Agra Fort

Home to the ruling Mughal empire, the Red Fort in Agra (aka: Agra Fort) is considered to be one of the most important Forts in India (which is a big deal since India is a country chalked FULL of forts.)

The Agra Fort is also the other thing you do while in Agra, whenever you’ve got your fill of the Taj Mahal.  Most tour groups hit the Taj in the morning and head the 2.5 kms to the Red Fort in the afternoon.  This means that the Fort is wild in the afternoon, which is exactly when we went.

(This happened a few weeks ago (the 25th of October)… I’m playing catch-up!)

In its infancy, the site was a basic fort with important positioning for the Mughals.  When Akbar drove the Afghans from Agra in the mid 16th century, he chose Agra for the capital and began construction of the current fort in Red Sandstone.  A million and a half workers built a brick base and covered the exteriors with the red sandstone over an 8-year period, completing it in 1573.

Only a small area (roughly 1 km square) of the massive fort is open for tourists.  Significant portions are under study by archeologists and historians as they seek answers to questions about the Mughal Empire.  (Things like: why were they so darn blood-thirsty? YIKES.)

Here is a photo Kate took of the area entering the royal palaces.

We went with a guide who was recommended by our driver, Sodi, who was recommended as a friend of the driver of a friend of ours… which is how things work in India (just like New Orleans).  The guide was okay in the sense that he was a professional in managing tourists.  The issue is that we are not typical tourists.  (It took a few days, and several lengthy conversation with his driver friend, for Sodi to really understand that we weren’t typical tourists.  After he had established that we were crazy, we got on with him quite well.)

The Agra guide, however, was worth his salt in how he navigated us through the crowd at the Taj (and helped with those oh-so-important Taj family photos) — AND getting us through the crowds and touts in front of the Red Fort.  A decade or so ago, the effects of Agra-based industry pollutants were noted to be impacting the Taj.  So the Indian government relocated those industries as part of a massive plan to protect the world’s most beautiful building from deterioration.  This left tourism as the biggest (and basically only) industry in the area, with white-skinned tourists as the best cash-cow in the market.  It is not unlike being at Disney World, on one of the rides where you have to walk through a store to get back into the park when the ride is done.  In tourist sites in India, you’ve got to make your way through similar sellers hawking wares — albeit, in a much more direct assault.

Although it was the start of tourist season, we were frequently the only Westerners in tourist monuments.  The majority were Indians.  Families, tour groups, school classes, etc.

The views of the Taj Mahal across the river are wonderful.  The Red Fort is where Shan Jahan (the guy who built the Taj Mahal for his wife) was imprisoned for the last 7 years of his life.  He was held there by his son, Aurangzeb, who, in addition to locking up his Dad in the Red Fort, killed all his brothers and many of their sons.  (To be fair, Shan Jahan did much the same thing in his own quest for the throne.)  Aurangzeb did take things up a notch by sending his Dad a special message while imprisoned: the head of his brother, Dara, with a note: “So you know your son has not forgotten about you.”

I wasn’t kidding.  The Mughals were fierce.

But they did build some pretty buildings.

This is the marble tower, the Muasamman Burj, where Shah Jahan could gaze at his beloved Mumtaz Mahal’s resting place during his final years of life while imprisoned.  It is made from marble, which (as is clear from the Taj Mahal) was a favorite building product of Shah Jahan.

In fact, Shah Jahan liked marble so much that he actually tore down major portions of the interior of the Red Fort while he was Emperor… just to rebuild them with white marble.

The fort is very impressive.

So are Will and Kate.  They are some of the most popular tourist attractions in India.

Each of these men took pictures with the kids.  Each.  Man.  They giggled over the kids (Kate especially) as if they were visiting movie stars on location.

Mughal architecture is the name of the game in the Agra Fort.  They pulled out all the stops: big gates, moat, high arches for elephants, walls 70 feet in the air, and so on.  The Delhi Gate, which was completed for Akbar, was most impressive: it had a drawbridge and a two-gate system between which two elephants and riders stood positioned to crush anyone who happened to get through.  Though that layer of security was probably overkill… getting past the moat and drawbridge, then taking the steep incline and sharp turn up to the gate would have been too much for an attacking army, which would have used elephants on fast approach to break through a standing gate.  The incline and 90-degree turn made the entrance “impregnable.”

The picture below isn’t of the Delhi Gate (I don’t have pictures of it because tourists aren’t allowed there… the Indian military uses it!)  We entered through Amar Singh Gate, which was difficult enough (incline, turn, moat, etc.)  This photo isn’t of that Gate, either (we were walking too fast to get in through the crowd to stop and take photos).

This photo is from the outside of the Jahangiri Mahal, which is where you would have hung out if you were a member of the royal harem.  (The photo above of the Indian tourist family is from the inside of the Jahangiri Mahal.)

Here are the kids in the courtyard outside.  They are walking towards the entrance to the harem area after having yet-another-photo-session.

Once you’re through the harem and palaces of the queen(s) and princess(es), you get to the actual Muasamman Burj.  This is a view of the inside.  The carved depression in the floor was a watering hole where the imprisoned Emperor could have water to bathe, cool the room, or whatever else one could do in a room where water bubbles up from the floor.

Below, my schizophrenic photographs have brought us back into one of the palace rooms.  Carved sandstone everywhere.  Every. Where.

It’s also notable that there are motifs in the design taken from Muslim, Hindu, and Christian icons and imagery.  This was because many of the Mughals (who were Muslim) had the foresight to try and be respectful of other faiths in an effort to unify their Empire of Hindustan.  (This was until Aurangzeb, who was pretty hard-line in his practice of Sharia and came down hard on non-Muslims during his lengthy and bloody rule.)

This is what I mean — Hindu star shapes, Christian flowers, and Muslim script.  (At least, this is the break-down I scribbled in my notes… but I got something wrong and drew a lot of arrows, so I’m not sure that I’m remembering or noting this correctly.  If someone is a historian/architect/Mughal-guru, please chime in and set me straight!)

… aaaaand we’re back to marble!  This is that marble-obsessed Shah Jhan’s work again.

Sandstone arches!  Carved!

Even though only a small portion of the Fort is open, it is still a huge area to see.  We all got a little punchy by the time we reached the Grape Garden.  Here, 85 little plots were tended to by the Mughal royalty women.

Here is a view of the exterior wall, from inside the Fort.

Below is the beautiful, open, and airy Diwan-i-Am, the public audience of the Empire.  This is where the Emperor and his court could hear cases and make rulings of importance.  On things like whether or not you got to keep your head attached to your body.  A lovely place though.

And back to the garden!  Where we’re still being silly.

And where there are still tourists who want our photographs!