Famous buildings and monuments can often seem overrated. After hearing about them for many years and seeing beautiful images with picturesque backdrops; one often finds that typical tourist attractions just don’t live up to the hype when actually visited. However, the Taj Mahal, one of the 7 wonders of the world, is definitely not one of those attractions. No matter how many photographs or videos you might have seen, nothing compares to seeing the white marble tomb of Mumtaz Mahal in person.
While the Taj Mahal is Agra’s star attraction, and most tourists visit with the sole purpose of exploring this magnificent wonder, Agra also has a vast cultural history and many other fascinating places to visit. So on your next trip to Agra, be sure to go beyond the obvious and check out a few other must see places:
Along with the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort is also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and for good reason. Characterized by its formidable red sandstone turrets, it was home to the Mughal emperors until 1638, when the capital was moved to Delhi. Agra Fort has been likened to a miniature city within a city, and features 4 points of entry. Notably the “Delhi Gate”, which is used by the Indian military and the “Lahore Gate” or “Amar Singh Gate” that is the point of entry for tourists. While the fort is an attraction in itself, it also includes many noteworthy structures within its walls such as Jahangir Mahal, named after Akbar’s son Jahangir, a palace that features both Hindu and central Asian architectural designs, as well as a central courtyard where the women of the palace would spend their time. The Shish Mahal, known for its distinctive glass mosaic work, is another must see.
Also known as the “Jewel Box” or “Baby Taj” this mausoleum was made on the orders of Nur Jahan, Emperor Jahangir’s wife, for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who was also the Grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal and served the Mughal Empire. It is considered a “first draft” of the Taj Mahal, and is also built from white marble and red sandstone. It should definitely be on the list of places to visit for all design and architectural buffs, as it was the first monument to feature “Pietra Dura” a unique Indian design in which semi-precious stones are used to create floral shapes in marble.
Akbar was one of the greatest rulers of the Mughal Empire, and his tomb in Agra is worthy of his name. Another popular tourist attraction, Akbar’s mausoleum, where he is buried along with his two daughters, was completed by his son Jahangir in 1613. In the true style of Mughal Architecture, the monument is built with a mixture of marble and sandstone. Though the tomb was raided during Aurungzeb’s rule, it is still a beautiful structure surrounded by the wildlife of the Mughal gardens. It’s most distinctive feature is that unlike other Mughal tombs that face Mecca, Akbar’s tomb faces east.
Fatehpur Sikri, an hour or so away from the Taj Mahal by car, is a town that was abandoned and left empty a few years after it was made, during Akbar’s rule. It was originally the capital of the Mughal Empire during his tenure. The city was named after Sheikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of Akbar’s son and heir, Jehangir. However, after the capital shifted, the city was abandoned due to low water supply. In the present day, it is a popular tourist destination, as people can explore the intricacies of a city that has barely altered in the last 500 years. Within Fatehpur Sikri, the Jama Masjid, or mosque, is a great place to start exploring, as are the three palaces, built for each of Akbar’s three wives and uniquely characterized by architecture that reflected their individual spirituality and religious beliefs. Near the Diwan-I-Am main gate, you’ll find the archeological museum, for a more in depth look into life during the Mughal period, including pots, lamps, and jewellery molds, characteristic of daily life during those times.
Agra’s Old City
Agra’s old city is like an explosion of the senses. Taking a heritage walking tour through these old lanes and neighbourhoods is a great way to get closely acquainted with the food, culture, architecture and history of Agra. This is also a great way to interact with present day residents and storefronts while also getting a sense of the old world charm that is characteristic of the neighbourhood. This is the opportunity to visit the many temples and mosques, and experience the bustling spice market and street food, including Agra’s famous Petha - an Indian sweet made of ash gourd, lime and sugar.
Gurudwara Guru ka Tal
While Mughal architecture and history is the dominant aspect of Agra’s tourist attractions, Gurudwara Guru ka Tal, a spiritual centre for the Sikh community in the city is also a great place to visit. It was built in the memory of Sri Guru Tegh Bahudar Ji, the ninth guru. Many devotees make trips to this Gurudwara to pay homage to his memory. Although, only eight of the original 12 towers of the monument are still standing; it is worthwhile to note that the original architecture of the Gurudwara was a lot similar to Fatehpur Sikri and Agra Fort. One of the best places to go to experience a completely different religious and cultural section of Agra, and also sample the free meals offered to people from the community kitchen, which are absolutely delicious.
Even though the Taj Mahal is something every person must see at least once in their lifetime, Agra has many other wonderful sights of culture, history and architecture that should not be missed. So do try to extend your stay the next time you plan to visit, so as to thoroughly experience and enjoy everything this majestic and historic city has to offer.