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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Eyeing Taj Mahal from the Thick Walls of Agra Fort


Since we arrived at Agra early in the morning, we've been simmering our overflowing desire to see the Taj Mahal. Aileen and I agreed that we should relax, gorge on local food and see other sights first. Among the places we first visited is the massive UNESCO World Heritage Site; Agra Fort. Standing wide-eyed with admiration near the entrance, I stared at it and imagined myself being a part of the opposing Mughal forces of centuries back. I saw myself nimbly escaping and running away from these marvelous and imposing thick walls. How could one ever penetrate such structure? apparently, during the old feuding times of ancient India's history, many a kingdom and their brave warrior soldiers have succeeded - at the price of countless casualties of course. 

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Like a protective brother guarding his sister, the Fort stands at close proximity from the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River. The relationship of the two monuments would take a sinister twist when Aurangzeb ousted his father, the builder of the Taj; Shah Jahan and imprisoned him here until he died, reportedly at the tower of Muasamman Burj, an ironic part of the fort because it has a balcony that offers a sweeping view of the Taj Mahal.

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Jahangir Palace
One could only picture the sight of a weakened Shah Jahan staring at his legacy and the resting place of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, during his final days behind iron grills, doomed at the order of his rebellious son. 

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Diwan I Am
We spent half of the afternoon just walking around the Fort's vast grounds. Every corner consist of a building teeming with rich architectural details, such as the arching pillars of Diwan I Am (Public Audience Hall), which is characterized by Shah Jahan's love of marbles, the historic context of this part of the Fort is so rich, as it was here were the emperor addresses the members of the nobility and the public. 

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The decorated columns provides bursts of visual feasts and the greens of the big courtyard gives an air of royalty. You could almost hear the chatters of the old times, as you reckon it was on this ground where conspiracies and other malicious plans were hatched behind Emperor Shah Jahan's back. 

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Personally, I find the main attraction of Agra Fort to be the Jahangir Palace (Jahangiri Mahal). Designed and constructed at the order of Emperor Jahangir for his son - the future emperor Shah Jahan, it was later used as the official residence of Empress Nur Jahan (auntie of Mumtaz Mahal and Jahangir's 20th wife).

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When we reached the uppermost part of the Fort facing the river, it was there that we saw the Taj Mahal from afar. Earlier in the day we've seen the Taj from the rooftop of our hostel and at the supposed-to-be-site of the 'legendary' Black Taj (which was never constructed), but the sight of the Taj from where I stand ushers forth a connection between the two monuments. 

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It was like there's an imaginary rope weaving the two together. Historically, it is a fact - but after all these years, it is an impressive thought to have both stand the test of time and still exist, while at the same time symbolizing the power and greatness of Agra's rich storied past. 

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The mixture of Hindu and Islamic architecture and influence of Akbari buildings creates these diverse fusion of designs that give each structure inside its own set of personality. From white marbles to red bricks and glittering gold details and carvings, all has its own special characteristics that make Agra Fort as a fitting second fiddle to the more famous Taj Mahal. 

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A day not wasted and a wonderful precursor to the next day's Taj Mahal visit. Agra Fort really deserves its UNESCO World Heritage distinction and Aga Khan Award for Architecture it won in 2004. At that time, it was the first of the many forts we would visit in India - with most being located in the state of Rajasthan. But, up to now it still stands as one of my favorite landmarks I've planted my feet on. Of course, the Taj Mahal belongs to entirely different level and on a soon to be written blog post coming soon here. 


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