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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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The 10 Best Design-led Hostels in Europe

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Hostels are no longer just for young people and travelers with low budgets. The once humble and cheap accommodation that connects people from different places has now evolved to poshtels, which allow you to spend less but still get access to the benefits of high-end hotels. A good location, careful decoration, a strong commitment to the environment and the common spaces is what offers this new concept that is getting huge in Europe. Here are some of the best hostels that you can find in the Old Continent.

Cats Hostel Madrid

Cats Hostels is the perfect option to stay right in the heart of the city when visiting Madrid, because the city centre is where all the cool stuff happens. Their fully equipped and comfortable rooms decorated according to the latests trends can accommodate from 2 up to 14 guests. 

The hostel stands out for its breathtakingly spectacular 17th-century Arab-Andalusian style patio, which is in fact a protected historical heritage site in the city. It has a stunning fountain right in the middle that is filled with sangria in their epic Sangria Party -they don’t claim to be the best party hostel in Madrid for no reason! Cats Hostel is perfect for group friends or solo travellers, since the common areas work as meeting points: a coworking space, a club, a bar or a multipurpose room where you can watch a movie on the big screen, chill on the couches, play board games, read, or sleep away your hangover.

For those who want to discover the city accompanied, there are activities in Cats Hostels every day of the week: from the city tour -where you can visit the most emblematic landmarks of the capital, to a pub crawl that costs 15 € and starts every day at 22:00 or a classic tapas tour (15 €), on Wednesdays and Fridays at 17:45.

Full Moon Design Hostel Budapest

Live music in one of the most vibrant cities, picturesque rooms, colourful common areas and a privileged location are just some of the things this designer hostel has to offer. But that’s not all this hostel offers: Morisons Music Pub 2 is in the same building. 

Generator Hostel Paris

Stroll through the city without leaving the building in this design-led hostel inspired by the photogenic character of Paris. Stay in the elegant lounge (with vintage armchairs and a large bar) or have fun in the game room when you’re not enjoying everything the French capital has to offer.

Cats Hostel Porto

Cats Hostel Porto is the first hostel of the brand to open in Portugal, and it brings to the city of the Duero river all the spirit that has made Madrid’s Cats Hostels famous: fun, activities and central accommodation to enjoy the city to the fullest.

ONE80º Berlin

This ’boutique hostel’ in the heart of Mitte stands out for having its own discotheque in the center of Berlin.  It offers music by its own resident DJs and other events. Guests can also use a special area to upload and share their photos. The interior is designed by Berlin artists.

Kex Hostel Reykjavik

Industrial aesthetics is the most characteristic feature of this Icelandic hostel that stands in an old biscuit factory (in fact, kex means Icelandic ‘biscuit’). Besides having all kinds of rooms, it stands out for its common spaces, such as a barber shop or a large library, where you can relax in the company of other travelers..

Casa Gracia Barcelona Hostel

The most modern hostel in Barcelona is just a step away from Paseo de Gracia and is all style and atmosphere. With its exclusive design and modern interiors, is the ideal refuge for any lover of modern and style. Enjoy the terrace, the lounges (it has spacious communal lounges to rest and chat) and its exquisite cuisine.

Youth Hostel Scuol Switzerland

This hostel is the most modern cabin in the Swiss country. This hostel, decorated to the last, has beautiful wooden interiors. Come out onto the terrace and breathe in the fresh air, while enjoying the splendour of the surrounding mountains. When the sun sets, make a ball in front of the fireplace and enjoy a hot chocolate before resting in your room.

Clink 78 London

Luxurious hostel frequented by young backpackers. It occupies what used to be a courthouse, where, by the way, the punk band The Clash was judged -according to their website. So if you book a room here, you can sleep in a cell or hang out in one of the courtrooms. And it’s worth attending one of the concerts at their nightclub, the ClashBAR. It’s ten minutes from King’s Cross train station.

Cocomama Amsterdam

It has a very exotic name, but a very European conception of design and decoration, with murals, paintings, ceramics and all kinds of elements that make up a beautiful environment. Everything is very clean and well cared for. There are cinema, communal kitchen and garden, as well as other spaces to share.


