Rendezvous with the Royal Tajganj

Rendezvous with the Royal Tajganj

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Indranil Mutsuddi

Our trip to Agra began with a bang right from Tajganj, the cradle of the Taj Mahal. Although Tajganj is a crowded, buzzy locality, yet the aura of the TAJ MAHAL within the walking distance had made it one of the most cherished destinations in the city of Agra for tourists, travellers, and scholars around the world. To meet with the ever growing demand of accommodation facilities, today Tajganj hosts quite a huge number of budget hotels, guest houses and restaurants in its densely packed residential and market area. Most of the Tajganj hotels attract visitors by offering the Taj view from their rooms and their rooftops. Obviously any two or more storied hotel in this locality sells better than the other by offering a better roof-top Taj view alongwith standard hospitality infrastructure and amenities. Fooding at Tajganj restaurants have particularly accommodated well with the varying taste and preferences of the foreign visitors to the palette of the traditional Indian cuisines. The entire townlet buzzes with local guides selling a better story about the Taj, memento vendors and curio-shops displaying wide range of miniature Taj, white marble jewel boxes/plaques with world famous Agra pietra dura designs, coloured post cards and various gift items like rugs and carpets for decorating the drawing room.

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View of Tajganj (Courtesy: Google Maps)

Tajganj, Looking Back

Tajganj was previously known as Mumtazabad, named in the memory of emperor Shah Jahan’s deceased wife, empress Mumtaz Mahal (actually known as Arjumand Bano Begum). After her death in the year 1630, emperor Shah Jahan started building the legendary Taj Mahal in the year 1632 (which was subsequently completed in the year 1653). It is said that the emperor used to frequently visit the tomb of his deceased empress on every Friday and offer prayers in the mosque. At that time majority of the engineers, architects, labourers, artisans and craftsmen were provided accommodation in the area adjoining what is today’s Taj Mahal’s South Gate. This area gradually developed into Mumtazabad where Shah Jahan used to visit on Fridays. The bygone Mumtazabad is now known as the Tajganj. Still today the Taj Mahal and major commercial activities in the Tajganj area remain closed on every Friday for offering prayers in the memory of emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The ancient Tajganj or Mumtazabad was a busy marketplace and caravanserai during the 1640s, but due to a decline in trade, it had lost its grand and pomp by 1650s. The market was even functional in full swing during the British rule in India.

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The 1856 historical map of Agra with Taj Mahal and Tajganj

(Courtesy: DPR submitted by Cities Alliance)

Tajganj, we found today

Tajganj is the most toured or visited places in Agra on day-to-day basis. With the river Yamuna and the magical Taj Mahal located on its north, Tajganj over the years, had developed into a very busy townlet of Agra buzzing with tourist and commercial activities. It is connected with the major parts of the city of Agra by the Fatehabad Road (also known as Yamuna Kinara Road) including that of NH 2, Agra Fort Railway station (4km from Tajganj) and the Agra Fort, located in the North-West bank of the Yamuna. Tajganj is 8km from Agra Cantonment railway station. The ISBT (Agra Bus Terminus) is about 12Km distance from Tajganj.

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Purani Mandi Area, Tajganj, Agra

The busiest locality of Tajganj is probably the Kaserat Bazar Area and the Purani Mandi Area which are respectively very near to the South and West Gate entrances of the Taj Mahal. These two areas host the maximum number of hotels, guest houses and restaurants for guests and tourists.

The livelihood of the people residing in Tajganj area is directly or indirectly related to tourism. Most of the local residents are engaged in traditional livelihood like leather works, traditional tailorship, zardiosi saree embroidery works, white marble sculpturing, peitra dura works on white marble, rug and carpet weaving, traditional halwai shops, Agra petha shops to name a few.

Tajganj’s Rooftop Taj View

Like others we were also fascinated by the rooftop view of the Taj Mahal from the hotel we stayed at Tajganj, Agra. The second or third floors and roofs of most buildings and houses located in the Kaserat Bazar, Tajganj offer excellent view of the Taj during early morning and during sunset in the evening. Like other hotels our hotel (Hotel Sai Palace) too had a cafeteria cum restaurant for relaxing and enjoying the spectacle of the Taj view.

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The rooftop Taj view from Hotel Sai Palace, Tajganj, Agra

In the afternoon with the backdrop of Taj Mahal and local boys flying colourful kites from their roofs creates an enchanting experience for any Taj lover. During the winter season, foggy weather may interrupt the visibility of the Taj. Otherwise while sipping a hot cup of coffee and just looking at the Taj, one can easily forget time and his or her presence in the material world. Some Tajganj hotels allow visitors and tourists to play Holi, the festival of colour, on their rooftops with the Taj in the backdrop.

Streets of Tajganj

The entire Tajganj area is criss-crossed by narrow roads linking with the Fatehabad Road. During the daytime most of the streets remain crowded by local people, tourists, hawkers, public vehicles and the famous Agra bulls.

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Tajganj Bedhai-Kachori delicacies & a common Street Bull     

Each street, particularly in the Kaserat Bazar area is flanked by curio, handicraft and memento shops, small to medium size restaurants, tea stalls, grocery shops, sweet-meat shops selling Agra Petha, dalmoths and traditional North Indian sweets.

