Villagers and crocodiles

16th February 2014 (Day 8) Between Agra and Gwalior.

No, no, not in the water together. While on the road between Agra and Gwalior we visited a village and later a crocodile farm.

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Here are a couple of boys riding up the back lane as we turned up.

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The children were generally very eager to interact.

At one stage I was surrounded by children eager for anything I could give them, especially pens for school. I gave them the one pen I had in my pocket.  I had a cheap camera raincover protruding from an open pocket of my camera bag.  One of the younger children relieved me of it and one of the older ones retrieved it and handed it back.  I had not noticed it was missing.

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Buffaloes and cows.

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Father and son, it would seem.

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Making “pancakes” of cow or buffalo dung for fuel for fires.

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Pancakes of dung.

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Distribution of the pens.

Our guide told us not to give away any money or everyone would want some and it would get out of hand.  We paid a prescribed amount to our Guide and he paid it to the head man, for all the villagers, while everyone was watching.

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Later we stopped at a crocodile farm.  This is a conservation initiative to breed crocodiles and release them in the river in the interests of the health of the ecosystem.

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These are gharials, classified as rare and endangered due to encroachment of humans on their habitat.  Juveniles eat insects and frogs; adults eat fish.  They live mainly in the calmer areas of deep, fast-flowing rivers.  They can grow to around six metres long.

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This is a marsh crocodile or mugger.   They have a wider diet, potentially including reptiles, birds and monkeys and grow to about four metres long.  They are also a fresh water crocodile.

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Agra to Gwalior

16th February 2014 (Day 8). On the road between Agra and Gwalior.

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All the images in this post are from the bus.

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The first few images are in or near Agra; the last few are in or near Gwalior.  It’s only 120 kilometres but it was a long and arduous journey.  The condition of the road was very poor with many large potholes, even when it hadn’t deteriorated to a dirt track or extensive road works in progress.  This is a major road.  It’s condition was more like a minor side road in very poor condition.

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Driving in India is most curious (and I have no desire to try it myself).  There is little in the way of observance of road laws.  Mainly people drive on the left but not where it’s more convenient to drive on the other side of the road.  Right of way involves liberal use of the horn to warn others to get out of the way.   There’s little inhibition against passing even on blind corners and it’s only because the speeds are usually low that the carnage is not greater.

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As well as cars, trucks and buses, you will see on the road tuk-tuks, motor scooters, motorbikes, horse carts, ox carts, camel carts, hand carts, cycle carts, bicycles, dogs, cows, buffaloes, camels and pedestrians.  Potentially there could also be elephants but the only one I saw on the road was on the back of a truck.

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Some improvements are in process, though seemingly very slowly.  Either insufficient funds are allocated or they’re swallowed up by corruption.

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Sandstone slabs for paving or construction

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Roadside in Agra

16th February 2014 (Day 8) Agra.

We are now leaving Agra for Gwalior and the bus stops for a while at an ATM so some of the party can refresh their supply of rupees. I took advantage of this to photograph people passing by. It was early morning so they were probably heading for work or market.
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How many people can you fit in a tuk-tuk?

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A rural bus

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Red Fort in Agra

15th February 2014 (Day 7) Agra.

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The Red Fort in Agra, not to be confused with the Red Fort in Delhi, was one of the bastions of the Mogul Empire.

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There has been a fort here for a very long time. When Babur, the first Mogul Emperor, defeated the Lodi Sultans of Delhi, they were based in Agra and living in the fort. Humayan was also crowned here but the walls we see here are those built by Akhbar. Originally the fort was brick but Akhbar rebuilt it with a brick core and outer layers of red sandstone. It was completed in 1573 after eight years of construction.

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In Akhbar’s time there were 500 buildings in the fort. Shah Jahan demolished some of these to make way for his white marble palaces but most were demolished by the British to make way for barracks. There only thirty buildings left in the South-Eastern corner and this is the part of the fort that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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When Shah Jahan’s favoured son Dara lost to Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan took refuge in this Red Fort.  Aurangzeb cut off the water supply and Shah Jahan had to surrender.

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Jahangir Palace.

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Jahangir’s Hauz, Jahangir Palace.

This is Jahangir’s portable bath.  I kid you not.  He took it with him when he went on campaign.  Dating from 1610, it is five feet high and eight feet in diameter.  It has both external and internal stairs.

