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  • Writer's pictureRai Bhattacharya

Two Wonders of Agra (and Neither Is the Taj Mahal!)

Can you name one monument other than the Taj Mahal that you can visit in Agra?

Don't worry if you can't because I'm going to tell you about two: the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.

I went to Agra in March 2023 to visit my aunt. Agra is a city situated on the banks of the river Yamuna in the present-day state of Uttar Pradesh. Like Delhi, it too has witnessed many historical events. Its golden age was when it was the capital of the Mughals, who built numerous monuments in and around Agra. It was in the hands of the Mughal emperors Akbar (1556CE-1605CE), Jahangir (1605CE-1627CE) and Shah Jahan (1627CE-1658CE), but Aurangzeb moved the capital back to Delhi.

Agra Fort

The main part of the fort that can be seen today was built by Emperor Akbar.

As soon as we entered the fort through the Amar Singh Rathore Gate, we saw the stables. Then, there were huge walls with holes in them. Our guide told us that the soldiers would pour hot water and oil from those holes to subdue the enemies! We then saw a huge bathtub believed to be Jahangir’s. How did someone even bathe in such a huge bathtub? Then we went to the Shahjahani Mahal, between the Diwan E Khas and the Jahangiri Mahal

In front of it lay a garden known as the Anguri Bagh (the Garden of Grapes). Legends say that the soil of that garden was specially brought from Kashmir. Shah Jahan not only built the Taj Mahal with white marble but also converted many red sandstone buildings in the Agra Fort into white marble with inlay work since it was his favourite type of stone. One would notice two palanquin-like structures on either side. They are believed to be dedicated to the two daughters of Shah Jahan, Jahanara and Roshanara.

Then we came to the Diwan E Khas, where the emperor would meet with his ministers and generals privately. As it is situated in northern India, the sessions in mild winter were held outside in an open place where a seat was installed for the emperor. There are actually two seats there: one of black stone, made by Jahangir, and the other of white marble, made by none other than Shah Jahan! I really do not understand his obsession with marble! You will see a crack in Jahangir’s seat. It is believed that a cannon hit the seat during a British attack and bounced off and hit the top left part of the Diwan E Khas. The mark is still there.

Just below that open space was the Takshala (the minting press). In front of it was Machhli Bhavan. Legends say that there used to be a pond in the garden filled with different kinds of fish, and the emperor and his wife would sit on opposite terraces and fish from that pool. Sorry, no photos. Then, we went to the Nagina Mosque, a small mosque in a corner that was for women only.

Then, we went to the Diwan E Aam, the emperor’s public audience. It was here that Akbar and his son Jahangir once sat, and Shah Jahan’s famous Peacock Throne was once placed.

We left the monument through the same gate we’d entered. An interesting fact is that nearly 70% of the whole monument is under the control of the military, so we could only see about 30%. Still, it was an absolute marvel to see with your own eyes.

Fatehpur Sikri

As we were visiting my aunt in Agra, the day we went to Fatehpur Sikri ended up being a full-family tour with my aunt, uncle, cousin, my mother and my grandparents. We started around 10 in the morning; it took us about an hour to reach Fatehpur Sikri by shuttle bus - private diesel and petrol vehicles are not allowed near many Indian monuments. We then showed our tickets at the gate and first entered the imperial city of Fatehpur.

Just to clarify, Fatehpur and Sikri are two separate villages. Fatehpur consists of all the main royal palaces and residences, whereas Sikri consists of the Buland Darwaza, the tomb of the famous Sufi saint Sheik Salim Chisti and the Jami Masjid (not the Jama Masjid, or else you would end up in Delhi instead of Agra, utterly confused! If you do make the mistake and find yourself in Jama Masjid, perhaps you can eat at Karim’s, a famous restaurant in the area, so that there is a little bit of gain!).

Fatehpur Sikri was built by Akbar in 1571CE-1573CE, but it was abandoned only fifteen years after its completion. Why it was abandoned is still a mystery. Its monuments are mainly built with red sandstone that was locally available. The main reason why Akbar chose this place for his capital city was that it was the place of the Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chisti, who prophesied that Akbar, heirless at the time, would have three sons. It was true! Among the sons, Salim, famously known as Jahangir, later became the emperor.

We first entered Fatehpur and saw the Diwan E Aam, whose designs incorporated a lot of regional designs and the most prominent Islamic architectural design was only the trellis (screened windows made by stone carving). Akbar was a very liberal and religiously tolerant emperor. Due to this, the monuments during his time had a lot of Hindu architectural design influences, which was unique.

Then came the Diwan E Khas, which is famous for its exquisitely carved column. As I mentioned earlier, these carvings also had Hindu motifs. The column was surrounded by passages connecting to the galleries on the second floor. It was believed that Akbar’s throne was on the column and his ministers sat in the passageways or the galleries.

Then we saw the Panch Mahal, the famous monument which comes to mind whenever we think of Fatehpur Sikri. It has five storeys and is open on all sides. The emperor would come here during the extreme heat of north Indian summer for relief. On the first floor, no two pillars were alike.

Then there were the Diwan E Khana E Khas and the Anup Talao. It was believed that Akbar sat on the seat in the Diwan E Khana E Khas and listened to the musician Tansen, one of the Nine Jewels of his court and also in Indian classical music. At the back of this was a huge stone platform believed to be the bed of Akbar. Next to it lies the Turkish Sultana’s palace. It is so beautifully and intricately carved that it is believed to have been made by wood masons instead of stone carvers.

Then we entered the Haram Sara, the place for queens, women of the zenana, female servants and women in high positions in society to stay. First was Maryam’s house, believed to be the Christian wife of Akbar. It was the only building in which there were many traces of paintings. Then there was Jodhabai’s kitchen and palace. Since Jodhabai was a vegetarian, her food was cooked in a separate kitchen. Her palace had two parts. One was the summer house, which was fully screened on one side. The other one was the fully covered winter palace. In the middle was a temple, which was believed to have an idol of Lord Krishna, which Jodhabai worshipped.

We then proceeded to Sikri. There we had to take off our shoes and walk barefoot on the burning sandstone, since the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti was there and it was a holy place. We went in through the Badshahi Darwaza. We first visited the tomb, which was an absolute delight to see. It was built on the meditation chamber of the saint. I was astonished by the marble brackets on the top of the pillars. It looked like it was really done by wood carvers. Surrounding the tomb, you would also see many other tombs. It is said that sixteen generations of the saint’s family are buried there! People usually go there to tie a sacred thread on the screened windows of the tomb chamber in order to fulfil their wishes.

We wanted to also see the Jami Masjid but could not as the Namaz (Muslim prayer) was going on. We then went and saw the Buland Darwaza. It was built in 1575CE by Akbar, to commemorate his conquest of Gujarat. It is also the highest gateway in the world!

We then took the shuttle bus back to the parking lot. I felt happy and very grateful to my mother, who had taken this initiative to show me the marvellous monuments of Agra.

About the Author

Rai is a high school student, a dancer and a painter, and has a keen interest in history. She lives in India with her parents.

The photos were taken by Debjani, Rai's mother.


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