Around Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Agra was the formal capital of the Mughal empire, due to its significance many historic sites exist around Agra.

After visiting the Taj we decided to explore some of the popular historic sites, as all the sites were in different directions we arranged for a rickshaw. After some negotiations we settled for around 200 rupees with the condition we had to visit some shops after. It sounded like a good deal at the time.

The drivers split us into two rickshaws which halved the work, and double their return on commissions, though it did allow us to take some nice photos of the journey as well.

Sonya and the rickshaw tour guideTravis laid back and talking to the rickshaw driverSonya blending in on the Indian roads

  1. Taj Mahal
  2. Agra Fort
  3. Itmad-ud-Daula Tomb
  4. Mehtab Bagh

Agra Fort

A beautiful red sandstone fort conquered and modified by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, a marble balcony provided clear views to the Taj Mahal. What I found really interesting was the story of the peacock throne, the name of a throne created by  Mughal Badshah Shah Jahan previously standing in the the Diwan-i-Am  or public audience hall located inside Agra Fort. We had seen a similarly named Peacock Thrown in Iran, known as the Naderi Throne, now located in the National Treasure of the Central Bank of Iran, Tehran.

The Lahore Gate the main tourist entrance to the Agra FortWatch tower on the Agra Forts internal wallsSmall internal gate to the Court of Amar Singh Gate
Map of Agra FortOne of the entrance gates to Diwan i Am SquareThe carved red sandstone of the Jahangir Mahal
Sonya at the Agra Fort with carved red sandstone in the backgroundInternal carved red sandstone reliefs of the Jahangir MahalNow defunct water feature inside the Jahangir Mahal
The halls of the Jahangir Mahal or palace for women belonging to the royal householdThe Taj Mahal viewed from Agra FortTravis fitting in as a local, camera and Lonely Planet in hand
Court between the Jahangir Mahal and Yamuna RiverDiwan I Am (Hall of Public Audience)One of the many arches in the Diwan I Am (Hall of Public Audience)
Semi precious stones inlaid in the white marble of the Diwan I AmUnused water feature inside the Diwan I Am (Hall of Public Audience)The white marble patterned floors of the Diwan I Am
Sonya in the column courtyard of the Diwan I AmView of Musamman Burj from northwest, with the Yamuna river and the Taj MahalThe black throne of Jehangir
Arches of the Diwan-i-KhaasMonkey on the roof of the Agra Fort wallsAgra Fort wall viewed from the south

Itmad-ud-Daula’s Tomb (Baby Taj)

One of the popular attractions all the rickshaw drivers advertise they can take you to, I didn’t have very high expectations, thinking why would I want to see the Taj on a less grand scale. It turned out the lack of other tourists was quite pleasant.

What was a sight, around sunset a troop of monkeys migrated across the garden grounds, as usual we couldn’t resist taking many photos.

The Tomb of Etimad Ud Doulah 1628The Baby TajJali screens of intricately carved white marble
White marble with set coloured stones at the Baby TajTourist Travis outside the walls of the Baby TajCupola of the Baby Taj minaret
Detail of one of the exterior walls of the Baby TajSonya with the intricate internal white marble walls encrusted with semi-precious stone decorationSonya with the intricate internal white marble walls encrusted with semi-precious stone decoration
Itmad-ud-Daula's Tomb inside the Baby TajFloral paintings inside the Baby TajOne of the four red stone gates
One of the four red stone gates on all sides of the Mini TajThe Baby Taj or Mini TajThe Baby Taj or Mini Taj
Sonya and Travis at the Baby TajBaby monkey with motherMonkey sitting on scaffolding
Monkey looking busy on some scaffoldingAt sunset a troop of monkeys migrate across the gardensMonkey looking amused

Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden)

Our final real stop was the Moonlight Garden, located across the Yamuna River directly opposite the Taj Mahal. It provided nice views of the Taj Mahal from behind, not normally seen.

Two local Indian girls carrying bags of grass clippings on their headsView of the Taj Mahal seen from the Mehtab Bagh gardensSonya and Travis with the Taj Mahal in the background

This concluded our tour, so now was time to meet our side of the bargain and visit some stores, every store we visited the drivers got 50 rupees each. After the second store the ‘just looking’ got quite tiresome, we had a very hard time trying to shake a seller of ‘star stone’ a black star sapphire apparently commonly found in Agra.