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This man requested a portrait for himself and his young son.  I presume I gave him a card so perhaps he will see this here.

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A view of the Taj Mahal from the Red Fort, such as Shah Jahan must have seen during his captivity.

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On the Road around Agra

15th February 2014 (Day 7) Agra.

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The first image above is outside the Taj Mahal as we are returning to our bus, in a small open “bus” like the ones in the distance.

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All images are from a day on the road in Agra, or between Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.   The image above and following ones are taken from the bus as the world flashes by…..

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Notice the curious tricycle in the front here with hand operated pedals and indeterminate steering (bar with blue-grey grip, not the pipes in the background).

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The sign at top right “Welcome, Beauty Parlour”, behind the detritus on the roof, seems somewhat incongruous.

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Not an abode, they are selling pots.  The woman in the field behind is making cow dung pancakes, for use as fuel on fires.

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Fatehpur Sikri

15th February 2014 (Day 7) Fatehpur Sikri (near Agra).

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Next we visited Fatahpur Sikri, about forty kilometres from Agra.  Akhbar built it as his new capital city and it functioned as such from 1571 to 1585. After this brief period it was abandoned.  Akhbar first shifted the capital to Lahore, while he was campaigning in the North and when he came back, Agra became the capital again.

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Entrance to Jodh Bai’s Palace.

Fatepur Sikri was partly built partly to honour the Sufi saint Salim Chisti, who had correctly foretold that Akhbar would have three sons.  It was never reoccupied not so much because of inadequacies of water supply, as is often suggested, but because it was more isolated and less secure than Agra when his sons had started to go in rebellion against him.

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Entrance to Queen’s Palace.

It generally has a basic Persian style, overlaid by Indian flourishes.  As such it symbolised Akhbar’s tolerance to different religions and cultures and was also the setting for extensive discourses between the proponents of different faiths.

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Jodhbai’s Kitchen.

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Jodhbai’s Kitchen.

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Diwan I Khas, or Hall of Private Audience (middle right distance).

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Anup Talao.

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Anup Talao.

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This young lad is well presented with his trousers even pressed.  He asked me to take his photo so I did.  He then asked me for money.  I told him that if I ask him whether I can take a photo he can ask me for money and I may pay but if he asks me, then I’m doing him a favour and there’s no reason why I should pay.

Had he not asked me I would have had little interest in such a photograph because posed portraits usually hold little interest for me.

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Entrance of the Taksal or Mint.  Only rubble lies beyond this.

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Taj Mahal

15th February 2014 (Day 7) Agra.

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The front gate.  You can see a bit of the Taj behind it.

We arrived at 7am to photograph the Taj Mahal, which is when the gates open.  You can’t actually photograph it at sunrise or sunset or at nighttime from a regular location.

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Through the front Gate.

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Shah Jahan ruled 1627 to 1658.  He was a contemporary therefore of Charles I of England and you’d have to say a rather more successful monarch although they both ended up being displaced from their thrones.  His favourite wife was Mumtaz Mahal, his cousin, who he married when he was 20 and she was 19.  They shared all the vicissitudes of life including his campaigns and the four years he was battling or on the run from his father Jahangir.

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Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 while giving birth to their fourteenth child.  Shah Jahan was grief-stricken and retired for a year and when he re-appeared, he devoted all his energies to a mausoleum for her.  This is the Taj Mahal, built between 1632 and around 1653.

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Mumtaz Mahal insisted that children of other wives should be aborted to ensure the succession of their children but that did not prevent succession disputes.  After she died, Shah Jahan threw himself into licentious activities with a great number of women.  In 1658, he fell ill as a consequence of taking a seventeenth century equivalent of Viagra.  For a while it looked as though he would not survive.  Dara Shikoh, his nominated heir, assumed Regency and provoked a four-way civil war with his three brothers.  This continued even after Shah Jahan recovered.

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One of the two mosques, part of the overall enclosure.

Aurangzeb, the experienced war leader, defeated and killed the other three.  Shah Jahan survived, no longer Emperor, in house arrest in Agra Fort, where he could see the Taj Mahal.  Originally, he had wanted to build a black duplicate of the Taj Mahal as his mausoleum on the other side of the river, connected by a bridge, but this was not to be.  When Shah Jahan died, Aurangzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal alongside Mumtaz Mahal.  His cenotaph is on the ground floor beside hers.  They are buried in a private chamber below that.

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This image and the next five are from or at one of the two mosques.

