The Taj Mahal is the first image that springs to your mind when you hear the word Agra but there is more to this fabled city than this white mausoleum. Agra was the capital of the erstwhile Mughal Empire which ruled over much of North India and Deccan a few centuries ago. Agra ceased to become the capital of India after the collapse of the Mughal Empire. However, it continues to be one of the most important cities in the whole of India thanks to its rich history, numerous monuments, forts and crazy bazaars.
Even before the arrival of the Mughals Agra was an important city in North India. It was the gateway to the Braj region, the legendary land associated with Lord Krishna. There are several references to Agra in the great epic Mahabharatha.
Agra became a city in its own right during the reign of Raja Badal Singh in 1475 AD. Later Afghan ruler Sikandar Lodhi made it the capital of his empire. He was succeeded by Ibrahim Lodhi. However, in the first battle of Panipat fought in AD 1526, Ibrahim Lodhi lost to Persian ruler Babur who founded the Mughal rule in India. Babur loved Agra and played a crucial role in transforming the city. He was a visionary and a patron of arts. He brought in finest artists, craftsmen, statesmen and warriors from all over the country and the world to Agra. Babur’s reign was the golden age of Agra. During the next couple of centuries, Agra witnessed the reign of three legendary Mughal emperors – Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan. Each one of them lavished their love and riches on this city and transformed it into a fabled center of culture, arts, learning and trade. Agra’s resplendent history is still visible in the majesty of its buildings.
Agra is a great place to embark on your journey on the Heritage Arc. The older city of Agra may have changed over the years but its glory remains intact. Shopping malls, luxury hotels and plazas have come up in many parts of the city, but they haven’t changed the character of Agra.
Top tourist attractions in Agra
If you are a history buff or a connoisseur of arts and architecture, Agra is your cup of tea. The city has several monuments and each one is worth exploring. The most famous, of course, is The Taj Mahal. Agra has plenty of bazaars too. There is something absolutely fascinating about these congested, crazy bazzars of the Old City. Agra is only a short distance from Delhi and can be visited on a day trip.
Here are the must-see tourist attractions in Agra.
The Taj Mahal is unarguably India’s most famous monument. It is essentially a tomb and an ode to the love Emperor Shah Jahan had for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal is situated on the banks of River Yamuna. The white mausoleum was made out of marble in AD 1630. Over 20,000 workers took 22 years to build the monument.
Agra Fort is one of the finest forts in India. It was originally a brick fort held by Rajputs. Later the Mughals captured it. It was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Akbar. There are several buildings, mosques, towers, palaces, courtyards and halls inside the fort. In the evening, they organize a sound and light show that recreates the glorious history of the city and the fort.
If you want to experience the pulse of Agra, a visit to the Old City is a must. It lies behind Jama Masjid and has intertwining narrow lanes that house shops selling everything from spices and snacks to clothes and jewelry. Traditional arts and crafts like marble work are still very much alive here. The old city is known as Kinari Bazaar. It is easy to get lost in the tangle of narrow lanes, so take a guided tour.
Mughal Heritage Walk/Kachhpura Village
The Mughal Heritage Walk that passes through Kachhpura Village is a community based tourism initiative supported by the UP government. The objective of this initiative is to help villagers earn money from tourism. The one kilometer walk will take tourists through a number of lesser known monuments of the Mughal period. Another highlight of the walk is the opportunity to interact with villagers. Fee: Rs 1,250/adult and Rs. 750/child under 12 years old.
Mehtab Bagh or the Moonlight Garden is a beautiful garden complex spread over 25 acres. It is situated directly opposite the Taj Mahal and provides memorable views of the monument. Mehtab Bagh was built during the reign of Emperor Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire. The Taj was built much later. The garden is open until sunset and the entry fee for foreigners is 100 Rupees.
Agra Bear Rescue Center
Those of you who love animals will definitely appreciate a visit to the Agra Bear Rescue Center. The rescue center was an idea put forward by the Wildlife SOS and the UP government helped transform that into a reality by allotting 160 acres of land. The center has hundreds of sloth bears rescued from captivity. The facility is located inside Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary on the Delhi-Agra Road. It is about 16 kilometers before Agra and is open from sunrise to sunset. The entry fee is Rs. 50 for Indians and Rs. 500 for foreigners.
Korai is a village of tribal people who were keepers of the dancing sloth bears. When the government seized their bears and put them in the Agra Bear Rescue Center, these folks lost their livelihood. To help them make a living, the UP government has initiated a new rural tourism initiative in Korai Village. Korai is on the way to Fatehpur Sikri and just off the highway. A visit to Korai village will help you learn more about these tribal people, their customs and village life.
Fatehpur Sikri is an hour’s drive from Agra. While the city is deserted now, during the 16th century it served as the capital of the majestic Mughal Empire for about 16 years. Water shortage was the main reason that forced the residents of Fathehpur Sikhri to abandon the city. Fathehpur Sikri is one of the best preserved Mughal cities in India and worth visiting during your trip to Agra.