Suitcase and World: The Incomparable Agra Fort.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Incomparable Agra Fort.

Me, sitting on the steps of the Hall of Public Audience at Agra Fort.

You go to the Taj Mahal. You "ooh" and you "ahh" and you say to yourself that you've never seen as anything as beautiful as this building standing before you. Then you remind yourself of the romantic tale - the one of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who emptied the coffers of the country to build this great monument in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal - and your heart melts.

Then to torture your senses with a drive through downtown Agra after which you're convinced that you've never seen an uglier city - the masses of people, the squalor, the chaos - it all makes for a very unpleasant touring experience. Ugh.

At the end of the drive, you arrive at Agra Fort. You think to yourself. A fort. A stone fortress designed to protect a city from its enemies - a place full of armaments. Boring. What a let down after the stunning Taj Mahal.

But you couldn't be more wrong! After you tour it, you realize that a more accurate description of Agra Fort would be a"walled" palatial city and that it is as stunning in its architecture and design details as the Taj Mahal if not more so!

Hamid and I arrived at Agra Fort shortly after noon.

We entered Agra Fort through Lahore Gate - one of two entrances into the fort. The other, Delhi Gate, is closed to the public. Also known as Amar Singh Gate, Lahore Gate is so named because it faces Lahore, Pakistan and Delhi Gate because it faces Delhi, India.

Pass the Lahore Gate and there's a stone brick ramp leading up to another set of gates.

As you pass through the Lahore gate, you enter into a courtyard - surrounded on all four sides by the buildings that occupy the grounds of the fort.

On one end of the courtyard is a white marble building - the Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Am) where the Emperor would speak to the people and dispense justice.

Interior of the Diwan-i-Am. Seeing this room, you get a sense of the beautiful architecture and design of Agra Fort. The inlay work is spectacular.
Pass through the main courtyard into a second courtyard. I can't remember the name of this building but it's mix of Islamic (white marble, upper level) and Hindu (red sandstone, lower level) architecture was typical of many of the structures housed inside the fort.

Next came Musamman Burj, where the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal) spent the last seven years of his life under house arrest by his son Aurangzeb.

From Musamman Burj, you can see the Taj Mahal. The day I was at the fort, it was a hazy day so I can only imagine what the view must been like for Shah Jahan on a clear day - seeing the burial place of his beloved wife from this distance.
From Musamman Burj, you can also see the remnants of both the wet and dry moats that surrounded the fort. The story is that the dry moat was home to Bengal tigers and wet moat to alligators.
Next is the Khas Mahal which are the imperial pavilions - reputedly where the Mughal Emperors, who called Agra Fort home, slept.

The architecture of the building and the design work is absolutely stunning.
It's amazing to think that the carving and inlay work was all done by hand - so intricate and delicate. The quality of the workmanship is beyond anything that I have ever seen in a building.... and it gets even more spectacular. 

Columns are inlaid with semi-precious stones that include agate, carnelian, malachite and onyx.

....and even the column capitals are intricately carved and inlaid with semi-precious stones.
Inside, the walls and ceilings were originally painted with gold and inlaid with semi-precious stones. Much of the gold was stripped off by looters but a portion of a ceiling was repainted to give visitors a sense of what it would have originally looked like. Imagine the gold shimmering in the glow of the candle light that would have lit the building at night.
The exterior of the Khas Mahal. The lattice walls and screens are carved marble.

Next stop. Jehangiri Mahal - the palace built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar for his son Jehangir who would inherit the throne from his father.

The courtyard of the Jehangiri Mahal.
Carved columns.

Carved building supports.

Gujarati brackets.
Detail of interior wall carving.

Exiting Jehangiri Mahal.

Exterior of the Jehangiri Mahal....
....and I can't remember what this large vessel is for. I seem to recall something about a bathtub but I can't imagine an Emperor bathing in such an open arena!

After we exited Jehangiri Mahal, we retraced our steps back to the Lahore Gate.

Large wooden doors, controlled by a metal pulley weight system, was our last exit point. Hamid and I headed back to the car where Birj had been patiently waiting for us.
As I left Agra Fort, I couldn't help but think how grand this place must have been in it's heyday - occupied by the Emperor and his court. There's no doubt that the Taj Mahal is a magnificent complex but Agra Fort is just as worthy of praise -its no wonder it was inscribed as a World Heritage site!
Next on stop on my itinerary. Fathepur Sikri.