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North India’s Architectural Marvels

After dusk, the lights in the palace illuminate the stone walls and reflect in the water.
Jal Mahal, the water palace. Photo by cprogrammer licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

North India is home to a vast array of architectural treasures, many of which fuse a variety of influences, both domestic and imported. Agra’s famed Taj Mahal, with its gargantuan onion-dome roof, its glistening white marble inlaid with semiprecious stones, and the perfect symmetry of its construction, is arguably the most spectacular of them all. It’s no surprise that this bedazzling tribute to romantic love is among the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Near the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort is yet another architectural masterpiece. It was built primarily of red sandstone, although there are also plenty of white marble structures inside its walls. Many of the buildings are prime examples of the convergence of Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture and silently illustrate the way the meeting of the two philosophies shaped the culture of the region for centuries to come. Just outside Agra, the now abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri is filled with magnificent Mughal-era architectural treasures. The most stunning sight is the massive Buland Darwaza, believed to be the largest entryway in the world. The red sandstone gate sits atop a perilously steep flight of stairs and features intricate black and white marble inlay work.

As India’s capital, it is only natural that Delhi is home to many fascinating architectural wonders. It has an amazing selection of Lodi-era tombs; those found in the city’s verdant Lodi Gardens are among the city’s most spectacular. The 16th-century Humayun’s Tomb is considered the first major example of Mughal architecture. The highly ornamental architecture and adornment of Old Delhi’s Lal Qila (Red Fort) borrows from Indian, Persian, and Western European schools of design to create a style that was unique to the era of architecture obsessed Shahjahan (who also commissioned the Taj Mahal).

Delhi also has its fair share of more recent architecture. One notable example is the Baha’i House of Worship, known colloquially as the Lotus Temple, built to emulate the sacred flower from which it takes its nickname; it features 27 marble-coated “leaves.” The more recent temple at the Swaminarayan Akshardham Complex is made of intricately carved pink sandstone and is supported by 10-meter-high pillars.

Much of the architecture of Jaipur incorporates Rajput, Islamic, and British elements. The pink-sandstone Hawa Mahal is among the city’s iconic structures and features nearly 1,000 tiny latticed windows in an arrangement often likened to a beehive. The windows are positioned in such a way that breezes can pass through, cooling the building’s interior. Jaipur’s water palace, or Jal Mahal, is yet another of the city’s stunners, blending Rajput and Mughal architecture with a few Bengal-style elements. It sits right in the middle of Man Sagar Lake and can only be accessed by boat. The 19th-century Albert Hall was modeled after the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and is among the world’s finest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture, a style that blends Indian and Mughal styles with the neo-Gothic architecture that was all the rage in Victorian England.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur.