Our Rajasthan trip ended with a visit to Agra which is world famous for its Taj Mahal. Agra was not a part of our initial itinerary when we planned the Rajasthan trip. While reading up about the Taj, I found out that the last Saturday of our vacation would be a full moon day. The fact that we could try and watch the Taj by moonlight had a high appeal for us! We were supposed to be returning home the next day. We went with our friends by car from Gurgaon. This was my second trip here while it was the first for Nagesh. My first trip being nearly twenty years ago when I was in school. We had arranged for stay at Colonel Lamba’s homestay.
One of the things we had decided before this trip was that we will do offbeat destinations in this city steeped in history. Some of the hidden jewels in this city are really worth a visit. We sought the help of Wikitravel and the Rough Guide (Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra) in deciding which places to visit. [UPDATE: I have recently come across an interesting website thewanderers.travel and they seem to have some interesting details on many places. You can find Agra as part of the “Golden Triangle” tour on this website]
As all of you know the Taj Mahal is situated on the banks of the Yamuna river. Mehtab Bagh is a garden which is situated on the other bank of Yamuna directly opposite the Taj. Mehtab Bagh stands for Moonlight garden. One of the most astounding features of the Taj is its symmetry. A local fable has it that Shah Jahan’s grand plans included building a copy/replica of the Taj on the opposite side of Yamuna albeit in Black Marble. If so Shah Jehan never got around to completing his dream. Had he succeeded, can you imagine how much more magnificent this edifice would have been?! Anyway, within Mehtab Bagh, right opposite the Taj there are remnants of a foundation that suggest that there is probably some truth in this local fable.
Today one can view the Taj across the Yamuna in an unhindered manner in the absence of the omnipresent “tourists” from here. What better setting than the lush green lawns adorned with colourful flowering plants!
The tranquility and relative lack of tourists of this garden lends itself well to local lovebirds who want to script their own love stories in the footsteps of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal :)
As we were leaving we saw a couple of Cattle Egrets which seemed to be engrossed in viewing the Taj!
This is a tomb built by the queen Nur Jahan for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg. He was the chief Minister in Emperor Jahangir’s court. He earned the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah which translates to Pillar of the State. This tomb is popularly known by the locals as the ‘Baby Taj’. It has been built entirely with Marble and has beautiful intricate inlay work on the walls.
Sikandra is home to the tomb of Emperor Akbar the Great. Akbar himself chose this site for his burial in keeping with the tradition of building one’s tomb in his lifetime. Jahangir completed the construction of this place after Akbar’s death. Akbar’s wife Mariam is also buried here. Many of Akbar’s children including stillborn infants are buried here.
I don’t need to tell you that Akbar was possibly the greatest Mughal Emperor that India saw. An emperor as great as Akbar deserves an equally grand resting place. Sikandra is that and so much more. The size rivals small forts. The architecture is unparalleled. The main structure of the tomb and the surrounding walls are built using red sandstone with white marble inlay work.
Taj By Moonlight
The Taj Mahal is considered to be one of the wonders of the world. It is a symbol of undying and eternal love. A different and magnificent way of viewing Taj would be to visit it at night on a full moon day. Bathed in moonlight, the Taj takes an ethereal look and looks like a castle from a fairy tale.
You need to carry an ID proof with you while going to watch the Taj by moonlight. All belongings must be left behind and no eatables are allowed. Thankfully photography is allowed but without tripods and the likes. Difficult but possible. Viewing Taj by Moonlight is allowed for five days in a month (The full moon day along-with two days before and after the full moon except Fridays). Per night only 400 people are allowed in multiple batches with each batch being a max of 50 to view the Taj. Each batch of people get to spend 30 minutes here. The viewing happens from the sandstone platform just within the main enclosure of the Taj and the Taj is a good 500m away. Even from that distance, the magnificence and radiance of the Taj is something else totally. Just not describable in words!
As I mentioned before, we were in Agra on the full moon day. Our home-stay owner arranged the tickets for us through an agent. For those interested, tickets for viewing Taj by moonlight can be obtained only one day in advance from the Agra Tourism office. After security checks, we boarded an electric bus from the parking lot of the Taj and went to the North entrance. It was a struggle to get the cameras to focus and manage to capture the Taj given the darkness. However Nagesh managed to get a few shots just before it was time for us to leave.
Some of the places which we could not visit here but would like to do in future are the Agra Fort, Chini Ka Rauza, Swami Bagh Samadhi, Fatehpur Sikri and Jama Masjid. Maybe a normal visit during the day to the Taj as well! For the birding enthusiasts there is Keetham Lake on the outskirts of Agra in Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary to view a reasonable variety of water birds.
A trip to Agra is not considered complete if you do not taste the famous Agra Petha (a sweetmeat made of pumpkin and sugar). We were told that the best place to buy them is Panchi Sweets on the Delhi-Agra highway close to Sikandra.