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Agra

Agra is home to the world's ultimate monument to love, the Taj Mahal. Dreamily positioned on the banks of the Yamuna River, its pale dome and minarets seem to float over the river, catching every nuance of light and shade. It was commissioned by the infamous Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan in 1632, to house the remains of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and took 17 years to build, working with India's finest pietra dura craftsmen who inlaid the gleaming white marble with semi-precious stones.

Other Agra sights include the mighty Agra Fort (built 1565-1573), which reflects the Mughals at their most martial and was constructed by the Mughal emperor Akbar, Shah Jahan’s grandfather. Also overlooking the banks of the Yamuna, Agra Fort acted as the headquarters of the Mughal Empire while Agra was the capital. Built mainly out of red sandstone, it also has palaces and courtyards made of luminous white marble which were added on by Shah Jahan, who was eventually imprisoned here at Agra Fort by his son (and where, poignantly, he could gaze out over the tomb he built for his deceased wife).

Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb (also known as the Baby Taj), is an exquisite tomb with a lovely garden complex. It is much smaller than the Taj Mahal but has similar attributes: it is largely constructed from white marble with superb marble inlay works and it has four minarets, but unlike the Taj Mahal, the tomb is at the centre of a formal garden, the char-bagh, and has a softly curving roof. Itmad-ud-Daulah migrated from Persia and was a great figure of the Mughal Empire, becoming adviser first to Akbar and then his son, Jehangir. His tomb predates the Taj Mahal by at least a decade.

Akbar's multi-tiered tomb at Sikandra, with its beautifully frescoed ceilings and walls, is a little outside Agra and well worth a visit. Thought to be named after Sikander Lodi, the second ruler of the Lodi dynasty, the tomb complex is captivating for both its fine quality of architecture and its serene garden complex – and it is not as crowded as some of Agra’s more famous sites. Indeed, you are more likely to meet with a herd of deer.

The red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri, which is approximately an hour's drive away, is surrounded by extraordinary myths – such as the unanswered question to why Emperor Akbar deserted this Mughal capital in 1585 a decade or so after its construction. This royal complex is known as a deserted palace, but its spectacular mosque and shrines have remained an important place of pilgrimage and a small population has remained here since the 16th century.

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