Deep within the old Roman Catholic cemetery in Agra, where few venture, is a two storied mausoleum dedicated to a Dutch adventurer, who was once the Commander of the Agra fort. The locals call it the Red Taj Mahal, as they believe it’s a near replica of the original, much more famous one.
Commissioned by his wife, Anne Hessing, in 1803, the tomb is designed in the Mughal style in red sandstone and stands on a raised platform. It has a beautiful double dome and slender turrets. The grave of Hessing, with engraved English inscriptions stands in the central hall. However, unlike the Taj Mahal, it does not have any minarets or decorative inlay work on the walls.
The actual details of who built the tomb are not known, but Fanny Parks, the famous Welsh travel writer who chronicled British India extensively and visited Agra several times in the 19th century, makes multiple references to it.
There are legends of a ‘Black Taj Mahal’ that Emperor Shah Jahan was to build for himself but this claim has never been historically corroborated.
The tomb may be forgotten today, but it is a throwback to an era of European mercenaries and adventurers who came to India and rose through the ranks. John Hessing was one such soldier. He was born in Utrecht, Netherlands in 1739 and entered the service of the Dutch East India Company. Hessing arrived in India sometime after 1763 and took up a job under a local ruler, offering his services for money. He was first commissioned in the army of the Nizam of Hyderabad and later took up service under the Maratha General Mahadji Scindia. After Mahadji’s death, Hessing worked for his successor Daulatrao Scindia and in 1799 was appointed Commander of the Agra fort. It was in Agra that he died on 21 July 1803, after a long illness.
Ann Hessing, his wife was devastated and commissioned a monument in memory of her late husband.
LHI TRAVEL GUIDE
The Hessing Tomb (Red Taj Mahal) is in the Roman Catholic Cemetery in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. The nearest railway station is Agra Cantonment which is about 8 kms away from the Red Taj Mahal. The nearest airport is Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Airport which is 12 kms away
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