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Agra, Journey to the Taj Mahal: Travel Opinion and Analysis

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Agra is the place which will simply make you say “Wah Taj!” (Wow Taj!) even if you do not know the meaning of it. Situated on the bank of the river Yamuna, Agra is the former capital of Hindustan, 200 Km (124mi) South of the national capital, New Delhi. It is commonly accepted that Sultan Sikandar Lodī, the Ruler of the Delhi Sultanate founded Agra in the year 1504. However, the city was founded much before and has its earliest reference in Mahabharat and Mahirshi Angira in 1000 BC.

How Should I Prepare My Itinerary for Agra?

If you are based in Delhi or if you are going to Agra from Delhi, then seeing the most important attractions in Agra requires only one day. The best way to travel to Agra from Delhi is by train. Almost every train from Delhi going to South passes through Agra. There are large number of morning trains that takes three to four hours to reach Agra, but if you want to save time for travelling in Agra, my advice is to book Bhopal Shatabdi Express (also same day return journey) powered by Ghaziabad WAP 5 engine that runs at 150 Km/hr. This train will take you to Agra conveniently and comfortably in just two hours. It starts from New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS) around 6 AM and reaches Agra Cantt Railway Station (AGC) around 8 AM. While returning it departs from Agra around 8:45 PM and reaches New Delhi at 10:45 PM. Beware, all the Delhi bound trains in winter from November to February are prone to be late from their scheduled time due to dense fog conditions in the region.Train is the cheapest and fastest option to reach Agra, There are also a number of daily bus and taxi hire services that you can chose from. You can easily book them from Indian Railways website irctc.com or travel websites like makemytrip.com. I recommend you to browse through makemytrip coupons and you may make your journey even cheaper.

The World Reporter in Bhopal Shatabdi Express
Bhopal Shatabdi Express (c) The World Reporter

Lots of tourists go to Agra and then return to Delhi on the same day, some also travel further to Jaipur completing the golden triangle of Indian tourism (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur).

What to do Once You Reach Agra?

As soon as you will get down at Agra Cantt. Railway Station, number of taxi drivers will surround you, usually in a group. They work for government pre-paid taxi service, but still they will insist and rush to you as if they are all individuals. I asked them the reason, “you work for government, seeing you insisting and forcing us to go with you so much looks a bit tricky”, but he replied that it is because he will also take us to the market, where he will get some commission which is his own. Hence, all the drivers insists you to chose them. This happens specially if you are non Indian, or if you are with foreigners because they are the ones who would actually buy something from those markets.

It is good if you book a taxi, it will be with you for the whole day and will bring you back to the railway station in the evening according to the time of your train. As soon as you will reach Pre-Paid taxi counter you will see list of travel packages covering many attractions. Agra is blessed with a number of historical monuments, out of which most famous ones are the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri which are also UNESCO world heritage site. What I have observed is that most of the tourists cover only Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.

The first destination in your trip would be Taj Mahal, which is nearly 7 KM from the railway station. You would be entering from the West Gate which is one of the main entrance. If the queue is long, then may be you can try entering from South Gate which is less busy. Your taxi would wait for you outside and you can admire the beauty of the Taj for as long as you want.

Visiting The Taj Mahal

the world reporter at the taj mahal
Taj Mahal (c) The World Reporter

Although I lived almost for all my life in Delhi just 200 Km away from Agra, but it was only last year in November that I actually made to Taj Mahal for the first time. It is really strange for everyone and for me that one of the most visited monument in the world was unseen by me till now. I had been seeing Taj Mahal many times in videos, and photos since my childhood and I used to say, yes it is beautiful! But when I actually went there to see, I was silent for a moment and “Wah Taj!” were the only two words that came out of my mouth. It is  magnificent and is brilliantly white. I have not seen something so white before, shining in the bright sunlight.  Before I could proceed even further I saw my teammate who was holding an SLR camera with her burst into tears, it was her dream to see Taj Mahal since her childhood in Russia, although it wasn’t the first time she was seeing the Taj.

Be informed that no eatables are allowed inside. You cannot eat inside. And of course no guns and ammunition is allowed inside. If you still have got something you can get it stored in a cloak room some 100 metres away from the security checking.

