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There’s a movie here, somewhere


For the first time traveler to India there is no more important stop along the way than Agra and the Taj Mahal, a testament to the love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal by the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan. While it is certainly impressive there is an equally impressive, and, in the opinion of some, more impressive edifice located less than two miles away across the Shah Jahan Gardens.

If the Taj Mahal is a testament to everlasting love then the Agra Fort is a testament to power and inter-generational conflict. The fort, also known as the Red Fort because of its Red Sandstone façade was the seat of power of the Mogul Empire during the 16th and 17th Centuries. The dynasty was established by Humayon whose tomb is a major attraction in another Mogul city, Delhi.

 His son Akbar declared Agra to be the capital and he began work on the creation of a fort to guard the city. Built on the banks of the Yamuna River, the walls cover about a mile and a half and stand 60 feet high with a moat running around the three landward sides. It was basically a military location until Humayon’s son Jahangir came to the throne. Instead of a fort, Jahangir saw the complex as a home for the Royal Court and set about creating palaces within the walls while the lesser nobles built palaces outside the walls and along the river bank.

 At one time there were up to 500 buildings within the interior’s 100 acres. Most notable today are the Jahangir Palace, the Khas Mahal also known as the Marble Pavilion and the Hall of Audiences adorned with a myriad of arches where the Emperors’ would sit on the Peacock Throne and listen to their subjects requests. Jahangir also built the Muhamman Burj (or Tower) an octagonal tower that was a favorite of his favorite wife. Jahangir was succeeded by his son Shah Jahan and here’s where the plot thickens as they say. (As an aside, and speaking of mysteries, the Fort plays a key role in the Sherlock Holmes page-turner “The Sign of the Four”).

 Back to Shah Jahan who liked the good things in life and had a thing for white marble. He also had a thing for Mumtaz Mahal who became his love eternal. She too liked the Muhamman Burj and the two of them spent many happy times there until her untimely passing. Filled with grief, Shah Jahan set out to honor both his wife and white marble and built the Taj Mahal in her honor. Those who previously stayed in Delhi will notice a resemblance between the Taj and the tomb of Humayon, his grandfather.

 As if things could not get any worse for Shah Jahan, his son Aurangzeb usurps his throne and imprisons him in the aforementioned Muhamman Burj for the remaining years of his life. It is said that the first thing he would do in the morning and the last thing at night was stand on a balcony (marble naturally) and gaze on the distant monument to his lost love. Fade to black.