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Location: Driving on the new 6-lane Yamuna Expressway the distance from New Delhi to Agra is 165 kilometers or 103 miles. On the old highway via Faridabad and Mathura the distance is 210 kilometers or 130 miles.
Languages: Hindi is the most spoken language but in the villages and among villagers living or working in city the Braj Bhasha dialect of Hindi is spoken. All educated people can speak quite good English.
History: Eastern bank of Yamuna river is believed to be the oldest settlement in Agra. In ancient Hindu scriptures the city is mentioned as Arya Grah or home of Aryans. In the Hindu epic Mahabharat it is mentioned as Agrabans or forests of Agra. The nearby town of Mathura was in ancient times the more important city but that changed when Sikandar Lodi moved his capital to the present day north-eastern part of Agra city and called it Sikandara, the name still used to designate this part of Agra. Later the 3rd. Mughal Emperor Akbar decided to establish his capital in Agra and build the Agra Fort on ruins of an older fort. His son, the 4th. Mughal Emperor Jahangir continued to rule from Agra Fort. The 5th. Mughal Emperor Shahjahan started out ruling from Agra Fort but built Shahjahanabad (present day old Delhi) with his Jama Mosque as the center of the new capital and a magnificent Red Fort of Delhi as his new seat of government. Shahjahanabad was a walled city. Portions of the ancient wall and some of its gates are still preserved. Agra was also a walled city and its north-eastern Delhi Gate can still be seen as one drives to Emperor Akbar's mausoleum from city center.
The mausoleum was built to immortalize the love of Emperor Shahjahan for his beloved and favorite Persian queen, Arjumand Bano Bagum who was honored with the title of Begum Mumtaj Mahal or the lady crown of the palace. In the 18 years of their married life she was his most trusted advisor and constant companion, even when the emperor was encamped on battle field. She delivered 14 children during this short period. Of these only 4 sons and 3 daughter survived till adult age. The youngest son, Aurangzeb, fought a war of succession against his brothers and father. After defeating them in a series of battles he had all his brothers killed and imprisoned his father, Emperor Shahjahan, in the Agra Fort. Mumtaj Mahal passed away in 1630 in Burhanpur, a small town on the western edge of Madhya Pradesh state bordering Maharashtra. In 1631 the spacious palace of Maharajas of Amber was taken over and the construction of the mausoleum of Begum Mumtaj Mahal started. The monument is popularly called the Taj Mahal. According to an inscription on the main gate of the mausoleum, its construction finished in 1648.
The white marble monument is decorated on its exterior and in the interior with beautiful floral and geometrical motifs using the art of Pietra Dure or the inlay of semi-precious stones on white marble surface. Visitors enter the mausoleum from its southern courtyard which is lined with rooms that were used as a Caravanserai for travelers. There are two gates on the east and west end of this courtyard that are the most used by visitors. The southern gate leads to a locality that was originally inhabited by construction laborers and skilled craftsmen like sculptors, inlay artists, dome makers and calligraphers etc. The massive northern gate of this courtyard is the main entrance to the gardens of the Taj Mahal. On the northern end of this garden is the magnificent white marble mausoleum of the Mughal queen flanked on its western side by a mosque and on its eastern side by a replica of the mosque that was used as the Mehmankhana or the guest house. Taj Mahal is a UNESCO World Heritage monument.
There was an ancient fort called Badargarh or the clouds palace, at the location of Agra Fort before 16th. century. Sultan Sikandar Lodi (1487 to 1517), the 2nd. last ruler of Lodi dynasty moved his capital from Delhi and lived in this fort although the city that he built was in the north-east of Agra, an area still called Sikandara. His son, the last Lodi Sultan Ibrahim Lodi (1517 to 1526), built some palaces in the fort but he ruled from the old fort of Delhi. After defeating and killing Sultan Ibrahim Lodi in the first battle of Panipat, the first Mughal Emperor decided to rule from Agra but he did not live in the fort. He laid out a series of Mughal gardens on the eastern bank of the river Yamuna, of which the largest with some river facing pavilions is Aram Bagh and still in very good state of preservation. Emperor Akbar was crowned while he was still a teenager. He was leading the Mughal Army in Punjab under the guidance of Bairam Khan, a trusted commander of Mughal army under Emperors Babur and Humanyun. The news of the sudden death of Emperor Humayun arrived when Prince Akbar was encamped at Kalanaur, a town in the Indian state of Punjab. On February 15, 1556 the 14 years old prince was crowned as the 3rd. Mughal Emperor at Kalanaur. Subsequently he returned to old fort of Delhi but decided to rule from Agra. Emperor Akbar moved to Agra in 1558 but the construction of the Agra Fort started in 1565. With about 4000 laborers and craftsmen toiling for 8 years the fort's construction was complete in 1573. The entire fort was built with masonry work and laminated with red sandstone from the stone quarry at Sikri village west of Agra. According the Emperor Akbar's official biography written by his trusted friend, Abul Fazl, there were about 5000 buildings in the fort. Some of these buildings were demolished to make way for white marble palaces of Emperor Shahjahan, facing the Yamuna river, on the eastern side of the fort. Most of the buildings in western side were converted in to soldiers barracks by the British East India Company. The western part of the fort is still occupied by Indian military. Emperor Akbar's style was greatly influenced by the architecture of the states of Gujarat and Bengal. The best of example of his architecture is the palace popularly called Jahangiri Mahal. In 1983 the Agra Fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.
Mirza Ghiyas al Din Muhammad Beg was the father of Merh-un-Nisa, who later got the title of Begum Nur Jahan (the light of the universe). She was the 20th. and favorite queen of Emperor Jahangir and paternal aunt of Arjumand Bano, Begum Mumtaj Mahal for whom the Taj Mahal mausoleum was built. In later years of Emperor Jahangir's life, Nur Jahan, declared herself Empress of Mughal India and even had coins minted in her name. Mirza Ghiyas Beg passed away in 1622 followed shortly afterwards by his wife, Asmat Begum.
Nur Jahan personally designed a unique mausoleum for them on the eastern banks of River Yamuna in Agra. She envisioned the mausoleum on the model of a jewelry box. She was the first to use white marble for the entire main building of the tomb. Like all other contemporary Mughal buildings this mausoleum is also made of thin, baked bricks and mortar. The brick surfaces were then laminated with white marble in the interior and the exterior of the mausoleum. It was set in the middle of a Charbagh (a garden divided in 4 equal parts). In the east was the main entrance and on the west there was an entrance from the River Yamuna. In the north and south there were mock gateways for maintaining the symmetry. The mausoleum is very feminine and Persian in its style and decoration reflecting the origin of its architect, the Empress Nur Jahan.
Emperor Akbar started the construction of his mausoleum in his own lifetime in 1604. The emperor's friend, Abul Fazl, describes in Akbarnama, the official and historical chronicle of Emperor Akbar's rule variously as Behistan and Behistabad or the abode in paradise. The construction continued for a very long time even after Emperor Akbar's demise. Emperor Jahangir was displeased with the slow construction and personally intervened to expedite it. Between 1612 and 1614, with the addition of its main gate that is more impressive than the simple mausoleum, the construction finally completed. The motifs and decoration on the main gate suggest a Persian influence and Empress Nur Jahan may have had a hand in its architecture.
This is another beautiful Mosque constructed during the reign of Emperor Shahjahan. This mosque in Agra was built under the patronage of the younger daughter of Emperor Shahjahan, Roshanara Begum. Its most remarkable feature is the zigzag pattern done with inlay of white marble in red sandstone on its three main domes. This mosque is also unique in that it does not have any minarets. The congested locality behind the mosque is still called Roshan Mohalla after the name of the Mughal princess.
Babur died on Monday, December 26, 1530, merely four years after conquering the Sultanate of Delhi with its vast territories in northern India. In this short period he laid beautiful gardens in the typical Charbagh (a garden divided in 4 parts) style along the east bank of Yamuna River in Agra. Only one of these gardens has survived in its entirety. It was originally called Aram Bagh and is now commonly called Ram Bagh. As one crosses the River Yamuna over the new road bridge, one cannot fail to notice the surrounding wall of this garden on the banks of the river and just beside the main road on its right hand side that is in its geographical north. There are partial remains of his second garden, Zuhra Bagh, named after the daughter of Emperor Babur near Rambagh. Babur was buried near Aram Bagh in a little known mausoleum that is commonly called the "Chauburji" because it is a square monument with four minarets in the corners quite similar in style to the mausoleum of Itmad-ud-Daulah nearby. It is a building made with the typical narrow Mughal bricks and mortar. It has no laminating over the bare bricks like one sees in all other Mughal monuments, perhaps because the Mughal Emperor's remains were there only temporarily. In 1540 Emperor Babur's widow accompanied his mortal remains from his temporary burial site to the 'Bagh-e-Babur' in Kabul in Afghanistan fulfilling his last wish to be buried in his favorite garden. Recently thanks to a grant by the Aga Khan Trust this favorite garden of Babur in Kabul has been restored to its original glory.
