An April 2006 trip
to Agra by MichaelJM
Quote: An ambition fulfilled, the Taj Mahal fulfilled all expectations and more...
Attraction | "The Red Fort"
The fort was originally constructed in 1565 by Emperor Akbar (Shah Jahan’s grandfather) as a military fortification, but Shah Jahan changed its use to that of a Royal Palace (I guess he felt more secure than his granddad). Inevitably he introduced white marble into the construct and nowadays the contrast between the red sandstone, Jahan’s marble and the weathered copper roofing makes for a stunning sight.
The entrance to the fort is quite awe inspiring and its steep climb would have been most off-putting for any unwanted visitors. When in the fort there are some terrific views over the Yamuna River across to the magnificent Taj Mahal, that looes non of its splendour even from this distance. It’s difficult to understand why Emperor Jahan picked the spot to build his shrine to his beloved.
The Hall of Public Audiences (Diwan-I-Am) is an impressive feature with its multi-columned roofed building for the emperor (who sat in the "peacock room") and his high officials whilst invited members of the public sat in the main open-air auditorium. Apparently the acoustics were so poor that the speeches had to be relayed by a series of "interpreters"—it’s anyone’s guess how many of these speeches were distorted as they passed from one messenger to another. It certainly would slow down the process of government. In front of the building is the lone grave of John Calvin (an influential British Governor who died in 1857 and had always asked to be buried in his favourite town of Agra. He must have had some respect to be granted his final request.
The small Mirror Palace (Shish Mahal) was closed to the public but it is possible to get an impact of this room, with the walls and ceilings covered in mirrors, by peering through the heavy doors. It would have been an incredible sight as the candle lights were reflected to infinity.
There’s a magnificent garden, overlooked by the harem, and real attempts have been made to restore this to its former glory. In truth it is not too difficult to imagine life in this palace under the autocratic leadership of the mighty Indian Emperors. Control and power positively exude from the very fabric of the building.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 1, 2006
Attraction | "Taj Mahal (Part 1)"
We were surprised to spot a group of bright green parrots resting peacefully in the trees and as we took in the view from the rear of the Taj Mahal, overlooking the River Yamuna and across to the Red Fort, we saw a group of camels ambling their way across the far bank of the river. The view was remarkably unsullied and from here there was no sense that modern civilisation had arrived.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 2, 2006
Attraction | "The Abandoned City of Fatehpur Sikri"
Occupancy started in 1571 and for a decade and a half Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal empire. However, shortly after Emperor Akbar’s death, in 1585, it was decided that the royal palace and the surrounding settlement was not sustainable and the city of Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned. It’s extremely well preserved and has been deemed a World Heritage Site. Certainly if you’re visiting Agra make sure you pull in a visit to this place.As we entered the site we were told about the Hall of Public Audiences and particular attention was brought to the remains of a concrete pillar set into a large expenses of open ground, slightly away from the "public area." We were told that a malignant elephant was tethered here and criminal, sentenced to death, would be secured within reach of the beast, which would in turn batter the condemned individual. Due to the unpredictable nature of the "execution" this was a major attraction for the righteous! I’m not sure about the veracity of this but it made for a good story.As we entered the main the main city there was an incredibly ornate tower (Hall of Private Audiences), the second floor of which is supported by an incredible beautifully carved central stone column with elaborate stone bridges fanning out to the upper mezzanine. Here, private matters of state were discussed with the emperor by selected courtiers.Outside in a large court area are the original markings of the Pachisi "game board". We didn’t really get to understand the rules but apparently the "pieces" were female servants of the emperor who would stand out in the centre, in the heat of summer, being moved, at the will of the royal players not unlike an "Alice in Wonderland" scenario.The heavily columned Panch Mahal is an unusual building as it reduces in size after each level until the top floor, which is a single room. There’s an interesting central island that is accessed by two narrow bridges where the emperor, alongside his friends in court, spent time fishing. The whole site is incredibly well preserved and when we stood near to the man-made reservoir (now empty of all water) we could look over the hunting land of the emperor. A elaborate hunting tower stands near to the palace walls and it was not hard to understand why the Emperor chose this site to build his ideal capital city. It’s a great view.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 3, 2006
Agra District, Uttar Pradesh
Attraction | "Taj Mahal (Part 2)"
It stands proudly aloof from the grounds, so as we looked towards it the pristine white seemed more amazing against the bright blue sky. As we climbed up onto the plinth wearing our shoe protectors - more recently the authorities don’t expect you to go barefooted (sandals were being lost or stolen), but provide disposable covers that you must wear when approaching the Taj Mahal. From this vantage point we got a tremendous view of the grounds, the red sandstone mosque, the reflection of the jawah (believed to be visitors accommodation and probably only built to ensure the perfect symmetry of the construction) and the meandering river. The minarets appear to lean in slightly away the Taj Mahal. I suspect a design feature, as they all seem to do it (our guide said something about a precaution against damage in the event of an earthquake!)
The arches above the entrance are carved with quotations for the Koran (the same inscriptions can be found on the arches of the grand sandstone entrance to the grounds. Walking into the Taj Mahal there is an open staircase, barred to the general public and it is down here that the tombs of the emperor and his great love are interred. Only royal visitors can visit the vault but in the single room of the mausoleum are replica tombs. An incredibly elaborately carved marble screen surrounds the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal and that of Shah Jahan and the sunlight mystically shines through the thousands of carefully crafted perforated designs. But the stunning design feature is the thousands of stones inlaid into the marble. There are over 40 different semi-precious stones used in the design, imported from all over the world and worked by the best craftsmen of the day. The most stunning of the stones used is carnelian a red translucent gemstone that reflects the light. Wherever you stand in the mausoleum everything is in perfect symmetry and it was interesting to note that we all spoke in hushed voices of wonderment as we shuffled our way around the mausoleum. There’s a real magical feeling to this impressive monument and I tried to imagine the impact it must have had on everyone who was connected with it during its conception and final birth. It would have changed the landscape dramatically and would have given a bizarre message out to the emperor's other wives whose memorial buildings are built in sandstone as "add-ons" outside of the grounds of the Taj Mahal.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 16, 2006