In the first half of April I went to spend a few days with a friend at Agra, and also visited some sites in Agra that I hadn’t been to before, especially Agra Fort. Agra Fort (as it stands now) is a Mughal fort built during the 16th and 17th centuries. Successive Mughal Emperors built different palaces within the fort. The Jahangiri Mahal, built by Akbar (and not by Jahangir as the name would suggest) is an absolutely awesome structure. The decorations on red sandstone are just amazing.
These next photos are from a part of the fort that were built at a later date than the previous photos, and the differences are obvious. This part was built by Shah Jahan, the guy who built the Taj Mahal (just for a chronological anchor, Shah Jahan is Akbar’s grandson). The building material has changed from red sandstone to white marble with inlay work. While some of the inlay work is really nice, I much prefer the red sandstone buildings. Part of it might be that the aesthetic of these buildings had carried on down to buildings built in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, and in some instances all the way to today (for example in Sikh Gurdwaras), and so I find them too familiar and therefore ordinary (for the Indians reading this, it’s a case of ghar ki murgi dal barabar, if you will). This might also be the reason why I’m not at all enamoured with the Taj Mahal.
We visited the tomb of Akbar at Sikandra. The gates to the tomb complex were much more interesting than the tomb itself, though the painted ceilings of the tomb (at least in those rooms that we had access to) are quite nice.
The actual tomb is a strange building, made more incomprehensible because you can’t roam around in it. The only part that’s accessible is the very plain tomb chamber a little below ground level, and it’s ante-room at ground level, which has some beautifully painted ceilings.
Another tomb we visited was that of Idmat-ud-Daula, a courtier during the time of Shah Jahan, the guy who built the Taj Mahal. The materials used are the same as the Taj, but the design is completelly different, though not at all out of the ordinary for Mughal tombs.
Lastly, we visited some of the old baghs (gardens) around Agra. These have some really nice pavilions and chattris around them. Most of them are being used as nurseries for growing plants, so their character and use as gardens are being maintained (hopefully). The Ram Bagh (also known as the Bagh-i-Zar-Afshan) is an exception – it is maintained (quite blandly) as a garden, but the pavilions are pretty interesting.
The Serai Nur Jahan undergoing restoration. This image illustrates really well how restoration work creates a completely different narrative to a building than it would have had without the restoration
The Mehtab Bagh is a garden right opposite the Taj Mahal, on the other side of the Yamuna river, and gives pretty good views of the Taj.