Taxis and other vehicles cannot go beyond a certain point and from there you will have to walk to the entrance of Taj Mahal. Correct distance of the entrance of Taj Mahal would be mentioned on sign boards. People will approach you to take horse cart, camel cart or battery car/golf cart to the entrance, you may chose any of them. If you are not interested, the you can simply walk as it is a short track.

For Indian citizens the cost of the ticket is only ₹20 and for the foreigners it is ₹750. I heard from many of my non Indian friends about this huge discrimination and I just tell them, we pay taxes and so we deserve subsidized prices 😉 Foreigners will get a half litre water bottle and shoe covers with their ticket for free, and Indians may also buy it just for paying ₹10 extra.

Taj Mahal is surrounded by lush green gardens and artificial lakes. If you walk over to the other side of the Taj you can enjoy a beautiful view of the River Yamuna flowing via Delhi, that takes a sharp turn right where the Taj Mahal is situated.

Many guides and photographers will approach you, chose only those who have a valid Identity card if you really wish to hire a guide. The best way is to learn about Taj Mahal before visiting it, or buy a audio guide or book at the ticket counter and spend good time learning and admiring the monument. Guides do tell interesting things and can speak almost all the major languages of the world, but they are very quick as they have to approach maximum group of tourists. They will cover the entire place in just half an hour, the place which actually deserves you spending two to three hours.

Do not buy anything on the street sold by the people who will aggressively approach you, unless if you really find the things interesting and of good quality. Every thing is negotiable, you have to bargain. These sellers are so aggressive that they will force you to buy things like map, keychains, photos, etc.

If you are a woman tourist, then beware of the guys who either in groups or individuals might approach you to get their picture clicked with you, if you are not comfortable, simply say no.

As you will go out of the complex your taxi will be waiting for you and can take you to a nice restaurant or Agra Fort whichever is your priority.

Visiting Agra Fort

The World Reporter at Agra Fort
Agra Fort (c) The World Reporter

If you have been in Delhi, and have seen Red Fort, then you will find many similarities. The fort is mere one or two kilometres from Taj Mahal. Agra fort  is very big and looks really strong. Its structure and architecture give the sense of the strength of the then Mughal Empire. The Fort was continuously built by many Mughal kings. Out of which work by Shah Jahan is the most prominent due to his fondness with white Marble. All his work is done with white marble, which is easily recognizable in a fort mainly built with red sandstone.

Guides are more aggressive here, and will tell you that it is worthless coming here if you don’t hire them, as it is a complex fort built with medieval military strategies. Hiring a guide is completely a tourist’s own decision. You might be able to learn interesting things, but if you wish to explore yourself it would also be great. Agra fort has some great picture taking points, one of which is just along the river and you can see only the river and trees between you and the beautiful Taj Mahal.

Keep your Taj Mahal tickets safe. If you have them, you can get a price cut of ₹50 in the ticket for Agra Fort. For Indians it is the same for ₹20 and for foreigners who have ticket of Taj Mahal it will cost  ₹250.

If you are in Agra only for one day, then a trip to another UNESCO World heritage site, Fatehpur Sikri may become really tight, as it is built in the outskirts of the city of Agra nearly 40 Km away. Most of the tourists who come here spend the rest of their time in shopping and eating. I would really encourage you to also visit Fatehpur Sikri, if you have no scheduled train or bus in the night or if you are in Agra for more than a day.

Exploring The Markets in Agra

Taxi drivers will take you to some fixed shops and restaurants where they take almost every tourist who come with them and earn good commission. Restaurants are generally multi cuisine, have good ambiance  and slightly costlier than others. Food is normal. If you have a request of going to a particular restaurant they will take you there as well, but still they might insist you to go to the one where they are offering. 

One of the shops where they will take you will be a marble workshop where same kind of work is done as  it is on Taj Mahal, people in the workshop may also teach you how they work and then will take you to their store where you can buy their items. Other places where you will be taken are semi precious and precious stones shops and shops where you can buy shawls and other Indian clothing and jewellery. All the shopkeepers or traders here will force you to see, but will not force you to buy, It is your decision.

