Results 1-10of 12 Reviews
New Delhi, India
March 20, 2009
We reach the Agra Fort about five minutes after leaving the Taj Mahal, and go in to buy our tickets (Rs 20 for Indians; Rs 300 for foreigners and non-resident Indians. Neeti and Deb, as always, get in free because they’re below 15). That done, we step in through the carved red sandstone bulk of the Amar Singh Gate, with its curving bastions decorated in panels of colourful tiles in yellow, green and blue.
The Agra Fort is shaped like a semi-circle, and stands along the bank of the Yamuna. Excavations have revealed signs of a citadel here as far back as 1080 AD, but the fort today was built largely by the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, starting in 1565. His grandson Shahjahan demolished many of the buildings and replaced them with palaces in his trademark white marble.
We begin by visiting the Jahangiri Mahal, a long palace of red sandstone, its façade decorated with arches picked out in white marble. Though it’s named for Jahangir—Akbar’s son—the palace was built by Akbar as part of a palace complex known as the Bangali Mahal. The Jahangiri Mahal’s gate is very attractive: red sandstone, embellished with the gold-coloured Jaisalmer stone, and with highlights of white marble. In front, a short distance down a broad path surrounded by manicured lawns, stands a hemispherical stone bowl with Persian inscriptions along its rim. This is known as the Jahangiri Hauz, and is believed to have been a portable hamaam—a bathtub—commissioned by Jahangir.
Inside, the Jahangiri Mahal is exquisite: there are panels of painted plaster (with gold leaf too), courtyards fringed with ornately carved pillars, pilasters with herringbone patterns, panels of impossibly intricate carving. A young man in T-shirt and knee-length shorts with a vacant look on his face sits on a verandah which has a particularly stunning panel of carving. I peer around him to focus my camera on the carving, hoping he’ll take the hint and move. He doesn’t. I squirm around a bit, manage to get the carving into my frame and have just clicked the button when he lifts his legs over his head and farts—loudly. Yuck, yuck, yuck! I scurry away, cursing fluently, and gather up the rest of the clan. Deb wants the rude guy pointed out to him, but all I’m interested in is getting out of here.
We escape, through the maze of chambers that make up the Jahangiri Mahal, and towards the Khaas Mahal. At the far end of the Jahangiri Mahal, near the Khaas Mahal, is a small room with an extremely historic artefact in it: the 11th century Ghaznin Gates. These are the polished, carved leaves of a massive wooden door that belonged to the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni. The British brought the gates from Ghazni, claiming that they were the gates of the temple at Somnath, which Mahmud plundered in 1025 AD. This was eventually disproved, and the gates ended up here.
After peering at the gates, we move on to the Khaas Mahal, which comprised the emperor’s private apartments. The Khaas Mahal consists of a series of pavilions, including a pillared one in carved white marble, with twin pavilions—both with gilded whaleback roofs—on either side.
Beyond these is the exquisite Shah Burj or Mussamman Burj, now cordoned off with a heavy metal mesh. The Shah Burj was where the emperor would appear every morning to `show’ himself to his subjects. It was originally of red sandstone, but Shahjahan made the present one in white marble. We can’t see much of the Shah Burj, but the inner section’s gorgeous, with intricate carving and panels of pietra dura inlay: I can see one with purple and blue irises. The floor has a carved shallow tank and a fountain.
From the Shah Burj, we trace our steps back a bit and descend to the large garden below. This is the Anguri Bagh, an expanse of red sandstone parterres, right now in shades of bright green foliage and deep scarlet flowers. The Anguri Bagh is surrounded by relatively plain buildings which are believed to have been the zenana, the imperial seraglio.
We walk across the Anguri Bagh, along its northern edge, till the corner, where we climb upstairs and make our way through the Machchi Bhawan (the `House of Fish’, though I can’t fathom why). The Machchi Bhawan is, like the buildings surrounding the Anguri Bagh, fairly plain. They’re red sandstone and white plaster, but the decoration is minimal.
We walk on to the end of Machchi Bhawan, and enter the Nagina Masjid or Nagini Masjid. This was probably the private mosque of the emperor, and is consequently a small one, reminiscent of the Moti Masjid at Mehrauli in Delhi: the same white marble, three domes, and restrained decoration. In fact, just about the only carving is the simple floral pattern along the top of the enclosing wall. The simplicity of the mosque adds a lot to its charm, we agree.
