Exploring Agra: India’s Exotic Medieval City

If you’re planning a trip to India, make sure you include Agra as one of your major stops. Among India’s most popular tourism areas, the ancient city of Agra is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a thriving marketplace, and fascinating architecture. Most visitors come to see the world-famous Taj Mahal, and it is certainly a highlight of any tour of the Agra area. But Agra also contains several other noteworthy monuments, structures, and natural wonders that belong on any itinerary.

Agra’s history dates back to medieval times. It is believed to have been established first around 1475. But the later city that constitutes Agra today was established in the 16th century by a king of the Lodhi dynasty. During its existence, Agra has been the capital of several dynasties, including the Mughal Empire. Many of its most significant architectural works are testament to the Mughal influence.

If you have two or three days to spend in the Agra area, following are several suggestions for places to visit during your stay.

The Taj Mahal – Probably the world’s most famous architectural masterpiece, the Taj Mahal was been classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was built as a mausoleum in tribute to the favorite wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Constructed between 1631 and 1648, this UNESCO World Heritage Site stands as a universally admired masterpiece of Muslim art and architecture. Its marble walls, elaborate gardens, and exotic artwork are – in a word – breathtaking.

Agra Fort – Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Agra Fort stands near the gardens of the Taj Mahal. The 1.5-mile-long enclosure walls rise from the banks of the Yamuna River. The huge fortress, also known as the Red Fort of Agra, was constructed of red sandstone during the 16th century, and its walls protected the imperial city of its Mughal rulers. Within the fortress are several elaborate palaces and mosques, built of either red sandstone or white marble. Although the fortress was originally constructed for military purposes, it evolved into a palace complex for rulers including Shah Jahan, the emperor who also constructed the Taj Mahal.

Fatehpur Sikir – Agra’s third UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a large complex of temples and monuments, built in the latter part of the 16th century by Mughal Emperor Akbar. The site, also known as the City of Victory, lies less than 25 miles from the city of Agra and briefly served as the capital of the Mughal Empire. The Fatehpur Sikir complex comprises both Hindu and Islamic architectural styles and is primarily built of the area’s red sandstone. It includes one of the largest mosques in India, as well as walled palaces and temples.

Parks and Gardens – In addition to the lovely grounds and gardens of the Taj Mahal, the Agra area includes many green areas for visitors to enjoy. One of the most beautiful local gardens is the Mehtab Bagh, or Moonlight Garden. Located near the Yamuna River and the Taj Mahal, this exquisite Indian botanical garden includes a scenic path along the river. The Mughal-style gardens feature colorful flowers and lush beds of green plants. Another garden worth visiting is Ram Bagh. It is divided into four main garden areas, along with an elaborate series of pathways, fountains, and canals. The sound of water cascading from the terraced gardens will take you back in time to an era when the gardens were first created, almost 500 years ago.

Not enough to do? If you have time, spend an afternoon in Agra’s bustling marketplaces or chowks, where marble trinkets, textiles, and other native wares can be bartered for in the streets. Or make a detour to Keoladeo National Park, where over 300 species of birds can be found. Now a major wintering area for aquatic birds throughout the region, Keoladeo was once a duck-hunting reserve for Indian Maharajas.

Whether you enjoy spending time in the great outdoors, steeping yourself in India’s rich cultural history, or just shopping and browsing, Agra will provide you with many enjoyable hours, in the home of ancient royalty.

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