To most people visit to Agra involves the magnificent Taj Mahal. Of course no travel bucket list is complete without visiting this monument of love but the city is much more than just the Taj. Due to the huge publicity and propaganda of Taj Mahal, other offbeat, lesser known places have been dwarfed in front of it. And it makes me wonder how often do people know about Offbeat Agra places beyond Taj Mahal.
Taj Mahal is synonymous to perhaps the most famous ode to love in the world, in all its majestic splendor, the majestic white dome has created awe even through pictures and has drawn millions to its doorways. The city of Agra has been defined by Shah Jahan’s monument to his lady love and probably will be for eternity. The Taj Mahal, no doubt, tops every list of Agra must see places, maybe even tops the list of everyone who travels to India. In the words of former President of United States, Bill Clinton : ” The world is divided into two categories of people. One, those who have seen the Taj Mahal, and the other, those have not yet. ” But its equally interesting to know what lies beyond Taj Mahal in Agra. There’s more in Agra beside Taj Mahal which people often miss. Here is to look at Offbeat Agra: Beyond Taj Mahal.
Agra Fort :
The big red-sandstone fort on the bank of the River Yamuna, was constructed by Emperor Akbar in 1565. Further additions were made by his grandson Shah Jahan, using white marble. The fort was built primarily as a military structure, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace, and later it became his prison for eight years after his son Aurangzeb seized power in 1658. Although most of the fort is still used for Indian Army, but whatever part is open for tourists is well worth the visit.
Mehtab Bagh (Garden) :
Also wrongly known as Black Taj which Emperor Shah Jahan wanted to built for himself. This park originally built by Emperor Babur as the last in a series of 11 parks on the Yamuna’s east bank, long before the Taj was conceived, fell into disrepair until it was little more than a huge mound of sand. To protect the Taj from the erosive effects of the sand blown across the river, the park was reconstructed in recent years and is now one the best places to view the Taj Mahal. The gardens & fountains in the Taj Mahal are perfectly aligned with the ones here.
Itimad-Ud-Daulah (Baby Taj) :
Nicknamed the Baby Taj, the exquisite tomb of Mizra Ghiyas Beg should not be missed. This Persian nobleman was Mumtaz Mahal’s grandfather and Emperor Jehangir’s wazir (chief minister).His is the classic rags to riches story from Persia to India, pauper to Mughal courtier. His daughter Nur Jahan, who married Jehangir, built the tomb between 1622 and 1628 in a style similar to the tomb she built for Jehangir near Lahore in Pakistan. It is regarded as the draft to Taj Mahal.
Akbar’s Tomb :
This outstanding sandstone and marble tomb commemorates the greatest of the Mughal emperors. The huge courtyard is entered through a stunning gateway. It has three-storey minarets at each corner and is built of red sandstone strikingly inlaid with white-marble geometric patterns.
Fatehpur Sikri :
37 kilometers from the city of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri is something of a ghost city from the 16th century that owes its existence to Akbar. Legend has it that a 26 year old Akbar, worried that he had no heirs visited the saint Shaikh Salim Chishti who lived in Sikri. His blessing gave Akbar 3 sons and Akbar built a whole new city in Sikri as a gesture of gratitude. Sadly, the city had to be deserted because the water system could not support its residents and till today, remains as a reminder of the extravagance of the Mughals.
Buland Darwaza :
Situated inside Fatehpur Sikri, it is one of the highest gateways in the world. It is 40.84 m high and was built on a platform that was 13.52 m high. The Gate of Magnificence took 12 years to build commemorating Akbar’s conquest over Uttar Pradesh and the victory in Gujarat in 1601. Besides verses from the Quran, there are also inscriptions from Hindu and Christian texts on the central face of the Buland Darwaza, signifying Akbar’s secular outlook.
Panch Mahal :
It is a five-storey palace in Fatehpur Sikri. It also means wind catcher tower. This is an extraordinary structure, entirely columnar, consisting of five storeys of decreasing size disposed a symmetrically upon a ground floor, which contains 84 columns. The pillars, that originally had screens between them, support the whole structure.These screens provided purdah (cover) to queens and princess on the top terraces enjoying the cool breezes and watching splendid views of Sikri fortifications and the town.Built on the pattern of a Buddhist Temple, Panch Mahal was basically a pleasure palace of emperor Akbar. He primarily used it for relaxation and entertainment purpose since it is located close to Lady’s House or Harem.
Jama Masjid :
Agra’s Jama Masjid is popularly called the Jami Masjid or ‘Friday Mosque’. Built by Shah Jahan, this red sandstone mosque is situated near Agra Fort in the heart of the city, surrounded by busy old city market and is dedicated to the emperor’s favourite daughter, Jahanara Begum. It is the wonderful assimilation of Iranian architecture.
Mariyam’s Tomb :
Mariyam’s Tomb was built in memory of Emperor Akbar’s christian wife Mariyam Zamani. This tomb is an unique construction in red sandstone and has some exceptional carvings. This is a worth seeing monument although it’s in neglected state and mostly used as a dating spot by local lovers.
Chini- Ka-Rauza :
This Persian-style riverside tomb of Afzal Khan, a poet who served as Shah Jahan’s chief minister, was built between 1628 and 1639. Rarely visited, it is hidden away down a shady avenue of trees on the east bank of the Yamuna. Bright blue tiles, which once covered the whole mausoleum, can still be seen on part of the exterior, while the interior is painted in floral designs.Another famous spot for local lovers to spend some time away from the eyes of public.
Known simply as Swami Bagh, this huge white marble mausoleum, which houses the tomb of Sri Shiv Dayal Singh Seth, the founder of the Radhasoami Faith, is of particular interest because it is still being built – more than 80 years after it was started. Inside there’s a 1904 painting of what it should look like when finished, complete with a gold- latticed dome. For now it’s a work-in-progress project being undertaken by devotees. The design incorporates building styles from other major religions and includes some fabulously delicate floral carvings.
Religious Places :
Many beautiful and famous temples like Mankameshwar Temple, Balkeshwar Temple, Prithvinath Mandir, Rajeshwar Mandir, Kailash Mandir, Kali Bari, Guru ka Tal Gurudwara, Catholic Church at Sadar Bazar, Cathedral of St. Peter’s, Asia’s oldest convent : St. Patrick’s Junior College, Dara Shikoh’s library, Mirza Ghalib’s birthplace.
So if you are interested in exploring Agra beyond Taj Mahal and get off the beaten path in Agra, make sure to visit these Offbeat Agra places beyond Taj Mahal.