Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Delhi & Agra

We arrived in Delhi from Jaipur, and as our first day for sight-seeing was a Monday many sites were closed. Fortunately the Qutb Minar complex is open every day.

As Delhi has a subway, getting around is quite easy, and we were able to take the underground all the way to Qutb Minar.

Qutb Minar

The Qutb Minar itself is a 73m-high tower of victory built in 1193 by the Muslim sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak. It is 15 metres at the base and tapers to 2.5m at the top.

Qutb Minar is also a UNESCO site

It is the tallest stone tower in India, and has five storeys and 379 steps (although you aren't allowed to climb it), but is 1.5 metres shorter than the Taj Mahal.

close-up of the tower showing alternate angular and circular flutings

Also of interest in the complex is an iron pillar built in the 4th century AD which has never rusted. It measures over 7 metres, one metre of which is below ground, and was brought to Delhi in the 11th century. It's worth noting that our 'developed' societies were unable to cast something similar until the mid-19th century.

Iron Pillar

Adjoining the pillar is the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, the first mosque to be built in India, also in 1193.

In the north of the complex lies the start of a second tower of victory, the Alai Minar, intended to be twice as high as the Qutb Minar. Built by Alauddin Khiji it remains in the unfinished state it was in at the time of his death, in 1316.

Alai Minar

Afterwards we headed back to central Delhi, where we treated ourselves to a lovely afternoon tea at the Imperial Palace Hotel.


We ended our day at India Gate, which is a 42m-high stone memorial arch which pays tribute to the 90 000 Indian Army soldiers who died fighting for the British Raj 1914-1919.

 The Lal Qila or Red Fort is one of Delhi's top attractions.

Delhi's Red Fort, a UNESCO site

Naubat Khana (Drum house), where visitors had
to dismount from their horse or elephant

Unfortunately many of the pavilions can only be looked at from the outside.


Rang Mahal (palace of colour)

At the end of the day we visited the beautiful Humayun's Tomb. Humayun was the second Mughal Emperor of India.

The tomb was built in the late 16th century using red sandstone and white marble in a Persian style.

the tomb is another UNESCO site

To reach Agra from Delhi we took a train, the Kerala Express. Our leg of the journey only took three hours, but if we'd stayed on until its final destination, Trivandrum, it would have been more than 50 hours!

there are 40 stops between the two

Few people come to Agra without visiting the Taj Mahal, considered to be the world's most beautiful building. 

Taj Mahal red sandstone gatehouse

It definitely has the wow! factor as it appears suddenly after you walk through the gatehouse.

the Taj is surrounded by ornamental gardens

It was built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his third wife, Mumtaz, who died giving birth to their 14th child.


Construction lasted 1632-1653, and following his death in 1666 Shah Jahan was buried alongside his Mumtaz.


The building is decorated with pietra dura marble inlay work and calligraphy quotations from the Quran in inlaid jasper.

pietra dura and calligraphy

pietra dura detail

To the west is a mosque, and there's also an identical building to the east, the jawab, built for symmetry, but which can't be used as a mosque as it doesn't face Mecca.


Our second visit of the day was to the nearby Red Fort.

Taj Mahal from the Red Fort.

Taj Mahal from the Red Fort.

Originally built by the grandfather of Shah Jahan, the latter's son, Aurangzeb, imprisoned his father there for the last 8 years of his life when he seized power in 1658.

the fort is overrun by monkeys

The next day we went to Fatehpur Sikri, which is an ancient fortified city about 40 km from Agra. 

It was the capital of the Mughal empire 1571-1585 until water shortages forced it to be abandoned.

Diwan-iKhas (Hall of Private Audiences)

inside the Hall of Private Audiences

It was built here after the Emperor Akbar consulted a hermit on the site who correctly predicted the birth of a male heir.

Panch Mahal, 176 columns on five levels and no walls

The Emperor had three wives - a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim - and each wife had her own pavilion.

wall paintings visible in the palace of the Christian Wife

wall paintings visible in the palace of the Christian Wife

Hiran Minar a 21m-tall tower decorated
with hundreds of stone elephant tusks

Next to the complex is the Jama Masjid, where the hermit saint Shaikh Salim Chishti and his descendants are buried.

the mosque was completed in 1571

It includes a 54m-high Victory gate built by Akbar to commemorate his military victory in Gujurat.

The Buland Darwaza or Victory Gate

On our return to Agra town we visited the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, often referred to as the 'Baby Taj'.

Itimad-ud-Daulah was a Persian nobleman, and grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal (for who the Taj Mhal was built).


 The tomb was built in 1628 by his daughter.


riverside gatehouse

'Baby Taj' from the other side of the river at sunset

Our final stop of the day was at the riverbank opposite the Taj Mahal near Mehtab Bagh for a last look at the palace before we headed to Khajuraho.

Suggested reading:

The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga. "A brutal view of India's class struggles is cunningly presented in Adiga's debut novel about a racist, homicidal chauffeur. Balram Halwai is from the Darkness, born where India's downtrodden and unlucky are destined to rot. Balram manages to escape his village and move to Delhi after being hired as a driver for a rich landlord. Telling his story in retrospect, the novel is a piecemeal correspondence from Balram to the premier of China, who is expected to visit India and whom Balram believes could learn a lesson or two about India's entrepreneurial underbelly. Adiga's existential and crude prose animates the battle between India's wealthy and poor as Balram suffers degrading treatment at the hands of his employers (or, more appropriately, masters)." 

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