Before dinner, the last activity of our Indian journey 2018 was a guided tour in Nizamuddin Basti, a 14th century community centered around the shrine of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Despite located just ten minutes of walk from the UNESCO World Heritage site Humayun’s Tomb, the Muslim neighborhood is relatively under visited. From online research, we learnt about the local charity organization, the Hope Project, offers tour of the community for anyone who is interested in the Nizamuddin Basti neighborhood. Found by Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat Inyat Khan, the Hope Project runs a community health centre, a school, vocational training classes, credit program, etc in Nizamuddin Basti. Through email, we arranged a guided tour of the basti with them. Unfortunately, we were running late by the time we left Humayun’s Tomb. We weren’t sure if our arranged tour was still available. After entering the neighborhood, it took us quite some time to locate the office in the midst of busy lanes. Gratefully, the staff there were willing to take us for a walk, despite the mosques had closed. After the walk in Nizamuddin Basti, we took the metro to United Coffee House at Connaught Place for dinner. We had also dined there on the last day of our trip back in 2016.
The first thing we encountered was the outer wall of Kalan Masjid, also known as Kali Mosque or Large Mosque. The mosque was built in 1370.
We passed by the entrance of the Kalan Masjid, but were unable to enter the complex.
All the lanes in Nizamuddin Basti were busy with people and motorcycles.
Basti residents can find everything they need in their historical neighborhood.
Many locals smiled to us while we toured around the 600-year old neighborhood.
Through the historical gateway, we entered to the forecourt of Chausath Khamba, the tomb complex built by Mughal noble Mirza Aziz Koka in 1623 at the time of Emperor Jahangir.
The forecourt of Chausath Khamba was recently landscaped by the Aga Khan Trust.
The forecourt of Chausath Khamba is frequented by children coming to meet friends and play cricket.
The actual Chausath Khamba is a square shape marble building supported by 64 columns.
The marble hall is divided into 25 bays and covered by 25 domes concealed in the roof structure.
Chausath Khamba houses the tomb of Mirza Aziz Koka, his father Ataga Khan, and other unidentified people.
Adjacent to Chausath Khamba stand the Ghalib Academy and Mazar-e-Ghalib, the tomb of Ghalib, a famous 19th century Persian poet. Our tour with the Hope Project ended at Mazar-e-Ghalib.
On our way out of the neighborhood, the street eateries reminded us that it was almost dinner time.
The monumental and modernist Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque is the centre for the Tablighi network. It was busy with evening prayers as we left the basti.
Due to the Sufi request for divine love, rose is popular among locals.
We followed the main road out towards Mathura Road, where we could walk back to the metro.
We then took the metro to Connaught Place for dinner.
Just like two years ago, we sat down at United Coffee House for their local Indian cuisine.
We sat down at a table on the ground floor and took our time to enjoy the meal and ambience of the restaurant.
Another night flight to return home, another wonderful Indian journey completed. We returned back to the Airport Express Station to pick up our backpacks and hopped on an airport bounded train. This concluded the record of our India 2018 trip.
Last time when we first visited Delhi, we only had time to see the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. Similar to last time, we had a few hours of stopover time before flying back to Hong Kong. After lunch at Khan Market, we spent the day in the area of Nizamuddin, a busy Medieval neighborhood with narrow lanes and community mosques. The famous Humayun’s Tomb is the biggest draw for visitors in the area. From the closest metro station Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, it was a ten minute walk to the enormous tomb ground. Despite the short distance, crossing the dusty roads, walking under flyovers, and finding ourselves towards the right park entrance was not as straightforward as we thought. Anyhow, we managed to arrive at a rather chaotic queuing scene at the ticket office.
Commissioned by Empress Bega Begum for her husband Mughal Emperor Humayun, Humayun’s Tomb was built in 1569-70 in Delhi’s Nizamuddin East. Designed by Persian architects Mirak Mirza Ghiyas and Sayyid Muhammad, Humayun’s Tomb was the first large scale structure made with red sandstone. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage, the splendid structure had set a fine standard for latter Mughal architecture, including the Taj Mahal.
After obtaining the admission tickets, we entered the complex of Humayun’s Tomb through a series of gateways and courtyards.
We followed a prominent water channel towards the beautiful sandstone building of Humayun’s Tomb. Reference to Char Bagh (Four Gardens) of the Paradise in the Koran, the tomb garden is a 30-acre square carved into smaller squares by paths and water channels.
The tomb structure reaches a height of 47m, with obvious influences from Persian architecture. The entire structure sits on a large platform with a few meters high.
The arch and beam structure together with the use of red sandstone, white marble, and Rajasthani decorations exemplifies the Mughal architecture lasted in India for four hundred years.
The red sandstone and white marble provide a splendid combination of facade treatments and decorations.
