The Three Taj Mahal in Agra
First of all, I can totally understand the confused look on your face when you read the post title. I am not kidding you though. While Agra is synonymous with The Taj Mahal, I recently discovered the existence of the other two Taj Mahal in Agra !
Without much ado, let me dive into this post. As you know me well enough now, I enjoy building up of a mystery so starting with the better known Taj 😉 . Keep reading !
The Taj Mahal
The best description I have heard of this ivory-white marble mausoleum is from the great poet Rabindranath Tagore, who called this UNESCO site “the tear-drop on the cheek of time”. Though there are many who find Taj Mahal overrated, I must confess that I fall in love a little more with this monument each time I see it.
Quick information about the monument of love
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child. He started the construction of this magnificent monument one year later, in 1632. The mausoleum was completed in 1643 but work in the other phases of the project continued for another 10 years. Almost 20,000 workers worked on this New Seven Wonders of the World and completed it in 1653. . Also, contractors used about 1000 elephants to transport the materials needed for construction! Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal for Mumtaz Mahal also rests in the same tomb alongside his beloved wife.
Details about some of the architecture (in photos)
This was my 4th visit to the Taj Mahal and it was at its whitest best, thanks to the effort of the authorities to keep it clean. No scaffolding and repair work in sight, making for a great photo op :).
Itimad-Ud-Daulah or Baby Taj (2nd Taj Mahal in Agra)
First marble tomb in India
This exquisite tomb of Mizra Ghiyas Beg is nicknamed Baby Taj. It is quite special in architecture as well as in history. It is the first tomb in India to have been built entirely out of marble! Prior to the construction of this tomb, all the Mughal architecture was built in Red Sandstone. Built overlooking the Yamuna River this tomb is said to be the inspiration for “The Taj Mahal”.
History of this mausoleum
A little about Mizra Ghiyas Beg which I found quite interesting. He was a Persian nobleman and had an inspirational rag to riches story, as a poor merchant who came to India from Persia and rose to be a key Mughal courtier. He was Mumtaz Mahal’s grandfather and Emperor Jehangir’s chief minister (wazir). His daughter Nur Jahan, who married Jehangir, built the tomb between 1622 and 1628 in a similar style to the tomb she built for Jehangir in Shahdara Bagh near Lahore in Pakistan.
Itmad-ud-daula is a pure white and elaborately carved tomb, built using the Indo-Islamic architecture. The arched entrances and octagonal towers signify Persian influence, the absence of a dome and the presence of a closed kiosk on top of this building hints at Indian influence.
The fascinating interior of Baby Taj
The talented artists render the interior of the tomb is equally fascinating with exquisite carvings on marble, pietra dura work and use of colorful vegetable dyes.
Pavilion facing the Yamuna river
As we had reached Baby Taj around lunch, the marble was extremely hot. So this pavilion in red sandstone was a blessing. We sat in here , shielded by the hot sun, watching the Yamuna river flow by . A great place to sit and bond !
John Hessing’s tomb (3rd Taj Mahal in Agra)
We were lucky with this one. It took us some time to reached the Roman Catholic Cemetery, as the route is not very straight forward and google maps was not very reliable about the small twists and turns of the road. It was about 5.30 pm and there was already a big lock on the cemetery! I guess we looked morose enough and the Gods listened. While we were sulking near the small gate of the cemetery, a guy on the cycle stopped by. He was the caretaker and normally closes the place by 5 pm! Anyway, on our request, he opened the gates and gave us the grand tour of the place.
More about John Hessing
This tomb is built in Red Sandstone therefore called the Red Taj Mahal. Apparently, it was built by John William Hessing’s estranged wife, which in itself is quite interesting. He was a military officer and a Dutchman, who served in the armies of the Maratha Empire in the late 18th and early 19th century. Hessing fought with the Maratha armies against the British in the Second Anglo-Maratha War. He died in Agra on 21 July 1803 while in command of the Maratha forces there. The Fort was captured by the British the same year.
John Hessing’s tomb is an almost exact replica of The Taj Mahal in a miniature form. It is built on a high platform just like the Taj Mahal with a dome on the center top and minarets in the four corners. The facet of the tomb has four arches, a big central arch that leads to the coffin. The monument isn’t as grand as the original but the depth of love is probably the same.
Other tombs keeping the Red Taj Mahal company
Our guide was enthusiastic and showed us around the cemetery. We saw the burial site of the first foreigner in Agra, a chapel, coffin of a small boy that touched my heart the most and others. There were not many visitors here and we spent a quiet late evening paying obeisance to the departed souls.
Finally having seen the three Taj Mahal in Agra, I find the inter-related stories fascinating and would want to share with my readers these offbeat destinations in Agra. If you have you already visited, do head to the comments section and share your experience 🙂
Things you may want to know before the travel (Travel tips)
- If you want to have a clear view of the Taj Mahal in pleasant weather, plan your trip in October, November, later part of January and February. I once visited Agra in December and mist played spoiltsport
- Taj Mahal is open every day (except Friday) from sunrise to sunset. Try to be in the queue by 5:30 am to be one of the first to get in at 6 am. Increases your chance of seeing the Taj Mahal relatively uncrowded and for good photo ops
- As you will experience, everyone has become aware of this tip and there is a substantial queue even this early in the morning
- The security at the Taj is quite strict, so carry as less as you can. Water bottles are ok. Tripods were not allowed inside and we had to put in a locker
- I would highly recommended a guide if you are keen on history. Ours had additional knowledge of interesting photography locations 🙂
- Indians are charged INR 20/- and children below 15 years of age have free entry. Foreigners are charged INR 750/-
- Taj Mahal is also open for viewing at night (on full moon night, two days before and two days after -except on a Friday) from 8:30 pm to 12:30 am at higher entry fees
- You will likely spend 2.5 – 3 hours here
- You can utilize use and pay washrooms in the premises
- Itimad-Ud-Daulah is located in the old city area of Agra. You can hire a cab or auto from near your hotel
- Indians are charged INR 10/- for entry. Children below 15 years of age are allowed free entry. Foreigners re charged INR 110/-
- You will take about 1 – 1.5 hours in Baby Taj
- timad-Ud-Daulah is open on all days from 8 am to 6 pm
- John Hessing’s tomb is open from 7 am but closed by 5 pm. Try and be there early, you may not be as lucky as us
- You will want to spend about an hour at the Red Taj Mahal