Agra’s 12 Lesser-Known Gems Beyond the Taj Mahal

Agra's 12 Lesser-Known Gems Beyond the Taj Mahal

Agra's 12 Lesser-Known Gems Beyond the Taj Mahal

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Beyond the iconic mausoleum Taj Mahal, Agra is home to 264 ASI-declared monuments, each with its own unique story and charm. 

28th May 2024

By Ishika Kumar

Agra, a city standing proudly on the banks of the Yamuna River in northern Uttar Pradesh, is a treasure trove of architectural splendour and cultural richness. While the Taj Mahal undoubtedly steals the spotlight, Agra boasts a multitude of lesser-known landmarks that captivate those who venture off the beaten path. Beyond the iconic mausoleum Taj Mahal, Agra is home to 264 ASI-declared monuments, each with its own unique story and charm. 

Let’s embark on a journey through these hidden gems that offer a deeper glimpse into Agra’s luminous past and vibrant present.

1.     Fatehpur Sikri: 

A mere 40 kilometres west of Agra lies Fatehpur Sikri, a UNESCO World Heritage Site often overshadowed by its famous neighbour. Established by Emperor Akbar in the late 16th century as his capital, this city was soon abandoned but remains a testament to architectural brilliance. The blend of Hindu, Islamic and Persian design is evident in its red sandstone buildings. 

Key attractions include the majestic Jama Masjid, the towering Buland Darwaza and the multi-tiered Panch Mahal. Each structure tells a tale of the era’s artistic and cultural amalgamation.

2.     Chini Ka Rauza: 

A marvel of Persian poetry reflected in architecture, Chini Ka Rauza, an oft-overlooked sight, is nestled on the western banks of the Yamuna River. This mausoleum, built in 1635, serves as the resting place of Afzal Khan Aalmi, a Persian poet and Shah Jahan’s prime minister. 

Known for its Indo-Persian architecture, the structure is adorned with intricate Persian tilework. The vibrant glazed tiles, visible even from afar, offer a quiet respite amidst their historical surroundings. Although finding this gem may require assistance from locals, its beauty and tranquillity are well worth the effort.

3.     Mehtab Bagh: 

Also known as the Moonlit Garden. For a serene escape from Agra’s bustling tourist spots, Mehtab Bagh is the perfect destination. Located directly across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal, this garden offers a stunning, unobstructed view of the iconic mausoleum, especially breathtaking at sunset. The garden’s lush green pathways, dotted with fragrant roses and historic trees, provide a peaceful retreat where visitors can savour moments of solitude and reflection.

4.     Guru Ka Taal: 

This is a Sikh Sanctuary. Guru Ka Taal is a significant Sikh pilgrimage site in Agra, drawing thousands of devotees each year, particularly during the birth anniversary of the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, on 24th November. 

This picturesque shrine features a large tank surrounded by elegantly designed marble pavilions and domed structures. The spiritual ambience and architectural beauty make it a must-visit for those exploring Agra’s diverse religious heritage.

5.     Mariam’s Tomb: 

Situated in the serene outskirts of Agra, Mariam’s Tomb is dedicated to Mariam-uz-Zamani, Emperor Akbar’s Rajput wife. The tomb’s architectural design beautifully merges Hindu and Mughal styles, symbolising their epic romance. This tranquil site, surrounded by a Mughal Garden, offers a peaceful atmosphere where visitors can hear the chirping of birds and the rustling of leaves. The tomb’s symmetrical design and intricate lattice work are a testament to the skilled craftsmanship of the era.

6.     Jahangir Palace: 

Often overlooked by visitors to Agra Fort, Jahangir Palace deserves more attention for its historical and architectural significance. This palace, once a residence for Mughal nobility, showcases finely decorated chambers, apartments and gardens. Its relatively unknown status means fewer crowds, allowing for a more intimate exploration of Mughal opulence and daily life.

7.     Chausath Khamba: 

The literal meaning is, Sixty-Four Pillars. Chausath Khamba, located close to the Taj Mahal, is an architectural gem often missed by tourists. This structure, supported by 64 intricately carved columns, serves as a mausoleum for Mirza Aziz Koka’s family, an important Mughal nobleman. The site’s exquisite artistry and serene environment offer a glimpse into Agra’s rich cultural heritage beyond its renowned monuments.

8.     Ram Bagh: 

It is known as the Garden of Rest. Ram Bagh is one of India’s earliest Mughal gardens and was established by Emperor Babur to escape Agra’s oppressive heat. Originally named Aram Bagh, it was later renamed Ram Bagh by the Marathas. The garden’s layout, featuring three levels of terraces, flowers and structures, deviates from the typical Char Bagh pattern, reflecting a unique approach to Mughal landscape design. 

Visitors can immerse themselves in the garden’s tranquillity, surrounded by flowing water channels and lush vegetation, an escape from the heat just like it was for Babur.

9.     Keetham Lake (Sur Sarovar): 

To experience Agra’s natural beauty, head to Keetham Lake, also known as Sur Sarovar, on the city’s outskirts. This freshwater lake is a haven for birdwatchers, with a variety of avian species, including migratory birds like Siberian and Sarus cranes, which bless the abode in their season to migrate. Boating on the serene waters, amidst the lake’s greenery, provides a refreshing break from the city’s hustle and bustle.

10.    Mankameshwar Temple: 

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, Mankameshwar Temple is one of Agra’s oldest and most revered spiritual sites. Nestled in the bustling lanes of the old city, this temple offers a profound sense of peace and devotion. Visitors can observe the ancient rituals and the pious atmosphere that permeates through this sacred shrine.

11.    Hessings Tomb: 

Agra’s lesser-known replica of the Taj Mahal, Hessings Tomb, also known as the Red Taj Mahal, was built by Anne Hessings in memory of her husband, John Hessings, a Dutch soldier who died in 1803. Located within the Catholic cemetery in the heart of the city, this red sandstone structure is a poignant symbol of love and loss, echoing the architectural grandeur of its more famous counterpart.

12.   Itmad-ud-Daulah: 

Known as the “Baby Taj,” Itmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb was commissioned by Nur Jahan in memory of her father, Ghias-ud-Din Beg. This exquisite monument, an ancestor to the Taj Mahal, features intricate carvings and beautiful paintings. Surrounded by lush gardens, Itmad-ud-Daulah offers a tranquil retreat for those willing to venture beyond the usual tourist routes.

Agra’s allure extends far beyond the Taj Mahal. Its hidden gardens, historic tombs, serene lakes and sacred sites offer a rich tapestry of experiences for discerning travellers. Each of these lesser-known gems provides a unique window into the city’s illustrious history and vibrant cultural heritage. Exploring these sites reveals a side of Agra that is often overshadowed, yet profoundly enriching and unforgettable.