From the Nagina Masjid, we make our way through the Machchi Bhawan and into the large quadrangle fronted by the Diwan-e-Aam, the Hall of Public Audience. This was where the emperor met the nobility, entertained ambassadors, received tributes, distributed tokens of his favour, and so on. It’s a large open hall with rows of pillars joined by cusped arches, marching down the length of the hall. The entire hall, pillars and all, is covered in polished offwhite plaster, with the edges highlighted in black: very striking. There’s also a carved white marble throne, though nowhere as splendid as the one at Delhi’s Diwan-e-Aam.
In front of the Diwan-e-Aam, on the ground not far from the hall, is an oddity: the 19th century Memorial of Russell Colvin, Lieutenant Governor of the North-West Provinces. The European style of the memorial, with its sloping `roof’, little pinnacles and whatnot, make it stick out like a sore thumb amidst the Mughal buildings around. (Swapna points out that the British in the early 1800’s didn’t stop at that. They set up homes in the fort, erecting partitions and scraping off painted plaster. A wall of the Diwan-e-Khaas was broken down to put in a fireplace, and the hammam was removed and sent to Calcutta by Lord Hastings. Lord Bentinck completed Hastings’s work by selling off the remaining marble of the hammam to manufacturers of souvenirs).
Neeti and Deb are by now hot and tired and irritable, and Swapna gives them a pep talk before we move off to our final sight in the fort, the Diwan-e-Khaas, or Hall of Private Audience. This overlooks the river, so we need to retrace our steps, past Machchi Bhawan and back. On the way, we peek into (literally) the Sheesh Mahal (the `Palace of Mirrors’). The ASI have locked it up, but the door has grubby glass panes through which we can just about get a glimpse of some breathtakingly beautiful patterns of incised plaster and glittering mirrors.
The Diwan-e-Khaas is cordoned off and we can’t get in. Fortunately, it’s an open hall, so we can see most of it through the railings that screen it. The pillars here are square, with carved bases. What I like most of all are the arched insets of delicately carved marble at the far end: they’re superb.
Near the Diwan-e-Khaas, on a broad stretch of paving with a fine view of the distant Taj Mahal, is a heavy bench of black slate. This is the Takht-e-Jahangir and was commissioned by the Emperor Jahangir while he was still officially just Prince Salim: it was an act of rebellion against his father, Akbar. The top of the bench is flat and unadorned; the sides are carved with calligraphy in praise of Salim, the `Shah’.
By now, even the adults in our group are in serious need of liquid sustenance. We troop back, sated and more than a little dazzled by all we’ve seen. Swapna points out, beyond some buildings, the sloping tiled roofs of British-era barracks, all within the fort. These are still held by the Indian Army, which has a substantial presence in the fort. Someday, maybe, they’ll move out, and visitors like us will be able to see a little more.
From journal Agra: Been There, Done That
May 26, 2003
With the beautiful Anguri Bagh outstretched at its feet, the Khas Mahal is the most beautiful palace of Shah Jahan in the Agra Fort. The palace, designed to edge the Yamuna on one side and the Anguri Bagh on the other, displays the meticulous planning of the emperor. The whole building is made of white marble, its interiors housing a spacious hall overlooking the river through marble screens. The palace is lavishly painted in conventional and floral patterns.
The Sheesh Mahal (the glass palace) is located on the north-western corner of the Anguri Bagh, just below the Diwan-i-Khas. It has the finest specimens of glass-mosaic decorations in India.
The Musamman Burj (the octagonal tower) was perhaps the earliest of Shah Jahan’s marble palaces. The spacious pavilion surmounts the most projecting circular bastion of the riverside. It was at the Musamman Burj that his son, Aurangzeb, held Shah Jahan as a prisoner. The emperor finally died here in full view of the Taj Mahal.
The Mina Masjid is situated to the south-east of the Diwan-i-Khas, above the Sheesh Mahal apartments. Believed to be constructed by Shah Jahan for "a strictly private use," the palace-mosque is enclosed on all sides by high walls. The most important feature here is the small chhajja (sunshade) above the arcade, which is supported on four exquisitely carved small brackets of white marble.
