Agra Beyond Taj MahalThink Agra! Think Taj Mahal! Sounds cliched? run-of-the-mill and deadbeat. There is no doubt that Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders, is our nations pride but there is more to the city than this. This city has abundant architectural marvels, tombs, mausoleums, forts, temples, which is worth your time and experience. Here are a few places and must do things in Agra.
In case you are aware of the spiritual movement called Radha Saomi, “Dayal Bagh” is the memorial of the founder, Shiv Dayal Sahib. It is a beautiful 110 ft high majestic building made of pure white marble. The temple has a fascinating story to it, which is shared by the locals, that the construction work here does not cease, some call it a curse, while others say it’s due to lack of fund. Well, whatever the reason might be, the temple has been under construction since 1915. The carvings and the inlay work are so intricate that one is struck with awe at the craftsmanship. Prayer meetings are held every day at the Bhajan Ghar adjacent to the Samadhi. Dayal Bagh is located 15 km from Agra, the area is green, serene and brings in a lot of peace.
Mankameshwar Mandir: This temple of Lord Shiva is located near the Agra Fort railway station. The Shivling, which is the main idol, is covered with silver metal. The locals throng this temple. The Akhanda Jyoti is lit throughout. Devotees contribute for the same. It is said that if one lights the lamp with utmost trust and belief, whatever the devotee wishes for, comes true. There are many other deities within the main temple. Leather items are not allowed inside the premises, and bear in mind that Salwar Kurtas/ Pajamas cannot be worn. Only sari and dhoti to be worn by women and men while visiting the temple.
Kailash Temple: If you happen to be in Agra during the monsoon months between August and September, call it sheer providence. Since it is during this month, the Kailash Fair is held to commemorate the advent of Lord Shiva, said to assume the form of stone Linga. This temple attracts people who belong to different caste and creed too. Situated near the banks of Yamuna it is easy to reach this temple at Sikandra.
Taj Mahotsav: A platform created by the Department of Tourism, Government of India, to encourage the artisans and promote tourism. This ten-day festival brings together artisans from all over the country under one roof, where they exhibit their unique and exquisite crafts. This Fair also showcases many exhilarating performances by professional artistes, be it folk dance, classical dance, fusion, musical, vocal & instrumental renditions and much more. One can see the stage shared by professional artistes belonging to other countries too. The Mahotsav takes you on a food journey where you get to experience the most authentic and traditional food belonging to different regions. Even if you have visited Agra on many occasions, this Taj Mahotsav is reason enough for you to be at Shilp Gram, a craft village in the month of February. Witnessing this Mahotsav is interesting and informative, try and be a part of it.
Shopping in Agra is not like one of those Mall like experiences, one has to venture out, try not to shop at the first instance, for you might land up seeing more exquisite things, look around, decide and then settle for the best deal.
Zardozi work which is a unique work of 3-dimensional embroidery. An art where a free pattern is made and then embroidered with cotton thread initially until the required thickness and an embossed look is attained; once this is done silk thread is twisted and weaved along. Using beads, wires, pearls are all variations and adds to the richness of the work. It is expensive but worth the investment.
Pietra Dura, is another craft which is prominent and famed in Agra. This craft uses the inlay technique, in which highly polished coloured stones are cut and fitted on another surface to form images. It is done with such finesse that the interlocking of stones is invisible and the resultant surface or panel is almost plane. If this does not flash in your checklist of things to be bought it is wise enough to include it right away, going back from Agra without a piece of marble, is unimaginable.
Leather goods, if you are looking for bags, jackets, shoes, wallets, belts, you will be surprised that Agra is a reservoir. There are many shops at Sadar where you can try your hand. The India Leather house even boasts of having made a trench coat for Bill Clinton. The goods are not cheap, but one can be sure of the quality.
Don’t forget to try out the fine Mughlai cuisine when in Agra, there are a number of restaurants which will elevate your dining experience, Peshawari, Park restaurant, Mughal Room are a few to name.
Also relish the different flavoured, coloured, translucent sweetmeat named Petha. I would suggest the Angoori, plain or the dry ones, because these are the ones from where the whole sweet story began. Famed name for Petha is Panchhi’s Petha spread all over Agra, or just pick it up at any other sweet shop of your choice.
There are varieties of things ranging from jewellery, miniature paintings, marble inlay work, carpets, to rugs which can be bought from souvenir shops. Depending on time, pocket and space, suit yourself.
Agra, a city which moves at its own pace, has so much in store, all you need is the time and mind to sit back, explore and enjoy.
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