architectural balance although it may have been used as a guesthouse.

Red Fort, Agra
By the late 19th century, parts of the buildings had fallen into disrepair. During the time of the Indian rebellion of 1857, the Taj Mahal was defaced by British soldiers and government officials, who chiselled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. 

At the end of the 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908. 

He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber, modelled after one in a Cairo mosque. During this time the garden was remodeled with British-style lawns that are still in place today.

We walked through the entire complex. It was quite hot and humid with lot of rush. In general, I avoid going any place which has so much crowd. It prohibits peacefully enjoying the place.

Some repair work was in progress; some chemical cleaning was also being done.
We visited the mausoleum, but the tourists are not allowed to go to the actual graves, which is several feet below. It opens on special occasion only.

Jahangiri Mahal, Red Fort
Taj has threats from environmental pollution including acid rain. The pollution has been turning the Taj Mahal yellow. To help control the pollution, the Indian government has set up the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), a 10,400-square-kilometer (4,000 sq mi) area around the monument where strict emissions standards are in place.

Jahangir's bath tub,  Red Fort
The monuments are open from 06:00 to 19:00 weekdays, except for Friday. The complex is open for night viewing on the day of the full moon and two days before and after, excluding Fridays and the month of Ramadan.

On the right side of Taj, there is a Taj Museum, we also visited the place. It has nice collection of Mughal era.

Royal residential complex
It is said that Shah Jahan planned a mausoleum to be built in black marble as a Black Taj Mahal across the Yamuna river. This hint comes from writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveler who visited Agra in 1665. Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before it could be built.

Taj Mahal as seen from Red Fort
We had forgotten to carry the much required water bottle with us. Thankfully, the water coolers were there at both corners of main building.

Make sure to have a water bottle with you always, specially in summer months.

RohanAra Mahal
We tried to took the pics from all possible angles. It was a good visit and we tried to cover the entire Taj complex and feel the place while discussing about those Mughal days.

Deewane Khaas
Sun was heading west so it was time to say good bye to Taj.

With help of our cab driver, we got a decent hotel near the eastern gate of Taj and after some rest and lunch we proceeded towards the Red Fort.

Ladies Quarters
The Red Fort was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty till the capital was shifted from to Delhi.

Babur had stayed in the fort. He later built a baoli (step well) in it. It can be seen this today also. His successor, Humayun, was crowned in the fort in 1530. He was defeated at Bilgram in 1540 by Sher Shah Suri. The fort remained with the Suris till 1555, when Humayun recaptured it. Adil Shah Suri's general, Hemu, recaptured Agra in 1556.

After defeating Hemu, Akbar made it his capital and arrived in Agra in 1558. His historian, AbulFazl, recorded that this was a brick fort known as 'Badalgarh'. It was in a ruined condition and Akbar had it rebuilt with red sandstone.

Deewane Aam
We entered the Red fort through the Lahore gate. It is also known as the Amar Singh Gate. It is the main gate to be entered into Fort. The other main Gate, “Delhi Gate” is not in use for public.

Musamman Burj
The first building from where we started our excursion were Akbari and Jahangiri Mahal. Akbari Mahal, also known as Bangali Mahal (not sure the reason) is mostly in ruins. It is at the left hand as we reached inside the fort. It housed more than five thousand of his wives and concubines.

This seems incredible for a king made famous as an icon by our eminent historians!

Kaanch Mahal
Jahangiri Mahal is quite intact. First floor is not allowed for tourists as the base is weak now.

JahanAra Mahal
Next to it were the other quarters for ladies and marble palaces for JahanAra and RoshanAra, daughters of Shahjahan.

The view of Taj is very beautiful from here.

Taj Mahal as seen from Red Fort
Musamman Burj was used by Jahangir and later Shahjahan was imprisoned here.
Diwane Aam and Diwaane Khaas are quite intact to this day.

Near Musamman Burj is “Glass House”. It was build with glass imported from different countries and said to glitter with light. Though it is not allowed to go inside.

Taja Mahal as seen from Musamman Burj, Red Fort
Near Diwaane Khaas and Babur’s quarters, there are underground chambers. These are closed now. There is also a Gallows chamber there.