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     The all-day busy Taj Mahal South Gate street having a desolate look at 6am in the morning

Rickshaw ride on the Yamuna Kinara Road

One of the fond memories at Tajganj was roaming around on a manual rickshaw. Although auto rickshaws are more popular modes of transport, we preferred to choose a manual rickshaw ride to roam on the southern banks of the Yamuna river through the Yamuna Kinara road which connects Ambedkar Bridge (Agra-Bikaner Road crossing) with the Agra Fort. The Yamuna Kinara Road rickshaw ride offers a remarkable view of the river and a far-away view of the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah located on the Northern banks of the river from where we started our journey towards Tajganj. The journey towards Tajganj offers the view of Peepal Mandi on the right side which is one of the oldest parts of the city of Agra. Further ahead we got the view of the Agra Fort on our right. The white marble palaces of emperor Shah Jahan over the high red sandstone walls of the fort looked majestic in the fading evening light.

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A distant view of the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah & Manzil Mahal during our rickshaw ride on the Yamuna Kinara Road

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Yamuna Kinara Road, Agra

Sweet-meat and chat stalls of Tajganj       

Tajganj is well known for its sweet-meat shops which are abundant in the Purani Mandi and Kaserat Bazar areas. These shops sell traditional Agra pethas also known as Panchhi Pethas. Agra Pethas are actually sweets made from pumpkins and are even known as “Morabbas” in other parts of India. Agra Pethas are available in a wide range of taste and flavours. Kesar Pethas are very popular in most Petha shops, followed by chocolate pethas and paan flavoured pethas. These sweet-meats are available for sale in boxes and the price of such boxes start from Rs 70 onwards depending on the type and favour of the sweet chosen by the buyer. It is said that Pethas are one of the traditional sweets from the Mughal recipes.

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A traditional Halwai shop at Tajganj

Apart from Agra Pethas, Tajganj has a large number of Halwai shops selling conventional Indian sweets. These include hot kesar milk, kaju barfis, gajar-kaju halwa, khirs, rabris, besan and motichur ladoos, sanpaprees, hot gulab jamuns, pedas. Such sweet shops also sell morning breakfast items likeparathas, kachoris, poori-sabji, samosas, pakoras etc attracting both local customers as well as tourists. In Agra Bedhai and Kachori is a special breakfast. The dish consists of two components, namely one spicy and the other sweet. Bedhai or Berahi is a fried, puffy bread like snacks (looks identical to a Kachori) which is commonly served with spicy sabji made of potato and sometimes curd is also served to enhance the taste. Shreeji Sweets of Tajganj (Fatehabad road) is famous for Bedhai and Kachori breakfast. As most of the traditional Halwai shops have open kitchens, it is quite interesting for a tourist to observe and enjoy the cooking of traditional Indian sweets.

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The mouth watering Agra Pethas

The evenings at Tajganj are equally buzzy as this is the time where all the chats are available on street shops in the form of bhalla, kachori chat, samosa chat, pani-puri/golgappas and fresh dalmoths (traditional Indian namkeen consisting of crisply fried lentils, peanuts, kaju, kismis and admixture of wide variety of spices).

Eating joints in Tajganj

Tajganj is a place well known for all kinds of cuisines. The important food-joints in the Tajganj are as follows:

 

Name of the Eating joint

Famous for

Shankara Vegis Restaurant Traditional Indian Veg dishes, thalis
Joney’s Place Continental food items, Sandwiches, Pan-cakes, Lassi, appetizers
Mughal Room Chinese
Taj Mahal Restaurant

Traditional Indian & Mughlai dishes

Memento and Handicraft Shops

The connecting street joining the South Gate of Taj Mahal is one of the busiest streets in the entire area which is famous for several memento shops. These shops mainly sell miniature Taj Mahals, key rings, pen-stands & paper-weights containing mini-Taj, various show-piece items, white marble plaques, jewellery boxes, jem arts with the traditional Agra pietra dura carvings and designs. Visitors and tourists are frequently attracted to these shops. One must be careful while purchasing their mementos from these shops as most items are often over priced and it needs quite a bit bargaining to get the best deal.

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Mementos for sale at a Tajganj gift shop

The Purani Bazar area of Tajganj features numerous handicraft shops and emporiums. These shops sell various traditional gift items, cottage industry products of the Agra district. Floor Carpets, rugs, wall carpets are famous in Agra. One can get the best deal for purchasing such an item for his or her drawing rooms from emporiums which are recognized by the state Government. Such recognized shops display and sell all kinds of marble handicrafts, wood carvings, traditional cotton and silk dresses, guide books, postcards, embroidery goods, paintings, rosewood miniature animals, marble statues etc.

The noteworthy emporiums located in and around the Tajganj area are as follows:

 

Black Patridge – Haryana Handicraft Emporium

Taj Mahal Complex, Tajganj, AgraGangotri – U.P. Govt. Handicrafts Emporium,

Taj Mahal Complex,  Tajganj, AgraJem Art

18-A/8-C/2, Fatehabad Road,  Tajganj, AgraKanu Carpet Factory

18/160/I-A, Purani Mandi, Tajganj, AgraU.P. Handicraft & Handloom Centre

1/16, Eastern Gate, Taj Mahal, Tajganj, AgraU.P. Handicraft Industries

15/252/1,  Fatehabad Road,  Tajganj, AgraMarble Cottage

Shop No. 7, 6, 5 Jasoria Enclave,

Fatehabad Road,  Tajganj, AgraMughal Art Emporium

Shop 2/10, Near Shilp Gram, Tajganj, AgraShilpgram Handicrafts Showroom

East Gate, Taj Mahal, Tajganj, Agra

Photography: Indranil Mutsuddi

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