After getting settled into our hotel upon arrival in Agra, we headed out for a full day of sightseeing. Our first stop was Agra Fort. The entire fort covers an area of 94 acres, but only a portion of this is open to the public since the northern area of the fort is still in use by the Indian military.
Agra Fort has a very long history beginning with its construction in 1080 AD. However, the remains you can see today are actually from 1573 AD when Akbar, the emperor at the time, had the fort rebuilt in red sandstone. Later, Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, the one who had the famous Taj Mahal built, added structures inside made of white marble to match the Taj Mahal. And that is how Agra Fort appears today – a fortified complex built of red sandstone with marble palaces on the inside.
Entering Agra Fort
Agra Fort has four entrance gates. The one used by the public is the Amar Singh Gate. There is an entrance fee of 300 rupees, or $6, for tourists to visit. You can also hire an English-speaking tour guide for the whole day for about $10.
Immediately upon entering, the first thing I noticed was that Agra Fort is in astonishingly good condition for such an old structure. I totally expected to see ruins, not a fully functioning fort with rooms that still look much like they did in their prime. The details in the red sandstone completely surprised me as well. The entrance to Agra Fort (and the whole fort, really) is just exquisite.
Even though much of Agra Fort is closed off to visitors, there is still a lot to see. Our first stop inside the fort was the Jahangiri Mahal which was built by Akbar for his son, Jahangir. It ultimately became the zenana, meaning the palace for the royal women of the household. It housed the wives of Akbar and Jahangir.
If you’re curious what that bowl-like structure in front of the palace is, it’s the bathtub! Does bathing outside in the courtyard in the hot sun where everyone can see you sound fun to anyone? Yeah, me either. Those royals had it tough.
Our next stop was the Khas Mahal, a palace built for two of Shah Jahan’s favorite daughters. (Apparently it’s totally cool to have favorite children when you’re a royal.) Like the other palaces within Agra Fort, this one featured multiple gardens and courtyards and rooms with giant columns giving us a small glimpse into the elegant life the royal families once led.
One thing I found particularly interesting about the palaces that were built for women was that small lattice windows were cut into the walls so that the ladies could look outside without being seen. I thought they were made that way for appearance (they are beautiful!), but their intricate designs actually served a purpose as well.
One of the most impressive palaces within Agra Fort is the Musamman Burj. It was built by Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Musamman Burj features a marble design inlaid with precious stones, a domed ceiling, and a beautiful fountain in the center of the room. (This palace totally wins the Prettiest Palace at Agra Fort award, in my opinion.)
From the Musamman Burj, the views of the Taj Mahal are spectacular. As an ironic legend has it, during the last few years of his life, Shah Jahan was imprisoned here by his son, Aurangzeb, and forced to look out at his greatest creation, the Taj Mahal, until the day he died. I mean, I can think of worse places to be imprisoned, but still. That was cold.
FYI: While the view of the Taj Mahal is best from here, many of the palaces in Agra Fort have rooftop verandas with beautiful views of the surrounding city and the Taj Mahal in the distance.
Courtyards & Halls
After seeing the palaces, we checked out a few of the fort’s covered courtyards and open-air halls, the most important of which were the Diwan-i-Am (hall of public audience) and the Diwan-i-Khas (hall of private audience, meant specifically for kings and other dignitaries). These were areas where people gathered for important announcements from the royal family or where petitions could be made to the royal family by the people of the city.
While we were resting in the shade beneath one of the covered halls, these women approached me wanting a picture. At first I thought they wanted me to take their picture for them, but no. They wanted me to take a picture with them, with my camera. I was totally confused, but loved how afterwards they all wanted to see themselves on the tiny screen of my camera. Note how I’m wearing the least amount of layers of anyone in this picture, yet I’m the only one that’s a sweaty mess. Ha!
Practical Info for Visiting Agra Fort
Agra Fort is a very busy place. Not as busy as the Taj Mahal, but close. We went before noon and it was already bustling with activity. It’s not just other tourists you’ll find wandering around inside, but workers, military, and tour guides looking for business as well. Needless to say, the earlier you go, the less crowded it will be.
Not only is it busy, but it is HOT which is another reason to visit as early as possible. The heat in Agra was like nothing I’d ever experienced before – I felt like the red stone was acting as a magnet for the sun. Unlike the United States where the further north you go, the cooler the temperatures get, in India, that isn’t always the case. While we were touring the fort, it was 116 degrees outside. 116! It had me missing the relatively cool temperature of 105 in Mumbai. Even our water got too hot to drink.
The only other important tip I have to offer is that you need to hire a guide. Not only will your guide show you around Agra Fort, he will also go with you to any other sights you’re visiting that day and will be able to supply all the information you need about what you’re seeing. Without a guide, you’ll get almost no history or explanation about the sights you’ll see in Agra. Not much info is posted anywhere and when it is, it’s not often in English. Your guide will totally be the key to digging a little deeper into this fascinating city.
For another sight to visit in Agra other than the Taj Mahal, check out the Baby Taj!
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