Sunday, July 1, 2012.  Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Agra is famous for the Taj Mahal, but there are several other interesting sites in or near Agra.

  1. The tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, sometimes called the baby Taj, which I wrote about yesterday. 
  2. Agra Fort, our first stop today.
  3. Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar’s first capital from the late 16th Century, located about 38KM from Agra.  This was our afternoon stop, after a nap to miss the worst heat of the day.
  4. The tomb of Akbar the Great at Sikandra, about 8KM outside of Agra on the Delhi road, which we will see tomorrow.

Agra Fort was build by Emperor Akbar between 1565 and 1573 and added onto by others such as Shah Jahan and even the British in the 19th Century.

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The fort is mostly made of red sandstone, but also has some areas of white marble featuring rich carvings and beautiful inlay, similar to the Taj Mahal, also built by Shah Jahan.

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The story goes that Shah Jahan was sick and a battle for succession erupted amongst his four sons.  Eventually Aurangzeb would emerge as the winner.

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However, his father had recovered, but rather than return the throne to him, he imprisoned him in he Musamman Burj tower at Agra Fort for the last seven years of his life.  This gave him a view of the Taj Mahal, where he would eventually be buried.

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If you look carefully at the following image, you can see the tower and other parts of the palace that were Shah Jahan’s prison in the foreground, and the Taj Mahal in the background.

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I suppose if you have to be imprisoned, this is about as nice a prison as one could imagine.  At the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan had designed four crypts, one in each of the corners of the main building for each of his sons, but in the end none of them were buried there.

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Elsewhere there were the reception courtyards, throne rooms, a women’s quarter, gardens, and apartments as we’ve seen at other palaces.

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Once the worst of the heat (approx. 110 degrees) had abated, we drove to Fatehpur Sikri, which takes about an hour to reach due to narrow streets and a crazy intersection where huge trucks and cars try to pass each other, but instead just create a snarl.  Honestly, I can’t figure the logic of moving to the wrong side of the road once your lane isn’t moving.  As soon as everyone does this you’re faced with cars facing each other and no one moving.  Anyway, we eventually made it through this crazy crossroads.

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Fatehpur Sikri was built by Akbar between 1571 and 1585, so right after Agra fort.  It was built in honor of the Sufi saint Chisti (1143-1235), of whom Akbar was his most famous devotee.

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It was the capital of the Mughal empire for 14 years.  Stylistically it blended elements of Hindu and Islamic styles, although without the level of refinement seen from Shah Jahan’s later architecture.

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The site effectively consists of two areas.  One is the palace area, which requires a ticket.  The ruins owe their present state of preservation due to the efforts of the viceroy, Lord Curzon, a noted conservationist.

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The other area contains a mosque and the tomb of Salim Chisti, as well as others.  This area is free, but is populated by a large number of very insistent souvenir merchants, who follow you around and pester you hard to buy their knick knacks.

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One guy saw me express the barest interest in some locks, similar to ones that Aaron had liked the look of in Udaipur.  While telling him no I had no interest, he proceeded to tell us they were only RP500 each, but would cost RP800 to 1000 in Agra.

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Ignoring him as we walked on, his price kept coming down.  First to RP400, then 300, then 500 for two, then 200, and finally 100 before he gave up and left us alone.   Still it just goes to show that the initial asking price was clearly at least 5x what could have been negotiated.

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