A couple of miles further west of the Mausoleum of Emperor Akbar at Sikandara is the tomb of his Hindu queen, Jodha Bai. The tomb is located in the center of a Char Bagh – a garden divided into 4 parts. It has a simple grave in a central chamber that is surrounded by rooms and pillars all around. Emperor Akbar honored his Hindu queen with the title of Maryam Makani or the Mary of the House.
Chini ka Rauza
This mausoleum is located about 1 kilometer or a little over half a mile north of Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb on the east bank of Yamuna River. Mir Afzal Khan was the original name of Mulla Shukrullah Shirazi who was a senior minister of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehah and also a famous poet. He initially entered the service of Emperor Jahangir in 1618. Emperor Shahjahan also gave him the title of Wazir-e-Ala when he was promoted to rank of Prime Minister. He composed poetry under the pseudonym of 'Allami'. He took fancy to building his own mausoleum around 1635 CE with elaborate ornamentation. He chose glazed tiles as his medium to create the masterpiece that would enshrine his tomb forever. He died in Lahore in 1639 CE and his mortal remains were brought to Agra to be buried in the tomb that he built for himself. Every portion of this unique monument was profusely adorned with bright glazed tiles in blue, green and yellow colors. The glazed tiles lend the monument its name and are the most prominent feature of this building. Chini ka Rauza is a classic example of the Persian influence on Mughal architecture of that period. Unfortunately very little of the glazed tile decoration in its exterior and interior has survived. Originally high walls enclosed this entire building complex and there were gateways in North and South. All the peripheral buildings including double storied minarets are no more there. Only the main tomb has survived and it was in very dilapidated condition until it was recently restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. The building's exterior is square in shape with each side being 79 feet or 24.1 meters in length. The central chamber is octagonal in shape with eight arches surrounding it. On its exterior each side has a large arch with inscriptions in blue colored tiles on its sides. There is a border surrounding the inscriptions done with stylized design in blue, yellow and green tiles. The spandrels of the arches are decorated with arabesque and floresque patterns, laid in blue and orange tiles. The shafts on sides of the arches contains zig-zag design in crimson, orange and white colour. Chevrons of the pinnacles are decorated with bands of blue tiles. The remaining spaces on each facade are divided into panels each having floral designs in variegated colors like blue, green, orange, vermillion etc.
The Kiosk of Jagat Gosain
In a busy locality a little off the road from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri lies a forgotten Kiosk over the grave of Jagat Gosain or the Princess Manmati of the Rathore royal family of Jodhpur. She was the senior queen of the fourth Mughal Emperor Jahangir and mother of his son, Emperor Shahjahan. The original mausoleum was destroyed during the British East India Company period and it was later rebuilt on a much small scale.
The Old Catholic Cemetery of Agra
This cemetery is situated on the eastern extension of the Mahatma Gandhi Road, near the Civil Court of Agra. It is one of the ancient Christian cemeteries in Agra. The site of the cemetery is a part of the estate granted by Emperor Akbar to the Roman Catholic Mission. The cemetery contains tombs of different nationalities. Some are buried under simple tomb stones, while a few have quite impressive tomb buildings.
