Agra, India, is best known as the location of the Taj Mahal, the single most important sight a visitor to India can see. Though millions of pictures have been taken of it, none do it justice.
Located 125 mi/200 km southeast of Delhi, the elegant structure was ordered built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. It took some 20,000 laborers 22 years to build the Taj, and every detail is absorbing: the classical gardens, the reflecting pool, the elaborate patterns of semiprecious stones decorating the white marble. So precious is the Taj, more than 200 factories in the area have been shut down to prevent air pollution from discoloring the marble.
If time permits, schedule at least two days to visit the Taj and plan to spend at least an hour on each visit because the beauty of the structure changes with the time of day. Hours are from sunrise to sunset. The sun's hot rays reflecting from the white marble can make some people dizzy, so take along sunglasses, a hat and a water bottle.
But don't limit yourself to the Taj while in Agra. Three other sights in the area should not be missed. Agra Fort, built under the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1565, contains numerous palaces and a white marble mosque, while Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb was a marble forerunner to the Taj.
The newer parts of Agra are unexceptional, but if you follow the road out of the Taj's main gate and keep going straight, you'll find yourself in old Agra, which has a lively market. On a hot afternoon, the whitewashed residential area nearby has the look and feel of a small North African town.
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