If you hear the word Agra for the first time, the image of Taj Mahal will come to your mind. It’s not your fault in this. I completely agree that the Taj Mahal is indeed the symbol of this city. But in my view a city (for which it is famous) is much more visible than that. And this also applies to the Mughal-ruled city, Agra.
Recently I had the privilege of doing Heritage Walk of Agra, which was named as “Agra Beyond Taj”. The walk was organized with the joint efforts of Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department and Tourism Guild of Agra. Taking this walk made me realize that miracles can be found anywhere – we just need that attitude for it. So, let me introduce you to the streets of old Agra and tell you the history of these streets. Maybe we can see miracles together.
We all boarded a 7-8 seater traveler van accompanied by Gaurav ji, a tour guide appointed by the Tourism Guild of Agra. He tells the smallest details of Agra, how it used to be before the Mughals. I never knew that Agra was once known as ‘Agravan’. We soon arrived behind the Agra Fort in the Rawat Pada area of Agra.
As we went on, Gaurav ji started narrating some historical events of Agra Fort. I am not going to go deep into those bookish historical stories, rather I will tell you something more amazing about Agra.
The Agra Fort was a brick fort and was known as ‘Badalgarh’, as recorded by Akbar’s historian Abul Fazl. But when Akbar acquired it, it was in ruins and hence he rebuilt this fort from the red sandstone of Rajasthan.
Another story that our guide told us is that the Agra Fort is the place where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb had put him in a tower of the fort. From the rear we could clearly see that golden coloured, domed tower. This tower is known as Musamman Burj and from here, Shah Jahan could clearly see the Taj Mahal as he wanted to continue admiring the Taj Mahal for his last days after the death of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Agra Fort Railway Station
A few meters ahead is the Agra Fort Railway Station. Agra Fort Railway Station is a major station and one of the oldest stations in India. Our tour guide Gaurav ji told us that this station used to be a small line and a big line. Recently it has been converted into a big line.
On one side you can see the Agra Fort and on the other side you can see the Jama Masjid of Agra. Gaurav ji further told that when there was no station here during the time of Mughals, then there used to be a big bridge between Agra Fort and Jama Masjid. But due to unavoidable reasons, the British had to destroy it completely and build the Agra Fort station.
Tundla is a station about 30-40 km from Agra. The station was a trade center used by the British. But it was then affected by bandits and other mischievous activities. Perhaps this may have been the main reason why the British shifted the Tundla station and built a new station – Agra Fort.
We bought platform tickets to enter Agra Fort station. Moving towards the railway bridge, I formed a mental image of what this place must have been like at that time. I could feel my brain moving steam engines, everyday activities and humans moving up and down and train whistles.
We completed the climb of stairs and reached the other end of Agra Fort station. From here we can clearly see the Jama Masjid from the railway bridge. Now you can see that on one side of the station, there is Agra Fort and on the other side there is Jama Masjid.
Jama Masjid or Friday Masjid was built by Shah Jahan for his elder daughter Jahanara. Parts of it are made of non-translucent (resistant to absorbing liquids) and translucent marble from Rajasthan, known as Makrana marble. This is the same marble that has been used in the Taj Mahal.
Chimman Lal Poori Wale
Food is an integral part of travel. When I travel anywhere, I always keep a pre-set search for food ready. So, let me show you some must-see foods of Agra and why you should eat these foods.
Chimman Lal Poori Wale is one of the oldest eateries in Agra. The shop was established in 1840 and the quality of the food has remained the same since then. They started out as ‘Puriwalas’ and eventually started selling samosas, kachoris, sweets such as the Agra-famous petha.
As we reached Chimman Lal Poori Wale, our guide started telling an interesting story about it. I will write here what he said: Actually, once upon a time there used to be a cremation ground near the Agra Fort. Hindus have a tradition of not cooking food for 13 days if someone in the family dies, so, when Hindus returned from the cremation ground, they would order Chimman Lal Ji to deliver food for 13 days . Soon this practice became a tradition and the taste of Chimman Lal became famous in Agra.
As we proceeded through the streets of Agra, we came upon a carpenter. Badai is a special type of shortbread stuffed with ingredients like urad and moong. It is served with vegetables and tastes crispy as you eat it. It is a famous breakfast in Agra and one can easily spot their stalls at the intersections in the early morning hours.
I ate a Badai and my interpretation is that Badai is actually an amalgamation of the normal Poori and Kachori which was actually absolutely amazing in taste.
Historic buildings in the streets of Agra
In this heritage walk, I got acquainted with various interesting and magnificent architectural buildings of old Agra. These buildings are located in Rawat Pada and surrounding areas. I will share them here one by one.
engraved figures of queen and king of england
After a few steps forward, we came across a building. It looked quite old and it didn’t feel like anyone was currently living here. This seemed true until we caught sight of the clothes hung to dry on the top floor. Our guide asked us to find something different in the building. Then he showed us the carvings of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, on an iron railing. So, why is a portrait of the King and Queen of England on a building in Agra? After all, what would have been his relation here?
