Agra: Up Close with the Taj Mahal

Early the next morning I board a train to Agra, the former capital of the Mughal Empire but is more well known as the site of the Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most popular mausoleum.

I arrive in the city just after noon. An autorickshaw takes me to my hostel just south of the Taj Mahal grounds. I spend the better part of the afternoon doing online work and sipping chai at the hostel’s rooftop restaurant with the Taj Mahal peering over the city’s rooftops. Even from a distance, its symmetrical, elegant white-marble facade looks graceful.

The Taj Mahal, framed by the main doorway leading to the gardens, seems to materialize out of the morning mist.
Sunrise sees the Taj Mahal at its most romantic.
Early morning mist obscure the Taj Mahal.

Agra rose from the banks of the Yamuna River in ancient times, but it was in 1504 when Sultan Sikandar Lodi moved the capital here from Delhi. The city entered its golden age under the rule of the Mughals, one of whom was Shah Jahan. Known for his architectural projects , Shah Jahan built a number of monuments and forts both in Agra and Delhi, but it was the death of his wife Mumtaz Mahal that would prompt him to commission his most ambitious project.

The Taj Mahal has for centuries enthralled the imaginations of many. Those privileged to visit it rarely, if ever, leave with expectations unmatched. And I’m one of those, having woken up just before the crack of dawn to witness the mauseloeum rising out of the mist, the scene looking like something from a dream.

The structure’s pishtaqs and minaret tower above visitors.
The mosque at the west of the mausoleum is an important site for Agra Muslims.
The jawab at the east was constructed probably for symmetry.
The inner courtyards of the Taj Mahal complex has pleasant gardens for an early morning stroll.
Visitors can hire a boat for a short trip along the Yamuna River at sunset.

As much as the Taj Mahal is beautiful at sunrise, sunset has quite a romantic appeal as well. This I see for myself hours later. Walking along the banks of Yamuna River, I meet a fellow solo traveler and, after asking around, we find a boatman willing to row us along the river for a sunset view.

A short autorickshaw ride from the Taj Mahal is the imposing Agra Fort, the main resident of Mughal emperors before the capital was moved to Delhi in 1638.
The distinctive arches of Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience) is a common feature in Mughal architecture.

The next day, I visit the Agra Fort on my way to the train station. With the Taj Mahal dominating visitors’ imagination, it’s easy to forget the fort is just a few minutes’ ride west. Built between 1565 and 1573, the Agra Fort developed to be the seat of the Mughal Empire for several generations. Massive redstone gates encircle the compound, punctuated by bastions that reach as high as 20 meters. Several Mughal structures can be found inside, including the marble living quarters where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son and served his house arrest until his death.

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