Qila-i-Akbari: The red fort of Agra

October 2011
It is almost noon when I arrive at Agra Fort tired, dehydrated, sunburned and with the beginnings of a headache.

It has been a long day that began before sunrise by queuing up with what seemed like the rest of world to see the Taj Mahal. Then it was onwards to Sikandra through terrible traffic and road rage incidents to see Akbar’s Mausoleum, and finally back to Agra to visit the I’timad-ud-Daulah.

It is hot and dry and the Fort is quite crowded. I’m exhausted and unable to concentrate on what the guide is saying. After about 15 minutes like this, I give up and decide to leave, with the hope that I’ll get a chance to visit Agra again and walk through the Fort gates once more.

Agra Fort, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Travel, Red Fort of Agra, Akbari Darwaza

That chance comes almost 3 years later. :-)

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Agra’s other Taj: The tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah

The guide was sulking, the mid-day sun was relentlessly hot and I could feel my skin burn. But I was oblivious to all but the shimmering marble structure in front of me—the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, with the local sobriquet of Baby Taj or Mini Taj.

The tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah

Located on the western bank of the Yamuna river, the tomb complex was built by Noor Jehan (queen of Emperor Jehangir, the fourth Mughal Emperor) for her father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg and mother. Mirza Beg started off as an accountant in the Mughal court and rose to the rank of Lord High Treasurer or I’timad-ud-Daulah. And therein lies the name of the tomb, which was built between 1622 and 1628.

The tomb is rather squat and broad in appearance with hexagonal towers in each corner. Built on a low sandstone platform with marble inlay work on all four sides, like all Islamic structures, this one too is symmetrical. It is the presence of the two very different-sized and shaped trees on either side of the tomb that lessens the severity of the symmetry and actually gives it a slightly quirky look.

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Poetry in red sandstone: Fatehpur Sikri

Imagine a city.

A city built entirely out red sandstone and protected by a 11 km wall on 3 sides and a lake on the fourth.

A planned city, perhaps the region’s first, by an Emperor to honour a Sufi saint.

A city whose royal quarters housed the Emperor, his 3 queens, his harem, his favourite minister, and included a mosque, a temple and a giant game board, among many other structures.

A city that was abandoned 14 years after construction began.

A city that is a ghost city today.

A city that was named Fatehabad, but is known today as Fatehpur Sikri.

Imagine that city.

Part of Fatehpur Sikri’s original city wall is visible through the trees

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