Modeled on the Paradise Garden in Koran, the garden is divided into 36 squares by axes of water channels and paths.
Just like a few other attractions, we encountered a large group of school students at Humayun’s Tombs.
Entrance dome of Humayun’s Tomb was decorated with elegant lines.
Much less crowded than the Taj Mahal, visitors could appreciate the solemn interior of the mausoleum.
The main level houses the cenotaph of Emperor Humayun and Empress Bega Begum and also several other Mughal rulers from a later period. The real graves lie one level before in the basement.
It’s common to see school groups when visiting historical movements in India.
Inspired by Persian garden, the 30 acre tomb garden is subdivided by a network of water channels.
After visiting the interior of the tomb, we circled around the structure on the upper platform.
We returned to the garden at the ground level via one of the four covered staircases.
As we left the complex, the late afternoon sun cast a warm amber tone on the white marble and accentuated the reddish tone of the sandstone.
A final view of the front facade of the building before we left the complex.
Near Humayun’s Tomb, there is another magnificent tomb architecture known as Isa Khan’s Tomb. Built in 1547 – 58, the octagonal structure is decorated with canopies, glazed tiles, lattice screens, and a prominent verandah.
After 9 days in the desert state of Rajasthan and historical capital of Agra, it finally came to the last day of our short Indian holiday, the moment of returning to Delhi to complete the Golden Triangle. For 2372 rupees, we purchased two tickets and seat reservations on the Karnataka Express 12627 through an online agent, leaving Agra Cantonment Railway Station (Agra Cantt) at 6:45am and arriving New Delhi Railway Station at 10:30am, bringing us back to the Indian capital in under four hours. It was a sleeper train and we didn’t bother to pull up the sleeper units back to their original upright positions, but just sat down on the sleeper unit for the journey.
As a premium tourist destination in the country, Agra Cantt Station looked rather simple and chaotic.
During the four hour train ride, we passed by a number of shanty towns along the railway tracks.
People were everywhere. Often, the railway tracks served as a gathering place.
At other instances, the tracks had become a pedestrian passageway.
Many houses along the tracks were painted in vivid colours.
Many suburban trains were fully packed with commuters. Most third class train cabins would not limit the number of passengers.
Indian trains are not particular fast in speed. As a result, commuters could stand right next to the door openings.
Our train ride hit the rush hour of a Monday morning when local students and workers headed out for their routine destinations.
Time to go to work.
Simple shelters between train tracks formed a small community for the underprivileged.
Close encounter with the morning commuters.
A final look at our train car before getting off. The front right hand unit was our sleeper unit for the short journey.
After 9 days, we finally returned to New Delhi.
Upon arrival, we found our way out of the station. We had a full day ahead of us in Delhi before our flight back to Hong Kong.
We stepped out of New Delhi Station and found our way over to the Airport Express Station next door.
We decided to left our big backpacks at the storage at the Airport Express Station for the day.
After leaving our bags, we headed over to Khan Market, a well known shopping district in New Delhi. We picked up several souvenirs (local handicrafts) and searched for a place to eat.
For lunch, we selected SodaBottleOpenerWala, an interesting Bombay Iranian style restaurant serving Parsi and Bombay inspired Indian food.
Charbagh is a Islamic quadrilateral garden based on the four gardens of Paradise in the Quran. Across the Yamuna River exactly opposite to the Taj Mahal lies the ruined site of Shah Jahan’s charbagh. Identified by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as the most appropriate location to view the Taj, Mehtab Bagh was once occupied with pavilions, pools and fountains, and planted with fruit trees and flowers. With an identical width and perfect alignment with the Taj, the garden was seen as part of the master plan of the Taj Mahal. However after years of neglect, Mehtab Bagh was almost forgotten in the modern days until a major restoration work in 1990s. Today the garden has become the most popular spot in town to view the sunset of Taj Mahal. Our tour guide Gautam Pratap with Agra Walks took us to Mehtab Bagh by car.
The car took us to cross Yamuna River.
After we crossed the river, we soon arrived at some underprivileged neighborhoods.
According to our guide, the neighborhood that we passed by was mainly occupied by a “lower” caste of inhabitants.
According to our guide, interactions between people of different castes is usually rare.
Even life for domestic animal is harsh here.
Children having fun along the road.
After paying an admission, we were led to the central axis in the garden directly facing the Taj Mahal.
Ruins of the former pavilion and platform lie directly across from the Taj Mahal.
Once the official royal garden to view the Taj Mahal, Mehtab Bagh has become a popular place once again for tourists to view the Indian icon during sunset.
Pollution of the Yamuna River poses a major threat to the timber fountain and marble facade of the Taj. Due to river pollution, millions of small bugs appear at Taj Mahal and produce green excrement on the marble walls.
