Friday, April 08, 2011

Agra Fort

Built by the Emperor Akbar between 1565 and 1573, this UNESCO World Heritage site is another of Agra’s jewels amidst the grime. In true fortress fashion, it has high walls (70 feet - 21 m), double ramparts, battlements, massive gates, circular bastions and a moat. Entering through the imposing Amar Singh Gate, today’s visitors see only a small mount of Akbar’s original structures; some were destroyed by Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan and others by the British who used the fort for barracks. Parts of the fort are still used by the Indian military, visitors focus on the area closest to the Yuma River.

Despite portions of the fort being closed off to visitors, there are quite a number of beautiful buildings to see. The Diwan-i-Aam was an arcaded hall that reminded me of a similar royal public audience hall in the Delhi’s Red Fort. Nearby was the Anguri Bagh, a series of geometrically arranged gardens in alternating plant colors of green and deep burgundy. The Khas Mahal, built in a style so typical of Shah Jahan, is an elegant white-marble hall with brightly painted ceilings and twin golden pavilions. The Diwan-i-Khas is perhaps the most beautiful structure there, with its exquisite pietra dura work of flowers, vines, and designs covering columns and archways. In this open hall, the emperor would meet his court. From the double-storeyed profusely-decorated octagonal tower named the Musamman Burj, Shah Jahan had a direct view of his beloved Taj Mahal. Ironically it was this tower where Jahan spent the last eight years of his life, imprisoned there by his son. Walking back to the gate, we passed by the Bengali Mahal, constructed out of red sandstone. Its decorative architectural style reminded me of that at Fatehpur Sikri (Akbar’s planned capital city and palace), with its intermixing of Hindu and Islamic elements in the same red sandstone.

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