Friday, June 23, 2017

Where Mughal Emperors Called Home. Agra Fort.

From Jama Masjid, we wound our way, through the chaotic streets of Agra, to Agra Fort.  I was lucky to have visited in 2007 and was very much looking forward to returning.  Sadly though, I'm quickly learning that one of the downsides to traveling during the low tourist season is that this is also the time when landmarks like Agra Fort are being renovated.  Makes sense to do this when fewer tourists are around but for us tourists, it means that we don't get to see the entire site.  Such was the case today.  Still, it was nice to be able to revisit this place which is one of my favorite tourist sites in India.

Agra Fort was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty till 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi. Its construction along the bank of the Yamuna River was begun by Emperor Akbar in 1565. Further additions were made, particularly by his grandson Shah Jahan, using his favorite building material – white marble. The fort was built primarily as a military structure, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace, and later it became his gilded prison for eight years after his son Aurangzeb seized power in 1658.

While we stood and took in the view of the fort, Saeed got our entry tickets.

Two of the fort's gates are notable: the "Delhi Gate" and the "Lahore Gate" named for the cities that each gate faces.

In order to slow down invaders, you enter the fort through three gates, along a path that curves.

First, you have to pass through an outer gate.

We entered through the beautiful Delhi Gate which is the first of two inner gates.

Once you pass through Delhi Gate, you still have to go through yet another inner gate. walk up a long ramp.  By now, if you're an invader, you're probably long dead as all along the way from the first gate to the top of the ramp, there are plenty of vantage points from where soldiers can fire off shots.  Thankfully, this is just a tourist site these days!

Once you reach the top of the ramp, you are finally inside the fort.  To your immediate right stands Jahangiri Mahal which was constructed by the Mughal Emperor Akbar and served as a palace for his wives and for the wives of subsequent emperors including his son Jahangir.  The palace is constructed using red sandstone and is marked by its two minarets. Later the use of minarets went on to become an important aspect of the Mughal architecture.

Just in front of Jahangiri Mahal is a bath tub which was used by Jahangir and is carved out of a single stone.  The photo below was taken on my trip in 2007.

The facade of the palace is an exquisite example of Mughal architecture.

From Jahangiri Palace, we entered into a courtyard area.  Here the buildings are constructed mainly of white marble, the favorite construction material of Shah Jahan.

The most notable building here is Khas Mahal which was the Emperor's private residence.  Khas Mahal is flanked on both sides by twin pavilions - the so-called Doli Mahals, constructed by Shah Jahan for his two daughters- Jahanara and Roshanara.

Khas Mahal on the right.

Khas Mahal

Khas Mahal on the left, one of the Golden Pavilions on the right.

We wandered in and out of a few of the buildings in the courtyard including one that had very remarkable acoustics. 

The acoustics inside are such that you can whisper in a corner of a wall and a person standing diagonally across the room from you can hear what you're saying.  Chantale had to demonstrate.  😁

From various spots you can also see, in the very far distance, the Taj Mahal.  Today as was the case when I was here in 2007, it's so smoggy, you can barely make out the magnificent structure.  So sad.

After his son, Aurangzeb, imprisoned him in Agra Fort, seeing the Taj in the distance was as close as Shah Jahan could get to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal who is buried inside the Taj.  That must have been such torture for the poor man.  On the other hand, he did pretty much bankrupt the country to build the Taj so in some ways, he deserved punishment. 

From one of the two pavilions, you can really get a good view of the Taj, albeit through hazy skies.

We entered Khas Mahal.  The interior consists of three parts: the Chamber of Telling Beads (Viz-tasbih-khana), the sleeping chamber, (khwabgah) and the wardrobe (tosha-khana) or sitting room (baithak).

The interior is decorated with carved white marble painted with colorful floral decorations. The ceiling was also partially gilded.  You can imagine just how grand this place must have looked with luxurious furniture, rugs and other decorations filling the now empty spaces.

Situated near Khas Mahal is an octagonal shaped tower called Musamman Burj.  It is from here that the Emperor would address his subjects.  Originally built for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal by Shah Jahan, this place tragically served as prison and later as his death bed.

We didn't get to visit Musamman Burj today so the photo below is also from my 2007 visit.

From the courtyard we walked over to Diwan-i-Aam, the Hall of Public Audience.  This is where the Emperor would greet and meet with the public.

I have to say, despite the fact that our tour through Agra Fort was much shorter, in terms of things to see, than my visit in 2007, it hasn't been very crowded here.  There has not been any need to wait for someone to get out of the picture so to speak so it's been enjoyable taking photos.  I'm certain Chantale appreciates that!

Supposedly, it was on this raised platform that the magnificent Peacock Throne once stood.  Seeing it for the second time, I still cannot get over the fact that it is white marble inlaid with semi precious stones.  I had to point that out to Ayşe as a heads up for what she will be seeing tomorrow when we visit the Taj.  This is can only be the work of  Shah Jahan.  Like his great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Timur, the founder of the great Timurid dynasty of Uzbekistan, Shah Jahan had a great eye for beautiful design!

In front of the Diwan-i-Aam there is the incongruously placed grave of John Colvin, lieutenant-governor of the North-West Provinces of British India during the mutiny of 1857.  He was stationed in Agra during the mutiny and died of cholera while have taken shelter inside Agra Fort.  Because of the conflict at time, he could not be buried elsewhere so here he lies for eternity. 

Of course, leave it to Chantale to spot photo ops.  This young girl and presumably, her even younger sister caught Chantale's eye.  For some reason, she couldn't take the photo - I don't think she had the right lens with her so she asked me to take the photo.  I took two.  Here they are.  Very cute....especially the baby who really has no clue what's going on with that long round thing being pointed towards here.

While I was occupied with the two young girls, Chantale found a group of young men to photograph.

Of course, once she had taken their photo, they asked for one with her in it and she gladly obliged.  Lucky for them, she is quick to smile!

From Diwan-i-Aam, we headed out of the fort.  On the way, yet another photo op for Chantale.

And....they wanted a photo of her.  So far, I've been able to dodge requests to be photographed. I think Chantale has a friendlier look on her face - I must have a "leave me alone" unknowingly plastered on my face.  Whatever.  It works.

Chantale gladly posed for several selfies though she did say she was a bit disturbed by the fact that the elder gentleman insisted on putting his palm on her head.  Maybe it's an Indian thing because he was doing the same thing to the other woman standing next to him.

After our visit to Agra Fort, we went to a factory where they make inlaid marble pieces.   When I was planning the trip, I had originally wanted to exclude the factory visit but then on second thought, changed my mind.  I want the girls to understand and therefore, better appreciate the workmanship that goes into creating the inlaid marble of the Taj Mahal.

Our visit started with a presentation on how the design is marked out on the marble, how the marble is cut, how each stone is carved and then fitted in to the marble.  Incredibly, it's still all done by hand!

Some of the stone pieces are so tiny I was afraid that if I breathed a little too hard, it would send them flying!

Itsy bitsy pieces of lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite and carnelian.

After the presentation, we headed to the showroom.  I had bought a table top on my 2007 visit - one of my most treasured souvenirs, so I was in no need to buy anything.  Lucky too because prices have really shot up since I bought my piece.  Ayşe ended up buying some coasters which they will ship back home for her.