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Agra is world-famous because of Taj Mahal. Its location is about 222 to 250 km south of Delhi.
Approximately 4 to 5 hours travel each way. While Taj Mahal is the prima donna of Agra, there are other historically significant monuments as well.
A visit to Taj Mahal at Agra is a must for every tourist to India.
However, for many tourists the question is - Whether to choose between a day trip to Agra from Delhi or stay overnight?
While the decision has to be taken by the individuals themselves, here we present the advantages and disadvantages of both options.
Taj Mahal was declared a world Heritage building in 1983. Stunningly beautiful, it is rare to find someone not moved by its aura. Built by Shah Jahan, a grieving emperor, Taj Mahal since then has become the epitome of love.
Mourning for his second wife Mumtaz Mahal, who had died during labour giving birth, Shah Jahan’s hair turned grey overnight. Such was the extent of his heartbreak. Mind you, Shah Jahan had a harem with many ladies to please him. After the death of his wife, Shah Jahan abandoned his practice of plucking out grey hair from his beard.
Legend says that the baby in the womb of Mumtaz had cried portending the death of the mother and child at birth. Mumtaz was considered as a martyr, for the local custom was that if the mother dies during childbirth then she is a martyr.
In a family coup, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan spent his last years, in luxurious house custody at Agra Fort from where he used to fondly gaze through a window upon Taj Mahal. After his death, Shah Jahan was laid to rest next to his wife Mumtaz Mahal at the Taj Mahal. Photography is not permitted in the chamber where the graves are located.
All of our same day Agra tours have both, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in their itineraries as attractions.
It took about 20-22 years and 20,000 highly skilled artisans and crafts persons to construct this monument to love. Specialists from Europe also contributed in the making of the exquisite marble screens installed at many places.
Interestingly, there were flaws in the construction of Taj Mahal albeit of minor nature. Leaks happened to Taj Mahal and the same were reported to Shah Jahan by Aurangzeb, when Aurangzeb visited his father in the December of 1652. Repairs were carried out successfully immediately. Since then, cracks have been reported in 1810, 1874 and 1937.
On a lighter note, there is a joke that is often told by husbands to their wives and it goes as follows:
After having seen the Taj Mahal on a Delhi to Agra day trip, a married couple of few years go to the rear side of the Taj Mahal to relax. Standing in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, watching the Yamuna river gently flow by, the wife in an half accusing and half mocking tone says to her husband, "The Emperor really loved his wife. The proof is this magnificent monument built by him after her death. You claim you love me, but what have you done for me?".
The husband replies, "Dear, I have done my part. I have bought a plot of land. Now it's your turn to fulfil your part of the story".
Even though Taj Mahal looks as perfect as it was probably when built, a huge restoration work was done in the early 20th century using Multani mitti, a traditional face pack. The city pollution had gradually soiled and discoloured the edifice of Taj Mahal. The local industry of Agra, which used to produce cast iron items using coal fed furnaces and were majorly contributing to the pollution, were shut down by an executive order amidst voices of protest.
There are a few enduring myths about Taj Mahal. They are:
That it is a Hindu temple.
An Indian writer P. N. Oak has been vociferously claiming that Taj Mahal is the 12th century Shiva temple, later on made as the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.
His petition requesting the opening of the sealed basement of Taj Mahal to prove his point was dismissed the year 2000 by the Supreme Court of India. There are many in India who support his claim.
For the record, Mr P. N. Oak also has made claims that the Papacy, the Stonehenge and the Kaaba are having Hindu origins.
The Black Taj Mahal
Across the river in Mehtab Bagh lie marble stones of black colour. Their existence is cited as evidence of the intent of Shah Jahan to build a replica of Taj Mahal in black marble for himself.
While it is a very popular legend, reality is that facts of that period do not support this claim. The black marble stones across the river have been found to be not naturally black stones, rather they have blackened over time.
As the Emperor was obsessed with symmetry, this idea is used in conjunction with the black marbles across the river to justify the theory of black Taj Mahal.
One of the reasons given for non-construction of the black Taj Mahal is that Shah Jahan could not initiate action on this as his authority was usurped by his son Aurangzeb.
But the imprisonment of Shah Jahan happened five years after the completion of Taj Mahal. Plenty of time was available for Shah Jahan to have a black Taj Mahal constructed, had his intent been there.
In your same day Agra tour from Delhi, you can request for a visit to Mehtab Bagh, time permitting.
Chopping of workers hands.
Lest someone replicate the Taj Mahal using his workers, Shah Jahan had ordered that their hands be chopped off. So goes the story without any historical evidence.
But this is such an enduring myth that it refuses to die.
Then there are tales that say, not only the hands were chopped off, but even the workers eyes were gouged out.
Historians have poured in great detail into the records to find any kind of evidence for it. Thankfully, not a shred of evidence has been found so far to support such a barbaric claim.
Our guide assigned for your day trip to Agra shall of course elaborate on this more.
Taj Mahal is sinking/tilting and will soon collapse.
Reduced water flow in the river Yamuna and the changing nature of the soil are two common reasons given to support the story. The Archaeological Survey of India, which has been scientifically monitoring the Taj Mahal since 1941 dismisses such claims.
As recent as this year in 2012, the Parliament of India witnessed sustained debate on this issue. The new trigger for the debate was that the wooden foundations, due to lack of water supply from the river Yamuna are cracking and will eventually break and lead to the collapse of Taj Mahal.
Fuelling this was the decision of the previous State government to build a promenade on the flanks of the river where shopping malls, multiplexes and other city engaging destinations will be built. The decision had received much flak and was eventually nullified by a Supreme Court of India's order.
However, as some work had been done on the project, that little work in itself was sufficient enough to cause a change in the Yamuna river’s flow, consequently affecting the water supply to the wooden foundation of Taj Mahal.
Archaeological Survey of India still continues to maintain that there is no threat to Taj Mahal. Repeated demands from many quarters to have the sealed basement of Taj Mahal opened for inspection, has been made with deaf ears.