Agra lies about 200 kilometres north-west of India’s capital, Delhi, and is home to the Taj Mahal, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan as a mausoleum for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, it is a towering monument in white marble with intricate, semi-precious stone inlay work which makes it ethereally beautiful.
Part of the famous ‘Golden Triangle’ along with Jaipur and Delhi, Agra attracts tourists in droves. Its glorious past – it was the capital of three Mughal kings – gave it monuments like theAgra Fort, built in red sandstone which later became a model for Delhi’s Red Fort, and Sikandra, Emperor Akbar’s tomb which displays a beautiful synthesis of Hindu and Muslim architecture. About 40 kilometres from Agra lies Fatehpur Sikri, a palace complex built by Emperor Akbar, who shifted his capital here. Lack of water made him abandon the city. Today people visit it for the dargah of Sufi saint Salim Chisti and the Bulund Darwaza , a magnificently tall red sandstone gateway constructed to commemorate Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat. All three – the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri – are UNESCO World Heritage sites. While in Agra, remember to buy artifacts made of marble.
Mathura is a small town near Agra and lies on the banks of the River Yamuna. Famous as the birthplace of the Hindu god, Krishna, it is the nucleus of ‘Brajbhoomi’ which comprises of places like Vrindavan and Barsana, all associated with Krishna. There are innumerable temples dedicated to Krishna, like the Krishna Janambhumi Temple and the ISKON temple. People throng to the temples and the ghats to immerse themselves in the town’s spirituality. The city has an old world charm, and its quiet is broken by the sounds of bhajans and the peal of temple bells. The Government Museum has some fine examples of the Mathura school of art and sculpture and the only statue of the Kushan Emperor Kanishka, considered a masterpiece of the museum.