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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.
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.
|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).
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.
|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.
|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.
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!