Lunch in Agra. The guide and driver took me to an Indian restaurant, where they usually take their tour groups. I ordered a dish with lamb and sauce, rice and butter naan. First bite I took, was bone. Second bite I took, was bone. Third bite was sinew. So I called the waiter and complained. It took another ten minutes, then they brought me something edible. By that time I had lost my appetite and I had them pack the food up for the driver. But I did tell the driver and guide about my experience. The driver stormed into the restaurant, practically grabbed the owner by the collar and told him about my complaint. And he threatened him that his tour company would not be sending customers to him again. The poor man practically knelt in the mud to apologize to me a hundred times. I felt a bit sorry for him, but then – he had it coming!
Agra was the Imperial Mughal capital in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was from here that the Emperors Akhbar (third Emperor), his son Jahangir (4th) and grandson Shah Jahan (5th) ruled their vast empire. The city flourished under their patronage, attracting artisans from Persia and Central Asia, who were building luxurious mausoleums, forts and gardens.
Folklore has it, that Akhbar was a very well liked and just Emperor, who respected all others’ beliefs and that he employed courtiers from every religion, while Jahangir and Shah Jahan were not that magnanymous.
Akhbar built the Agra Fort between 1565 and 1573. The red sandstone fort forms a crescent along the waterfront of the Yamuna river, and was very strategically placed. A deep moat surrounded the fort, filled with water and crocodiles. The draw bridge could easily be pulled up. Another trick was used to deflect attacks by attackers storming the fort: the entry zig-zags around, so even if attackers could gain entrance, they could be picked off one by one. So it was easily defendable.
From what I read, even Jahangir, Akhbar’s son, tried to poison his own father, so attacks could also come from within. Luckily he failed. He did feel remorse for his actions later on and tried to become a good Emperor to his people.
Killing was going on in those families left and right. I remember reading that one of Jahangir’s sons, a vicious drunkard, tried several times to have his father killed, to incite the military against his father and also tried to turn some of his father’s most trusted advisors against him, by promising them big positions in the empire, along with power and money. Jahangir forgave him a couple of times, but when he practically turned into a mad dog obsessed with killing his father, Jahangir had him blinded and crippled (if I remember that right) to finally keep him from trying again to kill him.
At that time Jahangir had married his favorite wife, Nur Jahan, who was actually a commoner, but very very smart. It is said that she had her eye on the prince since she was a little girl. When she became Empress, she tried to grab power in the Zenana, which is the women’s quarters. Usually the first wife is the one with the highest position, especially if she had given the Emperor an heir. Which the first wife had. Nur Jahan brought a daughter from her first marriage to the court, but never had any children by the Emperor, only miscarriages. She worked hard to become the political influence and her husband was beginning to listen to her about the empire’s affairs. His trusted advisors were disgusted that he actually took her advice (a woman’s!) over theirs, so they were easy prey for the treacherous sons.
Anyway, I could go on and on telling stories. If you are interested in these Mughal times, there is a fabulous book out that makes for very interesting reading. It’s called The Twentieth Wife, by Indian author Indu Sundaresan. It is about Emperors Akhbar and Jahangir. The second book is called: Feast of Roses, and it deals with Shah Jahan’s reign.
For his beloved wife, Nur Jahan, Emperor Jahangir built a most delicately decorated little palace. There was no space undecorated and one area was decorated with silver, inlaid with mirrors. The public used to be allowed into that “mirrored hall”, but not any more, since silver has been dug out of the wall by the public, and now it’s fenced in.
What interested me very much at Agra Fort, are the extensive women’s quarters, the Zenana. It is a two-story building in U-shape, with quarters for each wife and concubine upstairs. Except for Nur Jahan, of course. The downstairs is a columned colonnade and was being used for entertainment and get-togethers.
After Agra Fort, our guide left us and my driver, Mr. Crazy, and I went to another fabulous tomb, a tomb built by Nur Jahan for her parents. She was born into an aristocratic Persian family, who fell upon hard times and traveled from present-day Afghanistan into India. They were so poor, that they left her as baby girl on the side of the road for someone else to find. (Folklore?). I don’t know how true this is. Anyway, someone from Emperor Akhbar’s entourage found her and gave her to her father, Mirza Ghiyath Beg and his wife, to take care of on his behalf. Mirza Beg later became a trusted official at court; he was named “Lord Treasurer”, and his influence became of course limitless after his daughter became Empress.
Mirza Beg’s Tomb is described as “a jewel box in marble”, is stylistically the most innovate 17th century Mughal building, and marks the transition between the robust sandstone forts and the fine craftsmanship of the Taj Mahal (says the guide book). And it’s delicate art work was also later an inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
The drive home was uneventful. the fog was not bad anymore, and Mr. Crazyman reached Delhi in record time, where he was slightly slowed down by the horrendous 6 o’clock traffic.