Some visitors would go to the riverside ground east of the Taj to photograph it without paying the admission fee. The ground is particular popular in early morning.
From Mehtab Bagh, it is the riverside sunset that draws tourists and locals for a magical moment to end the day. For us, it was the grand finale for our Agra experience. Before sunrise the next morning, we would board the express train for our return journey to Delhi.
After visiting Agra Fort, we returned to our hotel and waited for the tour guide from Agra Walks. Recommended by guidebooks, the Heritage Tour of Agra Walks gave us a good opportunity to visit one of Agra’s local market. For about two and a half hours, we followed our guide Gautam Pratap by car, cycle rickshaw, and on foot into the bustling Rawatpara Spice Market. Labelled as the “unseen” part of Agra for foreign tourists, the vibrant market scenes left a distinctive impression for us compared to the historical sites, one that was full of colours, fragrant, noises, and life.
On our way to Rawatpara Market, our rickshaw passed by the red sandstone walls of Agra Fort once again.
Near Agra Fort Train Station, our rickshaw entered into the lively streets of Rawatpara.
We found our way towards Jama Masjid, a famous mosque built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter in 1648.
Jama Masjid took 6 years and 5000 workers to finish.
Betel leaves are sold in the Rawatpara Market.
The 185 year old Chimman Lal Puri Wale was one of the highlights of our market walk. We actually sat down with the guide and sampled some of the tasty puri snacks with three different dipping.
After visiting the local eatery, we continued our walk into the market.
We passed different areas of the market beginning from the textile area. Many of these busy textile shops store their stocks in the attic above the main area.
As expected, there are many shops selling all kinds of personal adornments.
Local craftsmen could be seen everywhere in the market.
From jewellery making to embroidery, handicraft is still popular in India.
Next we came to a shop selling different ritual items, including garlands made with real money bills for wedding ceremonies. Despite being a popular local tradition, the Reserve Bank of India actually urged people to stop the custom.
Colourful shops in the market.
Everything were either vivid or golden in colour.
Decoration is such a huge part of the Indian culture.
We stopped by the historic Hindu temple Shri Mankameshwar Mandir. Unfortunately the temple was closed when we were there.
Then we moved on to the spice section of the market. Anyone who has experience with Indian cuisine would acknowledge the importance of spices in their culinary traditions. We did pick up some saffron from one of the shops.
Sweet is, of course, hugely popular for the Indians as well.
After a fruitful walk it was about time for sunset watching.
We followed our guide back to the entrance of the market where a 4×4 was waiting to take us to our next stop.
Similar to the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List since the 1980s, making it one of the three must-see attractions in Agra. Known as the Red Fort of Agra, the Agra Fort served as the royal residence of the early Mughal emperors until 1638 when the capital was moved to Delhi. It was constructed during the golden age of the Mughal Empire under two prolific builders: Emperor Akbar the Great and his grandson Shah Jahan. While Akbar is well known for founding the short lived capital Fatehpur Sikri, Shah Jahan is perhaps best known for erecting the most perfect Mughal architecture ever, the Taj Mahal. On the ruins of an earlier fort, Akbar rebuilt the Agra Fort with red sandstone. Akbar’s Agra Fort was completed in 1573 but was later transformed by Shah Jahan into its current mix of red sandstone and white marble buildings.
After visiting the Taj, we dropped by Joney’s Place, the local eatery where we had dinner the night before for breakfast. We had a few hours to spare before our walking tour at 2:30pm. Agra Fort was the obvious choice for us. An auto rickshaw brought us to the busy fort entrance in no time. Just like the Red Fort in Delhi, Agra Fort was very popular with local tourists.
Despite served as the royal residence, the Agra Fort appeared like a heavily fortified complex from its exterior.
Inside Agra Fort, Diwan-i-am was the main audience hall in the complex.
Built between 1631 to 1640, the 201′ by 67′ Diwan-i-am was the hall where Emperor Shah Jehan addressed the general public and his guests.
Constructed by Shah Jahan in 1637, the Anguri Bagh (Grape Garden) was used as a vineyard to make wine for the emperor.
Stone colonnade flanked three sides of the Anguri Bagh.
Khas Mahal was built by Shah Jahan for his daughter Jahanara and Roshanara.
Adjacent to the Khas Mahal, covered verandahs and the marble terraces offered visitors a fantastic view of the Yamuna River.
The Musamman Burj is one of the most splendidly crafted buildings in the complex.
While Akbar built his buildings with sandstone, his grandson Shah Jahan preferred white marble just like another of his other project, the Taj Mahal.
Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower with great views of the Yamuna River, was built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Together with his daughter Jahanara Begum, It was here that Shah Jahan spent his last few years as a captive of his son Aurangzeb.
From here, Shah Jahan spent his final moments on his death bed facing the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his beloved wife.