Bahrain – a taste of the Kingdom of Bahrain

Keen to visit another Middle East country whilst in the region, and prior to our travels through Central Asia, we decided to have a two day stopover in Bahrain, a tiny little island to the north-west of Qatar. In addition, the local budget airlines Gulf Air conveniently flew to Shiraz in Iran, our entry to the Silk Road. It was only two days prior to our departure that we received a call from Gulf Air informing us that the capital Manama to Shiraz flights were no longer running for the past eighteen months. Luckily, Qatar Airways also flew to Shiraz, so we quickly booked the flight, it turned out we hadn’t quite left Qatar when we visited Bahrain.

We arrived in the evening and after checking into our hotel we headed to the Manama Souq. The souk is literally a functional market with many stalls and shops littered along narrow streets, contrasting the beautiful fairytale-like architecture that we were familiar with in Qatar. It was so plain, that as we walked around we wandered if we had reached the ‘souq’ yet.

The next day we spent visiting three main attractions, the National Museum, Al-Fatih Mosque and the Qal’at fort.

Bahrain National Museum

The Kingdom’s National Museum has a vast collection of archaeological finds on the ancient Dilmun civilisation, some of the interesting items were the vast amount of foreign artefacts found on the small island country (e.g porcelain from China), indicating the site of the city as a past trading hub.

Wooden Arabic door at Bahrain National MuseumSonya standing on a Bahrain aerial mapSonya sitting on a bench in the Bahrain National Museum
Some turquoise coins in a clay potStone with Arabic carvingsThe calligraphy and manuscripts section
One of the many beautiful QuransClay pot in the Bahrain National MuseumStone arrow heads in the Bahrain National Museum

Al-Fatih Mosque

The Al-Fatih Mosque, while not the most aesthetic of the mosques we had seen, though was enjoyable and eye-opening due to the very helpful guide that showed us around and answered all of our questions with respect to the Islamic faith, we finally learnt what was being said during the call-to-prayer, how the prayer times were calculated and how to form a tight line shoulder-to-shoulder when praying in the mosque.

Al-Fatih Mosque decorative windowsAl-Fatih Mosque internal courtyardSonya admiring the French lights, that resemble pearls

Qal’at al-Bahrain

The Bahrain Fort, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and located on a tell (layers of ancient sites). The location of the capital of the ancient Dilmun civilisation, the fort and tell are an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort complex is quite large and is surrounded by a moat, it took  a little while to walk the circumference. We didn’t spend too much time inside as we were rushed for time.

Bahrain Fort lookout towerQal'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort)Qal'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort)
BeetleBahrain flag on the Bahrain FortArches in the Bahrain Fort
View of Bahrain from the Bahrain FortTravis in front of the Bahrain FortThe Till site of the ancient Dilmun civilisation

Saar Burial Chambers

Located close to the fort is a complex of Dilmun burial chambers, still being excavated and restored, the many chamber mud-brick walls and rooms are visible.

Barzan Towers (Umm Salal Muhammed Fort), Qatar

Barzan Towers, also known as Umm Salal Muhammed Fort is a fortification built by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Jassim Al Thani in the late 19th to early 20th Century. The word Barzan in Arabic means ‘elevation’ or ‘high place’, this name given due to the sixteen metre height of the watchtowers. Not to be confused with the similar named modern skyscraper located on the Corniche at Doha city.

Barzan Towers is short thirty minutes drive twenty-five kilometres north-west from Doha city. An easy attraction to reach, it will most likely be the first found when exploring Qatar.

Umm Salal Muhammed Fort features traditional Gulf and Arabic style architecture with wooden elements, including doors and roof. A mosque is located in one of the adjacent buildings to the towers.

One of the two towers making Barzan TowersSmall lookout within the Barzan Towers groundsThe small lookout with one of the towers in the background
One of the two towers making Barzan TowersTravis on the steps of the small lookoutSmall lookout within the Barzan Towers grounds
Sonya at the foot of stairs to one of the towersSonya on the mid-level of one of the towersSonya on one of the two towers making Barzan Towers
Sonya on one of the two towers making Barzan TowersOne of the two towers making Barzan TowersSonya on the mid-level lookout
Sonya on one of the two towers making Barzan TowersSonya on one of the two towers making Barzan TowersBoth of the two towers making Barzan Towers
Sonya climbing up the stairs of the lookoutMosque minaret outside the Barzan Tower groundsWooden door below the lookout