Does the Taj Mahal come to your mind at the mention of the word ‘Agra.’ Indeed that is the iconic site of this city. I believe that a city is worth more than what it is really known for. Recently I did a walk of Agra Heritage, going by the name ‘Agra beyond Taj’, organized jointly by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism and Tourism Guild of Agra.
Agra Heritage Walk
Doing this walk has shown me that wonders can be found anywhere – we just need an ‘eye’ for it. Let me take you to the buzzing lanes of old Agra and share the history that these lanes behold.
We boarded a 7-8 seater Traveler van with our tour guide from Tourism Guild of Agra. He was explaining in bits and pieces about the city, how it was even before the Mughals. I never knew Agra was once known as ‘Agravan.’
Being a short ride, we quickly arrived at the backside of the Agra Fort in the Rawat Pada area. As we de-boarded, the guide started telling some historical aspects of Agra Fort including some interesting stories. As recorded by Abul Fazl, the historian of Akbar, Agra Fort was once a brick fort and was known by the name ‘Badalgarh.’ But when Akbar acquired, it was in ruins. He rebuilt this fort with red sandstone from Rajasthan.
In another story, our guide told us that after being held captive by his own son Aurangzeb, Agra Fort became the place where Shah Jahan was house arrested or imprisoned. Aurangzeb put him in a tower of the fort. At the backside, where we stood, we could clearly see that golden color domed tower. This tower is known as Muasamman Burj and from here, he could have clearly seen the Taj Mahal.
Agra Fort Railway Station
A few meters ahead is the Agra Fort Railway Station. This railway station is from the colonial period and one of the oldest in India. It used to be a broad and meter gauge (locally Choti line and Badi line) until recently. Now, it is a completely broad gauge railway station.
On one side of it, you can see the sprawling Agra Fort. On the other side, you can see the Jama Masjid of Agra. During the times of Mughals, there used to be a large bridge between Agra Fort and Jama Masjid. But due to unavoidable reasons, Britishers had to destroy it completely and build Agra Fort station.
Tundla is a station about 30-40 km from Agra. Back then, this station was a trade center used by Britishers. But it was in those days affected by bandits and other mischievous actors. Perhaps the reason why Britishers built this new station called Agra Fort station.
We purchased platform tickets, hiked the rustic railway bridge. As we walked, I thought of how this place must have been in the earlier days. I could imagine the whistles from steam engines, chaotic activities, and humans rushing up and down.
Upon arrival at another end of Agra Fort station, we could clearly see the Jama Masjid from the railway bridge. From here you will see Agra Fort on one side of the station and Jama Masjid on another.
Jama Masjid or Friday Mosque was built by Shah Jahan for his eldest daughter Jahanara. Some of its parts are made by nonporous and translucent marble from Rajasthan known as Makrana marble. It is the same marble that is used in the Taj Mahal.
Chimman Lal Poori Wale
Discovering local food is an integral part of travel. Let me introduce you to some popular food from Agra and why should you try them.
Chimman Lal Poori Wale is one of the oldest eatery points you’ll find in Agra. The shop was established in 1840 and since then the aroma of the food remains the same. They started as a ‘Poori Wala’. Eventually additionally started selling Samosa, Kachori, sweets such as Agra’s famous Petha as well.
As we arrived at Chimman Lal Poori Wale, our guide told an interesting story about it. It seems, actually, once there used to be a cemetery ground near Agra Fort. Hindus have a tradition of not cooking food until the 13th day if anyone passes away in the family. So, when Hindu people used to return from the burial ground, they would order Chimman Lal Ji to deliver the food for the next 13 days. Soon this practice became a tradition and the taste of Chimman Lal became famous in Agra.
Bedai or Bedmi Poori
It is a special kind of Poori filled with ingredients like black and green lentils (Urad and moong), served with a vegetable curry. It feels very crispy when you take a bite. The famous breakfast of Agra and can be easily found in the lanes of the old city in the mornings.
I think Bedai is actually a hybrid form of normal poori and kachori. The taste was amazing, being a street foodie, I savored them.
Agra Heritage – Historical Buildings
In this heritage walk, we came across various interesting architecturally brilliant buildings of old Agra. These buildings are located in Rawat Pada and the surrounding areas.
Engravings of Queen Victoria and King of England
Meandering on the lanes we came across an old, rustic, deserted like building until we saw some clothes hanging on a clothesline on the top floor. You can see the etchings of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made on an iron railing in this building.
These were the mansions and Havelis of Seth’s that once lived here. In colonial times, the iron casting gained popularity in England. Seth’s and other rich people used to order the castings made from iron and along with it came many inscriptions like these.
Heritage Haveli of 500 rooms
A majestic building named Kokamal Haveli is another huge haveli owned by a Seth of Agra. It is situated in an immensely congested street. However, do not get deceived by its location. This sprawling mansion consists of 500 rooms. Amazing, right?. The initials KM can be seen etched on iron-railings of this building.
Conservation works were on this building of historical importance during our visit. Imagine how beautiful it will look once it regains its full charm.
We learned about another interesting tradition. The Akhada tradition. Our guide told us that Akhada was almost an integral part of the houses that were built by Seths and rich people. Since they were very wealthy and needed some type of security to guard the wealth, they used to raise Pehalwaan (wrestlers) in those Akhadas.
Read More – Pahalwan Routine at Tulsi Akhada in Kashi
We came across a haveli which had an Akhada on the rooftop. It was just a walking distance from Kokamal.
Munna Lal Pethe Wale
Treat yourself with the iconic Agra Petha sweet dish at Munna Lal Pethe Wale at Rawat Pada Chowk. A traditional sweet made of Ash Gourd fruit. It’s a normal shop, but the attraction lies in their fresh and genuine Pethas.
Heard of Panchhi Petha?. They are the oldest Petha maker in Agra. Beyond them, Munna Lal Pethe Wale tops in the list. By chance you are not able to find a genuine Petha store, you can come to this shop.
We also saw how Pethas are made. Requested the owner of Munna Lal Pethe Wale, he agreed to show us the process of Petha making.
This street is full of Indian spices shops. When you enter the street, the aroma of turmeric and coriander will fill your nostrils. Well, you can understand the importance of spices to Indians and why they are an integral part of the food.
Cover your nose if you are prone to sneezing. Wander the lanes and see for yourself the various types of Indian spices.
Mankameshwar Mandir an Agra Heritage
An ancient temple, Mankameshwar Mandir is among the oldest temples of India dedicated to Lord Shiva. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva himself established this Shivling when his manokamna (heart’s desire or wish) of seeing Lord Krishna in Bal roop or child form was fulfilled.
This temple has blessings of Lord Shiva. It is said that your wishes are fulfilled if they are truly heartfelt.
You will find many shops and eatery joints on the outskirts and in the lanes leading to this temple. Here you will find Lord Shiva’s favorite sweet – Kalakand. People buy Kalakand and offer it to Lord Shiva at the temple.
A shining Shivling is established at the main hall of the temple. Due to this shining and silvery Shivling, this temple is also referred to as the silver Shivling temple in Agra.
On our way back, the guide showed us Doctor’s lane or Vaidd Gali.
It’s a simple street where doctors who practice Ayurveda live or have a clinic. Hence the street name. Some say that there are doctors who can tell the name of the disease just by touching the nerves. They can read the pulse and based on it they can judge the diseases in the body.
People obviously trust these doctors. The medicines at these clinics are very economical.
Agra Heritage Walk Takeaways
- The city is definitely not just Taj Mahal
- Historical buildings with old architecture are in Old Agra and areas surrounding Rawat Pada
- Bedai Poori can be easily found with street vendors in the city
- Do watch Petha making at Munna Lal Pethe Wale. Lane on the left side of the shop leads to the venue. Make sure you take permission to visit
- The Vaidd Gali clinics are closed on Thursdays, their weekly holiday
- Photography is allowed at above-mentioned places
This walk around the old city area was about 4-5 hours for our group (7 people). I believe if you’re going solo it may take even less time or maybe more depending upon your interest.
Feel privileged that I got a chance to represent IndiTales for this trip. Thankful to Tourism Guild of Agra and UP Tourism for beautifully curating this walk.
If you are visiting Agra do try to look beyond Taj. Remember ‘a city is worth more than what it’s known for!’ Agree?
This post is written by Vipin from Misfit Wanderers who represented IndiTales at Taj Mahotsav.