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59 ~ Taj Mahal's back side : Mehtab Bagh

Gardens are not in their full glory - great to visit February through to April


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I wanted to see the Taj Mahal (Taj) from the “rear” and the Mughal Riverfront Gardens was being the restored including the Mehtab Bagh.

Mehtab Bagh (Hindi मेहताब बाग़, Urdu:مہتاب باغ‬‎, translation: Moonlight Garden) is a charbagh complex. It lies north of the Taj Mahal complex and the Agra Fort on the opposite side of the Yamuna River, in the flood plains. The garden complex, square in shape, measures about 300 by 300 metres (980ft × 980ft) and is perfectly aligned with the Taj Mahal on the opposite bank.

Some 81 plants adopted in Mughal horticulture were planted, including guava, maulshri, Nerium, hibiscus, citrus fruit plants, neem, bauhinia, ashokaand jamun. The herbage was planted in such a way that tall trees follow the short ones, then shrubs, and lastly flowering plants. Some of these plants produce bright-coloured flowers that shine in the moonlight. Thanks Mr Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehtab_Bagh

This is what Lonely Planet has to say …

This park, originally built by Emperor Babur as the last in a series of 11 parks on the Yamuna’s east bank (long before the Taj was conceived), fell into disrepair until it was little more than a huge mound of sand. To protect the Taj from the erosive effects of the sand blown across the river, the park was reconstructed and is now one the best places from which to view the great mausoleum.

The gardens in the Taj are perfectly aligned with the ones here, and the view of the Taj from the fountain directly in front of the entrance gate is a classic. It's a popular spot at sunset.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/agra/attractions/mehtab-bagh/a/poi-sig/1151574/356509

It has great view of the rear of the Taj Mahal with all four towers or minars visible. Unfortunately, there was a lot of mist which had obscured most of the Taj but one could clearly only see the outline. However with the repair works going on, the gardens are not in their full glory. The money shot is no doubt from the fountain which was fenced off being renovated.

Mehtab Bagh is where Shah Jahan intended to build his own mausoleum, a black version, right opposite that of his beloved wife Mumtaz, the Taj Mahal. The jury's out if he ever began work because his son locked him up for the rest of his 44 years to stop him spending so much money. Also, he's said to have blinded and removed the hands of the Taj workmen, so they might never make anything so beautiful again.

Paid the extra 300 rupees / NZ$6.30 / US$4.20. Plus GST came to 505 rupees / NZ$10.50 / US$7.10 for the entrance fee.

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Was it worth it? Not really but I have no regrets. I can see why this park is popular at nights with the locals and once further developed it would be an even better asset. Would be great to visit this garden in February through to April for the flowers.

If I had more time would have stopped near the field where the locals were playing cricket and used the Taj as a background image.

With a 1.30pm / 13:30 late check out, it was time to head back to the hotel and shower as I have 2 night flights ahead of me, then onto Delhi.

As we drove from Mehtab Bagh back towards the hotel.

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Seeing a while ago Frances my niece’s photos of her time at the Taj recognised that as we drove to Mehtab Bagh the saris drying laid out on the river bank having been washed. So, it was a very quick stop at the middle and end of the bridge while I dashed out to take a few quick images. Again wish that I had more time to go down to the river level itself. Perhaps next time if there is a next time. That plus see the “Baby” Taj which again is not far away.

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Because of the possible traffic delays allowed plenty of time just in case. Hate to miss my flight connection to from Delhi Airport and a 10.30pm / 22:30 flight to Hong Kong.

Taking the Yamuna 6 lane 165 kms / 100 mile expressway from Agra to Greater Noida, it was a quick 3.5 hour journey to travel to the airport.

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However, reaching the outskirt of Delhi, yes, the traffic did at times slow right down and the last hour was at times down to a crawl.

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I should have remembered that the Lotus Temple in Delhi was close by the road to the airport so again can add that to my future list of places to see.

As Ashok’s daughter had her birthday that night and he lives an hour away from the airport, there was no point for him to take me somewhere for dinner so it was an airport dinner once check in was done.

The last 16 days travelled some approximately 2,870 kms / 1,780 miles, so thanks to Ashok for your driving skills and not to my knowledge hitting any vehicles or people. I won’t miss your phone ring tone though!

With check in opening at 7pm / 19:00, it was a bit of a wait but at least I had power to charge my camera batteries. With Premium Economy there was no queue at the check in counter. Got my boarding pass for both of the next 2 sectors but no upgrade.

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Dinner up in the food court taking the non-veg combo 480 rupees / NZ$10 / US$6.80. Plus GST came to 505 rupees / NZ$10.50 / US$7.10.

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Posted by bruceontour 14:14 Archived in India Tagged agra mehtab_bagh Comments (0)

58 ~ Agra Fort

Imposing gates & walls of red sandstone & a moat


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Agra Fort was by car only a few minutes away. Lies on the bend of the river Yamuna, almost in the heart of the town. Akbar built it as his citadel over the years 1563-73 in the finest architectural style. It has imposing gates and walls of red sandstone and a moat.

This is what Lonely Planet has to say …

With the Taj Mahal overshadowing it, one can easily forget that Agra has one of the finest Mughal forts in India. Walking through courtyard after courtyard of this palatial red-sandstone and marble fortress, your amazement grows as the scale of what was built here begins to sink in.

Construction along the bank of the Yamuna River was begun by Emperor Akbar in 1565 on the site of an earlier fort. Further additions were made, particularly by his grandson Shah Jahan, using his favourite building material – white marble. The fort was built primarily as a military structure, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace, and later it became his gilded prison for eight years after his son Aurangzeb seized power in 1658.

The ear-shaped fort’s colossal double walls rise more than 20m and measure 2.5km in circumference. The Yamuna River originally flowed along the straight eastern edge of the fort, and the emperors had their own bathing ghats here. It contains a maze of buildings, forming a city within a city, including vast underground sections, though many of the structures were destroyed over the years by Nadir Shah, the Marathas, the Jats and finally the British, who used the fort as a garrison. Even today, much of the fort is used by the military and is off-limits to the general public.

The Amar Singh Gate to the south is the sole entry point to the fort these days and where you buy your entrance ticket. Its dogleg design was meant to confuse attackers who made it past the first line of defence – the crocodile-infested moat.

Following the plain processional way you reach a gateway and the huge red-sandstone Jehangir’s Palace on the right. In front of the palace is Hauz-i-Jehangir, a huge bowl carved out of a single block of stone, which was used for bathing. The palace was probably built by Akbar for his son Jehangir. With tall stone pillars and corner brackets, it blends Indian and Central Asian architectural styles, a reminder of the Mughals’ Turkestani cultural roots.

Further along the eastern edge of the fort you’ll find the Khas Mahal, a beautiful marble pavilion and pool that formed the living quarters of Shah Jahan. Taj views are framed in the ornate marble grills.

The large courtyard here is Anguri Bagh, a garden that has been brought back to life in recent years. In the courtyard is an innocuous-looking entrance – now locked – that leads down a flight of stairs into a two-storey labyrinth of underground rooms and passageways where Akbar used to keep his 500-strong harem. On the northeast corner of the courtyard you can get a glimpse of the Shish Mahal (Mirror Palace), with walls inlaid with tiny mirrors.

Just to the north of the Khas Mahal s the Mathamman (Shah) Burj, the wonderful white-marble octagonal tower and palace where Shah Jahan was imprisoned for eight years until his death in 1666, and from where he could gaze out at the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his wife. When he died, Shah Jahan’s body was taken from here by boat to the Taj. From here ascend to the upper level via the now closed Mina Masjid, which served as Shah Jahan's private mosque.

As you enter the large courtyard, along the eastern wall of the fort, is Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences), which was reserved for important dignitaries or foreign representatives. The hall once housed Shah Jahan’s legendary Peacock Throne, which was inset with precious stones – including the famous Koh-i-noor diamond. The throne was taken to Delhi by Aurangzeb, then to Iran in 1739 by Nadir Shah and dismantled after his assassination in 1747. Overlooking the river and the distant Taj Mahal is Takhti-i-Jehangir, a huge slab of black rock with an inscription around the edge. The throne that stood here was made for Jehangir when he was Prince Salim.

Following the north side of the courtyard a side door leads to the tiny but exquisite white-marbled Nagina Masjid (Gem Mosque), built in 1635 by Shah Jahan for the ladies of the court. Down below was the Ladies’ Bazaar, where the court ladies bought their goods.

A hidden doorway near the mosque exit leads down to the scallop-shaped arches of the large, open Diwan-i-Am, which was used by Shah Jahan for domestic government business, and features a beautifully decorated throne room where the emperor listened to petitioners. In front of it is the small and rather incongruous grave of John Colvin, a lieutenant-governor of the northwest provinces who died of an illness while sheltering in the fort during the 1857 First War of Independence. To the north is the Moti Masjid, currently off-limits to visitors. From here head back to the Amar Singh gate.

You can walk to the fort from Taj Ganj via the leafy Shah Jahan Park, or take an autorickshaw for ₹80. Food is not allowed into the fort. The fort opens 30 minutes before sunset; the ticket office opens 15 minutes before that. Last entry is 30 minutes before sunset.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/agra/attractions/a/poi-sig/356509

Here is the link to Tripsavvy:

The Taj Mahal invariably steals the spotlight in Agra but the city also has one of India's most significant Mughal forts. Four generations of influential Mughal emperors ruled from Agra Fort, while Agra was the capital of the flourishing Mughal Empire. The fort was among the first monuments in India to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It reflects both the strength and splendor of the Mughal dynasty, which dominated India over three centuries.

https://www.tripsavvy.com/agra-fort-india-guide-4162022

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Waiting for the car to arrive ... outside Agra Fort

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Posted by bruceontour 01:36 Archived in India Tagged agra agra_fort Comments (0)

56 ~ Taj Mahal at sunset : Agra

Far too busy with too many people in front of me


View India 18 - 19 on bruceontour's travel map.

Now 2.30pm / 14:30 and continued the short 35 km / 22 miles distance through to Agra.

With the traffic it was 3.30pm / 15:30 when I checked in at the 3-star Hotel Amar, my only 3-star hotel on this trip. I forgot that in India to be a 4-star hotel it has to have a pool. Yes, the 4-star hotels that I stayed at with pools were nice, but it was winter and I didn’t want a swim so perhaps 3-star hotels would have been enough. Never mind.

Sanjay was the local guide for Agra and he was waiting at the hotel. Sun was about to set in a couple of hours so no time to waste at the hotel.

Little needs to be said about this architectural wonder which is always the soul raison-de-etre for every tourist’s visit to Agra. Built by Shahjehan, the Taj Mahal (Taj) is a white marble memorial to his beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal.

This is what Lonely Planet has to say …

Poet Rabindranath Tagore described it as 'a teardrop on the cheek of eternity'; Rudyard Kipling as 'the embodiment of all things pure'; while its creator, Emperor Shah Jahan, said it made 'the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes'. Every year, tourists numbering more than twice the population of Agra pass through its gates to catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of what is widely considered the most beautiful building in the world. Few leave disappointed.

The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. The death of Mumtaz left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to have turned grey virtually overnight. Construction of the Taj began the following year; although the main building is thought to have been built in eight years, the whole complex was not completed until 1653. Not long after it was finished, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort, where for the rest of his days he could only gaze out at his creation through a window. Following his death in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried here alongside his beloved Mumtaz.

In total, some 20,000 people from India and Central Asia worked on the building. Specialists were brought in from as far away as Europe to produce the exquisite marble screens and pietra dura (marble inlay work) made with thousands of semiprecious stones.

The Taj was designated a World Heritage Site in 1983 and looks nearly as immaculate today as when it was first constructed – though it underwent a huge restoration project in the early 20th century.

Entry & Information

Note: the Taj is closed every Friday to anyone not attending prayers at the mosque.

The Taj can be accessed through the west and east gates. The south gate was closed to visitors in 2018 for security concerns but can be used to exit the Taj. The east gate generally has shorter queues. There are separate queues for men and women at both gates. Once you get your ticket, you can skip ahead of the lines of Indians waiting to get in – one perk of your pricey entry fee. It's possible to buy your tickets online in advance at https://asi.payumoney.com (you'll get a ₹50 discount for your troubles), but you won't save much time as you still have to join the main security queue. A ticket that includes entrance to the mausoleum itself cost ₹200 extra.

Cameras and videos are permitted, but you can't take photographs inside the mausoleum itself. Tripods are banned.

Remember to retrieve your free 500ml bottle of water and shoe covers (included in Taj ticket price). If you keep your ticket, you get small entry-fee discounts when visiting Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar's Tomb or the Itimad-ud-Daulah on the same day. Bags much bigger than a money pouch are not allowed inside; free bag storage is available. Any food or tobacco will be confiscated when you go through security, as will pens.

Inside the Grounds

From both the east and west gates you first enter a monumental inner courtyard with an impressive 30m red-sandstone gateway on the south side.

The ornamental gardens are set out along classical Mughal Charbagh (formal Persian garden) lines – a square quartered by watercourses, with an ornamental marble plinth at its centre. When the fountains are not flowing, the Taj is beautifully reflected in the water.

The Taj Mahal itself stands on a raised marble platform at the northern end of the ornamental gardens, with its back to the Yamuna River. Its raised position means that the backdrop is only sky – a masterstroke of design.

Purely decorative 40m-high white minarets grace each corner of the platform. After more than three centuries they are not quite perpendicular, but they may have been designed to lean slightly outwards so that in the event of an earthquake they would fall away from the precious Taj. The red-sandstone mosque to the west is an important gathering place for Agra's Muslims. The identical building to the east, the jawab, was built for symmetry.

The central Taj structure is made of semi-translucent white marble, carved with flowers and inlaid with thousands of semiprecious stones in beautiful patterns. A perfect exercise in symmetry, the four identical faces of the Taj feature impressive vaulted arches embellished with pietra dura scrollwork and quotations from the Quran in a style of calligraphy using inlaid jasper. The whole structure is topped off by four small domes surrounding the famous bulbous central dome.

Directly below the main dome is the Cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal, an elaborate false tomb surrounded by an exquisite perforated marble screen inlaid with dozens of different types of semiprecious stones. Beside it, offsetting the symmetry of the Taj, is the Cenotaph of Shah Jahan, who was interred here with little ceremony by his usurping son Aurangzeb in 1666. Light is admitted into the central chamber by finely cut marble screens.

The real tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are in a basement room below the main chamber.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/agra/attractions/a/poi-sig/356509

With the foreigners window only having a person in front of me, tickets were quickly brought, picked up the complementary shoe cover to protect the marble floors and bottle of water.

For once, I did not mind segregation. You will have a totally different experience at the Taj depending on whether you purchase a “High Value Ticket” (as all foreign visitors seem to), or a “General Ticket.” This begins from the very moment you walk in the door to the main courtyard: High Value Ticket-holders slide into the yard in minutes, while the General Ticket line stretches for blocks.

The same applied with the queue entering the Taj Mahal mausoleum itself.

Sanjay had already told me earlier what I was allowed to take in so was prepared for a quick entry through security.

It was far too busy with too many people in front of me at the main gate to fully enjoy that magnificent first view of the Taj itself.

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After its year long clean up completed last year, it was wonderful to see it in the distance.

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The Great gate (Darwaza-i rauza)

So, after the briefing from Sanjay and taking the usual photos of pinching the top or lifting the Taj, I was again let loose.

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Thereafter, visit the Taj Mahal mausoleum and on with the disposable overshoes to protect the marble floor. As for people not allowed to take photos and no noise inside ... you guessed it … they were!

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Two red buildings flanked the Taj. The mosque and Jawab. Definition of a Jawab is a building (as the false mosque of the Taj Mahal) erected to correspond to or balance another. Read that it was the guest house.

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Lotus Pool – named after its lotus shaped fountain spouts, the pool reflects the tomb.

It was the refection in the blue pools in front of the Taj and the main gate that really captivated me, hence so many images. How to take it? From up High or down Low? Centre down the middle or from the left or from the right?

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Then there was that iconic 1992 Princess Di seat photo, but I had my legs going the wrong way. Plus, there were two marble seats and Princess Di was sitting on the lower one, not the one that I was on.

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Just look at the changing light and eventually see the people leave. It was busy when I got there. Again mainly local Indian tourists.

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There wasn’t much of a sunset to speak of today which was a shame. Originally Sanjay said the place closed at sunset. Then he wanted me to meet and leave at 5.10pm / 17:10 but no … I had come all this way and decided to stay to the bitter end when the gates really closed at 6pm / 18:00. Really glad that I did.

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On the way back to the hotel, off to see a marble inlay workshop and you got it ... it was so that I could buy some souvenirs which was not going to happen.

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Being New Year’s Eve, it was a compulsory dinner at this hotel. Let’s just say the menu was not to my liking. Plus, I was placed by an open drafty door that I asked to be closed many times, which it was then re-opened … Plus I pad 1,800 rupees as part of the hotel package yet the brochure I saw had just 900 rupees. So, what’s up? Who’s making 100% mark up? Or is the 900 rupee coupon part of the 1,800 rupee package?

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Posted by bruceontour 23:14 Archived in India Tagged taj taj_mahal agra Comments (0)

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