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Near the main gate.

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Near the main gate.

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the Baby Taj

14th February 2014 (Day 6)  Agra.

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Roadside market.

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Indian construction techniques.

These first two images are from the highway between Vrindavan and Sikandra.
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Truck parked at the side of the road.  Long-term parking, I would say.

From Akhbar’s Tomb we travelled further on into Agra.   The image above and the next seven are from that journey.

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Intersection.

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Making the best of your housing.

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Looking down on a street.

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Petrol pump transactions and a curious load.

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Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah or Baby Taj.

This was our next destination but we hadn’t quite got there yet.

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Roadside market.

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Road clogged with tuk-tuks.

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Main gate for the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, or the Baby Taj.

Here we are at the outside gate and wall of the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah.  A distant relative of the Safavid royal family who ruled Persia from 1501, he came to India to find a position under Akhbar and ended up chief minister under Jahangir.  His title Itimad-ud-Daulah means “Pillar of the State”.  His daughter Nur Jahan became the favourite wife of Akhbar’s son JahangirJahangir was a capable ruler who consolidated the empire rather than expanding it.  However, he was overly fond of alcohol and opium and consumed excessively.  Nur Jahan grew in prominence during the reign of Jahangir and she came to sign official documents, feature on coins and act as Emperor when he was away or incapable.

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The end of Jahangir’s reign involved conflicts with his sons.  Kusrau, the eldest son rebelled and Jahangir blinded him.  Parwiz, the drunken second son rebelled but died anyway.  Khurram, the favoured third son rebelled and spent four years fighting or on the run.  He also killed Kusrau, a potential rival even if blind.  Nur Jahan married her daughter to illegitimate Shahriyar and tried to position him to be Emperor.

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Itimad-ud-Daulah’s tomb, or the Baby Taj.

 

However when Jahangir died, Nur Jahan’s brother, Asaf Khan, ensured that Khurram succeeded.  Apart from being the most capable candidate, Khurram was married to Asaf Khan’s daughter, Arjumand BanuAsaf Khan temporarily installed a son of Kusrau, Dawar Baksh as Emperor, Khurram marched from the Deccan and in short order executed Dawar Baksh, Shahriyar and other remaining male cousins.  Khurram then became the Emperor Shah Jahan and Arjumand Banu became his Empress Mumtaz Mahal.

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Nur Jahan survived but her political power was at an end.  She retired on a massive pension and devoted herself to building a tomb for her father, Itimad-ud-Daulah, Chief Minister of Jahangir and also grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal.  Specification of the white marble architecture was her focus and the tomb has the nickname of the “baby Taj” because it is clearly a precursor to the Taj Mahal.

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Delicate decorations on the inside walls of the Baby Taj.

Unfortunately, our visit to the Baby Taj was very rushed.  There were a wealth of details I would have like to explore but only five or ten minutes to race around.

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After a short bus journey, our next stop was the Mehtab Bagh, or the moonlight garden.  There were some very curious instructions on this sign on the way in.

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Taj Mahal (did you guess?) from Moonlight Gardens.

And here we see the purpose of the Moonlight Gardens, to view the Taj Mahal by moonlight.  Unfortunately this is not possible because the gardens are not open after dark.  Also, as of the last year or two, you are no longer allowed close to the river.  My guess is that this is a security reaction to the Bombay bombings.

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Click image for much larger view.

Here is the full view, showing the mosques on each side, which are part of the overall complex.  You can click on any image for a larger view.  This one however is a panorama comprising five images and there is a full-sized image behind it that you can zoom around in if you click it.

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This is near the Taj Mahal on the same side of the river but not part of the Taj.  According to Google Maps it is on the edge of the Taj Protected Forest.

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The first Mogul Emperor Babur constructed gardens on the site of the Taj Mahal and also on the site of the Moonlight Gardens.   Akhbar granted the land (on both sides of the river) to Raja Man Singh of Amer.  Much later, Shah Jahan purchased the land from Jai Singh I of Amer, the great grandfather of Jai Singh II who built Jai Singh Gera where we stayed in Vrindavan.  The river is the same an in Vrindavan too, the sacred Yamuna, and in theory it might have been possible to travel by river from Vrindavan to Agra though I suspect there is no river traffic these days.  Shah Jahan’s Moonlight Garden was covered in mud by successive floodwaters so the current one is a recreation.

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Just a reminder that there is more to India than the Taj Mahal.  This is not far from the Moonlight Gardens on the way back to our hotel, in the receding light.

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Akhbar’s Tomb

14th February 2014 (Day 6).  Agra (Sikandra)

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We drove from Vrindavan to Agra and this is Akhbar’s Tomb, in Sikandra, a suburb of Agra.

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What we are looking at though, is not the tomb but the walls around it and specifically the South Gate.  The minarets here inspired similar features on the Taj Mahal.

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Akhbar ruled from 1555 to 1605, contemporaneously with Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia, and was the greatest of the Mogul Emperors.  Earlier we saw the tomb of his father Humayan, which was completed by Akhbar.  When Humayan fell down the stairs and died, Akhbar was only thirteen and he was in the Punjab rather than in the capital Delhi.  He quickly had a rival.  A Hindu of lowly birth called Hemu, who was an undefeated general, declared himself supreme leader using the name Raja Vikramaditya and advanced on Akhbar with a huge army.

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Looking up at the South Gate.

Most of Akhbar’s advisors advised retreat to Kabul but his guardian and Regent, Bayram Khan, stood firm although outnumbered.  Initially they were fortunate and destroyed Hemu’s cavalry in a preliminary encounter but battle was joined and Hemu’s innumerable war elephants appeared to be winning the day.  Then Hemu, on his war elephant, was shot through the eye with an arrow, rather in the style of Harold Godwinson at Hastings, and died.  His army fled and Akhbar was triumphant.

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This is the building that houses the tomb.

Akhbar assumed complete command in 1561 at the age of nineteen and ended up executing Bayram Khan.  He was very successful militarily and extended his empire over much of Northern India and up to Afghanistan.  But what made him remarkable was his political success, which was due to his toleration.  He was born in Rajasthan under the protection of Hindu Rajas and unlike previous Moslem rulers he regarded Indians as his fellow countrymen rather than infidels to be suppressed.

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Blackbuck Antelopes on the grounds of the tomb, as enclosed by the outer walls.

Consequently he abolished laws discriminating against Hindus and encouraged discussion of spiritual matters between all religions.   He also encouraged art and literature and his reign is particularly well documented.  Ironically he was probably dyslexic and certainly illiterate.  Consequently he relied on conversation and on occasion would slip out of the palace in disguise to converse with ordinary people.  This gave him a much greater understanding of the lives of his subjects than other Mogul rulers.

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An Indian Palm Squirrel, being fed by passers-by.

Akhbar had the idea of generating a universal religion by taking the best out of each and then gravitated toward personal divinity, potentially rather like a Roman Emperor.  Because of Akhbar’s name, this meant that the standard Moslem invocation Allah Akhbar! could still mean God is great! or it could mean Akhbar is God.

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Ornate decorations and calligraphy inside the tomb.

This led to a revolt instigated by Moslem zealots in 1579-80, proclaiming his half-brother as Emperor.  However, he retained general support and the revolt was suppressed easily enough in the end.

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This support was partly due to his administrative and military reforms.  In particular, he expanded the small upper aristocracy by including many Hindu rajas who then supported him in order to defend their own positions.

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For most of his reign, his capital was at Agra but he built a new capital at Fatehpur Sikri and occupied that for a few years.  I will have a post on that soon and discuss it then.

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Many of his last years were consumed with a struggle with his son Salim, later the Emperor Jahangir, who attempted to seize Delhi in 1600 while Akhbar was away in the Deccan and even proclaimed himself Emperor in 1605.    Jahangir would also complete this tomb.

Akhbar’s latter years were also spent in fruitless campaigns in the Deccan.  His great grandson Aurangzeb would conquer most of the south a hundred years later but abandon Akhbar’s policies of toleration and thereby engender the subsequent disintegration of the Mogul Empire.

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This is Akhbar’s cenotaph and the real tomb is in a chamber underneath.

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Entering the tomb…

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This is a side chamber with the graves of two of Ahkbar’s daughters and a cenotaph for his Empress and main wife, Mariam uz Zamani.  Her mausoleum is one kilometre away.  She was the daughter of the Raja of Amber, so her father was the patrilineal ancestor of Jai Singh II who built Jai Singh Gera where we stayed in Vrindavan.  She was also Hindu and a continuing influence on Akhbar’s tolerance.  She was very influential as Empress and the mother of next emperor Jahangir.

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