The final stop on the Golden Triangle tour was Agra, most famous for the gorgeous Taj Mahal. En route we stopped off at the palace of Fatehpur Sikri. Or should I say 3 palaces? The king who constructed it wasn’t entirely clear on his religious beliefs, so to cover his bases married a Muslim, a Hindu, and a Christian, each with their own religion-appropriate finishings.
We arrived into Agra mid afternoon and spent the afternoon being teased by the Taj. It began with a visit to the ‘Baby Taj’ (the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah), which was finished just 3 years before the Taj Mahal’s conception, and is regarded as the Taj draft. Though they were commissioned by different people, the Baby Taj is the mausoleum of the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of the emperor Shah Jahan for whom the Taj Mahal was built, after she died in labour with her 14th child. The Baby Taj is on a much smaller scale, but contains some seminal features that the Taj Mahal incorporated – pietra dusa (hand carved inlaid semi precious stones) covers the white marble facade, with sandstone around the building.
After the Baby Taj we headed to Mehtab Bagh – a lovely manicured garden that lies across the river from the Taj Mahal and gives a spectacular view. Once Shah Jahan had finished the construction, he wanted to build an equivalent mausoleum for himself directly opposite, though had insufficient funds, and had his leadership usurped by his son before he could gain much ground. Now an archaeological site, it also doubles as an unofficial playground to some cheeky local village children. Not a bad location to spend your childhood, hey.
We were up before dawn the following day to beat the crowds to the Taj, one of the seven wonders of the world. It is really quite a spectacle, and a triumph for architecture – the precision of all elements is unparalleled, and is a beautiful homage to Mumtaz Mahal, and the thousands of labourers and artisans who made it. A word of caution to those thinking of visiting: get there as early as possible, because with sunrise comes throngs of tourists doing weird poses and taking photos on their iPads.
We also visited the Red Fort, home to Shah Jahan. Once Shah Jahan’s power was stripped by his son he was confined to a small part of the palace for years until his death. The only solace was his view of the Taj Mahal, which he had spent 12 years constructing. Mumtaz Mahal’s dying wish was to have the most extravagant mausoleum ever built. Shah Jahan did a good job, I guess…
I’ll leave you to deliberate that: