Taj Mahal#1 in Best Things To Do in Agra
Plain and simple: This is the reason you come to Agra. The Taj Mahal is a majestic tomb built in the Mughal style, which combines Indian, Islamic and Persian architectural principles. Visitors marvel at the intricate Quran inscriptions, the structure's perfect symmetry, the ornate accents, and the surrounding manicured gardens. But this monument's enchantment goes beyond its arresting visual appeal: The story behind its creation has drawn romantics for centuries.
According to legend, Emperor Shah Jahan (part of the Mughal dynasty, which ruled the majority of northern India between the 16th and 18th centuries) fell deeply in love with Arjumand Banu Begum, who became his favorite of his three wives. They shared such an intense passion for each another that he renamed her "Mumtaz Mahal," or "Chosen One of the Palace." After many years of happy marriage, Mumtaz passed away during the birth of her 14th child. To commemorate their undying love for one another, the Shah built the Taj Mahal as an elaborate tomb. The tomb is made up entirely of white marble and features jade, crystal, lapis, turquoise and amethyst stones inlaid throughout. Over 20,000 workers labored over the site for more than 20 years.
While most visitors have seen pictures of the monument and heard the lovers' tale, coming face to face with the Taj Mahal remains a unique and awe-inspiring experience. This UNESCO World Heritage Site welcomes between seven and eight million visitors per year, and hardly any of them leave disappointed. That said, the one thing that can disrupt the serenity of the Taj Mahal is overcrowding. Be sure to visit at sunrise or sunset to avoid peak times.
There are three entrances to the site: the Western, Eastern, and Southern Gates. You'll want to put any non-permissible items, such as food and drinks (other than water), in the lockers available. If you are not visiting the Taj Mahal on an organized tour, you can easily take a short taxi ride from central Agra as the Taj Mahal is located just east of downtown. The Taj Mahal welcomes visitors every day from sunrise to sunset, except Fridays. The entrance fee for international travelers is 1,000 rupees (about $16) and can be purchased at any of the gates. For more information, consult the Taj Mahal's official website.
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#2 Agra Fort
Just northwest of the Taj Mahal, this formidable fortress rests on the west bank of the Yamuna River on the edge of central Agra. About a century older than its more recognized neighbor, Agra Fort boasts impressive red sandstone architectural details throughout and is considered to be one of the best Mughal forts in India. Several rulers made their mark on this site while they lived behind its towering walls, including Shah Jahan, the same emperor who is responsible for the construction of the Taj Mahal. You can credit Jahan with the white marble features you'll find within the fort. It was he who was also responsible for eventually converting the structure into a palace. (Jahan's grandfather, Emperor Akbar originally built it as a fort some hundred years earlier). Travelers could easily spend hours touring and admiring the fort's many offerings, including mosques, verdant courtyards and towers, one of which acted as a prison for Jahan until his death. Today, the site still holds onto its defense roots, as some areas of the fort are used by the Indian military, and as such closed to the public.
Recent visitors were impressed by the fort and suggested travelers visit here before heading to the Taj Mahal to learn about how the imperial family lived. Many called the fort an architectural must-see with great historical significance and said it even offers great views of the Taj Mahal, too. Travelers did point out that there isn't a whole lot of shade when walking around the attraction, so don't visit in the middle of the day when the sun is beating down on the fort. Visitors also recommended using a guide during your stay to better understand the vast history behind the fort (guides can be arranged on-site).
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