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The jewel in India’s crown, the incomparable Taj Mahal is one of the world’s ‘must see’ sites. Read through any of the ‘adventure holidays to take before you die’ guides and Agra’s Taj Mahal will always be near the top of the list.
Built by the Emperor Shah Jahan between 1632 and 1648 as a mausoleum for his second wife Mumtaz Mahal, it is the finest existing example of Mughal architecture. It combines intricate Persian, Turkish, Indian and Islamic styles to devastating affect and seems to appear as immaculate today as when it was first constructed.
Probably the most extravagant monument ever built for love, the Taj has become the tourist emblem of India. Its exquisite white marble dome and beguiling symmetry make it one of the world’s best-loved architectural treasures.
Its timeless beauty is perhaps best captured in the words of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore who described it as ‘a teardrop on the cheek of time’.
Get to the Taj early - sunrise is undoubtedly the best time to avoid the huge crowds and the heat. As the sun rises and the early morning mists clear, the delicately carved white marble walls are slowly unveiled to dazzling effect.
On the other hand… sunset has to afford the most impressive views of the Taj. As the sun goes down the white marble first takes on a rich golden sheen, which slowly gives way to rose-pink hues, then deep red and finally blue with the changing light. Mesmerising.
And while in Agra, visit the Red Fort, a key strategic stronghold of the Mughal Empire. A citadel of over 500 buildings, once you are inside the fortified red walls a palatial city spreads out before you. Fairy-tale palaces, elegant courtyards and exquisitely crafted mosques create the city within a city.
Meanwhile, just outside Agra is Fatehpur Sikri, another Mughal palace-city. The Emperor Akbar moved his capital there in 1571, with the Red Fort just down the road for protection if it was ever needed. Only occupied for 14 years, its palaces and courtyards feel as though they were occupied until yesterday.
As far as grand designs go, they don’t come any grander than in Agra.