Continuation from here ...
On my way to Shanti Lodge, the auto-rickshaw driver told me that the best time to visit the Taj Mahal is either during sunrise or sunset. Since tomorrow it would be closed, my best chance was left only the sunset. But it was only 12pm that time.
The driver, in his 50s, suggested that I went to the other attractions around Agra first and headed to the Taj Mahal later. He then made an offer to me. He would drive me around Agra, and drop me at Taj Mahal after that for Rs400.
Attractions in Agra are spreaded out so it's quite impossible to walk from one to another. And they don't have metro unlike Delhi. I didn't think much so I just agreed with his offer. He looked like a nice uncle anyway.
After I checked in at the hotel and settled everything, we started the excursion.
He was indeed a nice companion. Along the journey, he acted like a tour guide to me, telling stories about the buildings we passed by and some histories of it.
Our first destination was the Agra Fort, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. I went in alone while he waited at the parking lot.
Described as a walled city, the sandstone bastions reach a height of over 20 metres and stretch for more than 2 kilometres. It is a huge fort but the public are allowed entry to only about 25% of the area. The rest of the fort is under military control, as I was told.
There are two entrances to the fort, but currently only one is open to visitors. All the visitors will enter through this Amar Singh Pol.
There will be numerous touts approaching you to offer guide service here. I guess it is up to you whether or not you need one. Their explanation can add life to what you are seeing but as for me, relying on my guide book was enough.
Amar Singh Pol
Once you enter the fort, you can see the defense system used to confuse the attackers. There are three separate gates inside as stages of barriers.
the first gate
Anyway, beware of the monkeys here.
They might look cute but they could be aggressive! If you're not careful, they might steal your belongings.
one of the gates
Like the Red Fort in Delhi, this magnificent fort features many beautiful pavilions and other structures. This includes Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), Jahangiri Mahal, Khas Mahal and Moti Masjid.
Emerging from the gate, in front of you is the spacious courtyard which surrounds the Diwan-i-Am.
Here is where the emperor addressed the general public.
There is a tomb directly in front of the Diwan-i-Am. It belongs to John Russell Colvin, a British lieutenant governor who died here during the battle of Agra in 1857, when Agra's British population barricaded themselves inside the fort.
grave of John Russell Colvin
To the north of Diwan-i-Am courtyard, you can see Moti Masjid behind the courtyard walls. Sadly, that area is closed to visitors.
Moti Masjid rising beyond the courtyard walls
Heading through a small door in the Diwan-i-Am and climbing the stairs beyond brings you out onto the upper level of the Macchi Bhavan (Fish Enclosure). It is a large but relatively plain two-storey structure overlooking a spacious courtyard.
It is believed to have pools and fountains here once, and it was used to rear fish for the emperor.
walkway of the Macchi Bhavan
Nearby is the Musamman Burj, a beautiful tower overlooking the Yamuna River. Legends has it that Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his own son, Aurangzeb in this fort. He spent the last years of his life inside this Musamman Burj, gazing at the tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz.
On a clear day, you'll get a nice view of the Taj Mahal, located about 2 km from the fort.
But sadly, it was still foggy so the view was not that good. FOG, Y U NO GO AWAY!!!
Past the Musamman Burj, is another large courtyard, the Anguri Bagh.
Anguri Bagh or the Grape Garden
It is flanked by a white marble palace, the Khas Mahal.
the marble pavilion
I don't know why but the locals like to take pictures with foreigners. Usually they will flock the Mat Sallehs but here, I was flocked too! Macam celebrity pulak. Muahahaha...
But they can be intimidating too. Two guys followed me from the Macchi Bhavan to Khas Mahal! I noticed them looking at me at Macchi Bhavan but I just ignored them since I knew the local guys like to stare at female foreigners. As I walked around, I noticed them going to the same area that I went. Everywhere I turned, for sure I would see them nearby. Fine. It's a public place so maybe it's just a coincidence that we walked to the same direction.
But still, I noticed them staring at me. Uncomfortable, but I tried to act normal, ignoring them and all the while, making sure I was surrounded by other people. But they were still following where I went. Luckily I wore sunglasses so it helped a lot as not to make eye contact with them.
I was busy taking pictures at one spot when suddenly one of the guys approached me. He asked me where did I come from while his friend was ready to capture my photo with his mobile phone.
I knew they meant no harm but I was so afraid that time I quickly walked away and as fast as I could, out from the area to hide myself from them.
I headed to Jahangiri Mahal, located at the south of Khas Mahal. Luckily, they didn't follow me there. Thank God!
Anyway, Jahangiri Mahal is a stunning architecture. It is a palace for the women of the royal families.
This robust sandstone structure has quite a few Hindu elements mixed up with traditional Mughal and Islamic motifs.
Built in marble and red sandstone, all the buildings in the fort are a treat for the eyes with beautiful inlay works on marble and exquisite carvings on the stone.
The history here is definitely interesting. Some people just come here to kill time after visiting the Taj, but I felt that this fort is equally fascinating. It is clearly one of the finest specimens of Mughal architecture and is quite rightly considered a world heritage.
Agra Fort is open daily.
Visiting hours are from sunrise to sunset.
Entrance fee is Rs300 for foreigners (you get Rs50 discount when presenting ticket for Taj Mahal) and Rs20 for Indians.