Home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of the seven wonders of the world – Agra, is a city so rich in history and architecture that it has become a must-visit tourist destination in India. With the magnificent Agra Fort, various tombs and mausoleums and sprawling gardens, this city provides a glorious insight into the Mughal culture that thrived in India. Add to this, the bustling marketplaces and the lip-smacking local cuisine and you will find this city to be an irresistible experience.Here is the list of best places to visit in Agra.
The main reason that makes Agra a globally renowned city is perhaps the Taj Mahal. Considered as a symbol of love and described as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity” by Poet Rabindranath Tagore, it attracts hordes of tourists all throughout year. Located on the south bank of River Yamuna, it was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his third wife – Mumtaz Mahal. Every inch of this ivory-white marble monument is so painstakingly detailed that it took almost 22 years and the relentless efforts of 20,000 workers to complete it. This architectural marvel was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1983. It is open to public on all days except Friday.
When Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal, little did he know that he would spend his later life gazing at it from a window of the Agra Fort where he would be imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar and further redeveloped by Shah Jahan. Originally, it was built entirely in red sandstone and hence is also known as “Lal Qila” / Red Fort. Located at a distance of about 2.5 kilometers from the Taj Mahal and spread over 94-acres, this fort houses many more exquisite masterpieces such as the Khas Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Moti Mahal, Mina Masjid, Nagina Masjid, the Diwan-i-Aam and Diwan-i-Khaas. The sole point of entrance is the Amar Singh Gate.
Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) is, perhaps, one of the best places to view the Taj Mahal. Located on the banks of River Yamuna, it was built by Babur even before the Taj Mahal was built. However, this garden is directly opposite to and in perfect alignment with the gardens of the Taj Mahal. Till the ‘90s these gardens were destroyed due to floods, however, the Archaeological Survey of India restored them later to their original state. Today it is a hugely popular place to view the Taj Mahal under the moonlight from the fountain in front of its gate.
The Mehtab Bagh was the last garden in a series of eleven Mughal gardens built by Babur on the east bank of Yamuna. The first among them was the Ram Bagh or as it was initially called – Aaram Bagh. As the name suggests, this garden was meant to be a garden of rest (Aaram) and relaxation for the royal family. It was built in 1528 and is located just about 5 kilometers away to the north-east of the Taj Mahal. Taking an inspiration from the Islamic idea of paradise, Babur built this garden in a predominantly Persian style with lush greenery, numerous fountains and cool breeze from the Yamuna river.
It is said that while Shah Jahan’s favorite stone was the white marble, for Akbar it was the red sandstone. And hence, you will find the walled city of Fatehpur Sikri and the various monuments and places within predominantly in red sandstone. This World Heritage Site was built by Akbar as a capital of the Mughal Empire and is nothing short of an architectural delight. The imposing walls that remain on the three sides and the magnificent Buland Darwaza that serves as a majestic gateway to this city are the evidence of its grandeur. The other buildings inside this city are Jama Masjid, Birbal’s House, Ibadat Khana, Paanch Mahal and the Naubat Khana.
Located on the east bank of Yamuna, this mausoleum is also often referred to as the Baby Taj due to the similarities in the architecture. This tomb was commissioned by Jehangir’s wife – Nur Jahan, commemorating her father Mirzya Ghiyas Beg. Mirzya Ghiya Beg was Jehangir’s wazir (chief minister) and was given the title of “Itimad-Ud-Daulah” which translates to “Pillar of the State”. Though this mausoleum is small in size as compared to the other Mughal monuments in Agra, the main highlight of this place is it’s intricate detailing and the various semi-precious stones studded in its walls of white marble.
Chini Ka Rauza
While at the Tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah, another tomb worth visiting is the tomb of Allama Afzal Khan Mullah, popularly known as Chini ka Rauza. Built in 1635 and located just 1 kilometer away from Itimad-Ud-Daulah, this tomb derives its name because of its glazed tile work which is otherwise known as “Chini”. Afzal Khan was a Persian poet and also a minister during the reign Shah Jahan. Initially, the glazed tiles were in different colors such as turquoise, green, yellow and orange, however, over the period of time the enamel has worn away.
