Numerous autos screeched to a halt, when they saw us walking. We were staying at Agra’s Fatehabad Road and within a few hours had understood the fine art of shameless bargaining with the shrewd autorickshaw-wallahs of Agra. They had asked for 150 Rupees once for taking us to one of the gates of the Taj, I was astounded when I could bring that price down to 40!
While the Taj Mahal is understandably Agra’s and India’s most visited monument, there are other worthy places to be visited in this bustling city. After all Agra was the capital of the Mughal empire in the 16th & 17th Century. Emperor Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan etc built many sites in Agra, with Persion and Central Asian artists working in tandem with Indian artists to build mausoleums, tombs, parks, forts and other monuments.
Check : Street Food in Varanasi
To be honest, Agra is one of the filthiest places that I’ve ever visited. Yet, by dint of being the capital of the vast Mughal Empire, it has a variety of points of interest that can cater to all kinds of travellers. I was surprised to know that the Agra Fort railway station where I reached by train from Jaipur was also an old building constructed in 1891. After compiling this blog post, i have a faint idea that this can also be said to be a ‘Exploring Agra in 2 days’ kind of post.
Places to Visit in Agra except the Taj Mahal
Itimad-ud-Daulah (Etmad ud Daulah)
This stunning double-storey marvel in white is fondly known as the ‘Baby Taj’ and is perhaps one memory of Agra that you will carry with you. Itimad-ud-Daulah is made of marble and the construction was completed in 1628. Its dazzling splendour is best experienced during the hot afternoons, the marble keeps the insides cool. It is a square structure topped with four minaret like towers and has exquisite marble inlay work and latticed screens. Jahangir’s wife, Noor Jahan got this mausoleum built for her father Mirza Ghiyas Baig (who was also Jehangir’s chief minister.) Itimad-ud-Daulah has also been described as a ‘jewel box in marble.’
Chini Ka Rauza
This rapidly decaying monument was once covered with glazed blue tiles from Lahore and Multan. It is a large square structure with Persian designs and was built by Afzal Khan in 1639. Afzal Khan was a senior minister in Shah Jahan’s reign and hailed from Shiraz in Iran. After visiting Itimad-ud-Daulah, it was hardly a 10 minute walk to reach Chini-ka-Rauza; it is nestled in a small lane and one has to rely on locals for directions. It was in a derelict condition in 2015; a group of scary looking men were playing cards and inside a few couples were seemingly having a picnic. I remember looking at the bluish tiles and thinking about Samarkand and the brilliant Persian architecture of those times.
Roman Catholic Cemetery
Located close to the Agra Bypass road, the Roman Catholic Cemetery is the oldest European graveyard in North India. It was established in the 17th Century by an Armenian merchant. It has a varied collection of inscribed gravestones; from Armenian to tombs of European explorers and prominent personalities. The most famous grave of them all is Colonel John Hessing’s tomb. It is built in red sandstone and is an exact replica of the Taj Mahal.
This is undoubtedly one of the best places to gaze at the Taj Mahal from afar, even though history suggests that Mehtab Bagh was built even before the idea of Taj Mahal was conceived. It is located on the other side of Yamuna River. Sunsets viewed from the greenery of Mehtab Bagh can be legendary with glorious reflections of the orange sun and Taj Mahal. The three monuments; Itimad-ud-Daulah, Chini-ka-Rauza and Mehtab Bagh are located close to each other and it makes sense to see all of them in one go.
Akbar’s Mausoleum at Sikandara
Located around 20 kms away from other sights at Agra, Akbar’s mausoleum is a must visit. Although one might find it very chaotic to get there in an auto, it is a great idea to hire either a ola/uber taxi. One can also ask the locals at the bus stand for an idea about which buses are crossing Sikandara, so as to get down directly in front of the monument. Akbar’s Mausoleum has one of the most splendid gateway’s you will ever see. Its construction was completed in 1612, but such is the grandeur and vivid beauty that one might think that it was built recently! Inside the gateway, the main tomb is enclosed in charbagh gardens and is built in perfect symmetry. It is said that Akbar himself planned the construction and design of the mausoleum, before his death.
One of the biggest forts of North India, Agra Fort was built by Akbar between 1565 & 1573. It is a colossal fort that was primarily built to serve as a military structure but Shah Jahan added some marble enclosures and turned it into a sort of palace. Agra Fort has also been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
It is popularly believed that when Aurangzeb came to power, he imprisoned Shah Jahan in Agra Fort (Musamman Burj). From here he could only gaze at Taj Mahal through a window and spent the rest of his days here until he died. Among the most important and must see parts of the huge Agra Fort are : Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-e-Khas, Sheesh Mahal, Musamman Burj, Khas Mahal. A thorough exploration of the fort will easily take 2-3 hours.
Jami Masjid (Jama Masjid)
Located directly opposite to the Agra Fort, the Jami Masjid was built in 1648 by Shah Jahan’s daughter Jahanara Begum. It is a huge mosque constructed in red sandstone and has lovely domes when viewed from afar. A part of the mosque was destroyed by the British in 1857.
Two Top Eateries in Agra :
A rooftop café located just outside the crowded area near Taj Mahal. I highly recommend this place for a lovely evening; they have water sprinklers for hot days and the chai is excellent.
Pinch of Spice
Even though everyone in Agra (and elsewhere) keeps talking about it, this place is worth the hype. We were quite disappointed with the food in Agra on the first day and when the auto guys took us to Pinch of Spice the next day, it felt like arriving in the most touristy place. There were busloads of foreigner package tourists waiting outside and even filling the huge eating space of this restaurant. We were proved wrong when the food that came was incredibly tasty and well presented.
Tip : Their paan drink at the end of the meal is a winner. Do not hesitate to ask for additional helpings!
Bazaars of Agra & Shopping
To experience Agra at its chaotic best, one can have a walk through Kinari Bazaar. It is one of the most popular markets in the city and is located close to Jama Masjid. Ambling through the lanes with locals is a worthwhile stroll for a taste of local life in Agra.
Agra ka Petha
Prepared from a form of pumpkin, agra ka petha almost entirely defines the whole city of Agra for foodies. As a tourist, it does get confusing when every second shop seemingly appears to be named ‘Panchi Petha.’ According to my research with locals, the original Panchi petha shop is close to the West Gate of the Taj Mahal. Agra’s ‘dal moth’ is a speciality too and Gopaldas Pethewale is a good place to buy it.
Apart from these there were a few monuments which I missed; a detailed conversation with a local from Agra enlightened me about the same. Some of them are : St. John’s College designed by Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob, Rambagh gardens, St. George’s Church, Havelock Memorial Church, Agra Club, tomb of Mariam Zamani in Sikandara.
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