A virtual tour from Delhi to Agra
Even if you haven’t been, you will no doubt already know that India is a vibrant country full of stunning architectural treasures, unforgettable scenery and a rich, colorful history waiting to be discovered. It’s almost impossible to know where to start when encountering the vast array of monuments, mausoleums and marvels on offer. So to inspire you to start exploring, here is a list of 11 incredible locations that you can discover on Street View.
The Mughal empire reigned in India for over 300 years, and one of the most notable cultural legacies it left was a succession of elaborate burial tombs for its rulers and their wives. Humayun was the second of the Mughal emperors, and after his death in 1556 his widow Hamida Banu Begum spent nine years planning what would become the grandest tomb of its time, as well as the inspiration for many more impressive mausoleums to come. Humayun's Tomb was also the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. Inspired by Persian architecture, it was designed in the style of a charbagh: a garden divided by into four quadrants by pathways and water channels to represent the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in the Qur'an.
It might look like a large piece of modern art at first glance, but Jantar Mantar in New Delhi is an observatory consisting of 13 super-sized architectural astronomy instruments. In 1724, the Maharaja of Jaipur built five of these observatories around India to help understand astronomical phenomena and keep track of scientific data. An incredible feat of design and engineering, Jantar Mantar was used to predict the location, distance away and speed of heavenly bodies, as well as the movement of the sun. Each instrument was cleverly constructed so that the measurements could be taken with nothing more than the naked eye, such as the giant 27m-long sundial that projects into the sky at a 27 degree angle — a revolutionary construction that could measure the exact time of day to half a second.
In 1638 the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who you might know better as the commissioner of the Taj Mahal, moved the capital of his empire from Agra to Delhi — a then-newly constructed city that he named Shahjahanabad. There he built himself an octogonal-shaped palace, known as the Red Fort for its 2.41km-long walls of red sandstone, where supposedly, the world-famous Kohinoor diamond was located for many years, as part of Shah Jahan’s jewelled Peacock Throne. The Fort remained the seat of the Empire for 200 years, until the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was coronated here in 1837. Nowadays, the complex is the centre of India’s Independence Day celebrations: every year since 1947 the national flag is raised and the Prime Minister makes a rousing speech from the ramparts.
The Qutub Minar in Delhi is a 73-metre minaret that rises up next to the the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India. The building of the tapering five-storey tower was begun in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak and was thought to have been erected as a tower of victory to commemorate the beginning of Muslim rule in India. His successor and son-in-law added 3 more storeys, but a lightning strike destroyed the top storey in 1369. While the damage was being repaired, a final extra storey was added in 1368 by Firoz Shah Tughlak. You can see the different stages of construction in the changing architectural styles and building materials across each storey. Visitors can no longer access the tower, but you can see the view from the fifth storey, here.
Often described as the “Baby Taj”, the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah is a Mughal-era mausoleum commissioned by the twentieth wife of emperor Jahangir, Nūr Jahān, for her father Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, a Persian noble from Khurasan. It was the first Mughal structure to be built completely from marble, a change from the typically-used material of red sandstone, and began the trend of pietre dure: walls encrusted with decorations made from colored marbles and semi-precious stones. These gems, including cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx, and topaz, form ornate patterns such as cypress trees, wine bottles and fruit, giving the building the nickname of the “jewel box”. The design is also noted for its jalis, intricately carved marble lattice screens that allow natural light to filter in.
Before Shah Jahan moved it to Delhi, the capital of India was in Agra. This where you’ll find Agra Fort, a 2.5km-long enclosed fortress that served as the imperial city of the Mughal rulers, which was built by the third Mughal emperor Akbar in 1654. As well as being a strategic military centre, it was also the royal residence, containing 500 smaller buildings inside its semi-circle walls. Some reports say there were once more than 1000 but Shah Jahan destroyed many to rebuild other buildings. The Fort contains two red sandstone and white marble palaces; the Sheesh Mahal, a royal dressing room adorned by mirrored glass mosaics on the walls; two mosques; and the Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower overlooking the Taj Mahal where it’s said that Shah Jahan died when his son imprisoned him there at the end of his life.
Fatehpur Sikri, the “City of Victory” was the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585 and earned its name after Emperor Akbar’s conquest of the Gujarat Sultanate, an independent Indian kingdom. It was built on the spot of the village of Sikri, where Akbar had travelled to consult the Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who lived in a cavern on a ridge. The saint made a successful prophecy about the birth of Akbar’s heir, Jahangir, and to honor this Akbar built his new capital on the site of the village. This fortified ancient city lying 40 km west of Agra was the first planned city that the Mughals built, but it was later completely abandoned after Akbar’s death in 1610, supposedly due to water shortages.
The Taj Mahal, meaning “Crown of Palaces” is the most iconic of India’s architectural treasures, and perhaps the most romantic. The tomb was commissioned by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child, although construction took around 20 years to complete. More than 1,000 elephants were used to transport the building materials. Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves so Mumtaz — and Shah Jahan, who was eventually laid to rest with her — sit in a plain crypt beneath the inner chamber, while the rest of the tomb is intricately designed with paint, stucco, stone inlays and carvings. The dome that sits atop the mausoleum is often referred to as an “onion” dome and has a height of around 35 metres. You can see it from a unique angle, here.
Just north of the Taj Mahal complex lies Mehtab Bagh, the last in a series of 11 charbagh-style gardens on the east bank on the Yamuna river. Built by Emperor Babur in the early 1500s, its name translates to “moonlit garden”, called so for the brightly-flowering plants that shone in the moonlight. Frequent floods and villagers removing building materials meant that the garden’s existence was almost forgotten by the 1990s, however it has since been restored. Care was taken to use the same types of plants that would have been used in the Mughal era and the gardens are now full of white plaster walkways, airy pavilions, pools and fountains. They provide a magnificent view of the Taj Mahal, as well as providing it protection from sand blown across the river
The Mughal emperor Jahangir commissioned this tomb for his mother, Mariam-uz-Zamani. Born a Rajput princess, she became the Queen consort of his father Emperor Akbar and was renamed “Mary of the Age” after she gave birth to Jahangir. The structure used for her resting place had previously been built in 1495 as a pleasure pavillion, or baradari, but it was remodelled into a tomb by building a crypt under the central compartment. The tomb is unique in Mughal architecture, as it is one of the tombs without domes on top, a style favoured by Jahangir. The mausoleum has three tombstones: one in the underground mortuary chamber, which is the grave itself; a separate memorial (or cenotaph) above it; and another cenotaph on the terrace.
Tomb of Akbar the Great
Before Emperor Akbar died, he planned his own tomb and selected where he would like it to stand, as per the tradition at the time. His son, Jahangir completed the construction of the sandstone mausoleum, which bears an inscription “These are the Gardens of Eden: enter them to dwell eternally.” Unlike other Muslim mausoleums, the head of the tomb is turned towards the rising sun, not towards Mecca. Unfortunately the tomb was ransacked and looted by Raja Ram Jat who wished to avenge the death of his own father. In his rage he even plundered the bones from their resting place. The Tomb has since been restored and the surrounding gardens are full of grazing antelopes and monkeys playing freely.