One of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid is another masterpiece built by Shah Jahan in 1648. It is built with both red sandstone and white marble and the main highlights of its architecture are its onion shaped dome, central fountain and tapering minarets. Its artistic grandeur is evident from the fact that it took 6 years to complete this mosque and since then is flocked by thousands of worshippers making it one of the holiest places of worship in India. Even today, it is popular as the “Friday Mosque” since special prayers are conducted here every Friday.
Situated in Sikandra, the outskirts of the Agra, this tomb is also known as Sikandra Fort. As per the tradition, Akbar himself started the construction of his own tomb in 1605. However, after Akbar’s death, it was completed by his son Jehangir in 1613. This tomb deviates from the usual architectural style, as it is a blend of Mughal and Rajput designs. Also, instead of facing the Mecca, the head of the tomb lies towards the rising sun. the majestic entrance combined with the beautiful gardens are a sheer treat to the eyes making this place a must-visit when in Agra.
Of all the buildings inside the Agra Fort, the Khas Mahal stands out the most since it was at this very place that Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son for eight years until his death in 1666. The Khas Mahal, also known as “Aramgah-i-Muqaddar” was originally built by Shah Jahan for his two favorite daughters – Roshnara and Jahanara in 1631. Decorated with exotic gold work, fresco paintings, exquisite mural paintings and various intricate designs, this palace is a sight to behold. The various chambers within the palace, the Octagonal Tower, the open courtyards with its fountains provide a sneak peek into the Mughal culture.
It is said that this largest residential palace inside the Agra Fort was built by Akbar exclusively for his son Jehangir. The architectural style of this palace was a unique and rare blend of Hindu and Central Asian styles. In addition to the palatial comforts of the prince Jehangir, this palace also served as the residence for the wives of Akbar and Jehangir. The main highlight of this palace is the Anguri Bagh – a typical Mughal garden which served as a place of relaxation for the royal family and where primarily, grapes (Angur) grew. Also, do not miss the Hauz-i-Jehangiri which is a huge bowl caved out of a single stone.
After soaking in all the architectural delights that Agra has to offer, you can explore the Kinari Bazaar, which a bustling market behind the Jama Masjid. The overcrowded lanes might overwhelm you initially, but as you proceed, you will realize that the lanes are bursting at its seams with colorful merchandise and local wares. Starting from fabrics, spices, shoes, jewelry to exquisite marble work, you will find a plethora of options in this market. Also, do not forget to pamper your taste buds with the local snacks at the roadside eateries available here. Kinari Bazar is closed on Tuesdays.
Located near the Agra Fort, you will find one of the oldest temples of Shiva – Mankameshwar Mandir attracting devotees and tourists alike. As the legend goes, Lord Shiva rested at the location of this temple after descending from Mount Kailash while on his way to visit Lord Krishna (who had just been born). After an overnight stay near the Yamuna, Lord Shiva decided to leave behind his form in the form of Linga (an idol) if he could successfully see Lord Krishna. Due to this legend, the temple also gets its fame as a wish-fulfilling temple. The temple complex has several small temples within which are dedicated to other Hindu Gods.
Guru Ka Tal
Agra is famous not only for its Mughal architecture, but also other locations of religious significance – one of them being the Guru Ka Tal. The Tal (reservoir) was present since the Mughal era, however, four out of ten Sikh gurus have visited this Tal in their lifetime. In addition to it, the ninth Sikh Guru – Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji surrendered himself to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Hence, a gurudwara (Sikh Temple) was built here in 1970s and has been attracting the Sikh community ever since. This historic structure of red sandstone is reminiscent of Mughal Era’s past.
After the sightseeing and shopping, it is time to give back to the nature and the best way to do so is via the Wildlife SOS. Wildlife SOS was established in 1995 and continually works towards the welfare of animals in India. A tour through the Wildlife SOS will take two hours but it will leave you more enlightened and knowledgeable on the current situation of the wild life. Make sure to visit their Bear Rescue Facility that protects the largest sloth bear population in the world. You can also volunteer for their various programs.