A City Built on Enduring Love

One of the world’s great monuments to love is what draws visitors to this pulsing, modern Indian city.

Built by the bereaved Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is not, however, the only reason to make an Agra pilgrimage. Other relics of the vast medieval empire the besotted shah ruled — until imprisoned by his son — abound.

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Best attractions in Agra

The Taj Mahal is not only the most awe-inspiring sight in Agra but also one of the most impressive — some say the greatest — pieces of architecture on earth. While many visitors evidently put it top of the list when deciding what to do in Agra, the Taj nevertheless rarely disappoints, despite the crowds.

A reputed 20,000 laborers spent 17 years building the white marble, internally jewel-encrusted monument, finally laying down tools in the mid-17th century. Supposedly inspired by the Shah Jahan’s favored third wife begging him on her deathbed to build a symbol of their love the world could never forget, this crowning glory of attractions in Agra is distinguished by a stupendous brass-tipped, onion-shaped dome.

Beyond the exquisite floral carving and calligraphy of the building itself, skirting the Yamuna River, the Taj’s ornamental gardens alone make one of the most impressive things to see in Agra. They’re a tranquil relief from the rest of this often frenetic city if you arrive at the mausoleum early enough in the morning.

Within the Taj complex, the small but rewarding Taj Museum offers more astounding examples of Mughal artistry, albeit on a greatly shrunken scale. The miniature portraits here of the uxorious shah and his most esteemed wife are among the most beguiling things to see in Agra. Also in the collection, plates said to change color if laid with poisoned food, testifying to the courtly suspicions of the time.

Such fears were justified, perhaps, given the emperor’s filial overthrow: confined for the rest of his days soon after the Taj was finished, he could only look out at his creation from a window — although he was allowed to be buried there, alongside his adored Mumtaz Mahal.

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