Agra Beyond Taj: A Walk through the Colonial Past

Have you ever had this feeling of going to a place, seeing the famous tourist attraction points and wondering to yourself, that this is NOT just about the place? Because that’s a sentiment I have carried for Agra every time. This is without a doubt that Agra is synonymous of Taj Mahal & Agra Fort, which attracts major chunk of tourists here. But, Agra has got more to itself and my visit here, reveals a different story each time  

This picture is clicked from outside Mehtab Bagh. A new point has been opened up for tourists recently from where this picture can be taken till 7 PM. Mehtab Bagh closes at 5 PM

Though abundant in its stories from the Mughal Era, this time it was about learning the colonial history of Agra, which has remained shadowed for a while now. Exploring an Agra beyond Taj with tourism guild of Agra recently, was a revelation in itself and opened me to such lesser known stories. Though, it’s not the first time that I am doing a trail like this. I have done them before as well but it’s clear that Agra certainly is more than Taj. Check that out here

Roman Catholic Cementery: One of the oldest catholic cemeteries, Roman Catholic Cemetery is located on the eastern side of Mahatma Gandhi Road close to the Civil Court of Agra. This small graveyard buries host of historic personalities who came to India during the colonial era, the most recognisable being The Tomb of Colonel John William Hessing, a Dutch mercenary from Utrecht, Holland, who arrived in the Indian sub-continent in 1700s and subsequently died here.

The first view of John Hessing tomb made my his wife at Roman Catholic Cementary

Famously known as the Red Taj, this tomb is the star attraction of Roman catholic cemetery and apparently the first monument that you would see once you will enter this cemetery. Hessing’s tomb is also called a copy of the wonder Taj Mahal but in red sandstone. Stone steps allow access to the upper deck which has a grave. However, this is merely for show, with the actual grave being on the lower level. But unlike the Taj, the tomb has no corner freestanding minars. Some even call it baby taj, a title which is otherwise owned by another beautiful monument of Agra: Itimad- ud- daulah

John Hessing tomb at Roman Catholic Cemetary has got famous as The Red Taj in Agra

Though build during the colonial era, one thing that I couldn’t ignore noticing while walking through the Roman Catholic Cemetery of Agra, is the resemblance of tombs with the Mughal legacy. I mean if isn’t compensated with a cross of Christianity, it is almost impossible to believe that they have been build during the Britishers era. Also, inscriptions of Persian scriptures on the wall, which makes this cemetery more interesting compared to other colonial era cemeteries around India.

Akbar’s Church: Do you know that Akbar is the one who commissioned the earliest catholic Church in Agra? During the mid 16th century, the emperor welcomed the Jesuits into his court, and they had built a church in the northern part of the city.

Akbar’s church in Agra

The church was destroyed during the reign of Akbar’s grandson Shahjahan, but one of Agra’s oldest churches arose in 1772, the building today known as Akbar’s Church. This church formed the core around which Christian community flourished here. Built in 1598 CE, this church is witness to some tumultuous events in Indian history! It is here that Mughal Emperors Akbar & Jahangir came to pray. In 1769 Walter Reinhardt helped to rebuild the Church & this is where  Begum Johana Samru, the Begum of Sardhana was baptized.

St. John’s College: St. John’s College, Agra, was a quick stopover but nevertheless this looks good. One look at it, reminded me of a similar grand building I saw in Punjab.

St. John’s College in Agra

This college was established in 1850 by the Church Missionary Society of England through the efforts of the Agra C.M.S. Association which came into being in 1840. St. Johns College is one of the most beautiful buildings in North India, built in red sandstone in Indo-Saracenic style of architecture.

St George’s Cathedral : That’s St. George’s Cathedral. Well, I don’t know much about it but this former British Raj Protestant Church can be found in the Agra Cantonment Area, of Sadar Bazar.

St. George’s Cathedral in Agra

The Cathedral was one of the main places of worship for the Anglicans back during the British rule in India and continues to draw the Christian population. One can attend church service here at 9am every Sunday. Otherwise, permission is needed to view it as it remains locked on other days. The chancel at the east end has been Gothicized at a later date with a carved white sandstone screen and the altar was enriched with the marble inlay work, for which Agra is famous

One thing is for sure that Agra as a city has got a rich historical past and I am sure that I am going to go back soon, to explore and see more of such hidden gems.

Do you know of any such gems? Don’t forget to share them in the comment section below 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Agra Beyond Taj: A Walk through the Colonial Past

  1. Pingback: Roman Catholic Cementery and Red Taj of Agra | Buoyant Feet

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