Itimad ud Daulah

Top Attractions In Agra

Taj Mahal 

Taj Mahal

 

Grand tombs were rarely built for women, and the equation of tomb-beauty would’ve stayed overwhelmingly in favour of the men, had it not been for this one structure, this one monument that blew all competition out of the park – the Taj Mahal built to immortalize Shah Jahan’s love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Before the Taj, the Mughals mostly built using red stone with marble being used mainly for decoration purposes or to break the monotony. By choosing to build the Taj Mahal entirely from marble, Shah Jahan intended to blur the distinction between royalty and divinity and elevated Mumtaz to the level of a saint. The white marble is transluscent, and loves to play with light – so depending on the sunlight and weather conditions when you visit, you may see a different Taj!

The river provides a serene backdrop to the Taj Mahal, and the cool breeze emanating from the river has a soothing effect. But the location next to the river gave rise to the greatest technical challenge to the Taj. The sand banks and the issue of river flooding. The Mughals came up with an ingenious way to secure the foundation. They made hollow cylinders of wood (large enough for a person to fit in) and thrust them into the soft sand. These wells were then filled with stones and iron, giving them strength.

The entire tomb is situated on a two-level platform, known as a chabutra. The first level, around 1.5m high is made of sandstone, while the second one, around 6m high, is clad with marble. The two platforms bestow a look of majestic grandeur to the main tomb – almost as if the architect is positioning the tomb and its occupant at a plane higher than earth and closer to heaven.

Taj Mahal – Key Information

Expected time spent:
Allow for a minimum of 1.5 hours if you intend to cover only the highlights
Opening days:
Open daily expect Friday
Opening hours:
Sunrise to sunset (typically 7 AM to 6 pm)
Entry fee/ Ticket price:
Indians (INR 40)/ Foreigners (INR 1000) and free for children under 15 years
Cameras: 
Still camera allowed for free, Video camera Rs 25. Shooting with a tripod is not allowed
Address:
Taj Road, Agra
How to get there:
Most common options are a 3-4 hour road trip from Delhi to Agra (204 km) by bus/ taxi or the Taj Express/ Shatabdi trains from Delhi. From the main parking area of the Taj, it’s a 7-10 min walk to the main Western Gate. You can also reach the Taj via the Eastern Gate or the Southern Gate

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

Agra Fort was built in 1565 – around 7 years before Fatehpur Sikri – at a time when Akbar was still expanding his foothold in the empire. Potential threats were still very high and the royal capital needed protection with massive fortifications, moats and defensive features. The Fort has many structures that are worth seeing –

  • Anguri Bagh – Angur means grapes, and those were grown here at some point of time and Bagh means garden. The garden itself has a design that resembles a carpet. Each of the quadrants have unique bed-dividers forming cartouches, which when planted with flowers look like a carpet.
  • Shish Mahal or Mirror Palace – This chamber had a lot of water devices inside to keep the royal family cool during Agra’s scorching summers. Keeping the heat out and ensuring privacy meant no windows, so the place would’ve been dark all day. How to provide adequate light? Solution: Mirrors!
  • Muthamman Burj – This octagonal tower that projects out of the fort is called either Muthamman Burj or Shahi Burj (Royal Tower). In this building, the Emperor would meet the highest dignitaries and his sons in secret council and also work with his main historian on editing the history of the reign.
  • Khas Mahal – The Khas Mahal was one of the early buildings in the Agra Fort with Shah Jahan’s imprint on it. The clear differentiation was marble – Red sandstone was discarded in favour of this smoother, more reflective and translucent stone.

Other points of interest if you have time are the Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-i-Khas and the Masjids or Mosques.

Agra Fort – Key Information

 

Expected time spent:
Allow for 1.5-2 hours
Opening days:
All days of the week
Opening hours:
Sunrise to sunset (typically 7 AM to 6 pm)
Entry fee/ Ticket price:
Indians (INR 40)/ Foreigners (INR 550) and free for children under 15 years
Cameras:
Still camera allowed for free, Video camera Rs 25. Shooting with a tripod is not allowed

Address:
Rakabganj, Taj Road 
How to get there
It’s a 20-25 minute walk from the Taj Mahal complex, quite close to the Agra Cantt railway station.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

A magnificent complex on a hill, Fatehpur Sikri was for a brief period of 14 years in the 16th century, the nerve-centre of the mighty Mughal empire, then the world’s 2nd largest economy.

And then, for reasons that are still not clear, it was unceremoniously abandoned and gradually became a surreal, ghostlike complex.

The main palace complex is essentially 3 courtyards (with multiple buildings), plus a mosque.

– The first is the Public Courtyard, housing the Diwan-e- Aam or ‘Hall of Public Audience’ where ordinary people could get an audience with the Emperor to air their grievances, settle disputes and complaints, and the Emperor would proclaim his judgment.

– The second is a vast private courtyard called the Daulat Khana (or Abode of Wealth), which houses many interesting structures and was primarily restricted to the Emperor and his close, male nobles.

– A third courtyard houses the female quarters with palaces for the various queens, and living accommodations for their staff

– and finally, outside this complex, a short walk away, is the main mosque or Jama Masjid, which houses the tomb of the Sufi Saint Shaikh Salim Chishti

 

Fatehpur Sikri – Key Information

Expected time spent:
Allow for a minimum of 1.5 hours if you intend to cover only the highlights
Opening days:
Open daily
Opening hours:
Sunrise to sunset (typically 7 AM to 6 pm)
Entry fee/ Ticket price:
Indians (INR 40)/ Foreigners (INR 510) and free for children under 15 years
Cameras: 
Still camera allowed for free, Video camera Rs 25. Shooting with a tripod is not allowed
Address:
Fatehpur Sikri
How to get there:
Around 45 km from the Taj Complex, about 1 hour by road. You will need to hire a taxi for the trip, or you can take a local bus from the Idgah bus station in Agra. Buses are frequent but ensure you take a bus that goes to Fatehpur Sikri town, as many buses bound for Bharatpur will drop you 1 km away from the monument.

Itimad ud Daulah

Itimad ud Daulah

This tomb was built in honor of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, by his daughter Nur Jahan, Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s wife. It is her most significant architectural contribution.

It is called Itmad-ud- Daula meaning ‘pillar of the government’ in reference to the title conferred on her father by Jahangir. It is the first tomb in India made entirely of marble (as opposed to red stone) with an elaborately carved tomb. It has octagonal shaped towers and uses arched entrances signifying the Persian influence while the Indian influence is evident from the absence of a dome despite being a tomb.

Itimad ud Daulah – Key Information

Expected time spent:
Allow for 60-75 minutes
Opening days:
Open daily
Opening hours:
6 AM to 6 pm
Entry fee/ Ticket price:
Indians (INR 10)/ Foreigners (INR 250) and free for children under 15 years
Cameras: 
Still camera allowed for free, Video camera Rs 25. Shooting with a tripod is not allowed
Address:
Moti Bagh, Etmadpur, Agra
How to get there:
It is located in the Old Agra area, about 30 minutes from the Taj Complex, close to the Agra Fort

Sikandra, Tomb of Akbar the Great

Akbar’s Tomb via Ekabhishek

Akbar was the third Mughal Emperor and generally regarded as one of India’s greatest monarchs in its five-thousand-year history. A key factor driving the Mughal Empire’s longevity was Emperor Akbar who ruled for 49 long years, conquering a large part of the sub-continent including access to seaport for trade with Europe, and during his time established a centralised bureaucracy and other imperial institutions, especially in land revenue management.

The construction of this tomb, located about 10 km from the city centre, was started by Akbar himself and completed by his son, Jahangir. The gateway has large mosaic patterns set into it while its four minarets are built of red sandstone inlaid with marble patterns. The garden is laid in the Char Bagh style, common for all the famous Mughal tombs including the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb.

