World over the name of Agra has become synonymous with that of the Taj Mahal, a symbol of Emperor Shah Jahan's undying love for his wife and a monument clothed more in poetry and splendor than in marble.
The Taj no doubt is the prime attraction in Agra. Situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, it rises in marble and shimmers on full-moon nights. Raised on a 313 square feet marble platform, it is a synthesis of pillars, minarets and domes, carved and bejeweled, decorated and engraved with intricate designs and religious transcriptions. People travel from all over the world to bask in the magnificence of this monument that has defied time and age as it continues to astound all that have the good fortune of watching it in contemplative silence.
However, Agra offers much more than just the Taj Mahal. Alternating with Delhi as the capital of the Mughul Empire, it is scattered with monuments testifying to the days of their glory. Chief amongst these is Agra Fort which contains within its premises the Moti Mahal (Palace of Pearls), Nagina Mahal (Palace of Gems), Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) and Khus Mahal; Akbar's Fort at Sikandra that exemplifies a merging of different architectural styles; Itmad-ud-Daula's tomb, precursor to the Taj Mahal and Chini-Ka-Rauza (China Tomb), a Persian style glazed tile tomb dedicated to the memory of Afzal Khan, prime minister in the court of Akbar.
In addition to these monuments, Agra is also home to a number of resplendent gardens like the Dyal Bagh, Soami Bagh and Rambagh, with the former providing designs of intricate pietra dura work in marble inlay.
As far as shopping is concerned, visitors usually enjoy buying souvenirs of miniature Taj Mahals to take home as reminders of the monument's beauty. In addition one also has a choice of rugs, leatherware, gems, ethnic handicrafts and jewelry. Agra is famous for leather goods, shoes and slippers in particular, which can be found in a range of prices and styles.
For those interested in spicy food, the city offers an interesting array of the local street-food, chaat and potato tikkis that people find delectable. Another specialty of the city is peetha, a treated and sweetened version of gourd that is particular to Agra.
Those who visit the city usually move on to a number of adjoining sites like the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, Mathura and Fatehpur Sikri. The Sikri was actually built as a capital for the Mughul Empire by Akbar, but was abandoned due to water scarcity. It includes the Buland Darwaza, Jodhabai's Palace,Birbal Bhavan, Hawa Mahal, and the Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti, where quawwalis or devotional songs of Sufi mysticism are performed each Friday. The Fatehpur Sikri is a huge tourist attraction and all who come as far as Agra extend themselves to visit this site.
A journey to the city of Agra is essentially a pilgrimage to love. What makes the pilgrimage more diversified is the phenomenal aesthetic, historical and cultural value that comprise integral parts of the experience. Visit it, and as you stand in the shadow of the magnificent Taj, lift up your eyes in wonder at what man and emotion can create together.