Originally a water palace, the Machchhi Bhawan has a beautiful pavilion with exquisitely chiselled marble pillars. The Diwan-i-Khas is situated on its south-eastern corner on the first floor.
The Diwan-i-Khas (hall of private audience) was constructed in 1635. The jalis
and the inlay work on the borders of the dados (section of a pedestal between
base and surbase), with carved plants in the middle, are gracefully designed
and executed. The dalan (courtyard) is open on three sides and has double columns
with judiciously distributed inlay and carved relief work. There is a Persian
inscription on the south wall of the dalan that praises Shah Jahan and the palace:
"Sa’adat sarāi wa humayũn asās."
The Nagina Masjid, situated on the north-western corner of the Machchhi Bhawan, is one of the most beautiful creations of Shah Jahan’s reign. Attached to the harem (royal seraglio), it was a private mosque constructed by the emperor for his own use. The mosque has an open court that spreads on three sides.
The Diwan-i-Aam (hall of public audience) served as the grand assembly hall. Situated in the great quadrangle, the façade is composed of an arcade with nine arches supported on strong double columns. The construction is in red sandstone, but the whole has been overlaid with white shell plaster that gives the effect of white marble.
The Moti Masjid (pearl mosque) is situated to the north of the Diwan-i-Aam.
Built on a high plinth, it is a unique mosque in that it faces the Yamuna and
the rising sun. The mosque measures 234.3 feet (71.40 metres) from east to west
and 187.8 feet (57.20 metres) from north to south. The exterior of the mosque,
made of red sandstone, looks plain and unimpressive. But it was designed to
be so—the architect reserved his skills for the white-marbled interior,
which is richly decorated.
The Moti Masjid has the conventional plan of an Indian mosque, comprising a central court with cloisters on its three sides and the sanctuary on the west. Three bulbous domes, of pure white marble, crown the sanctuary.
The water system at the Agra Fort was divided into two sections. The Khas Mahal tank, along with its thirty-two fountains, and the Anguri Bagh ponds received their supply of water from the tanks located overhead the water pavilion to the north of the Jahangiri Mahal. The second section of the water system took its supply from the Yamuna River. The latter was, in fact, the main water system, the neglect of which the emperor Shah Jahan had to pay with a heavy price.
After the decisive battle of Samugarh in 1658 (fought between Aurangzeb and Murad Bakhsh, third and fourth sons of the emperor, on the one side, and the eldest son and heir apparent, Dara Shikoh, on the other), Aurangzeb rushed to Agra and besieged the fort. When all negotiations with the emperor failed, and when Aurangzeb realized that the fort was impregnable, he hit upon a clever stratagem and cut off the water supply to the fort. Forced in his old age and sickness to quench his thirst with well water, Shah Jahan wrote a touching letter to his son:
The letter, however, failed to melt the heart of Aurangzeb. After holding for three more days, Shah Jahan was compelled to open the gates of the fort to the forces of Aurangzeb.
The Hammam-i-Shahi or the Shah Burj, situated on the other side of the Diwan-i-Khas terrace, was not a Turkish bathroom as is generally supposed. Although it had all the paraphernalia associated with a bathroom, including an intricate water system with a complex of miniature tanks sunk into the wall, it was actually an ‘air-conditioned’ apartment used as a summer retreat. It is believed that business of a very confidential nature was conducted in this quarter.
From journal The Agra Fort
Shaped like an irregular semi-circle with its chord running parallel to the
Yamuna, the Agra Fort, like most of Akbar's buildings within it, is built of
red sandstone. The massive enclosing walls reach to a height of about 70 feet
(21.34 metres) with double ramparts at regular intervals. The walls are inlaid
with white marble detail that create a sense of richness and power.
Abu'l Fazl records that the fort housed over 500 buildings within it, an estimate that seems to be slightly exaggerated. In any case, most of the mansions have disappeared, a few of them deliberately demolished to make room for Shah Jahan's white-marble pavilions built between 1627 and 1648. Of buildings that have survived, the Delhi Gate, the Amar Singh Gate, the Akbari Mahal and the Jahangiri Mahal are the most important.