Tourists love to take pictures against the beautiful marble lattice work. This woman didn’t even notice the approach monkey as she posed for photo.
Known as the Gem Mosque, the Nagina Masjid is a small marble mosque built by Shah Jahan.
Built by Emperor Akbar, the Jahangiri Mahal Palace was the primary zenana to house his Rajput wives. Compared to his grandson Shah Jahan’s buildings, Akbar’s buildings were mainly built with red sandstone.
Jahangiri Mahal Palace is one of the oldest surviving building in Agra Fort and also the largest part in the compound.
A beautiful dome ceiling at the Jahangiri Mahal Palace.
Only 30 out of 500 buildings of the Jahangir Mahal Palace survive to the present. Many had been destroyed by Shah Jahan and later the British.
After the visit, we returned to the main entrance and hopped on an auto rickshaw to return our hotel.
On the banks of Yamuna River stands one of the world’s most recognizable man-made wonders that has captivated the imagination of people for generations. Its perfectly proportioned domes, minarets, white marble facades with spectacular stone inlays, represent the utmost architectural beauty and splendid craftsmanship of the Mughal civilization. The complex immortalizes the eternal love of Emperor Shah Jahan (reigned 1628 – 1658) towards Mumtaz Mahal, whose marvelous tomb complex has become the most famous national icon of India. This tomb complex is of course the magnificent Taj Mahal, which literally translates as Crown of the Palaces. The Taj Mahal stands out as the single most important monument that draws travelers from all over the world to India. Not a mosque or a palace, the Taj Mahal is indeed the final resting place for Queen Mumtaz Mahal and Emperor Shah Jahan.
It would be absurd if we made two visits to India without seeing the Taj Mahal even once. Fitting Agra into our Rajasthan itinerary and completing the Golden Triangle was easy with the frequent train services between Agra, Jaipur and Delhi. In Agra, we purposely picked a guesthouse at Taj Ganj, the district right next to the Taj Mahal. Though not many good hotel options were available in the area, staying at Taj Ganj placed us just a few minutes of walk away from one of the gates of Taj Mahal. Hoping to experience the golden sunrise at the Taj, queuing at the gate about half an hour before sunrise is a common practice for both foreign and local visitors.
Before the trip, we were a little worry about the restoration work and scaffolding conditions of the Taj. Since 2016, scaffolding were up at different parts of the Taj for a major cleaning work to restore the original white colour of the marble. The process had been painstakingly slow. By October 2018, the cleaning was almost over except the main dome. It would be a woeful view if the central dome was covered in scaffolding. Luckily, the authority had decided to delay the cleaning process until the end of the tourist high season, meaning that the Taj would be scaffolding free from November 2018 to April 2019.
After purchasing the tickets at the gate, we queued in the foreign visitor line for about 20 minutes before going through the security check and arriving at the Jilaukhana Forecourt in front of the Great Gate.
Beyond the Great Gate, we arrived at the starting point of the Water Channel. The channels symbolize the four rivers in the Paradise mentioned in the Koran. A tint of orange gradually lighted up the east side of the minarets and domes.
We slowly walked to the central pool and platform at the centre of the Charbagh Garden.
From the Central Pool, the majestic Taj Mahal looked beautiful and poetic under the early morning sun. No tourist brochure or travel literature could do justice on conveying the true beauty of the marble architecture. We were grateful for not seeing any scaffolding on the Taj, and could see clearly all the major components of the iconic building: four minarets, five domes and an octagonal central structure.
It was a little hazy looking back to the Great Gate.
It was a huge relief to see the Taj scaffolding free. We slowly walked towards the main tomb structure to pay a brief visit of the interior.
No photography was allowed inside the tomb, where the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan were on display. Their actual resting place is off limit to the public below the main deck.
After touring the interior, we stayed on the marble platform to check out the minarets and marble facades.
To the west of the Taj stands a beautiful mosque.
To the east, an identical building was used as a guesthouse.
To the north, Yamuna River provides a peaceful backdrop to the Taj.
From the marble platform, we could admire the details of marble carving on the Taj.
Standing face to face to the exterior marble walls, we were overwhelmed by the marble relief and stone inlay.
From the grandeur of the minarets to the splendid carvings and stone inlay of the marble walls, Taj Mahal is truly an amazing man-made wonder.
The sun get higher as time passed, and so as the number of visitors.
We circled the Taj to examine its beautiful marble walls before heading back down to the Charbagh Garden.
Back in the Charbagh garden, we could once again admire the overview of the Taj Mahal,
Back at the Central Pool, we took a few more shots of the classic view of the Taj once again.
Visitors continued to pour in from the Great Gate as we were about to leave the Taj Mahal complex.
We passed by the Khawasspuras (tomb attendant living quarter) one last time before exiting the Great Gate.