Summary : The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum located in Agra,
Agra is known about the city’s early history but a small settlement was possibly first established some 5000 years ago. Agra’s strategic situation on the right bank of the Yamuna made it an ancient frontier defence of the Aryans. At one time it may have been known as Agrabana (‘Paradise’ in Sanskrit), a possible corruption of the name tit founder, Maharajah Ugersen. But the city achieved fame and wealth as the capital of the Mughals. Today, it is famous as the home of the Taj Mahal, the most popular. tourist attraction in India.
Agra rose to sudden prominence in the early 16th century, when the Mughals relezed it from the Hindu Lodhi dynasty. In 1566 the modern city of Agra was established by the Emperor Akbar, and was made capital of the Mughal empire. Fabulously wealthy, it soon rose to great importance. The commentator Abul Fazal reported: A great city having esteemed healthy air. Pleasant houses and gardens inhabited by people of all nations and exhibited with the production of every climate are built on both banks of the river (Yamuna). A castle of red sandstone, like of which no traveller has ever seen, has been created by the Emperor. The fort alone contains five hundred wonderful stone buildings in the Bengal, Gujarat and other styles. Formerly Agra was only a village depending upon Bayana, where Sikander Lodi [founder of Sikandra, 8 km (5 miles) out of present Agra] held his courts. At the same spot His Majesty has laid the foundations of a most magnificent city.
Under Akbar’s son, the talented drunkard Jahangir, Agra became a major industrial and commercial city. But it was Shah Jahan, Jahangir’s successor, who left Agra her most enduring monument—the Taj Mahal. This most beautiful (and most costly) monument to love remains today the finest wonder of the modern world. Having created it, Shah Jahan moved his capital from Agra to Delhi, and the city, and the fortunes of the Mughals in general, fell into slow decline. In 1803 (after a long period of being ransacked and pillaged by local Maratha and Jat forces) it came under British rule and, until 1877, became the capital of North-western Province (now Uttar Pradesh). It never, however, regained its former glory. Agra remained trapped in time, a bitter-sweet reminder of the peak of Mughal power and glory.
Today Agra is a city of over a million people, a busy centre of education and commerce. Its main industry, by virtue of its many well-preserved Mughal monuments, is tourism. The area around, but luckily not within, the three principal sights—the Taj, the Fort, and the ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri—are flooded with touts, beggars and touristy emporia. By contrast, the old British cantonment with its wide, spacious streets, its peaceful parks and gardens and its several lesser palaces and monuments, is surprisingly relaxing.
WHEN TO GO Most people visit Agra during the cooler winter months of October to March. Possibly the best month is October, when the town is wreathed in crimson bougainvillaea and yellow mustard, there is no dust, and the Taj, washed by the rains, gleams like a new pin.
ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE Air Indian Airlines flies daily from Agra to Delhi (Rs525), Khajuraho (Rs767), and Varanasi (Rs1106). Rail There are daily trains from Agra Cantonment station to Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, and Jhansi (for Khajuraho). Road Buses to Delhi, Jaipur and Khajuraho leave from Agra’s Idgah bus-stand. Cars can be hired from hotel travel desks or one of the larger travel agents in the town.
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