Almost all the traders, shopkeepers, guides and even street sellers know many European and Asian languages, specially Russian. If you are Russian you will not face any language problem at all. However it is also the trick used by the sellers to lure you by talking in your language and then force you to buy. 

Agra is an important and must destination for almost every tourist who visits India. You would have seen the Taj many times on TV and books like me, but it really deserves a visit from you. Then only you will be able to do the justice to the monument and the admiration which it deserves. It will only take one day from you, but will leave an imprint on your soul for the rest of your life making you realize the preciousness of love. If it doesn’t bring the smile on your face or tears of joy in your eyes, let me know! 

Sanskar Shrivastava is the founder of international students' journal, The World Reporter. Passionate about dynamic occurrence in geopolitics, Sanskar has been studying and analyzing geopolitcal events from early life. At present, Sanskar is a student at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture and will be moving to Duke University.

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Smart Traveling: Managing Your Money on the Go

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budget travel grand canyon

A partial landscape view of the Grand Canyon during sunrise. Picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

Smart travelers are people who are clever when it comes to managing their money, even when they’re on the go. They are people that are able to budget and save, even when faced with all the worldly temptations that they come across while on their travels. Plus, they are people who are able to stretch their spending across the whole duration of their time away from home, no matter how long that may be. 

Ask yourself this; are you smart with your finances when you’re traveling? If you don’t think that you are, then make sure to check out the helpful advice on the matter of being a smart traveler below. 

Keep tabs on your bank account

When you travel, you escape the pressures of your life back home. You escape the pressures of working and studying, as well as those surrounding the balancing of your professional and personal life. When you travel, it’s just you, whoever you may be traveling with and the open road before you.

It’s okay to escape the pressures of your life, but it’s not okay to escape the particular pressure that is your bank account. No matter how far you go, you need to regularly check your bank so that you can keep tabs on how healthy it is looking. How can you be sure that you weren’t being charged double the amount you should have been for drinks on that night out you had? The only way to be sure is to log onto your internet banking portal on a safe, secure device and network to check your account as soon as you can. Or, you can sign up to text alerts that will bring the information you require regarding your spending to you, rather than you having to go to it. Such alerts will warn you when suspicious spending has taken place, too, so they’re well worth signing up for. 

Keep up with your bills back home

Again, you may be escaping certain pressures back home when you head off on your travels, but there are just some that you can’t run away from. One such pressure may be the need for you to pay bills.

Having a life set up back home is going to mean that you are going to need to keep up with all of your important monthly payments. Be it payments on your home, on your car or even on something as simple as your phone; you need to make sure that they are going out of your bank each month. You need to make sure they are going out if you don’t want to miss a due date, trigger fees and then ultimately hurt your credit score. To keep up with your outgoings, you need to embrace continuous payment authority, otherwise known as autopay. As suggested in its name, autopay automates regular payments, meaning you don’t need to take time out of your travels to send the money you owe over to whoever is seeking to collect it.

Traveling is an expensive game, there’s no denying that. If you want to be stretching your adventure as far as it can go, then you need to be finding ways to cut into the amounts that you spend while you’re on the go. To do this, you’re going to have to seek financial rewards whenever and wherever you can.

First, this means finding yourself a reward credit card, the best of which can be found at Bonsai Finance, as this will gift you the chance to spend more money at any one given time. The Chase Sapphire card, especially, is one that you should be looking at as it works alongside travel partners, such as big airline and hotel companies, to provide money back on required traveling expenses. Second, you should be seeking to make as much use as you can out of airline miles, otherwise known as frequent flyer miles. When you do, you accumulate a free-spending fund with every mile you travel, meaning you could end up getting yourself a free plane ticket after traveling a certain distance.

The best way to manage your money, whether you’re on your travels or not, is to set budgets for yourself. Budgets that you not only set but, for the most part, adhere to. By doing so, you stop yourself from spending all those little, seemingly innocuous amounts of money, and by doing that you save yourself a boatload in the long run.

