A Day Well Spent in Agra

Taj Mahal 14

Whenever planning one’s first trip to India, there are normally a few usual suspects that top this list as far as potential places to visit: Delhi as a port of entry, Varanasi for the spiritual bath in the Ganges, Rajasthan for the forts and temples, Mumbai for the modern city vibe, Goa for laid back beaches, and Kerala for the backwaters.  But almost unequivocally, one stop that is included on every itinerary is that of the city of Agra — located about a 2-3 hour train ride to the Southeast of New Delhi — and with good reason, too.  Although the city itself can be an interesting exercise in cultural immersion, the main draw for tourists — both Indian and foreigners, alike — is that of the iconic Taj Mahal, one of the most recognizable buildings on the planet.

The Taj Mahal:

Completed in 1653, this majestic mausoleum was built by the Mughal emperor Shaj Jahan as a monument of love for his third wife.  Before she passed away after giving birth to their 14th child (yes, they were busy folks), his last words to his beloved were that he would build a monument in her honor that no other building in the world could rival.  The task took over 20 years and employed nearly 20,000 craftsmen and laborers to complete, but the result, the Taj Mahal, was exactly as Shaj Jahan had predicted, a building so perfect that it is widely accepted as one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture to be found anywhere in the world.

The attraction of the structure is inherent in its design, but there are also several key factors that help to contribute to its beauty.  As can be seen with a quick glance, the entire monument is perfectly symmetrical upon all four sides, which regularly causes confusion amongst travelers when the return home and try to remember which photo is of which side  (the only non-symmetrical feature is that sarcophagus for Shah Jahan’s wife herself, set slightly off to the side from his own).  Further, the building itself is constructed of a semi-translucent, white marble, which, in the face of sunlight, makes it appear as if the building has an internal light sources that glows from within.  And, depending upon what time of day you visit, the color itself seems to change: taking on a pinkish hue during the sunrise, a heavenly white at midday, and a slightly yellowish/gold tint at sunset.  The entire building itself is also built atop another marble plinth, raising it several more meters off the ground, the result of which is the only background you’ll see when gazing upon the structure is that of the sky.  Four minarets mark off each corner of the building, all built to lean slightly outwards, so that in the event that they should ever fall, they will fall outwards and not damage the main building itself.  And finally, the majority of the Taj Mahal’s walls are decorated with a combination of floral motifs carved out of the marble face and semi-precious stones inlaid into the marble in intricate designs.

Taken altogether, viewing the Taj Mahal in person is a breath-taking experience, one which rarely leaves travelers disappointed (even despite the massive global hype we’ve all heard prior to arriving).  And whereas many folks say you need to stay several nights in city itself to truly experience the Taj Mahal and Agra’s other marvels, it is certainly a manageable day trip from Delhi (plus, that way, you avoid having to deal with the obscene number of touts and rickshaw drivers for more than a few hours!).  Enough of my spiel — on to the photos:

Upon arriving and after going through security checks (what do you mean you can't bring bags inside?), you'll next be greeted by this massive sandstone gateway leading you forward

Upon arriving and after going through security checks (what do you mean you can’t bring bags or electronics inside?), you’ll next be greeted by this massive sandstone gateway leading you forward

Then the goosebumps come when you finally catch a glimspe of the Taj Mahal itself through the gateway's arch

Then the goosebumps come when you finally catch a glimpse of the Taj Mahal itself through the gateway’s arch

Taj Mahal 63

A closer inspection of the inlay work decoration the exterior of most of the structure

A closer inspection of the inlay work decorating the exterior of much of the structure

Taj Mahal 39 - From Corner

Taj Mahal 58 - Sitting in Archway

Symmetrically placed to the East and West of the Taj Mahal are two more identical buildings, a red sandstone mosque and this jawab

Symmetrically placed to the East and West of the Taj Mahal are two more identical buildings, a red sandstone mosque and this jawab

Taj Mahal 55 - Detail of Corner

Looking back over the fountains towards the main gate

Looking back over the fountains towards the main gate

The North side of the Taj Mahal is bordered by the Yamuna River, that same river that flows through New Delhi and later meets up with the Ganges

The North side of the Taj Mahal is bordered by the Yamuna River, that same river that flows through New Delhi and later meets up with the Ganges

Further decorating the facades are a seriers of verses from teh Qua'an written in a delicate calligraphy and inlaid in Jasper.  As another fun fact, the text column actually gets wider as it nears the top of the building, tricking the eye into making it look uniform all the way up.

Further decorating the facades are a series of verses from the Qur’an written in a delicate calligraphy and inlaid in Jasper. As another fun fact, the text column actually gets wider as it nears the top of the building, tricking the eye into making it look uniform all the way up.

