Allahu Akbar | Sikandra, Agra, India

“Allahu Akbar” the chant reverberated inside the tomb

Taj Mahal is a synonym for Agra. So if you are visiting Agra it means you are visiting Taj Mahal. If you visiting Agra for the second time it means you are paying a visit to Taj for the second time. Though there are a handful of other historic monuments here, it seems visiting Agra will be meaningless if you are skipping Taj. Well this notion can’t be disputed for Taj is architecturally and philosophically way richer than the rest of the monuments combined. During my first visit to Agra (which means Taj) I, like all multitude of visitors was mesmerized by the white marble wonder. My half day tour of Agra ended up with a visit to the mighty Agra Fort, less-visited Chini ka Rauza and tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, a “cute” monument made of white marble which has earned the unbefitting nickname “Baby Taj” only because it is situated in Agra, close to Taj.

My second visit to Agra in June 2017 did not end up with a second visit to Agra. After boarding an early morning train from Delhi’s Nizamuddin railway station, I got down at Agra Cantonment station and walked a good 10 Kms towards Sikandra – the place where the tomb of Mughal emperor and Shah Jahan’s (the king who built the Taj for his love) grandfather is situated. Mughals were a formidable force of Indian subcontinent and their architecture is at par with their military might.


Tomb of Akbar at Sikandra is yet another monument in the vicinity of Taj which has been dwarfed by the infinite charisma of Taj. The 17th century the Tomb made of red sandstone which predates Taj is located amid 119 acres of lush green garden known as Jannat Ka Bhag – Gardens of the Heaven. Gardens are one of the key feature of Mughal architecture. Mohammed Ahmed, the middle-aged guide at Akbar’s tomb who approached me with an offer for walking tour at an economical rate straight away started his narration about the monument’s history. As we entered the monument he pointed his index finger towards the sections of the walls and ceiling. I was told that the interiors were decorated with precious stones which was looted by the Hindu Jats during their campaign against the Mughals – this story was a welcome change as high-school history textbooks are filled with stories of Persian invaders looting temples and palaces of Hindu Kings.
Mohammed continued describing the monument with heavily accented English. One thing that Mughals emphasized in their buildings was symmetry – 4 minars, 4 gardens and 4 gates. The 4 minars of Akbar’s tomb are built using white marble – the material which was later used by the Mughals to build the world wonder. Out of the 4 gates only 1 is opened to public these days. We proceeded along a narrow pathway towards the cenotaph. There, the great emperor lies peacefully… Deep in eternal sleep. Another man who looked like a self-appointed caretaker of tomb was sitting near the cenotaph. Mohammed explained about the acoustics of the tomb and beckoned the caretaker for a demonstration. Without delay he got up and chanted.

“Allahu Akbar” the chant reverberated inside the tomb

Though the phrase was similar, hearing it inside the tomb was way different from the ones which we hear from loud speakers during prayer calls from mosques. The reverberation triggered a sudden rejuvenation as if a cluster of nerve cells were triggered for the first time. As we got out of the monument I realized the magic of acoustics of this building doesn’t end at the interior – Mohammed made me stand at a corner with my ear pressed against the wall and he walked towards another corner. I felt the coldness of the plastered wall on my ears and then I heard his voice as if I was wearing a headphone. I took my ear off the wall and the voice went mute. I could see that Mohammed was still murmuring something into the wall – the inaudible murmur again became audible once I kept my ear on the wall. As the guided tour came to end Mohammed casually asked where I am going next.
“Fatehpur Sikri” I replied proudly as I handed over his fee for the tour.
“Be careful sir” his tone was grave and cautious
“They are pakka touts. The people there are very rude and cunning. Take care of your money.” He continued. “Don’t hire any guides. They will charge exuberant prices for the tour. Never trust them”
I thanked him without showing any change of emotions and proceeded to circumambulate the building while his words still lingered in my mind. It was the first day of my Delhi-Mumbai road trip and I wondered what awaits me for the next 10 days. There were a handful of visitors sitting on the benches at the outer edge of the garden. At one of the closed entrance I saw a peacock leisurely walking towards a canal to drink water. And then I saw squirrels and antelopes in the garden. I have learned to recognize to these good omens and told myself Fatehpur Sikri won’t be that bad and walked to back to the entrance to catch a bus to continue my onward journey.
Goodbye your highness!!!