Upon arriving in Agra we went straight to the Agra Fort. Security was tight due to recent protests and terror attacks in Agra in 2011. However once in we walked up the long gangway into the fort complex. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was used by the Mughal rulers until 1638. However, it was in use continually from 1565 to 1857. (Source).
Like many old structure that were used over time, there were many additions by the various rulers. Aside from a stunning view of the valley below, throughout the fort has some amazing inlay work in the white marble buildings. In many of them, precious gems such as rubies and topaz still exist and sparkle in the light.
We played some hide and seek in one of the courtyards. There were several massive courtyards and pavilions to enjoy.
We finished by looking at the Akbari Palace area which were in ruins. At one time there were more buildings, but much was destroyed by the British. The sign in front of the area stated that Akbar kept a harem of more than 5000 women here, each housed in their own room, but I cannot fathom how 5000 people could have fit in this small area. Now the only inhabitants were Rhesus Macaques. They were colder than we were!
A word about the monkeys in Agra. There have been a spate of monkey attacks (Read Here) from robbery to killing an infant. They appear cute, but they can be malicious and devious to get what they want. While novel to us, to many Indians they were pests. They go through garbage cans, sneak up behind people and take food or water bottles, and will even try to snatch bags if they have the opportunity. We had to be on our guard!
The Taj Mahal was built for the king’s favorite queen. As wide as it is tall, is stands an amazing symbol of Indian Architecture. Built largely with translucent marble, the Taj Mahal changes color throughout the day. It was built from stones from all over the ancient world. With cat’s eye coming from Egypt and malachite that came from Russia, the Taj Mahal was truly a wonder to behold. It is no wonder that is is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
According to inscriptions, the Taj Mahal was build by the Mughal emperor Shah Jihan in commemoration of his favorite wife Empress Mumtaz Mahal Shah Jihan. She died at the birth of their 14th child.
Like other construction of the period, inlay work was featured prominently. The craftsmanship and the architecture were truly something to behold. (Some nice pictures and information about the inlay process here)
We stayed close by the Taj Mahal in a local guesthouse. The rooms were great and they offered henna to Kylie and Alyssa. I walked down the street in the early morning and there were no tourist shops, no eateries, just houses with monkeys running from roof top to roof top. One house had a door open and seemed like a general store, selling chips and gum, but that was it. There was a small neighborhood mosque around the block. Everyone was friendly and welcoming!
The heating system of the guesthouse was fire. They used charcoal in a bucket which smoked up the eating area even more. I worried about getting carbon monoxide poisoning, but solaced myself with the fact that Agra with its Air Quality Index at 130 was way better than New Delhi’s AQI of 525!