It must be hard living in someone/something’s shadow. It must be even harder when said person/thing isn’t even half your size. But that’s the reality for Agra Fort – a colossal stronghold across the river for the world famous Taj Mahal, and a worthy destination in its own right.
While the Taj is known for its delicate white marble and inlaid stones, the Agra Fort would comparatively be considered utilitarian; at least by Indian standards. Its mammoth facade is made of reddish sandstone, and what it may lack in luxury it more than compensates for in size. Some 70% of the 94 acres are currently occupied by the Indian military and therefore off-limits to tourists. Regardless, both the sprawling grounds and hazy views of the Taj Mahal across the way make visiting this fortress worth the price of admission.
If all you want to do is admire the architecture, a guide will not be necessary. If you care to know anything about what you’re looking at, I would highly recommend hiring one. Doing so will bring the various halls, courtyards and apartments into context and enhance your appreciation for what you’re seeing. Yeah, it doesn’t have the same romantic backstory as the Taj, but that doesn’t mean it’s without a decent plot line. The most interesting twist was finding out that the builder of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan, was eventually deposed by his son and imprisoned there in the fort – allegedly in full sight of his masterpiece just across the way. Lovers of irony and or tragedy will no doubt prefer the “unhappy ending” version of events. Romantics might want to just stick to the Taj.
While not as ornate as the aforementioned diva, there is great detail in the architecture -especially the doorways, columns and arches. There is perhaps no greater display than at the Diwan I Am, or the Hall of Public Audience. This is where the emperor du jour would hold court and interact with his subjects. Nowadays it’s filled with tourists snapping up pictures with whatever space is left on their memory cards after visiting the Taj Mahal.
Depending on one’s speed and stamina, the highlights of the fort can be seen unhurriedly in less than half a day. Often guided tours will take in the Agra Fort in conjunction with the Taj Mahal and sometimes the nearby abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri. While that’s a lot to take in, be sure not to skip this monument that if it were found in any other city, would be considered the star of the show. Just because it’s nearby to that other famous monument doesn’t diminish it in the least. I suppose that if you’re going to be overshadowed by something, it might as well be the most beautiful building in existence. Yet, here in Agra, the Agra Fort may be second fiddle, but I promise you’ll never see another sideshow looming so large.