The Delhi Gate, which faces the Jami Masjid, is considered the most exquisitely finished and ingeniously planned gateway of the Mughals. Its architectural features have been so designed as to give a definite advantage to its defenders. The entrance, devised with sharp curves at various trap points and a steep rise, posed grave difficulties in movement of not only the enemies but also to the Mughals themselves.
There is also an inner entrance called the Hathya Paur (elephant gate), flanked on both sides by broad, double-storeyed octagonal towers, each crowned by an elegant chhatri. The entrance is hexagonal, with arched alcoves on the remaining four sides. The rear is in four terraces, with colonnades and verandas.
The Delhi Gate is not open to visitors now.
Originally known as the Akbari Gate, it was renamed Amar Singh Gate following the episode of Rao Amar Singh of Marwar who assassinated Salabat Khan (the Mir Bakshi of Shah Jahan) in full court in 1644. However, contrary to popular belief, the Rao and his followers were cut to pieces while trying to escape.
The Amar Singh Gate is similar to the Delhi Gate in its crooked entrance. The imposing Naubatkhana (drum tower), surrounded by pillared pavilions, presents an impressive sight.
The Akbari Mahal was perhaps known as the Bengali Mahal during Akbar's time. According to De Laet, it was used as a zenana (women's apartment) where "foreign women" were kept for the "pleasure of the King." It is one of the oldest extant constructions within the fort, being contemporaneous with the baoli (step-well), which it enjoins.
The original plan of the western façade of the Akbari Mahal seems to have been extended to about 430 feet (131.06 metres) with two gateways and three towers, out of which only one gateway and two towers remain to this day. The whole façade had one fundamental scheme of ornamentation with oblong panels containing geometrical and arabesque patterns in carved relief on red sandstone, a series of ornamental arches with a fringe of lotus buds, inlay on the gateways, a balcony supported on beautiful brackets, oblong openings and oriel windows on the second storey and a gracefully decorated parapet.
The Jahangiri Mahal is considered the most important surviving palace structure of Akbar's period in the Agra Fort. Believed to have been built as a zenana or women's palace, the multi-storeyed palace, faced with finely carved red sandstone, is a synthesis of Hindu and Islamic architectural features.
The palace is a complex arrangement of chambers and halls, corridors and galleries, open courtyards and verandas—all grouped together without, it seems, a fundamental unified plan. The broad entrance opens into a square hall, which then leads into a large central courtyard with pillared chambers on its north and south sides. There is an exquisitely designed assembly hall to the north of the courtyard.
There is another hall on the south side of the courtyard, which is similar in dimensions to the former. The most important feature of this hall is a corridor that rotates on its three sides and is connected through intricately designed jalis (lattice screens). It is believed that the Ankh Michoni hall of the Man Mandir at Gwalior (built between 1510 and 1516) served as the prototype for this hall at Agra.
According to William G. Klingelhofer, "The essential expression and experience of the Jahangiri Mahal lie in its revelation of an architectural quality, captured and presented in each of its various aspects. It is a building that works. In many ways the most effective and successful example of its oeuvre, it was also, in the builders' eyes at least, among the most beautiful and perfected expositions at the palace form." The superlatives applied to the palace amply reflect the importance the Mughals attached to it. In Akbar's eyes and those of everyone in early Mughal India, the Jahangiri Mahal was a superb palatial structure "the like of which heaven has not seen in the world in its time." In Abu'l Fazl's words, Akbar has dressed "the work of his mind and heart in the garment of stone and clay" in the Jahangiri Mahal.
The Shahjahani Mahal is made of brick and plaster with some pleasing floral designs in stucco and enjoins the Jahangiri Mahal on the north side. The octagonal riverside pavilion has painted ornamentation on the red sandstone surface. A room on the west accommodates the Somnath Gate, which, in fact, belonged to the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni who died in 1030. (The gate was brought here by the British in 1842 to garner the popular support of the Hindus, claiming that an insult of 800 years has been avenged!)
Although Shah Jahan demolished some of the buildings inside the fort to build his white-marble mansions, it is doubtful whether he actually built the Shahjahani Mahal.
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.
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