Agra is with its Taj Mahal the most popular place of any tourist itinerary which never fails to impress. The fantastic cenotaph forms the core and the city its surrounding rays. Built by Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, this monument took more than 20 years to be completed.The gardens, in which it is located, belong to the splendid Charbagh style with the Taj in the north, built on top of a platform and with minarets at its four corners.
The tremendous central dome rises to more than 55m. The immense tomb is imposing, and one will not fail to appreciate its amazing width as much as the extraordinary details of its sculptures raised by floral patterns encrusted with invaluable stones. The interior contains the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan whose work of incrustation in the marble is perfect. Taj deserves easily more than one visit, since its character changes with the change of light during the day. The Fort of Agra is situated on the banks of the River Yamuna and to the west of Taj Mahal.
Bharatpur is located 55km off Agra. It is famous for the Lohagarh Fort, Palace and the Keoladeo National Park, which is one of the finest in Asia, with a rich variety of bird species. Lohagarh Fort is a massive iron structure built in the early 18th century by Maharaja Suraj Mal, the founder of Bharatpur. The fort has three palaces within its precincts – Kishori Mahal, Mahal Khas and Kothi Khas. Whereas the palace is a fusion of the Mughal and Rajput architectural styles with magnificent apartments and intricately designed floor tiles having interesting patterns.
Keoladeo National Park – Known earlier as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, was originally reserved by the royal family for hunting. One finds here an assortment of herons – with species such as the purple heron, the common grey and the tiny brown pond heron. Other birds are the orange headed painted storks, spoon bills, white ibis and grey pelicans. Between October and March, the area is host to 130 migratory species from as far as Russia. The rare Siberian Crane comes to spend the winter in the warmer climate of Bharatpur. The park also has wild boar, mongoose, spotted deer and antelopes. The best time to go through the park is at dawn and dusk.
Built between 1569 and 1585 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri was the capital city of the empire, but was abandoned in 1600 because of lack of provisions of water. The city was a splendid fusion of Hindu and Muslim artistic traditions. At the interior of the Royal Palace complex is an immense court yard (Diwan-i-Am), a series of buildings which are characterized by splendid screens of stone carving, arches and carved sandstone colonnades. The other places are the ¨Diwan-i-Khas¨ (rooms for private audiences) which has in its center a famous carved column, which supported the pillars of the throne, the Birbal palace, the mosque Jami Masjid and the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti.
Famous for the sensuality and eroticism of their sculptures, the Khajuraho temples were built between the 10th and the 12th centuries AD during the Chandella dynasty. The most spectacular of the temples are those from the Western group – the Kandariya Mahadeva, Vishwanatha and the Lakshmana temple. They are superb examples of Indo-Aryan architecture situated in a manicured park. The sculptures mainly depict the everyday life of the people and court of the 10th and 11th centuries, while only a small number of sculptures are of erotic nature. The ornate sculpture that adorns the walls is virtually three dimensional. The soft sandstone with which these are built allowed the exquisite intricacy. The temples follow a unique design pattern with a five or three part layout and almost all of them are aligned east to west with the entrance facing east.
Around December – February, during the festival of Maha Shivaratri, there is a spectacular dance festival here showcasing the many forms of Indian classical dance.
The small town of Sikandra is 4km from Agra. Emperor Akbar’s tomb here is an excellent example of assimilation of different styles of architecture. The magnificent entrance, use of exquisite patterns, intricately perforated decorative stone screens, fine Persian style calligraphy, the four-quartered garden layout, with the main building at the centre etc., are representative of Islamic influence. On the other hand, the absence of a dome, use of “chhatris” (small domed canopies, supported by pillars), tiers of airy pavilions etc., reflect local influence.
The great Stupa at Sanchi is one of the earliest religious structures in the subcontinent. It overlooks a complex of ruined temples and monasteries that collectively provide an unbroken record of development of Buddhist art and architecture in Central India during the 3rd century BC. Unlike the other famous Buddhist centers in Eastern India and Nepal, Sanchi has no known connection with the life of Buddha himself. It became a pilgrimage centre when the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka erected a stone pillar and a Stupa sometime in the middle of the 3rd century BC.