Ohhhh Agra. It’s one of the main tourist spots in India, because it is the city that holds “The Luminous Tomb”: The Taj Mahal.
But actually, my favourite site in Agra was something else: Fatehpur Sikri — a World Heritage site built by the Mughal emperor Akbar in the 16th century.
I have to admit that before this trip, I didn’t know anything about the Mughal Empire, and now I am so hooked! I’m reading a book of historical fiction about the building of the Taj Mahal in Indu Sundaresan’s Shadow Princess. I am learning tons and loving all the tidbits about the Taj Mahal – a place I got to visit!
But 3 generations before Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal) came the Emperor Akbar, and he built this city, which was the court for 3 months before it was abandoned forever. Lucky for us tourists, because it left the city in such good condition that we are able to see how they lived.
I loved all the architectural details. The best part for me was that the Emperor had 3 wives (one Muslim, one Hindu, and one Christian from Portugal), and so the buildings featured architecture from each of their traditions.
For example, the (Muslim-influenced) onion domes:
And the Hindu symbols (that look like the Star of David, but have a flower in the centre):
And many of the elements were fused together in the carvings into the red sandstone (including even some Celtic designs!):
And I appreciated the special platform created just for the musicians:
But I suppose I can see why the Taj Mahal overshadows all of this gorgeous city for first place in the tourist destinations. First of all, it has a romantic story. Emperor Shah Jahan built it in the 17th century as a mausoleum in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Seeing as this is a food blog, I’ll leave you to read the (fascinating!) history over at the UNESCO page, and just show you pretty pictures.
And around the doorway of the Taj itself, there are verses from the Quran inlaid with jasper or black marble into the carved white marble:
And all around the building (both inside and out!) there are beautiful flowers made of local semi-precious stones (jasper, jade, turquoise) inlaid using an herbal glue:
Akbar had wanted to build a black mosque for his future remains, so that he would eternally be with his darling wife, but his son overthrew him and exiled him to this palace — from where he had a view of the Taj Mahal.
Ah, the romance.
But I’m sure you’re here for the food — so behold! Paratha with fresh mint leaves (alongside a couple of gorgeous veggie curries and a bit of steamed basmati rice)!!!
I think this was my favourite traditional bread of the trip! (An interesting fusion bread report coming soon…)
This was a vegetable jalfrezi:
And have I mentioned the uttapam yet? I think savoury pancakes might have been one of my biggest discoveries on the whole trip. I can’t wait to invent a recipe over here for them. Onions at breakfast? Yes!
And I can’t leave you without a few desserts, like these beautiful condensed milk balls rolled in flaked coconut:
Or one of my favourites (and Pem‘s favourite!) – shrikand! Shrikand is a yogurt and sugar custard flavoured with saffron. And here it was served with pomegranate seeds. What could be better?
The only possible improvement on dessert? A cocktail with cardamom, of course!
Good job, Agra. Entertaining, educational, and delicious. I’ll totally be back.