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.
Out of all structures in Fatehpur Sikri, the most imposing building is undoubtedly Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque). Completed in 1571, Akbar’s impressive grand mosque houses the white marble tomb of Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, and the spectacular 54m tall Buland Darwaza (Victory Gate). One of the biggest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid of Fatehpur Sikri features a series of chhatris, elevated dome shaped pavilions purely for decoration. We came just in time to make a brief visit at the mosque before sunset.
From the former royal palaces, we entered the mosque via the Shahi Darwaza (King’s Gate). At the gate, we took off our shoes and left them with the shoe keeper along with a small fee.
Beyond the Shahi Darwaza, we arrived at a huge open courtyard.
The gigantic Buland Darwaza (Victoria Gate) was built as a victory arch to commemorate Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat.
At 55m from the outside, the Buland Darwaza (Victoria Gate) is considered the tallest gate in the world.
At the back, the Buland Darwaza stepped down to a more human scale towards the main courtyard.
Opposite to Buland Darwaza stands the elegant white marble tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti and the red sandstone assembly hall Jamat Khana.
The Tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti is considered one of the finest example of Mughal architecture.
The marble cenotaph is popular with Islam worshipers. Shaikh Salim Chisti was a Sufi saint who blessed Emperor Akbar with his son before he was born.
Worshipers studied religious text at the outer corridor of the cenotaph. Photography was not allowed inside the cenotaph.
The tomb building is covered all four sides with beautiful lattice.
Showing the direction of Mecca, the central mihrab is covered by a dome.
We paid a brief visit to the interior of the main mosque building.
Splendid marble inlay in geometric patterns cover most of the interior walls.
The principal mihrab situates beneath the great dome of the mosque.
Worshipers gathered at the front porch of the assembly hall Jamat Khana.
There are a number of tombs in the courtyard.
As the sun set below the magnificent sandstone chhatris, it was time for us to return to the parking lot and finished our day’s journey to Agra.
At around 8pm, we finally arrived at Taj Ganj, the district immediately south of majestic Taj Mahal in Agra. After checking in at our simple guesthouse near the West Gate, we headed out for a quick bite. We would need to rest for the night and get up early the next day to line up for the sunrise entry into the Taj Mahal before 6am.
Adjacent to Sariska Tiger Reserve, the ruined fort in the village of Bhangarh is well known in India, not just for its impressive 17th century ruins but for its fame as the most haunted attraction in the country. It is common for visitors with their own wheels to stop by the ruins during the journey between Jaipur and Agra. Some adventure seekers go as far as hiding in the fort and staying the night illegally to challenge their courage when everybody is gone. But they are truly risking their lives as tigers from the nearby reserve have been known for occasional visits in the wee hours.
We spent roughly an hour at the ruins. Knowing that we still had two more places to go after Bhangarh, we had to be disciplined with time management. While many visitors come to Bhangarh for its haunted legends, the site was in fact worth visiting also for its well preserved ruins. Legend has it that a black magician fell in love with the beautiful Princess Ratnavati of Bhangarh. The princess saw through the magician’s wicked plot of tricking her to fall in love with him. The sour consequence led to the magician putting a curse over the entire fort. The troubled fort had since then became deserted and haunted.
We passed by the Hanumaan Temple as soon as we stepped into the site of Bhangarh.
Flanked both sides by ruined stone houses, walking on the main street into the site allowed us to imagine its former glory.
Beyond the street of ruined houses, we arrived at the inner core of Bhangarh.
We were delighted to find a large open space at the heart of the site.
The open space was flanked by a number of buildings, including the Gopinath Temple.
From the open space it was another short walk uphill to the fort complex.
We were delighted to see how well preserved the fort was.
On our way up to the fort, we encountered several groups of local students.
They were really interested in us. Perhaps it wasn’t common for them to see foreigners.
Groups after groups of local students urged us to take them pictures.
The laughter of the school children was a big bonus for our Bhangarh visit.
Looking down to the open space from the fort.
The fort was built cascading up the hill.
Most of the buildings had collapsed after centuries of abandonment.
Monkey were everywhere in the site, especially at the entrance of Somnath Temple.
Local visitors stepping out the Somnath Temple.
Gray langur monkeys are native to the Indian subcontinent.
Before leaving the site, we had encountered several different groups of monkeys, some of which were devouring fruits given by local visitors.
Standing at the edge of the City Palace of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal was part of the women’s chambers of the former royal palace. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the sandstone facade with a honeycomb of latticed bay windows is the most recognizable building in Jaipur. The splendid facade is actually the back side of the palace building, where royal ladies were able to watch the activities and occasional festival events on the street through one of the 953 small windows. Today, the five-storey palace building is open to visitors. With narrow stairways and passageways and shallow rooms, the top three floors can get a little crowded during the tourist high season.
All tourists in Jaipur would take pictures of the famous facade from the main street, while not every one would actually visit the building interior. We were curious to experience how it might feel to peek back at the main street through one the small windows, and thus decided to pay a brief visit of the palace. Finding the entrance of Hawa Mahal required a bit of research. Entered through a retail side street, we arrived at a back lane where the real entrance and ticket office of Hawa Mahal were located.
The splendid facade of Hawa Mahal is the most recognizable building in Jaipur.
To enter the building, visitors must find their way into the back alleyway where the main entrance is located.
Through a series of doors and gateways, we arrived at the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.
A feature water fountain dominated the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.
We had little interest on the water feature. Instead, our primary aim was to check out the small windows and the views from the top two levels of the palace.
We walked up a level at a time. Colourful stained glass windows were everywhere, providing a pleasant visual effects for the interiors.
While many small windows were locked up, some were opened for visitors to check out the street views.
It wasn’t difficult for visitors to imagine the elusive lives of the royal ladies behind the small windows.
The ramp tower led us to the top floor. From the top floor, we could enjoy the view back into the royal palace.
The pink facade of Hawa Mahal matches perfectly with shops across the street.
There was another courtyard complex connected to the Hawa Mahal on the ground level.
Looking straight down the iconic facade was a little frightening.
Across the street, restaurant patios lined up on the roof and top terraces for anyone who might have the time and mood to sit down with a drink, and take in views of the romantic sunset and iconic facade.
Stairs and hallways on the top floors were really narrow.
By the time we reached the top level it was almost sunset time.
Before leaving Hawa Mahal, we found our way to check out a corner pavilion at the terrace level.
We stopped by a rooftop cafe across the street to enjoy the sunset scenery of the iconic Hawa Mahal.
Before the sun disappeared below the horizon, flood lights at the base of Hawa Mahal were turned on for the night view. We bid farewell to Hawa Mahal and returned to the Peacock Restaurant for our final dinner in Jaipur.