The first day of my trip to India was spent in Agra, and the very first monument I’ve visited in the muslim-populated city was the huge Red Fort, the country’s most important fortress.
Most Mughal kings have lived there, and from here they also used to rule the country. This fort was started during the era of emperor Akbar the Great and is an impressive collaboration of palaces added by the following generations of kings, such as Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, covering taste, mood, personality of every emperor who commissioned each piece.
The building is massive, very likely it was built in place of the old Badalgarh Fort, stronghold of Rajput rulers. Surrounded by a double wall, of which the outer one is 40 ft high and the inner one 70 ft, the fort was started in 1565 and completed in eight years, matching the different tastes of each of the Mughal kings that contributed in its creation.
I loved ambling along the alleys and the many palaces inside the Fort, while my guide Danish slowly unfolded the tales and legends behind every wall of the fort.
One of the greatest buildings is the red-sand-stone Jahangir’s Palace, built by Akbar the Great. History here is a little confused, the palace is believed to have been built by the king for his son, then later emperor Jahangir built another palace after demolishing one of the areas that Akbar had devoted to his Hindu wife Jodha Bai.
Stories of rivalry, love, passion, diversity are all entangled and brought to our times through the many styles present in this red fort.
Wandering from one palace to the other, I passed by the gardens inside the fort. When I entered Anguri Bagh, or the Grape Garden, I was completely alone, not even my guide had already reached the spot as he was buying my ticket. Only one of the gardeners was having rest sitting in a corner of his green creation, certainly enjoying one of the rare moments of peace.
I shared that feeling of tranquility and loved contemplating the perfectly trimmed greenery. Unfortunately that was just that, a fleeting moment before a horde of yelling tourists came and broke the spell. No move, nor reaction came from the gardener, very likely used to such sudden change of atmosphere.
As I kept crossing the different palaces, listening to the pearls of knowledge Danish was giving me, I felt I could actually see the emperors, their wives, busy (or not-so-busy) in their daily routine, and the myriads of workers sweating under the pitiless Indian sun while building or readjusting the different parts of the mansion according to the rulers’ ever-changing demands.
The last block I visited in the Red Fort was Samman Burj (or Musamman Burj) where Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was confined by his son, just opposite the Taj Mahal, magnificent building he himself had commissioned in honor of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died after giving birth to their fourteenth child.
The death of his wife, brought to his mind every single day by the view of the Taj, literally drove him crazy. He slowly dragged himself to death, after torturing his last years with the view that reminded him of the most tragic moment of his life.
That was my first encounter with the Taj Mahal, a masterpiece built out of grief and love.