While the Taj Mahal epitomises symmetrical beauty with its sheer white brilliance and is the most well known symbol of eternal love, to me the Agra Fort is more interesting in terms of both its history and the architecture of the different sections within.
Originally built in the 11th century by a Rajput King, it was well used and extended by the kings of Ghaznavi and the Lodi dynasties till it came to the hands of the Mughals. And so it stood from the time of Babur, through Emperor Akbar and then Shah Jahan as the capital of the Mughal dynasty till Shah Jahan decided to shift the capital to Delhi where he commissioned the Red Fort. The Agra Fort is therefore the first Red Fort and Shah Jahan spent to the end of his days imprisoned in his palace looking over the Yamuna at the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife.
The entire fort is about 100 acres only about 20% of the fort is available for tourists to visit and the rest is under the control of the Army.
The entry to the fort is from four massive gates but is now restricted through the Amar Singh Gate or Akbar Darwazah . The other Delhi gate on the western side of the fort is the most grandest and towards the Agra Railway Station.
Crossing over a deep moat surrounding the fort, the entrance leads to a long pathway that is made so as to bounce of the sound of horses hooves into the palaces announcing the arrival of someone at the door. Dry today, the moat would have been once filled with murky water hiding away dangerous and potentially hungry animals for whom any guests would be welcome to their dinner table, as their meal.
You walk into a large opening with gardens and a handy board that shows the layout within the fort. With a tour guide, you will be guided to your right with a short pause near a large cistern on display. This cistern was supposedly gifted by Shah Jahan to Mumtaz Mahal on her birthday and served as her bath cistern.
Though a large gate entrance that lets you into the Akbari Mahal and the Bengali Mahal Complex you are introduced a very Indian and Hindu architectural complex from the period of Akbar. While all information available says that the complex was called the Bengali Mahal, the guide told us that it was the Rajput-Rani Mahal.
Through the Rajput-Rani Mahal, you enter into the Jehangiri Mahal and then a sudden transformation leads you to the Shah Jahan Mahal or the Khas (Khas meaning Special) Mahal , an extension built by Shah Jahan as his own palace. The sudden transformation is of the red sandstone architecture to clean white pristine white of the marble structures introduced by Shah Jahan.
Shah Jahan was extremely fond of marble as is already known by his choice to use the same medium to build the Taj Mahal, and he introduced the marble similarly in most of the enhancements or additions that were made during this time. With inlays of gems into intricate caricatures into the marble, the personal chambers are beautiful but also display the melancholy that may have been felt by Shah Jahan, trapped in his chambers till his dying days looking over at the Taj Mahal, the resting place of his beloved.
You exit into the small grape garden, the Anguri bagh, a personal area of Jehangir who was fond of the fruit and its wine. Easy access takes you through the Diwaan-e-Khas and the Diwaan-e-Aam. The former is an area allocated for gatherings with ministers and special guests while the latter is for meeting up with the common class for grievances or appearances. The former would
also have served as the Emperor’s court.
Both the buildings are monumental themselves with pillars that display beautiful symmetry. Even though today the vast gardens around the Diwan-e-Aam feel empty, it is not difficult to imagine how the crowd would have gathered around waiting for their turn to be heard.
The Diwaan-e-Khas on the other hand is smaller but no less awe-inspiring. To know that the nine gems of Akbar would have sat in the halls and that voice of Tansen would echoed on the walls makes you want to return to that time. Being content to experience a glimpse and feel of it today is, while being a reward, very little consolation to the heart.
This usually ends your guided tour with the group being shuffled back outside and to their journey back to Delhi, but if you were not part of the tour I would suggest to spend more than a few hours in the earlier part of the day sinking in the feel of history, intertwined legends and stories, and of musical grandiose.
I do not weave a great story of this place and perhaps it is for your own experience to enhance the details of my instructional words to the romance worthy of the period. I will ask you to definitely pay a visit and understand that the story of even the Taj Mahal lies within the walls of the Agra Fort.
I leave you with a song from a very popular Indian film epic, Mughal-e-azam. The movie was based on a story of love between Prince Salim Jehangir and Anarkali, one that was opposed by his father Emporer Akbar. The background vocals are those of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb to represent Mia Tansen doing his daily nightly practise (Raag Sohini in this case). Though this is not really an historically true story not would one have expected Tansen to sing Khyal ghayaki, but this can lead your mind to how it would have played out in the palaces of the fort. The story of Anarkali and Salim, and Mughal romance, extends from Lahore to Delhi and you can read more about it here Story of Anarkali
To get to the Agra Fort is as easy as getting to the Taj Mahal is perhaps too easy. With an airport in Agra and easy distance from Delhi, one can take government tourist buses. These usually do a day trip showing the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. If you are in Agra, your hotel should be able to guide you easily with local travel methods including Auto Rikshaws or taxies.
Agra is about 210 kms from Delhi
Best time to Visit:
There is no particular season to visit the Agra Fort although the summer (May-June) may be quite hot for someone not accustomed and it may be difficult during the monsoons (June to September).
Winter may be the best time to visit, especially in the months of November to April. It mayh however be foggy in the months of December and January, so it is worthwhile to check the weather charts before you pay a visit.
Where to Stay:
There are plenty of hotels in Agra for different budgets. It is important to note that staying overnight in Agra enables you to visit the Taj Mahal in the late evening. This is organised by the Hotel for you. There are some limits to the number of people allowed on a single evening and your hotel may be able to guide you to the rules at that time.
- The Wikipedia Article on The Agra Fort
- The story of Salim and Anarkali through the movie Epic Mughal-E-Azam
- The Government webpage on The Government webpage on The Agra Fort