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Agra is globally renown as the city of the Taj Mahal . But this royal Mughal city has, in addition to the legendary Taj, many monuments that epitomise the high point of Mughal architecture. In the Mughal period, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Agra was the capital of India. It was here that the founder of the dynasty, Babar, laid out the first formal Persian garden on the banks of the river Yamuna. Here, Akbar, his grandson raised the towering ramparts of the great Red Fort. Within its walls, Jehangir built rose-red palaces, courts and gardens, and Shahajahan embellished it with marble mosques, palaces and pavilions of gem-inlaid white marble.

The crowning glory of the city is obviously the Taj, a monument of love and imagination, that represents India to the world.

Places to visit

Agra Fort : Among the other monuments that Agra takes pride in is the Agra Fort , built by three of the greatest Mughal emperors. The construction of this massive structure began in 1565, under Akbar , and continued till the time of his grandson, Shahjahan . Armed with massive double walls, punctuated by four gateways, the fort houses palaces, courts, mosques, baths, gardens and gracious pavilions within its premises. Among the fascinating structures that are to be found within the fort is the red sandstone Jehangiri Mahal built by Akbar for his Hindu queen, Jodhabai , was one of the earliest constructions illustrating the fort's change from a military structure to a palace. The palace is also notable for its smooth blending of Hindu and central Asian architectural styles. The Diwan - i - Am , the Diwan - i - Khas , the Khas Mahal , The Palace of Mirrors , The Pearl mosque , the Nagina Masjid , the Garden of Grapes, and the Fish Pavilion are the other monuments in the fort complex

Itmad-ud-daulah Tomb : The Itmad-ud-daulah tomb stands in the centre of a grand Persian garden, an architectural gem of its times. It is the tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg , Emperor Jahangir's wazir, or Chief Minister, and also his father - in- law. The structure was built by Empress Noorjehan, between 1622 and 1628 and is very similar to the tomb she constructed for her husband, near Lahore in Pakistan. This splendid garden tomb is believed to be the precursor of the magnificent Taj Mahal , and was the first Mughal structure to be built entirely of marble, and the first, again, to make use of pietra dura, the inlay marble work that came to be typical of the Taj. Near the Agra Fort , is Jami Masjid , built by Shahjahan in 1648. An inscription over its main entrance indicates that it was built in the name of Jahanara, the emperor's daughter, who was imprisoned with the hapless emperor by Aurangzeb .

Sikandara : 10 km north of Agra lies Akbar's tomb, in Sikandra . Named after the Afghan ruler Sikander Lodi , Sikandra is the final resting place of Emperor Akbar . Akbar began the construction of his own garden mausoleum during his lifetime, a red sandstone structure in a chahar - bagh, or 4 - square formal garden. An impressive marble - inlaid gateway leads to the spacious four - tiered monument which is crowned by a white marble cenotaph and screen. This last was added by Jahangir , who completed the tomb after the demise of his father. 40 km west of Agra, is the perfectly preserved 'phantom city' of Fatehpur Sikri . Between 1570 and 1586, during Akbar's reign, the city served as the capital of the Mughal empire, and was then abruptly abandoned. Today, albeit deserted, the city's palaces, courts and other monuments stand in mute testimony to the greatness, and amazing vision of the greatest emperor of all times, who was also a fine human being.

Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti : The dargah or tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti , the renowned saint, set in the courtyard of the Royal Mosque , still draws hordes of pilgrims who come to have their wishes fulfilled.

Bharatpur : 55 kilometers from Agra is Bharatpur , which has an early 18th century Rajput Fort , but is better known, today, for one of the finest bird sanctuaries in the world. Called Keoladeo Ghana, the sanctuary is a 40 sq. km area of swampy light - wooded terrain, which was once the private hunting and shooting preserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur . Today, it is the protected breeding ground of hundreds of species of birds and home to migratory birds, especially the Siberian Crane, that spend their winters here.

Diwan-i-Aam : Within the center of the fort is the Hall of Public Audience, built by Shah Jahan. It replaced an earlier wooden structure. It is a pavillion supported by 40 carved pillars where the emperor once sat in state, consulting with officials and receiving petitioners. Other than the Diwan-i-Aam. There is the small Nagina Masjid or Gem Mosque. Nearby is the Ladies Bazaar, where female merchants came to sell to the ladies of the Mughal court.

Diwan-i-Khas : It was fort's true citadel of power, also built by Shah Jahan, between 1636 and 1637. The Hall of Private Audience glittered with solid gold, silver and precious stones, and was the site where the emperor received important diginitaries or foreign ambassadors. The famous Peacock throne was kept here before being moved to Delhi by Aurangzeb. Nearby are the Khas Mahal, Shah Jahan private pavillions. Lookout for the Sheesh Mahal the royal bathing quarters, where the light of a single lamp is reflected in thousands of tiny mirrors embedded in the walls and ceiling.

Musamman Burj or Jasmine Tower : This exquisite octagonal tower, standing close to the Diwan-i-Khas, is the place where Shah Jahan died as captive of his son Aurangzeb, passing his last days gazing at the Taj (the tomb of his beloved wife). The Mina Masjid was Shah Jahan's private mosque during his imprisonment.

Jahangir's Palace : Built by Akbar, for his son Jahangir, it was the largest private residence in the fort. Its a blend of Hindu and Central Asian architectural styles.

Among other important attractions are Anguri Bagh, Hauz-i-Jehangiri and Delhi Gate. The first, the Grape Garden was in all probability just a small, formal Mughal Garden. It stand in front of the Khas Mahal. Hauz-i-Jehangiri, located in front of Jehangir's palace, is a huge bowl beautifully carved out of a single block of stone. It is fabled to have been used for preparing bhang.

Jama Masjid : Built by Shah Jahan in 1648, it was built in the name of Jahanara, Shah Jahan's favourite daughter. She was also imprisoned with Shah Jahan by Aurangzeb. This mosque is without any minarets. It's sandstone domes have superb marble patterning.

Chini Ka Ranza : Located about a km north of Itimad-ud-Daulah, the mausoleum of Afral Khan, a poet and official in the court of Shah Jahan. The China Tomb is notable for its giant enamelled dome.

Babur's Ram Bagh : About 2 km north along the Yamuna's side lies this Bagh, laid out in 1528. Probably, it is the oldest of India's Mughal Garden. According to some traditions, this was the place where Babur was temporarily buries before being permanently interred at Kabul in Afghanistan as per his wishes.

Other Places to Visit : Mathura and Brindavan. Mathura, on the banks of the river Yamuna, is the birthplace of Krishna, and Brindavan, the land of thousands of shrines and temples, which still echoes with stories and songs that recount the exploits of this charming God.

How to Get to Agra

Air : Agra is on the popular regular tourist route Delhi/Agra/Khajuraho/Varanasi and return. Flights connect Agra to Delhi, Khajuraho and Varanasi.

Rail : Agra lies on the Delhi to Mumbai broad - gauge railway line. Express trains from Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, and Chennai halt at Agra.

Road : Agra is connected to Delhi, Rajasthan and other cities of Uttar Pradesh by an excellent bus service.

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