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Agra

Agra is a town everyone in the world knows because of the famous Taj Mahal. But did you know that in Agra and its vicinity there are three UNESCO World Heritage sites? Many examples of Mughal architecture are spread around town or near it including the Jami Masjid, Akbar's tomb in Sikandra and Humayun's Mosque.

Not too far is Fatehpur Sikri, built by the greatest of the Mughal Emperors Akbar to be his new capital. The architecture included designs from across India reflecting Akbar’s desire to integrate the many cultures and peoples of India. Here Akbar held his Diwan-i-Aam with his famous courtiers the Navaratna, renowned for their accomplishments. The great musician Miyan Tansen who was instrumental in creating Hindustani music, merging Persian and Central Asian motifs with Indian Classical music, would sing in an island in the middle of an artificial lake, the Anum Talao. The poet Faizi, the witty Raja Birbal, the famous general Raja Man Singh would all attend the Emperor at this time. Even today, you can see parts of the palace, a city within a city, with giant gates through which the elephants would come and the harem where the queens lived. Unfortunately for Akbar, Agra borders the Rajasthan desert and bringing water for all the humans and animals proved to be impossible, so Akbar regretfully moved his court back to Delhi.

My son likes the Red Fort of Agra, a third UNESCO World Heritage site which sits on the Yamuna around a bend from the Taj Mahal. It’s where they say Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son in his later years and would longingly look out over the river at the beautiful monument he had built to his favorite wife.

The best time to see the Taj Mahal is on full moon nights when I was told the translucent white marble structure appears to be floating off the ground. In the time I spent in Agra I had a chance to see the Taj many times but never on a full moon night. When I took my children to Agra after they had grown up, the day we went was rainy so we couldn’t see the play of light through the marble. Our driver also insisted that we return to Delhi as soon as possible since bandits were still to be feared in the area, much like in my train trip many years previously.

Here is a good page that discusses the many great archeological sites in India.

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