Agra: On an
exceptionally cold January morning, when people were struggling to
venture out of their cosy comforts, five of us braved the chill
and experimented with a heritage walk through the old city of
It was not a walk in the actual sense of the word; the five of us
were in two cycle-rickshaws.
We were largely trying to follow the heritage track suggested by
Lucy Peck in her book "Agra: The Architectural Heritage". But our
aim was to see the secular flavours of the city that evolved over
We started at around 9 a.m. from Hathi Ghat Gurdwara on the Yamuna
Kinara road. Our first halt was the old Chungi, the library of
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's son Dara Shikoh. It is a structure
worth seeing, particularly the reading rooms which have the
provision of filtered sunlight and fresh air.
"Old records say Dara Shikoh was a great Sanskrit and Persian
scholar, very fond of books. This building also served as a
rallying point for political activists during the freedom
struggle," said Subhash Jha, one of the group members.
Our next stop was Huzuri Bhavan, the headquarters of a sect of the
Radhasoamis, which is a philosophical organisation.
We also had a look at the haveli in the Kala Mahal area where the
doyen of Urdu poetry Mirza Ghalib was born.
"How much people are missing the 'mohalla' (neighbourhood)
culture, the aroma of sweet shops, the images of people engaged in
doing odd jobs. Truly, the romance of the old world was being
missed out," said Hari Dutt Sharma, a school teacher and one of
the members of the group that I led through the murky, narrow
lanes of the city.
We also had a look at the Mankameshwar temple complex before
moving towards Jama Masjid and Johri Bazar. With half a dozen
temples around the main Shiva temple, the area was once the
nervecentre of the city.
"The feel is rich and as one meanders through the bylanes, it's
difficult not to cough and sneeze because the area is also the
wholesale market for chemicals and spices. The high balconies
still retain the old world charm," said Ravi Singh, a globetrotter
and a group member.
Through Lohar Gali, the poorly lit and suffocating cosmetics
market, which was just beginning to wake up, we touched the outer
periphery of the Agra Fort station, the only railway station in
the world close to two great heritage monuments - the Taj Mahal
and the Agra Fort.
We hurried through Johri Bazar to reach Seth Gali, a popular lane
with a dozen halwais.
Soon we moved towards Mal Ka Bazar, the red light area of the
city, to reach Panni Gali. Curiously, some of us glanced towards
the high balconies in the hope of catching a sight or two. The
area is known for some of the finest zardozi artists.
The original Radhasoami temple, the birthplace of the the founder,
is a high point. The whole area is reminiscent of life in the
Close to Noori Darwaza and Gur ki Mandi, our vehicles moved
through the lanes at snail's pace as schoolchildren, sweepers and
vegetable vendors were on the streets.
Our trip ended at Akbar's church in St Peter's College complex but
before that Padmini, a group member, suggested we should also take
a look at the oldest convent in Asia at St Patrick's Junior
The whole trip took us around 100 minutes. On our way back, some
of the old havelis with exquisitely carved archways fascinated us.
As senior journalist N.R. Smith has said: "Agra lives in three
eras simultaneously, the Mughal, the British and the modern
Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage
Conservation Society, said: "Sadly, heritage has come to be
associated with only stones and structures. The culture, the
literary traditions, the conventional industries, the traditional
media and the lifestyles of the people also collectively
We did get a taste of it that day though.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)