It was my fifth visit to India since 2003, my fourth visit to this country in 2010 and my second visit to Agra Fort and Taj Mahal. As a result, my friends in India have often joked about making me an honourable citizen of India!
I was in Delhi for a month-long business trip and a former colleague of mine in Delhi offered to take me to Agra over the weekend to see the Agra Fort and the renowned Taj Mahal. I didn’t mind visiting to these places again because the last time I was there was in 2003. We drove from Delhi to Agra city in the state of Uttar Pradesh – a four-hour drive – which is considered all right by Indian road standards.
There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Agra – Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri – this makes Agra a major tourist destination. Apart from that, the city is typically included in any India tour called the Golden Triangle, along with Delhi and Jaipur.
I only have one word to describe forts in India. Monumental. And that’s the feeling when one sees Agra Fort.
This red walled city was in ruins when the Mughal emperor, Akhbar seized it in the sixteenth century. During the reign of Akhbar and its heyday, the main part of the fort was built with red sandstone and was completed within eight years. When Shah Jahan, Akhbar’s grandson became the ruler, he destroyed some of the earlier buildings inside the fort to make his own buildings from white marble, inlaid with semi-precious stones.
We know the famed love story of Shah Jahan who built the beautiful Taj Mahal for his third wife, Mumtaz but the sad part was that at the end of his life, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in Agra Fort, in a tower with a view of the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River.
A Wow Moment
The main highlight of the weekend was none other than Taj Mahal – a testament of undying love. I can still remember the first time I saw the Taj Mahal in 2003 – it was mid-morning, the sun was shining brightly, many busloads of tourists pouring in, annoying security checks – but I will never forget when I had to squint my eyes as soon as I came out of the Great gate because of the pure white marble of the mausoleum against the bright blue sky. You will invariably exclaim “Wow!” the moment you stand right in the centre and you can see the full view of its white-domed marble and four minarets structure, the walkways, reflecting pool and the gardens. It’s truly a Wow moment. Taj Mahal will take your breath away, I promise you!
On this second visit, I decided to see Taj Mahal at a different time of the day – sunrise – because I wanted to see the early morning rays shining on the mausoleum and the atmosphere would be more pleasant with fewer tourists.
This time I was able to appreciate the architectural style, a combination of Persian and Mughal architecture, and the symmetrical structure of its minarets. Did you know that the minarets were constructed slightly outside of the tomb base so that in the event of a collapse, the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb? The other thing I observed during this visit was the decorative elements of this splendid architecture – the marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, elaborate carvings and the calligraphy of passages from the Quran.
The layout and the architectural features of the garden were inspired by Persian gardens but the landscape is similar to that of English lawns when the British took over the management of Taj Mahal during the time of the British Empire.
In contrast to the white marble but in line with earlier Mughal buildings, there are two red sandstone buildings parallel to the western and eastern walls of the mausoleum, and they are precise mirror images of each other. The western building is a mosque and the other is the jawab (answer) whereby it was built for architectural balance only.
No matter how you want to appreciate the Taj Mahal – brushing against hordes of tourists during the day or absorbing in the moment at sunrise – you got to have your picture taken at the centre with the Taj Mahal right behind you.
And a perfect seat in the centre is readily available for that perfect Kodak moment!
After feeling regal on that seat, my friend and I departed Taj Mahal and left our Mughal weekend behind to drive back to the reality of traffic jam and city life of Delhi.