What hasn’t been said about the Taj! Stand­ing all alone at the banks of Ya­muna, its flaw­less­ness has in­voked jeal­ousy among, equally sig­nif­i­cant mem­bers of the ar­chi­tec­tural legacy. Not too far from the Taj stands the Agra Fort, still fight­ing for its right­ful place among the mem­oirs of the city, whose men­tion goes bac to Ma­hab­harata but is now con­tent to be known as the City of Taj. The orig­i­nal Red Fort, which is be­lieved to have been built be­fore the year 1000 AD, stands ma­jes­tic in red sand­stone and re­flects the col­lec­tive bril­liance of three Mughal em­per­ors — Ak­bar, Ja­hangir and Shah Ja­han.

Ren­o­vated by Ak­bar The Great in the mid 16th cen­tury, the fort was meant to be used for mil­i­tary pur­poses. It was a cen­tury later, dur­ing the rule of his grand­son that its for­bid­ding ex­te­ri­ors got to guard many op­u­lent struc­tures in­side; and hence the ex­ten­sive use of mar­ble and pi­etra dura in­lay. While Shah Ja­han’s sig­na­ture (the Taj Ma­hal) was an or­na­ment par ex­cel­lence, it was this red fort and its Di­wan-i-Khas where kings and dig­ni­taries sat un­der the dec­o­rated columns and arches and de­cided on the course of the his­tory.


About 40km away from Agra is an­other World Her­itage Site, Fateh­pur Sikri. Any Hindi movie lover would re­mem­ber a dis­tressed Ak­bar (Prithvi­raj Kapoor) in Mughal-E-Azam (1960), walk­ing bare­foot on sand to seek bless­ings fro the Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chishti for an heir. It was at that vil­lage that he built a whole new city, af­ter the birth of Prince Salim, who was later be­stowed the ti­tled of Em­peror Je­hangir.

Its Bu­land Dar­waza might put countless ones in the world to shame. With its sheer size and art­work and the five­storey palace for royal women, in­spire de­sires for lux­ury, but mis­for­tune fol­lowed it close on the heels. What Ak­bar had de­sired to make his new cap­i­tal, ended up be­ing noth­ing more than a ghost city. The leg­end says, the city was des­tined to be aban­doned, as it was noth­ing but the re­sult of an em­peror’s whim. Some blame it on the short­age of wa­ter and Ak­bar’s fond­ness for Agra.

Some­what equally for­got­ten and silent are the lands of Sikan­dara. Ak­bar, a be­liever in Tar­tary cus­toms, wherein one builds his tomb in his life­time, started the

ruc­tion over 100 t the start of the 17th cen­tu­ryand­was­com­plet­edby his son Ja­hangir in 1613. The splen­did gate­way with in­laid mar­ble work and white minarets could have in­spired the ones at the Taj.

Garima Verma


The Baby Taj or hailed as the first tomb in the coun­try made out of mar­ble, Iti­mad-udDaulah has an in­ter­est­ing story that started in Per­sia. A cer­tain Mirza Ghiyas-ud-din or Ghiyas Beg wanted to aban­don his new-born daugh­ter. But her cries changed his heart and he found his way to Ak­bar’s court in a car­a­van. Ja­hangir made him his chief min­is­ter and gave him the ti­tle of Iti­mad-udDaulah (the pil­lar of the state). His daugh­ter pos­sessed un­matched beauty; the em­peror fell in love with her and she came to be known as the em­press Noor Ja­han, who got the mau­soleum made for her fa­ther.

If the pristine white is con­sid­ered as a sym­bol of hus­band’s love for his wife, there is an­other one in Agra which is a case of vice versa. Wan­der­ing through the streets of Agra, if you find your­self near the Ro­man Catholic Ceme­try in Civil Lines, don’t for­get to take a look in­side. For, here stands Red Taj Ma­hal. Com­mis­sioned by Ann Hess­ing in early 1800, af­ter the death of her Dutch hus­band John Hess­ing, who was the com­man­der of Agra Fort, the tomb bears an un­canny re­sem­blance to the Taj Ma­hal.


What Taj has done to oth­ers, petha has done to Agra’s food. Apart from the Bedai-Aloo Ki Sabzi and Jalebi, the city boasts of many dishes that you might have never heard of or tasted be­fore. Made dur­ing win­ters, Makkhan Ka Samosa is a melt-in-your-mouth del­i­cacy made of but­ter as an outer cov­er­ing and filled with a sub­tly sweet mix of mawa, cot­tage cheese and nuts.

Even tinda (round gourd) and par­wal (pointed gourd) be­come de­lec­ta­ble here when turned into cer­tain sweets. And then there are non-veg del­i­ca­cies with Per­sian in­flu­ences. If in Ta­j­ganj or Nai ki Mandi, gorge on Mugh­lai food, es­pe­cially Pasandey. For an un­cor­rupte ver­sion of Aloo Tikki called Bhalla in Agra, you need to head to Seth Gali or Sadar Bazaar. De­void of pre­ten­tious top­pings rang­ing from chick­peas to over­pow­er­ing onion, th­ese po­tato balls be­ing shal­low fried in ghee will have you sali­vat­ing. The crispy Bhalla is only topped with sweet and green chut­neys and a few sliv­ers of gin­ger.

And, this is all but a mere sketch, for Agra holds more un­known in its lanes than the known ‘one’.


Bu­land Dar­waza at Fateh­pur Sikri; (in­set) Red Taj Ma­hal

(Top) Ak­bar’s Tomb; (above) Tomb of Iti­mad­ud­Daulah

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