Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Agra: Land of the Taj

Taj in all its glory from Mehtab Bagh
It all started with a desire to experience the lately opened Yamuna Expressway to Agra. As we were planning to go to Agra, I suggested going on 1st September. It was one day after Full Moon and we could see Taj Mahal in moonlight as Taj remains open to be visited during two nights before and after Full Moon. Including Full Moon night, it makes 5 nights in a month. There are few exclusions: It remains closed on Fridays and during the month of Ramadan. However, the toughest part was getting the tickets booked for night viewing of Taj Mahal as one can buy tickets only one day before the day of visit and an identity proof is also required for booking tickets. Thus, unless you know someone in Agra who can buy tickets on your behalf, its impossible to book tickets.

A neatly landscaped Yamuna Expressway
We left for Agra around 12 noon hitting Yamuna Expressway by 1:15 pm. Yamuna expressway isn't yet much crowded and the 6 lane expressway is flanked by green farmlands on either side. The road is cemented and is probably the smoothest of all roads that you will find in India. The speed limit here is 100 kmph and is monitored using CCTV cameras. No police vehicle stops you while you are moving, however, you are liable to be handed a challan at the toll gates. There are restaurants and public conveniences at the Toll Plaza only. In total, there are 3 toll gates. If you are travelling to Agra, just pay a total of Rs. 320 in one go at the first toll gate and show the receipt at other two gates. Cruising smoothly at 100 kmph, we reached Agra around 3:30 pm.

Entance to Itmad-ud-Daulah' tomb
Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb
I have been to Agra a number of times and have visited most monuments already. Only well known place left was Itmad-Ud-Daulah' Tomb and we went there straightaway. It is considered to be the inspiration for Taj Mahal and is also referred to as "Mini Taj" by some. This tomb was commissioned by Nur Jahan, wife of Jehangir, for her father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who had been given the title of Itmad-ud-Daulah (Pillar of the State). He was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal of Taj Mahal fame.

The tomb sitting symmetrically in the center
Itmad-ud-Daulah' tomb from other side of the river
Located on the left bank of Yamuna river, the mausoleum is a commanding presence at the center of a large cruciform garden with hexagonal towers at each corner. The walls are made of white marble with semi precious stone engraved into them forming various images such as trees, wine bottle, cut fruits etc.


No, this is not a painting. These are semi precious stones engraved into white marble
Next, we went to Mehtab Bagh, which is located exactly opposite to Taj Mahal on the other side of Yamuna river. Their is also the foundation of a Black Taj Mahal here which was commissioned by Aurangzeb but was never really built. We came here in order to capture Taj Mahal with its majestic frame producing a beautiful reflection in the river. Also, it makes sense to visit this side when you wish to avoid the crowds at Taj and wish to absorb this brilliant piece of art in peace. With the mild evening sun illuminating the dome with its last rays, we managed to capture some good frames.

Small but nice rooftop pool of our hotel

Finally, we went to Hotel Taj Resorts, our stay for the night. Located next to Eastern Gate of Taj Mahal, we were pleasantly surprised to see the hotel. A 3 storey building with a rooftop pool and restaurant, this hotel was more than what we expected for the amount of money we were paying. We were unlucky as the weather was a bit hazy, but you can also see Taj Mahal from the terrace if the sky is clear. A short time in the rooms and we dived into the pool to relax our tired bodies.

Taj Mahal in the absence of any lights at 9:30 pm

Taj during morning haze

At 9 in the night, we reached Shilpagram from where the visitors are taken in electric vans to the eastern gate. At 9:30, we were escorted by armed guards towards the red sandstone platform of Taj Mahal. We can see Taj Mahal only from this platform as it illuminates in the silvery moonlight. Though marred by the hazy weather, the experience was still good. Back at hotel, we slept early as we planned to capture some pictures of Taj Mahal as sun rises over the eastern mosque.

A commanding presence it is

Fatehpuri Gate from the raised platform of Taj Mahal

We woke up at 5 am and immediately prepared ourselves for a photography tour of Taj. However, weather was still hazy and we entered Taj hoping that the haze will clear soon. Sadly, it never cleared and we had a normal visit to the majestic symbol of love. Even at 6 am, the place wasn't devoid of crowds and there were atleast 300-400 people already there before us. One very sad picture that I got there was of the many corridors inside the main dome of Taj Mahal. There were huge stains of Tobacco spits there. Back at hotel, we had breakfast slept again to wake up after two hours when we checked out of the hotel and went to visit Red Fort.
Inside the majestic Mahal

Moti Masjid

Red Fort of Agra was built by three generations of Mughal Rulers over 100 years. It was commissioned by Akbar, whose work was followed by Jehangir and later the construction was finished by his son Shah Jahan. While Akbar and Jehangir favored red sandstone for building, Shah Jahan used white marble for construction. Apart from the normal living palace of the kings, Mutthaman Burj or Jasmine Tower is a beautiful feature for its construction in white marble decorated with semi precious stones. Also, Shah Jahan was put under house arrest over the last 8 years of his life by his son, Aurangzeb here only. The view of Taj Mahal from here is not to be missed. Also, we were lucky to see the brilliant Sheesh Mahal from inside. This palace is decorated by thousands of pieces of glass and is also the shooting location of "Jab pyaar kiya to darna kya" song of Mughal-e-Azam, a timeless Bollywood movie. Finally, we left the commanding fort after two hours having visited only the 25% are of the fort. Rest 75% is under Indian Army's possession and is not open to general public.

Diwan-e-Aam
Tips:

  1. For night viewing of Taj, visit when the skies are clear and try taking a slot as late into the night as        possible.
  2. Do visit Mehtab Bagh during sunset to see Taj from a totally different angle.
Diwan-e-Khas at Red Fort with Taj Mahal in the background


7 comments:

shivani said...

Beautiful Pictures man... Mujhko bhi jana hai aagraaaaaaa

sachin said...

Jab marzi chale jao...its so close and there are so many convenient travel options!!

Nutan Sharma said...

Nice clicks along with great info regarding history of these monuments make everyone to visit Agra once again.

sachin said...

Thanks Nutan. I myself have visited Agra many times before this. Just never thought of digging into history!! It surely adds a lot to the experience though!!

Kamal said...

Nice article !!

sachin said...

Thanks Kamal

Moin Pathan said...

http://traveldestinatn.blogspot.in/2011/07/agra-itmad-ud-daulah-tomb-india.html

Good information