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London, United Kingdom
August 3, 2001
The Agra Fort was already a castle at the time of Babur, the first moghul, as it's strategic position at a shallow point of the Yamuna was much sought after. Successive Moghuls expanded the place but it really took off with Akbar the Great, who despite having attempts at having his court at Lahore or Fatehpur Sikri, spent most of his forty-five year reign there. But the Fort is most famous for Shah Jahan - who was THE great Moghul builder. But his building follies such as the Taj Mahal were not always popular with the nobles and when he fell ill in 1648 his place was usurped by his son Aurangzeb and the old man awoke to find himself a prisoner in the Agra Fort. Aurangzeb used to think up ways of tormenting his father. The only pleasure the old man had at the end of his days was to gaze across to the Taj Mahal, tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Save at least a morning or afternoon to see the Agra Fort. Not surprisingly Agra Fort railway station is beneath the north-western walls so if you arrive at this one from Varanasi or Gwalior it is just a short walk. But most people see it after they have seen the Taj Mahal - and I think it runs a very close second. An autorickshaw from Taj Ganj or the international hotels down Fatehpur Sikri marg will cost no more then 50 rupees, and a cycle-rickshaw even less. As you approach the scarlet walls of the Fort soar 40ft above you and I was amazed at their thickness. After a while in India you begin to steel yourself for the gamut of hawkers and beggars that wait at the entrance. One of the beggars was so deformed that he scuttled around like a crab on his arms while his legs were over his shoulders. You should try not to give any money as it will end up in the hands of a mafia who control the beggars.
But when you are through and paid your 400 rupees at the ticket kiosk you can walk up to the towering red Yamar Singh Gate. Beyond is a great courtyard flanked by redstone walls and covered in green lawns and hedges. It was dominated by the biggest Diwan-I-am (hall of public audience) that I had yet seen in India. It was a vast marble platform overlooking the gardens held up by arched pillars each exotically carved. This was where the Moghul Emperor partook of his daily audiences. Marble corridors led deeper into the palace, some were occupied by sleeping chowdikars (old men) or pi dogs, and they eventually spilled me out into another huge courtyard.
This one marked the start of the royal pavilions and was constructed with gleaming white marble and bright flowerbeds. The pavilions overlooked the eastern wall of the Fort and from there it was a fifty foot drop into a dry moat (see photo). The imperial pavilions had walls of fine latticework and domes and walls of fine marble. But the views from the pavilions were framed by arched columns - and stretched across the Yamuna to the Taj Mahal. This was one of the most exotic views I had ever seen - and took in the swathe of Agra's green parks, the curve of the river and the bulbous dome and minarets of the Taj looming above the green canopy.
Accompanied by the sound of weaver-birds I strolled through the rest of the pavilions and the views got better and better. My favourite was Musamann Burj, a turret with cupola extending from the fort walls. Surrounded by a marble verandah the octagonal chambed was surported by columns and had a lattice balaustrade with ornamental niches. This was where Shah Jahan used to come and gaze across to the Taj. Personally, I felt I was on the film set of "Octopussy".
I bumped into another British backpacker while wandering around the pavilions. "Isn't it amazing!" he grinned at me. I enthusiastically agreed. I defy anyone to visit the Agra Fort and not come out on a massive high - the place is unforgettable.
From journal Agra: The Taj Mahal - Monument to love...
Hasselt, Limburg, Belgium
August 31, 2000
From journal Taj Mahal