Taj Mahal 21

One of the 40-meter high minarets, whose only purpose is for the aesthetic value

One of the 40-meter high minarets, whose only purpose is for the aesthetic value

A closer look at the semi-translucent marble used in the construction

A closer look at the semi-translucent marble used in the construction

Taj Mahal 69

Agra Fort:

Along with the Taj Mahal, there are four other major sights to see in Agra: the Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar’s Tomb, Itimad-ud-Daulah, and the Agra Fort.  Given that I did choose to make my stop in Agra a day-trip from Delhi, time was a limiting factor for me, and I was regrettably only able to experience one other sight, for which I opted to visit the Agra Fort.  Built in 1565 by then Mughal emperor Akbar, later modifications were made by Shah Jahan (again), using white marble (again) as his primary building material.  The 20-meter high and 2.5 kilometer long walls belie the building’s original military purpose, the Fort was also used as a palace, and even later, as a prison.  And although the Fort is, to some degree, overshadowed by the nearby Taj Mahal, it certainly isn’t without its own charms and marvels:

The entrance to the Agra Fort

The entrance to the Agra Fort

Agra Fort 11 - Gate

Agra Fort 13 - Perspective

Agra Fort 15 - Diwan-i-Am

Agra Fort 42 - Arch Shadows

Detail of the engravings along many of the archways

Detail of the engravings along many of the archways

Agra Fort 33 - Walls through Archway

Agra Fort 26

Looking out over the Yamuna River towards the Taj Mahal in the distance

Looking out over the Yamuna River towards the Taj Mahal in the distance

Agra Fort 23 - View of Taj Mahal

Having passed through the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, here are a few more random photos from the day for your enjoyment.  After Agra, I’m heading West into the State of Rajasthan to take in the Forts and Temples in the cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur.  Until then, Cheers from Agra!

On the drive to Agra, watching the traffic can be half the fun

On the drive to Agra, watching the flow of traffic,and the types of vehicles you encounter, can be half the fun

It is an on-going project for me, but I am improving my portrait-taking ability

It is an on-going project for me, but I am working to improve upon my portrait-taking ability

It isn't permitted to enter the Taj Mahal wearing your normal footware, so you have the option of either removing your shoves outright or opting for the very stylish footies

It isn’t permitted to enter the Taj Mahal wearing your normal footwear, so you have the option of either removing your shoves outright or opting for these very stylish footies

Agra is another one of those "Head-on-a-Swivel" places, where traffic seems to come at you from every angle

Agra is another one of those “Head-on-a-Swivel” places, where traffic seems to come at you from every direction at once

A few new friends made while touring around Agra

A few new friends made while touring around Agra

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About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

24 Responses to “A Day Well Spent in Agra”

  1. stunning photos! loved the article

  2. Good to see a portrait and my comment was not in vain. The key is direct your subject, flat or side light and usually against a plain background.

    • It was your comment that spured me to take more portraits. And I’ve taken more than I’ve posted (not all turned out as I’d like), but I am definitely working on it. Thanks again for the encouragement!

  3. I think you chose the correct two to visit. Fatephur Sikri is ok but not on a par with the Taj and the Fort. And proof that you can see the Taj from the fort..the smog hid it on my visit. Enjoy Rajasthan. If I am in time try and go to the Jantar Mantar (the observatory) in Jaipur. You can marvel at the mathematics,calculations involved as well as the the objects themselves: they are stunning pieces of architecture in their own right!

  4. Beautiful images! Thank you!

  5. Go to Varanasi and then Kumbh Mella whilst it is still on. One of the great experiences and only every 12 years there

    • My itinerary isn’t fully developed yet, but Varanasi is way up on my list — and getting the chance to visit during a once-in-a-12-event would make it ever more special. Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. Wow Andrew! You captured some beautiful photos of Taj Mahal! In fact I have never seen some corners and details of the famous mausoleum as your pictures show. As for Agra Fort, judging from your photos this place should be in everyone’s list as well. It looks stunning!

    • I was surprised at how enjoyable the Agra Fort was, too, considering I had only ever heard it referred to in passing when doing research. But then again, the Taj Mahal is pretty special, so it isn’t hard to see why it lavishes most of the attention. Thanks again, Bama!

  7. Andrew – Very informative article and great pictures! All the best in Rajasthan!

  8. Beautiful story in photographs.

  9. These are some gorgeous photos! I particularly like those of Agra Fort. It’s a stunning building that often gets overlooked in favour of the Taj Mahal (itself beautiful, don’t get me wrong).

  10. Not quite like Dixon’s Taj MaGarag in Dayton.

  11. Hope you visited Choki Dhaani in Jaipur,Rajasthan 🙂

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