It's safe to say that Agra, a sprawling city of nearly 1.5 million inhabitants, would not be on many tourists' maps if it weren't for one thing: the Taj Mahal. Yes, it is crowded and congested, but imagine walking down an avenue of stores selling tiny replicas of the Taj Mahal, with guides and hawkers vying for your attention... and then passing through a massive doorway and seeing the Taj Mahal in all its splendor. It's a magical moment. As you find out more, you'll discover that other amazing sights are also worth the trek. You can drive to the old fortress city of the Mughals, Fatehpur Sikri, as well as Agra's fort.
In this Mughal stronghold every successive emperor added something new to prove his cultural sensibilities and his power. Under the Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605) and his successors Jahangir (1605-27) and Shah Jahan (1628-58), Agra flourished. However, after the reign of Shah Jahan's son Aurangzeb (1658-1707) and the gradual disintegration of the empire, the city passed from one invader to another before the British took charge early in the 19th century. The British, particularly Governor General Lord Curzon (in office 1898-1905), did much to halt and repair the damage inflicted on Agra's forts and palaces by raiders and vandals.
Much of Agra today may be crowded and dirty, and some of the Mughal buildings are irrevocably scarred. But the government has taken steps to protect the city's most important site from pollution, closing the streets around the Taj Mahal to gas-fueled vehicles (visitors are ferried from a remote parking lot by battery-powered buses) and relocating small factories and fire-burning shops away from the area. Still, Agra's monuments remain strewn like pearls in ashes, evoking that glorious period in Indian history when Agra was the center of the Mughal empire.
Opening hours change constantly; inquire in advance at your hotel or the Uttar Pradesh State Tourist Office.