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Agra & the Taj Mahal

Agra is on the western bank of the Yamuna River, and is of course best known for being the home of the Taj Mahal. However besides this incredibly famous monument, Agra is also home to some of the other finest monuments of the Mughal period - Agra Fort, Diwan-I-Am, Diwan-i-Khas, Musamman Burj, Jehangir’s Palace, Shish Mahal, Jama Masjid, Tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah, Akbar’s Mausoleum, and the Mariyam’s Tomb, to name a few. The Mughal love for nature can also be seen at Agra in the form of Ram Bagh, one of the earliest gardens, laid out in 1528.

Though the heritage of Agra city is linked with the Mughal dynasty, various other rulers also contributed to the rich past of this city. Modern Agra was founded by Sikandar Lodhi in the 16th century. Babar (founder of the Mughal dynasty) also stayed for sometime in Agra and introduced the concept of square Persian-styled gardens here. Emperor Akbar built the Agra fort and Fatehpur Sikri. Jahangir beautified Agra with palaces and gardens despite spending most of his time in Kashmir. However Agra came to its own when Shahjahan ascended to the throne of Mughal Empire. He marked the zenith of Mughal architecture, when he built the Taj in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. In his later years, Shah Jahan shifted his capital to the new city of Shah Jahanabad in Delhi and ruled from there. Shah Jahan was dethroned in 1658 by his son, Aurangzeb who imprisoned him in the Agra Fort. Aurangzeb shifted the capital back to Agra till his death. After the death of Aurangzeb, Mughal Empire could not touch its peak and many regional kingdoms emerged. The post-Mughal era of Agra saw the rule of the Jats, Marathas and finally the British taking over the city.

Undoubtedly India’s most famous monument and one of the most famous buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This crowning glory of Mughal architecture in India, it was built by Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Construction began in 1631 and the building took 20 years and over 20,000 workers to complete. The white marble used in the construction of the Taj was brought all the way from the famous marble mines of Makrana in Rajasthan. The central structure stands on a platform of marble surrounded by four minarets. The Taj is covered with beautiful domes and has walls decorated with fine carvings.

Mumtaz Mahal married Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor in 1612. It was Shah Jahan’s second marriage and the two were madly in love with each other. Together they had 14 children, and it was while giving birth that Mumtaz died. Her death was completely unexpected and left the shocked emperor determined to build a monument that would keep her memory alive for ages to come.

The Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum. If you enter the main hall in the building you’ll notice two grave tomb like structures. These are not the real burial places of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan, who are buried in an underground vault. The fake tombs are in continuation of an old Mughal practice used to protect the graves of dead rulers from vandals. One of the most fascinating details about the Taj Mahal is its perfect symmetry. Also, the inscriptions on its walls are written in such a way that when you see from bottom to top, the size of the writing seems the same, although the writing is smaller at the bottom than at the top.

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Time: GMT +5½ hours

Flight time: Flight time from London to Delhi is 8 hours 30 minutes and to Mumbai is about 8 hours.

Language: The official language is Hindi, which about 30% of the population speaks. English is very widely spoken and is used for official and commercial purposes.

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