These mysterious pavilion needs to be explored.

Ladies Quarters
We walked length and breadth of the fort. Though tired we wanted to cover it full. Being there was being in the era of those people who build it and resided here.

Shivaji Maharaj was imprisoned here by Aurangzeb but very skillfully, he was able to disguise himself and run away.

Musamman Burj, Shahjhan was prisoner here
We were at Diwaane Aam, when it started raining heavily. Standing there and watching the rains drenching the entire area, I was remembering for those who all got killed to build it or protect it, or to capture it, for the women who were brought here, in forcible marriage or as sex slaves!

Man run for luxuries and fame for all its life, is there any end to its lust? What is the end result?

Time makes a dust of all wishes.

The fort was invaded and captured by the Maratha Empire. It was lost by the Marathas to the British during the Second Anglo-Maratha War, in 1803.

The monumental Delhi Gate, which faces the city on the western side of the fort, is considered the grandest of the four gates and a masterpiece of Akbar's time. It was built in 1568 both to enhance security and as the king's formal gate, and includes features related to both.

Because the Indian Army is still using the northern portion of the Agra Fort, the Delhi Gate cannot be used by the public. Tourists enter via the Amar Singh Gate.

The site is very important in terms of architectural history. Abul Fazal recorded that five hundred buildings in the beautiful designs of Bengal and Gujarat were built in the fort. Some of them were demolished by Shahjahan to make way for his white marble palaces. Most of the others were destroyed by the British between 1803 and 1862 for raising barracks. Hardly thirty Mughal buildings have survived on the south-eastern side, facing the river.

It was becoming dark as we slowly moved out of the fort.

Shivaji Maharaj
My friends wanted to relish “Mama’s Chicken”, so we took an auto to go there and back. Then we took out cab and retired to our hotel for dinner and much required rest.

Morning we got up early and got ready. Almost all the monuments of Agra opens at sunrise. So its good to visit these early morning to enjoy them in peace.

It-mad-ud-daulaah tomb gate (Baby Taj)
We, without taking breakfast, checked out from hotel and proceeded to our first excursion of the day, The tomb of It-mad-ud-daulah, also famous as Baby Taj.

It is often regarded as inspiration to Taj Mahal.

The main building is surrounded by gates in all four directions and gardens. The tomb, built between 1622 and 1628 represents a transition from red sandstone buildings to white marble ones.

It-mad-ud-daulaah tomb gate (from inside)
The mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, originally a Persian Amir in exile, who had been given the title of It-mad-ud-daulah (pillar of the state). He was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal (originally named ArjumandBano, daughter of Asaf Khan), the wife of the emperor Shah Jahan.

It-mad-ud-daulaah tomb
Located on the right bank of the Yamuna River, the mausoleum is set in a large garden. The walls are made up from white marble.

Many of Nur Jahan's relatives were interred in the mausoleum. The only asymmetrical element of the entire complex is that the cenotaphs of her father and mother have been set side-by-side.

It’s a beautiful construction at small scale but no less than The Taj.

After visiting it, we thought of taking breakfast but then I got the idea of taking it on the road to FatehpurSikri and so we took the road to Sikandara, the town, which houses the tomb of Akbar.

Sikandara (Akbar's Tomb) Gate
The small town was quite crowded as we reached there in next 15 minutes. The Tomb complex is though build in quite large area with lots of greenery and peace.

The tomb of Akbar was built by his son Jahangir. Akbar planned the tomb and selected a suitable site for it. After his death, Akbar's son Jahangir completed the construction in 1605–1613.

Sikandar Lodhi Tomb, Sikandara
About 1 km away from the tomb, lies Mariam's Tomb, the tomb of Mariam-uz-Zamani (actual name was Heer Kanwar, more famous as Jodhabai), wife of the Mughal Emperor Akbar and the mother of Jahangir.

We started our excursions with visit to a tomb at the left side. It belonged to Sikandar Lodhi. Currently in ruins and it seems that it does not the attention that it deserves!

