The Taj Mahal and Agra are synonymous. While scores of tourists frequent the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, several other lesser-known monuments in Agra are worthy of a visit. Some of these are remarkably well maintained, while others are neglected and need conservation. This travelogue will focus on the lesser-known but outstanding monuments we visited in Agra namely Itimad-ud-Daulah and Akbar’s Tomb. After visiting the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, we set our sights on exploring some of the other monuments.
Close to the Yamuna River is a monument called Baby Taj. The Itimad-ud-Daulah is made in marble with inlay work. Noor Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir, made it in loving memory of her father. It served as inspiration for the Taj Mahal built later, which is grander and more extensive.
We arrive at the monument and visit the entry point, which has a gallery with the Mughal family tree, historical background, and sketches of the monument and gardens. We have already purchased online tickets and show them at the entrance. A red sandstone gateway with white inlay marble work leads us to the courtyard of the monument. The Mughal Char Baug gardens with water fountains welcome us.
The Baby Taj has a striking resemblance to the Taj Mahal with four minarets, but the doom’s shape is different. We are spellbound seeing the intricate designs carved on the walls and ceiling of the monument. In fact, because the structure is smaller, one can admire the craftsmanship from close quarters.
Geometric patterns, flower pots, ewers, incense containers, wine bottles are intricately carved using the same type of precious stones as the Taj Mahal. Flowers like tulips, lilies, poppies and fruits like grapes, pomegranates and figs are interspersed with cypress trees. The paintings on the ceiling have faded with time but appear more distinct when viewed from the camera. In low lighting advanced camera sensors and image intensification electronics makes that possible.
The tombs of Noor Jahan’s parents and other relatives are inside the monument. Our guide explains that how one can differentiate between a male and a female grave. A male grave will always have a ‘compass box’ like a marble piece engraved on the top. The latticework in the windows is delicate and allows light to filter inside the chamber.
Akbar’s Tomb is located in Sikandra on the outskirts of Agra. The Mughal emperor had selected the site and planned the construction when he was alive, and his son Jahangir completed its construction after his death.
We drive from Agra to Sikandra on Mathura Road. Our driver parks the car at the parking bay, and we begin walking towards the monument. A young lad claiming to be a guide follows us and tells us he will show us around. We are tired after visiting the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Itimad-ud-Daulah and don’t want to waste time searching for monuments inside the complex. So, we are more than happy if someone can show us around.
Lodi Era Tomb
The complex has landscaped gardens with numerous flora and fauna. The first monument we notice in the complex is a derelict octagonal structure, and a signage mentions it as a Lodi era tomb.
We walk further and see another structure called ‘Kaanch Mahal’ or ‘Palace of Glass’. This ground plus one sandstone structure is plain on the rear but has elaborate ornamentation on the front. It has jharokhas or balconies with latticework. Turquoise and cobalt blue tiles adorn a portion of the jharokhas and the top of the structure. I already feel it was worth driving and coming this far from Agra.
We then walk towards the monument and see peacocks strolling in the gardens. Squirrels are scurrying in search of nuts. We come to a mighty red sandstone structure with four marble minarets and almost mistake it for the tomb. This is the Southern Gateway beautifully decorated in geometrical and floral patterns and Arabic calligraphy. The contrast of white marble inlaying on red sandstone is breathtaking.
Gardens line either side of a pathway that leads us to the actual tomb. We can see a herd of antelopes and a blackbuck grazing. On noticing a troop of monkeys, the young lad taking us around cautions us to be careful. The Mausoleum with Akbar’s Tomb is an impressive four-storey building with the top storey made in marble while all others are in red sandstone. There are chatris or umbrella-like structures on the top. The central chamber has Akbar’s Tomb, while the adjoining ones have other family members and relatives’ tombs.
As we step inside the central chamber, we are amazed by the richly ornamented stucco work on the walls and ceilings. Blue, gold and brown are the predominant colours of the intricate floral and geometrical patterns. Horizontal borders of Arabic calligraphy run across the walls. The windows have the trademark latticework, with light entering through the gaps. A ladder in the centre makes us believe that some conservation effort is underway. Strangely when viewed from the camera, the detailing appears more robust and richer compared to the naked eye. We are immediately reminded of the Itimad-ud-Dulah interiors, which we had visited earlier.
A narrow passage leads us to the tomb, which is stark and plain compared to the entrance chamber. Over here photography is not permitted. Our guide makes a call, and his voice reverberates in the enclosure. The actual tomb is in the basement.
Acoustics of the monument
When we step outside the central chamber, we see a circumferential gallery and walk around it. The young lad asks me to stand in one corner and whisper something that my husband can clearly hear in the opposite corner. He describes it as an ancient telephone system of communicating. We smile and play along and it really works! He asks us to stand at specific locations in the gallery and clap. We follow his instructions, and our clap sound echoes in the gallery. The acoustics are evidence of the remarkable engineering skills the makers had. It is time for us to leave.
The Mariam’s Tomb is a kilometre away from Akbar’s Tomb. We have been on our toes since 7 am and now are tired, and we give it a skip. There are several other monuments in Agra that you may want to visit, like Chini ka Rauza, Jama Masjid, Roman Catholic Cemetery and others.
While a sizeable number of tourists visit the Taj Mahal, there are hardly any visitors to the Itimad-ud-Daulah and Akbar’s Tomb. The general feeling is that ‘If you have seen Taj, you have seen everything.’ But we would urge you to consider visiting the lesser-known monuments. These two monuments Itimad-ud-Daulah and Akbar’s Tomb continue to fascinate and intrigue us to this day. They deserve a visit, and we suggest you make an effort. You will be suitably rewarded and pleased.
Nearest Airport: Agra or Delhi are the nearest airports to visit Itimad-ud-Daulah and Akbar’s Tomb
Distances: Delhi-Agra: 245 km (4 ½ hours by road via Taj/Yamuna Expressway)
Agra- Sikandra: 8km (20 minutes by road)
Where to stay: We stayed at the ITC Mughal. You can do a net search for various options depending on budget and comfort.
Travel Tip: Located 35 km from Agra is Fatehpur Sikri, a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth visiting.
Guide for Itimad-ud-Daulah: Adesh Mishra 9837140026