The most prominent tomb of a European at Agra is that of colonel John William Hessing. He was a native of Utrecht in Holland and was born in 1739 CE. He served under the Nizam of Hyderabad and Marathas and died at Agra on 21 July 1803 CE. The cemetery of John Hessing was built by his sons and daughters. Its design was essentially borrowed from the Taj mahal, but comparatively much smaller project on a much reduced scale. Instead of white marble it is finished in red sand stone. It has no inlay or mosaic decoration and the ornamentation is exclusively in carving on the exterior, in stylized floral designs. The tomb is square on plain. Each facade has an Iwan in the centre, flanked by ornamental double alcoves, one over the other. Slender turrets are attached to the central Iwan – frame. The corners of the tomb are not chamfered. Instead, vertically fluted turrets surmounted by square chhatris are attached to them. The tomb is roofed by a double – dome, crowned by a magnificent finial. Popularly known as Red Taj Mahal because of its imitation of Taj in miniature scale, it is a perfectly balanced and beautiful building and exemplifies the continuity of the architectural skills of Mughal artisans in the 19th century.
The tomb of General Perron, pyramidal in shape, lies to the north of Hessing’s Tomb. The other important tombs are of Walter Reinhard (popular as Samru and specially remarkable as the husband of the famous Begum Samru of Sardhana); the great traveler Thieffan Thaler; John Midenhall (self-styled English ambassador to the Mughal Court) who died in 1614 CE; Francis Corsi who died in 1635 CE, Geronimo Veroneo (wrongly referred as the architect of Taj) who died in 1640 CE; Father Joseph de Castro who died in 1646 CE; the famous artist Austion De Bodeaus and Francis Ellis who died in 1868 CE.
Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary:
About 10 kilometers or 6 miles west of Emperor Akbar's mausoleum on the road to Mathura and New Delhi is a road diverting from the highway to this little known but amazing bird sanctuary. Migratory birds from central Asia, China, Mongolia and as far away as Siberia and Scandinavia can be observed between October and March. Inside the bird sanctuary is Bear Rescue Center. This natural preserve was created by wildlife activist organization to give sanctuary to bears that were used as dancing bears earlier. In all there are 256 bears in this center. They are medically treated and then gradually adjusted to live in natural wilderness. Nearby there is Elephant center also where ill and wounded elephants are treated before they are introduced to their new wild habitat.
Contact Email: brij@IndiaTravelerUsa.com
5-star deluxe hotel:
Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel is about 600 yards from the east gate of the Taj Mahal – 109 rooms.
Trident Hilton is close to the Taj Mahal – 138 rooms
Radisson Blu Hotel - 140 rooms, close to eastern gate of the Taj Mahal
ITC Mughal Sheraton has views of the Taj Mahal from one of its restaurants – 285 rooms
Taj Gateway Hotel has many rooms with view of the Taj Mahal – 100 rooms
Clarks Shiraz Hotel is less than a mile from the Taj Mahal, rooms with views of the Taj Mahal – 237 rooms
Double Tree by Hilton, Agra - 104 rooms
Grand Windham Hotel - 160 rooms, close to eastern gate of the Taj Mahal
Marriott Hotel on Fatehabad Road, Agra - 189 rooms
Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Agra - 165 rooms
Jaypee Palace Hotel – 350 rooms
Taj Resorts Hotel - 28 rooms
Taj Vilas Hotel 59 rooms
The Retreat Hotel - 54 rooms
Atulya Taj Hotel - 31 rooms
Royale Residency Hotel - 47 rooms
Grand Imperial Hotel - 30 rooms
Howard Park Plaza Hotel – 85 rooms
Man Singh Palace Hotel – 100 rooms
Yamuna View Hotel – 58 rooms
Hotel Marina (in north Agra) – 145 rooms
Hotel Alleviate, Yamuna Kinara Road - 45 rooms
Hotel Taj Galaxy, Agra - 51 rooms (free wi-fi)
Hotel Atithi - 44 rooms
Crystal Inn - 32 rooms
Utkarsh Vilas - 52 rooms & 10 suites
Distance from Agra in kilometers and miles:
Fatehpur Sikri: 40 kilometers or 25 miles
Bharatpur: 60 kilometers or 37 miles
Ranthambhore: 227 kilometers or 141 miles
Mathura: 60 kilometers or 37 miles
Gwalior: 118 kilometers or 73 miles
Jhansi: 221 kilometers or 127 miles
Khajuraho: 295 kilometers or 183 miles
Lucknow: 363 kilometers or 227 miles
Delhi: 210 kilometers or 130 miles via Mathura
Delhi: 165 kilometers or 103 miles via Yamuna Expressway
Jaipur: 232 kilometers or 144 miles