Kaanch Mahal (Used as a base for hunting), Sikandara
In front of it, there is a beautiful building. It is famous as “Kaanch Mahal” (Glass Palace), though there is no glass now. It was a hunting Palace, used by Jahangir.

There are sculpture of elephants on the front walls, I found to be quite interesting. Was it constructed by Mughals or it was a pre-existing building because of not seen any such motif on buildings constructed by Mughals.

Akbar's Tomb
Now we walked towards the Akbar’s tomb.

The south gate is the largest and is the normal point of entry to the tomb.

Though a grand, but still a simple building, the tomb of Akbar has a different aura. The entry gate has some wall paintings also. We visited the grave, which is inside in a big dome, notable for its wonderful acoustics.

There are also many graves inside this complex. It is believed that Akbar wanted to have all his family members to be buried there, though it did not happen.

The surrounding gardens have peacocks and deer roaming. The area is quite peaceful and some love birds find refuge here!

Time to take road to FatehpurSikri!

But first we had to take much needed breakfast.

As we moved out of Agra, we stopped at “Brijwasi”.

Akbar's tomb ceiling
I asked him to serve us Kachori followed by tea. He insisted that I should also taste Bedaee. It was poori made from wheat floor + maida + gram floor in proportion of 2:2:1. I found it quite tasty and so we had heartfull of breakfast there.

It started raining as we proceeded further. But by the time we reached FatehpurSikri Complex, it reduced to drizzling and finally stopped to give us enough time to roam around.

Akbar's tomb (side view)
As we entered through the walls of the city, I realized the ruins spread around. 

Perhaps the Mughals constructed the building here on either pre existing ruins or by destroying the existing buildings.

It is said that this area was center of learning for Jainism. There were many temples around. As per some historians all were demolished to give way to Mughal buildings.

Fatehpur Sikri was founded in 1569 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, and served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585, when it was abandoned.

Deer at Akbar's tomb. There are many deer and peacocks here,
Akbar commenced the construction of a planned walled city here, which took the next fifteen years in construction. He named the city Fatehabad, with Fateh, a word of Arabic origin in Persian, meaning "victorious." It was later called Fatehpur Sikri, with Sikri was the original name of the village here.

Fatehpur Sikri is one of the best preserved examples of Mughal architecture in India. It sits on rocky ridge, surrounded by a 6 km wall on three sides with the fourth bordered by a lake. The building material used in all the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, palace-city complex, is the locally quarried red sandstone, known as 'Sikri sandstone'.

FatehPur Sikri Buland Darwaza Complex
The Imperial complex was abandoned in 1585, shortly after its completion, perhaps due to its proximity with the Rajasthan, with which the Mughals were often at war.

Apart from the imperial buildings complex, little of the city survives. The former site of the city is mostly barren, except of ruins of the bazaars of the old city at Agra Road.

For a long time,this region is known for its masons and stone carvers.

Buland Darwaza Complex
We first proceeded towards the Buland Darwaza complex. There are two gates, one is through “Buland Darwaza” or The Grand Gate and the other is the “Shahi Darwaza” or the Royal gate.

We entered the complex through the “Shahi Darwaza”.

This complex has a white marble tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti(1478–1572), within the complex courtyard. Surrounding it is a covered passageway for circumlocution, with stone pierced screens all around with intricate geometric design.

It is said that with his blessings, Jahangir was born to Akbar.

Ishaq Khan's tomb, Buland Darwaza Complex
Left of the tomb, stands a red sandstone tomb of Islam Khan I, son of Shaikh Badruddin Chisti and grandson of Shaikh Salim Chishti, who became a general in the Mughal army in the reign of Jahangir. The tomb contains a number of graves, all descendants of Shaikh Salim Chisti.

The complex also has the Jama Masjid and it is said to be constructed around 1571-72.
Buland Darwaza was added to the complex five years later.

We had hired a guide here, as It was my first visit to Fatehpur Sikri. Though most of things that he explained, I knew already.

The courtyard is massive. At one corner, the guide showed us the “Hiran Minar”. I am not sure about its usage. It might be a watch tower.

