Thursday, January 20, 2005

India Trip 4

Continuing with my ongoing India Trip series. By the time we reached Agra, our stomachs had started to growl and they took us to a five star hotel (I can't recall the name). After a great lunch (I love North Indian food), we were on our way to the Taj.

Even though we were eager to go to the Taj without any more detours the tour guide informed us that we HAD to visit one more tourist spot. The Taj Mahal often overshadows it but it should be on the "must visit" list and we were thankful for his advice.

The Agra fort is about two kms from the Taj Mahal and stretches almost 2.5 km lies along the Yamuna river bank. It was built by Emperor Akbar in Red Sandstone on top of an earlier fort and became the seat of power of the Mughals. Other additions were later added by his desendents, mostly by his grandson Shah Jahan. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1983.

As we pass the Lahore Gate (also called the Amar Singh Gate) and enter the Great Courtyard we noticed the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) buit by Shah Jahan. This was the place where the Emperors once sat on the Peacock throne before it was looted by Nadir Shah and taken to Iran (then Persia). According to the guide, the entire throne was covered in gold and encrusted with precious stones including emeralds, rubies and other stones. Inside the fortress are several palaces such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jahan and two mosques- Nagina Masjid and Mina Masjid.

The guide told us that the marble surfaces of several of the rooms had been once encrusted with semiprecious stones. Now most of them are gone (looted by various invaders including the British) and all we can see are the marks where they once existed. The ones that still remain are those higher up, where I guess the looters couldn’t reach. One thing you will notice is that these encrustations seem like they have been painted on the walls. That shows how talented these craftsman were.

This fort is also the place where Emperor Shah Jahan (then Prince Khurram) first met his future wife – Mumtaj ( then called Arjumand Banu) at the Meena Bazaar (the private market for women of the royal harem).

Aurangzeb, his son imprisoned Shah Jahan at the Agra fort. He was allowed to view the Taj Mahal, situated across the river from his private chamber every evening. He died watching the Taj. Sad ending.

More later...

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