Akbar’s Tomb – Key Information

Expected time spent:
Allow for 45-60 minutes
Opening days:
Open daily
Opening hours:
6 AM to 6 pm
Entry fee/ Ticket price:
Indians (INR 10)/ Foreigners (INR 250) and free for children under 15 years
Cameras: 
Still camera allowed for free, Video camera Rs 25. Shooting with a tripod is not allowed
How to get there:Located on the main Mathura Road, it’s about 18 km/ 45 min drive from the Taj Mahal complex

Scams

Tourist Scams to Avoid while in India

Here are a list of 15 scams to avoid while travelling to India. Most are targeted exclusively at foreigners, though some are perpetrated against locals too.

The Hotel Scam – “Pretending to have never heard of your hotel or that your hotel has moved places/burnt down/changed names etc”

The likelihood that this is true is minimal and the driver is almost certainly going to take you to an alternate place where he gets a commission for bringing in gullible travelers like you. It helps to have the location of the hotel on a map (offline or online if you have access to a data connection), distance & shortest route from the airport or railway station along with the hotel’s local number to call & check for directions if needed. Alternately, just get the hotel to organize a pick for you – more expensive but worth it to avoid the hassle. There will be plenty of time during your stay in India to try local transport once you settle in (relatively speaking!).

 

The SIM card scam – “You can buy & use SIM without filling any paperwork”

For buying a SIM in India, both locals & foreigners are required to fill out paperwork. For foreigners or tourists, you need to fill out a Consumer Application Form (CAF) and submit below information.

  • 2 color passport photographs
  • A photocopy of the personal details page of your passport. You will also have to produce your passport for verification, after which it will be returned to you.
  • A photocopy of your Indian visa. Once again, you will have to show the original visa for verification.
  • A photocopy of the proof of your home address in your country of residence. This could be your passport, driver’s license or any other Government issued document. Remember to carry the original document along for verification.
  • Residency proof – Proof of where you will be staying in India. Guidelines state foreigners may use the address of a local reference, a tour operator, or a hotel where you are staying – A letter confirming that you are a guest will suffice.

If they don’t ask for all that, they are either giving you a used SIM which means you’ll get calls all day from random Indians, or they aren’t even planning on filing your paperwork which means the SIM will not get activated. As a tourist, its best to go straight to a local cellphone dealer of any of the popular networks in India (Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance, BSNL), fill in the paperwork and get a new SIM card.

 

The change scam – “Give you the wrong amount or pretend that you have given a Rs 100 note instead of a Rs 500 or Rs 1000 note”

Show and if possible, say aloud the amount you are handing over to the driver or shop keeper or anyone else you are dealing with and always count the change you received right in front of them. It’s also a good idea to have more of 100 rupee notes with you so that these problems are avoided (change at your hotel or when buying something at a ‘respectable’ establishment). Many shops are unable to change or accept 500 and 1000 rupee notes for small transactions.

 

The photo scam – “Tips for a photo you take”

When taking photos of animals (usually elephants or dressed up cows) & sometimes even local people, someone nearby is expecting a tip. They may ask upwards of INR 100 and will shout or yell if you don’t pay up. If you see the owner around, check if there are any charges and negotiate before clicking a picture.

 

The beggar scam – “Exchange whatever you buy back for money”

Tourists are usually the first people approached by beggars/ children on the street etc asking for money. If you refuse to give money to support this “business”, they change tack and ask instead for you to buy milk for their hungry child or purchase pens for school. This sounds fine as you are not really giving money but helping them out in a more meaningful way. Unfortunately, this is a scam too as the beggars/ kids have a deal with the store to return the product when you leave in exchange for money.

 

The bill or invoice scam – “Asking you to pay again for the stay or charging for drinks/ eatables that you didn’t even order”

With anything prepaid, ensure you keep the receipts/ invoices handy to show the hotel if asked to pay again during check in or check out. The other scam to watch out for is being charged for food or drinks you didn’t order. If you catch it, they will claim it was a mix up from a different table and subtract the amount from the bill while leaving the service charge (~15%) and luxury charge (~10%) taken on the original higher amount. If the difference matters to you, get them to make a new bill.