Sheikh Salim Chisti Tomb, Buland Darwaza Complex
There were many people selling stone artifacts. Generally, at such tourist places, they charge double the price. So a hard bargain is required.

Now we walked towards the Buland Darwaza.

Buland Darwaza Complex
The Buland Darwaza is about 54 metres high and is made of red sandstone, decorated by white and black marble. On the outside a long flight of steps sweeps down the hill giving the gateway additional height.

Hiran Minar, as seen from Buland Darwaza Complex
It took nearly 12 years to make this gateway.

When I asked about other attractions from the Guide, initially he told me that this complex is what all is worth visiting and other palaces are closed for public. But I knew there are something more at Fatehpur Sikri. After questioning multiple times, he agreed that there is Jodhabai Palace and other Mughal buildings a short distance behind the Buland Darwaza Complex.

Buland Darwaza Complex
We walked there and hired another guide.

Remember to do hard bargain with the guides and confirm their explanation with books/Internet later.

Buland Darwaza
As we entered the Royal Palace courtyard, first is the Palace of Jodhabai.

Actually there are two gates. We entered through the rear gate from the Buland Darwaza side and exited from the Deewane Aam gate to the main road.

Otherwise one can enter through the Deewane Aam gate and after covering this complex can go out through the gate next to Jodhabai palace towards the Buland Darwaza complex.

Jodha Bai's Palace (Entrance)
Though its known as Jodhabai Palace, perhaps it was a harem having many of Akbar’s wives. The building is built around a courtyard, with special care being taken to ensure privacy. Outside the complex is the kitchen.

Jodha Bai's Palace
Though guide insisted that only Jodhabai stayed here, I have some doubt that it is the only building in the entire complex, which seems to have housed the Royal ladies.

Little further on left side is the house of Akbar's favorite minister, Birbal. Though I doubt on this as why he was allowed to stay within Royal complex near to harem.

Jodha Bai's Kitchen
Right side is Anup Talao, built by Raja Anup Singh Sikarwar. An ornamental pool with a central platform and four bridges leading up to it.

It is next to Akbar's residence and said that Tansen used to present his musical concerts here.

"Jewel House". Here Akbar used to sit with his 9 Jewels (trusted ministers)
A little further is Panch Mahal, a five-storey palace, perhaps used to enjoy the breeze during summer evenings. The coutyrad has the Pachisi Court; a square marked out as a large board game, the precursor to modern day Ludo game where young girls served as the playing pieces.

Paanch Mahal
It is good feeling standing this courtyard. I must admit that this place is perhaps the best preserved Mughal Palace.

Little further are the “Jewel House”. Here Akbar used to had meetings with his nine jewels (ministers). Inside of the building, particularly the pillars are very beautifully carved. 

I had never seen any such carving in any Mughal building earlier. Very beautiful!

Jewel house is also referred as Deewane Khaas. (Court to meet senior ministers)

Next to that is the Astrologers room. I am not sure if it belonged to some soothsayer or it was a granary or treasury.

Anup Talao (Pond)
Outside this complex is the Diwane Aam.

Diwane Aam or Hall of Public Audience, is a building where the ruler meets the general public. In this case, it is a pavilion-like multi-bayed rectangular structure fronting a large open space.

Intricate designs inside the Jewel House (Deewaane Khaas)
It was a memorable excursion. I was glad to be there.

We didn’t missed any opportunity to capture the moments in our camera. 

Akbar's Residence
So we are at the gates of the Deewane Aam. One small bus was ready. It was about 2 PM and we take a leave from FatehpurSikri.

On the way within the town, we took late lunch. Do remember to ask for some discount even before your order for food. Insist for 20% discount on total food bills here in Agra zone on any hotel (not sure about Dhabas or small eateries).

Deewaane Khhas
Time to take the highway to Lucknow, but not before we stopped at Panchhi Petha store at Agra and all of us bought some Petha for our homes.

Petha of Agra is very famous and one must enjoy it once in Agra.

There are many shops with same name as Panchhi Petha. Enquire with some reliable person about the real one or search on Internet.

Another four hours and we were at home; sweet home!


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