When it comes to budgeting throughout your traveling experience, you should first find ways to save on all the things that are necessary for you to maintain a good standard of living. For instance, this should mean you not only make full use of the free breakfast being offered at your hostel by heading down to it but by stocking up for your day while you’re there. If your hostel offers you the chance to make sandwiches, don’t be afraid to make extra for your day ahead! Doing so will see you get the nutrition you need to travel to the best of your ability, without having to spend big on having meals out.

Something else that you should do is load up on entertaining material before you are suckered into buying magazines at the airport. By bringing your own entertainment, which could mean packing your laptop with movies or bringing a device full of reading material, you stop yourself from having to spend money on things that will, sooner rather than later, have you wondering where all of your money has gone.

You should never let fears about your finances stop you from traveling. If you want to head out and the see the world, give in to your desire to itch your wanderlust scratch and do it! When you do do it, just don’t get silly with your finances. Make sure you are keeping up with your bank and your payments, make sure you are finding financial rewards wherever you can and make sure you are always budgeting.

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Top 5 USA cities to enjoy this summer

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The United States is a country full of contrasts, with diverse and interesting cities.

The United States is very coarse. It has a lot of natural wonders, populous cities and interesting corners. There are so many that it is impossible to highlight them all. Although, depending on the time of year, it is preferable to visit some cities than others, depending on your own interests and the experience you want to fulfil.

Together with the eDreams experts (about eDreams), we have prepared a list of the 5 most highly recommended cities if you travel to USA this summer. Would you like to know them all?

  1. New York

We can’t start the ranking any other way, as New York is perfect to enjoy the whole year round. A cosmopolitan city where millions of people coexist, both citizens and tourists. Its exit to the sea and the districts located in the surrounding islands make of it a place full of character. It is perfect to visit skyscrapers, especially if you approach Manhattan, a shopping and business center par excellence. Places like the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State or the space once occupied by the Twin Towers, one of the most traumatic episodes of modern history, where today, you can visit a memorial honouring the attack victims.

Walking through Central Park is one of the most beautiful memories to enjoy there. And if you want to take some time out by the beach, New York has one in every single district. Coney Island in Brooklyn offers a view from the sensational promenade. Although Long Beach is also a good choice, with miles of white sand, you should know that they charge an entry fee.

  1. Miami

Of all the destinations you can visit in the United States, Miami may be the most familiar. Latin culture lives on every corner, offering visitors fascinating beaches, a varied cuisine and all kinds of shows and entertainment. And If you like beach tourism, seafood and fish dishes, water sports and spanish-speaking world areas, don’t forget to visit it.

  1. Las Vegas

Sin City is located in the middle of the desert, like an oasis rising up purely for the purpose of fun. Casinos, amusement parks and entertainment from morning to night is what you can expect in this city. There are also restaurants run by famous chefs, such as the popular TV chef Gordon Ramsay.

Although it is well known for the addictive gaming atmosphere filling the whole city, truth is that in Las Vegas there are spaces for everyone. Do not be afraid to travel with your family, because it has a huge leisure offer for all ages and interests.

  1. Orlando

Talking about family entertainment, Orlando is one of the top cities to travel with children in summertime. Completely understandable If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World, which have turned the area into a pilgrimage center for those wanting to live the magic of fairy tales and get to know their favorite characters. Although Orlando is not just Disney. There, you can also visit the Sea World Aquatic Zoo and the Universal Studios theme park. In less than an hour traveling you can visit Cape Canaveral, a living history of the space race, and the Cocoa Beach coast, which has become to be named the beach of Orlando.

  1. Los Angeles

The second largest city in the USA, only just surpassed by New York, it has everything you need to enjoy yourself. Beach and mountains, skyscrapers and cinema studios. In fact, this is where the vast majority of Hollywood stars reside, and travel guides make sure to remind you in all the recommended tours. Seeing the Hollywood sign crowning the mountain is something you can do from any city corner. Although the ideal plan is to get close to Hollywood Boulevard, where you can find the best viewpoint. You can also enjoy legendary walks, such as walking along Santa Monica Pier or bathing in Malibu beach.