 

The Commission scam – “Drivers/ guides etc get commissions from most places they recommend at your expense”

On the way, the driver or guide will check if you are hungry or are looking to buy anything. He is being incentivized or given a commission for bringing you there. And that’s why like most tourist places, its best to do your own research instead of asking your driver to take you to the best local food or shopping in town. Ask for a recommendation from your hotel desk or research online – TripAdvisor, Zomato (India’s Yelp) are good sources! If you get to know a driver and use him often or he comes with a recommendation from family/ friends, then you can start to build trust.

 

The Pashmina/ shopping scam – “Original available at only a 1000 bucks”

It’s a fake! There is no way you can buy original Cashmere or pashmina for Rs 1000. If you still like it and would like to buy, negotiate it down to a rate you are happy paying. Tip: Start at 50% of the original rate! On the other hand, if you are concerned about getting cheated or not one to bargain, shop at the different state emporiums in Delhi where rates are fixed but reasonable & you are assured of the quality. Other options include Delhi Haat (ensure you visit the original, fakes abound!), Tibetan market for cheap clothes & other knick knacks etc.

 

Bogus train tickets or information offices scam – “Phony offices selling you tickets”

If there are not many computers or proper desks, and the “employees” are telling you that trains or hotels are booked out due to an upcoming event but they can make alternate arrangements – you are at a fake office. Do your research on which trains are suitable for you, timings, costs etc before you go to a ticketing or information office.

 

The Free bracelet or gift scam – “Gifting you something or putting things in your hand saying they are for free and then asking to be paid”

Very common around temples where kids or “Holy men” put flower bracelets or tie a red string on your wrist saying ‘it’s a gift’ and then ask you for money. If you are not sure, feel free to decline and walk away.

 

The broken meter scam – “Check for a working meter before you get in a taxi/ auto rickshaw”

Check if the auto/ taxi has a working meter before you get in and if feasible, check at the hotel desk/ trusted local, on how much it will cost. If you are in a hurry, agree on a price ahead of time and show them the destination on a map (phone or otherwise) so they go the shortest route. Also keep in mind, just because they are willing to use a meter, doesn’t mean that the meter is set appropriately! You’ll get used to how fast the meter should run and if it’s going too quickly, call the guy out on it so he is aware that you know.

 

Leaving luggage in the car – “Only if you have hired the car & driver from a trusted source”

Do not leave any valuables in the car – your wallet, passport, travel insurance and any other important documents you are carrying. If you are leaving your luggage in the car, take a photo of the license plate, driver’s information (like name, phone no, where he is expected to park the vehicle etc) and don’t pay him until the end of the day.

 

Renting a bike or a car – “Check if it is in working condition (especially tires & brakes) before you rent it”

When you rent a bike or car, inform them and take photos of the damage already there – rent the one with the least damage to avoid hassles later. Check if the tires have sufficient air, brakes are working properly, how long the petrol is expected to last and take it for a short test ride to check if everything is in working condition. Always lock up your bike when parked even if you are running a short errand to avoid it getting stolen.

 

Food or Drink tampering scam – “Spurious bottled water, spiked food etc”

It’s important to inspect bottled water before purchase to check if the cap has been tampered with as there are cases where the shopkeepers refill with tap water and glue the lid back on – if possible, buy all food & drink at super or hyper markets. Be extra careful and never accept food or drink from strangers especially in trains as there are cases of tourists being drugged and robbed.

 

The Police scam – “Stop only the cab you are traveling in & ask for a road fee”

While traveling in a cab or taxi, if the police stop your car (and no one else’s) and ask you to pay a road fee/ fine/ tax etc, they are most probably taking you for a ride. The cab driver may be a good guy and tell the cop ‘NO’ or he may not have an option and ask you to pay to avoid getting into trouble with the local police. You can argue (not worth it) and in the end pay up as the driver won’t go otherwise. Road tolls, parking fees at certain places etc are real and you have to pay for them.

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz

The Taj Mahal Story – in Rhyme

The Love Story

Prince Khurram (aka Shah Jahan), Mughal crown price, was our Hero,

The heroine was Arjumand, grand-daughter of the Empire’s CFO

You may imagine, between them, a cute, love-at-first-sight story

But this is India, ladies and g’men, we do arranged marriages only!

Married in 1612, Arjumand and Khurram’s love knew bounds none

As his favourite wife, she was titled Mumtaz Mahal (the Palace’s chosen one)!

 

Tragedy Strikes

Since he loved no one as much, he had many, many children by her

One child every 16 months? Mumtaz was one heck of a mother!

In her 14th pregnancy though, tragedy struck the couple loving

Mumtaz passed away; leaving a distraught, heart-broken king

For two years he mourned, his hair turned grey, dress a white gown

An uncle admonished him ‘Mumtaz is in paradise, time to move on’

But deep in his mourful heart, a monumental idea took birth

For his beloved Mumtaz, he would bring Paradise down here on earth.

 

A marble dream takes shape

One of the richest rulers was building a memorial for his dearest spouse,

He could’ve gotten the world’s best architect; but there was one inhouse

A gifted architect, Shah Jahan supervised and changed designs on his own

The world’s greatest monument took shape, brick by brick, stone by stone

For his beloved it would be only the best: marble – pristine, pure, white

Enhanced by a striking technique – pietra dura – it makes for a stunning sight!

One overarching design theme across the monument is made to stick

It was: ‘Ensuring Paradise Is Certain’ (for Mumtaz); in short, EPIC!

Taj Mahal - A pristine dream in Marble

Taj Mahal – A pristine dream in Marble

What happened Next

‘Move on’ an uncle had said and Shah Jahan later did so (literally)

Five years after the Taj was built, he moved his capital from Agra to Delhi

A majestic Fort Palace was built – The Red Fort (as it is now known)

Luxury, riches, entertainment – it was a good lifestyle to own

Until a tragic (and yes, embarrassing) incident occurred in 1657, September

And then Shah Jahan was overthrown and imprisoned in an Agra Fort chamber

 

Questions, questions

What was that incident? Had Shah Jahan ‘moved on’ too far?

Would Mumtaz be waiting in heaven with flowers (or with a crowbar)?

In short, was that immortal love story all that it was cracked up to be?

For answers to all these questions, take the Taj Mahal CaptivaTour: its free!

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iOS Link

Photo Credit

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz: Sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shah_Jahan_and_Mumtaz_Mahal.jpg; See page for author [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Rest own pic

Agra

Did Shah Jahan Read ‘Good to Great’?

If you cringe at statements describing the Taj Mahal as  “the ultimate expression of love” or “man’s greatest ode to a woman”, here’s some solid logic to back that up!

For those who believe in parallel universes, how about a thought experiment.

Imagine multiple universes –each with a different kind of Taj Mahal:

Taj in Parallel Universes

Taj in Parallel Universes

  1. A universe with a Shah Jahan who wasn’t rich and powerful, but who was a good architect and loved his wife: In such a universe, while he would have the passion and talent to build the tomb, he couldn’t have afforded the materials and the skilled men. A Taj in this universe, if at all, would’ve been a beautiful but small memorial.
  2. A universe with a rich, wife-loving Shah Jahan, but without the architectural talent: Here we would’ve surely had a Taj Mahal – but most likely it’d been a pompous and garish creation. You know, the money-can’t-buy-class-type? (we’re looking at you, Donald Trump!)
  3. A universe with a rich, talented Shah Jahan, but without that love for Mumtaz: In such a universe, the Taj simply would not have existed. Monuments were rarely made for wives by husbands, even if they had the means and talent to do it.

What we’ve used here is a modified form of the ‘hedgehog framework’ from Jim Collins’ famous management book ‘Good to Great’. This framework states: To achieve greatness, focus on that specific activity for which you have three strengths – insane ability, unending passion, and a strong economic driver.