In fact it would not be fair to call it a building as it was the rows of havelis and havelis which belonged to the wealthy seths of the time who once lived here. In ancient times, iron casting was not done in India but in England. Seths and other rich men ordered railings and other things made of iron, and they received similar inscriptions and artifacts engraved on iron.
a mansion of 500 rooms
Also, in the streets we came across another building named Kokamal Haveli and it is inscribed (KM Kokamal) everywhere, which stamps its ownership.
Kokamal Haveli is another huge haveli owned by a Seth from Agra. It is located in a congested street. However, its location may take you by surprise. There are 500 rooms in this huge mansion. Amazing isn’t it?
We saw that the government was undertaking the renovation of this building of historical importance. Imagine how beautiful it would look after the renovation.
Moving on, I came to know about another interesting tradition which is the Akhada tradition. Our guide told us that the akhara was an integral part of the homes of the seths and the wealthy. Since they were very wealthy and had to secure money, they used to raise Pehalwans (wrestlers) in those akhadas.
Knowing this, I immediately asked our guide whether it would be possible for us to see an akhara or a wrestler? At first it seemed that it would be difficult to see but I am grateful that our guides were able to show us the arena.
Read More – Tulsi Akhara of Kashi
Through a very bustling road, we came across a mansion, which had an amphitheater on its roof. It was situated at walking distance from Kokamal. Since we had reached early in the morning, we could not go upstairs to see the arena, we had to be content to see it from afar.
Munna Lal Petha Wale
Now let me talk with you about Petha, the iconic sweet of Agra. Petha is a type of sweet made from kumdha or white pumpkin and is famous all over the country. Through the congested lanes of Agra, we reached Munna Lal Pethe Wale at Rawat Pada Chowk. This shop looks like any other normal shop but the beauty lies in their fresh and delicious petha.
You must have heard about Panchi Petha. They are the oldest petha manufacturer in Agra. After them Munna Lal Petha Wale also comes in a well known shop. If you are confused about the real panchhi petha shop then you can come to this shop.
We also saw how pethas are made. After requesting the owner of Munna Lal Petha Wale, he agreed to show us the process of making Petha. You can read more about it here.
Spice Wali Gali is primarily an old street. Here you will find all kinds of spices. The aroma of turmeric and coriander will fill your nose. Here, you can thoroughly understand the importance of spices in Indian cuisine and why spices are an integral part of food.
I advise you to cover your nose here as it is natural for you to sneeze with the aroma of spices. You walk the streets here and see the variety of Indian spices.
The next stop was Mankameshwar, an ancient temple. Our journey was to end here. Mankameshwar Temple is one of the oldest temples in India dedicated to Lord Shiva. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva himself established this Shivling when his wish (heart’s desire or desire) to see Lord Krishna as a child was fulfilled.
This temple is blessed by Lord Shiva himself. It is said that the wishes that come out of the true heart are fulfilled here. So, if you wish for something, here your wish of the mind will definitely be fulfilled.
You have to pass through a narrow lane to reach the temple building. In these streets you will also find the favorite sweet of Lord Shiva – Kalakand. People buy Kalakand to offer to Lord Shiva.
As soon as you enter the temple, you will notice that a shining Shivling is installed in the main hall. Due to its luster and silver Shivling, this temple is also known as “Silver Shivling Temple” of Agra.
Vaidya Gali of Agra
Our heritage walk ended at Mankameshwar Temple. So all of us gathered together and started returning by the same route. When we were about to reach Agra Fort railway station, our guide told us another interesting thing – Doctor ki Gali or Vaidya ki Gali.
It is a simple street, where doctors practicing Ayurveda reside and their clinic is also present. People say that there are doctors here who can tell the name of the disease just by touching the nerves. Being from a science background, my mind could not understand how could this happen?
But it is a matter of people’s trust in doctors. Medicines from these hospitals are very economical and you can get treatment in just Rs 100-200.
some key points
There are a few key points which I would like to share with you. I am sure these points will help you the next time you do a heritage walk of Agra.
- Agra is much more than the Taj.
- The said historical buildings are located in the vicinity of Old Agra and Rawat Pada.
- Barai can be easily found near street vendors.
- You can see Petha being made there at Munna Lal Petha Wale. The road to the left of the shop leads to the petha manufacturing site. Make sure you get permission first.
- You cannot see Vaidya Gali doctors and hospitals on Thursday (holiday).
- Photography is permitted at each of the locations mentioned here.
It took our group (7 people) around 4-5 hours to complete the entire heritage walk. So, I believe if you are going it alone it may take less time.
I am privileged that I got a chance to represent Inditels and I am also thankful to Tourism Guild of Agra and Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department for completing this journey beautifully. Actually this walk is worthy of praise because our main attraction in it is not the Taj, but other than that all the buildings and ancient abuses which we often ignore.
So, the next time you are in Agra, try to see Agra apart from the Taj as I always say that a city is not just identified by its major attractions. Every city has its untold things and unseen pictures.
This article is written by Vipin Kumar and Abhishek who were representatives of Inditales on this journey.