Plenty to discover

These 5 cities are ideal if you want to travel to the United States this summer. Each of them offer a totally different view of the country. Therefore, USA is a territory full of contrasts, so you can travel there again and again without ever repeating the same experience.

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Barcelona, the top-3 ‘MICE’ tourism destination of the world

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Barcelona MICE TOurism

Corporative tourism —also known as ‘MICE’ tourism mobilized around 18,000 million euros in 2016 in Spain. According to the Spanish Convention Bureau, the number of events, conventions and meetings in Spain has increased by 16%, while the MICE sector worldwide will grow by more than 5% in the next years. The country ranks 13th worldwide in a market led by China and the US, but Barcelona and Madrid are in the Top 10 of the favorite European cities to organize congresses and events.

What is MICE tourism?

The acronym MICE stands for meetings, incentives, conferencing & exhibitions. It is a niche area of tourism that is focused around the planning and booking of groups for large events, conferences or seminar. A top class MICE event organised to showcase your products, build new client relationships, host a company event or to reward your employees for their hard work is an investment and usually it’s one to remember.

The players in the MICE field include corporate meeting planners, meetings and convention departments of hotels, conference centers or cruise ships, food and beverage managers, logistics firms, private tour operators and transfer companies, incentive houses, professional trade organizations, tourism boards, tourism trade associations, and travel-selling professionals. Destinations often market themselves as MICE locations and bid for events through their convention and visitor bureaus. They might be able to offer subsidies to attract large events because of the increased revenue the visitors provide through their economic impact on the host location.

Barcelona, ​​the best city in Spain to celebrate events and conferences

The good position of Barcelona as a destination of congresses and meetings is increasingly more evident and, recently, the Catalan capital has been placed in third position in the prestigious world ranking drawn up by the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) to establish which are the most relevant cities and states in MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions), and it is placed ahead of other very important destinations in the sector such as Vienna or London. The Catalan city was hot on the heels of the first two in the ranking —Berlin and Paris — and acts as a pole of attraction to boost the organisation of events all over Catalonia.

The offering to organize events and congresses in the city is wide thanks to the presence of companies such as Eventos Barcelona, an event management agency in Barcelona specializing in artistic and technical production of events for companies, meetings, incentive travels, conventions or gala dinners.

During 2017, Barcelona hosted 2,134 congresses and conventions —10.5% more than in 2016. More than 675,000 delegates participated in these events, and their economic impact in the city is estimated at 1,850€. Throughout 2017, Barcelona obtained the best results since it entered in the MICE tourism industry, increasing its benefits 21% more than the previous year, as reported by the Turisme de Barcelona consortium. The last six months were a little weaker due to the effects of the attack of August 17th and the independence mobilizations of October 1st, but thanks to the entrance of the summer season the city has returned againt to the highest level.

‘Bleisure’and gastronomy, the key to success in MICE tourism

‘Bleisure’ is the buzzword in corporate tourism. Its name mixes the B of business with the word pleasure —that is, combining business trips with pleasure tourism. Therefore, many events are organized in local destinations and non-conventional spaces. The salons and conventional spaces lose importance against of unusual spaces, which are also more profitable because visitors can enjoy a wider leisure offer (such as spas, cursos de coctelería, showcookings) and team building activities, combining both work and fun in an entertaining and relevant way.

Nowadays, congresses and events want to offer a more friendly, funnier face than the pompous and rigid meetings of yesteryear. The idea is to personalize the experience of a congress with the emotional connection of each assistant thanks to the flexible and dynamic spaces. This emotional connection is achieved by taking care of the details, which is valued above all in the younger generations. Interactive and collaborative activities, non-traditional speakers and sessions with a spirit of commitment rather than instructive are the booming formats.

Gastronomy is another distinguishing factor for MICE events’ success. The youngest attendants to these events –mostly workers under 40 appreciate that the culinary proposals of the events include healthy alternatives, fresh food, fruits and foods that provide energy, instead of unnecessary huge meals full of empty calories. Also, mixing the gastronomic experiences and technology is very helpful. Incorporating innovative cuisine techniques and exotic foods with creative, very ‘instagramable’ preparations, are all a synonym of success. Once again, new technologies provide another guideline on how to succeed in these events.

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