Let’s look at each of the three, vis-a-vis Shah Jahan.

1. Architectural ability: For the design of the Taj, you may imagine that Shah Jahan would’ve undertaken a country-wide, nay global search for the best architect. Here’s a fun imaginary recreation of that brief conversation:

Emperor Shah Jahan: Spare no expense. Search high and low, across all the oceans… but get me the best architect on earth..

Minister: Uh, Sir…

Emperor Shah Jahan:… oh wait, that’s me!

Yes, Shah Jahan was an accomplished architect himself. In fact this passage from Shah Jahan’s biography lays out clearly the completely hands on role of the Emperor in the design: “The building superintendents along with the architects bring the architectural designs before the exalted sight of the Emperor. And … he attends to it fully by creating most of the designs himself and also by making appropriate changes to whatever the architects have thought out

2. Unending passion: Shah Jahan’s love for Mumtaz is the stuff of legend. But he was no one-woman-man, especially after her death. He had a vigorous sexual appetite, and stories about the same abound in some of the gossipy European chronicles of that time.

However, we have to keep the context in mind here. In medieval times it was very common for rulers to have a significant harem of wives and concubines. Even Shah Jahan’s illustrious grandfather Akbar had a large harem, like most other kings.

But, what was not common was for such rulers to develop an overwhelming affinity for any one woman. And that was truly the case when Mumtaz was alive.

Peter Mundy, an Englishman visiting Agra in the 1630s, writes this about their love: “This Kinge is now buildinge a Sepulchre for his late deceased Queene …. whome hee dearely loved, haveing had by her 9 or 10 children, and thought, in her life tyme to use noe other woman (which is strange if true consideringe their libertie in that kinde).

There you have it – their love made even a classic understated Brit raise his eyebrows in mild surprise!

Apart from the love, what was also very uncommon was grand tombs built for women.

Mughal emperors would usually build grand tombs for their fathers (think Humayun’s Tomb, Akbar’s Tomb, Jahangir’s Tomb), palaces for themselves (think Red Fort, Agra Fort) and mosques for the general public (Jama Masjid). But nothing really for their wives or mothers.

A few exceptions like the tomb of Shah Begum in Allahabad, or Bu Halima’s spartan tomb in Delhi exist. But till the 1630s, the equation of Mughal tombs was overwhelmingly in favour of the males

 

Mughal Tombs for Men and Women

Mughal Tombs for Men and Women

Enter, the Taj.

Shah Jahan had his flaws. But for a guy who spent more than 12 years, and a significant amount of his empire’s resources on creating an achingly beautiful piece of marble heaven-on-earth for his departed wife, one thing was for certain – that love was genuine.

Economic Driver: Ideally ‘economic driver’ in the hedgehog framework refers to the value that the activity generates. In that sense, the activity of architecture wasn’t an economic driver; but we have interpreted the framework here in the sense that Shah Jahan had ample resources to undertake that activity.

Those resources came from Mughal India being the world’s second largest economy then. The Mughal Emperor was probably  the richest guy on earth at that time. The money spent on the Taj (Rs. 5 Mn then; around $250 Mn in today’s money) was financed from this rich empire.

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And so, ladies and gentlemen, we are fortunate to be living in that parallel universe, where we got the whole package!

A Shah Jahan who was rich and powerful, an incredibly talented architect, and madly in love with his wife.

And you know what was the most vital ingredient? That clichéd, worn-out, word: Love! 🙂

 

And for more such stories and insights, on India’s most famous monument, experience our Taj Mahal CaptivaTour! Available in Android and coming soon on iOS.

Photo Credits:

Trump Taj Mahal: By Jrballe (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ataga Khan tomb By Gaur.rameshwar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons ;

Akbar’s tomb By *_* (originally posted to Flickr as Akbar’s Tomb) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons ;

Jahangir’s tomb by By Jugni (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons ;

Rest Own pics