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ATELIER de Hoteles is proud to present José Mejía as its Executive Chef and Food Experience

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  • Renowned Chef Mejía heads the restaurants, bars and cafeterias of the hotels in the ATELIER de Hoteles chain
  • ATELIER de Hoteles sets itself apart by showcasing an exquisite culinary proposal

ATELIER de Hoteles, a Mexican hotel chain with an innovative and ground-breaking concept, has named José Mejía as its Executive Chef and Food Experience, and who, as of today, takes on responsibility for the cuisine offered, the quality and operation of all the culinary centers in this hospitality corporation.

Chef José Mejía hails from Mexico City and studied in the Culinary Institute of Los Angeles, California. He gained his wide experience in gastronomy in countries such as Singapore, Germany, the USA, Italy, Spain and Mexico, shaping his extraordinary leadership skills in each of his work teams. Chef Mejía also possesses a magnificent vision for creating unforgettable culinary experiences, a characteristic that has made him an ambassador of Mexican Haute Cuisine.

It is a privilege for ATELIER de Hoteles to have the proven creativity of Chef José Mejía since it allows us to offer our guests an innovative and exquisite gastronomy proposal. The culinary philosophy of our Executive Chef and Food Experience breaks paradigms and goes beyond than just offering avant-garde dishes, showcasing a complete concept in which flavors, textures and colors play a major role. As well as pleasing guests’ palates, it comforts and surprises them”, commented Oliver Reinhart, CEO of ATELIER de Hoteles.

For Chef Mejía motivating his team is of the utmost importance, just like the steam that rises from the pots of modern kitchens where works of art, not just dishes, are created to nourish diners’ bodies and minds. This inspires him to maintain a balance between harmony and the demands of operating food and beverage outlets in a luxury All Suites Resort such as the ATELIER Playa Mujeres, as well as the ÓLEO Cancún Playa All Inclusive Boutique Resort and, soon to come, the family concept of the ESTUDIO Playa Mujeres.

ATELIER-de-Hoteles

“I feel very enthusiastic about the challenge with which ATELIER de Hoteles has entrusted me, and this motivates me to make sure my team of arteliers maintain their commitment to the values of our hotel chain, such as quality, professionalism and service, as well as to its conceptual cornerstones, particularly offering an authentically Addictive Service®”, said José Mejía, Executive Chef and Food Experience at ATELIER de Hoteles.

Regarding the ATELIER Playa Mujeres hotel complex, Chef Mejía treasures an exceptional vegetable garden, since its harvest guarantees produce of the highest quality and freshness which is used in the different menus throughout the hotel chain in Cancun.

The Executive Chef and Food Experience has programmed a series of activities for the restaurants in the ATELIER Playa Mujeres in which guests can enjoy the experience of growing and selecting its vegetables, greens, fruits and spices, thus promoting an Eco-social Awareness® which is important to mention since it is another of the conceptual cornerstones at ATELIER de Hoteles.

The restaurants at ATELIER Playa Mujeres headed by Chef Mejía are: Mercado 19, offering Mexican flavors with a contemporary touch; Alba, with a healthy menu; El Suspiro, seafood with Peruvian touches; Takeshi, with an Asian influence; Cilento, inspired by authentic Italian cuisine; Los Abrazos, with firewood-cooked meat cuts; Cafecito, with fine bakery and coffee, and El Trompo, with tacos and gourmet Mexican snacks.

On the other hand, in the ÓLEO Cancún Playa All Inclusive Boutique Resort, the chef is in charge of the Azul restaurant, with an international and cosmopolitan feel; Almar, with dinners offering traditional Mediterranean cuisine and seafood; Hakka, with Japanese influenced cuisine, and El Botanero, with ceviches, tacos and hamburgers served outdoors.

Similarly, the bars coordinated by José Mejía in the ATELIER Playa Mujeres are: Don Fernando, lobby bar; El Deseo, theater bar; La Oficina, contemporary cantina style; El Cielo, rooftop lounge bar, with an infinity pool boasting a spectacular view of the Caribbean and the golf course; El Trompo Swim Up Bar and El Suspiro Swim Up Bar, both located at the main pool, and Bar de La Calle, offering an urban mixology concept. Chef Mejía is also responsible for the Pool Bar and the Lobby Bar, popular meeting points for guests in the ÓLEO Cancún Playa Boutique Resort.

The wide range of restaurants and bars at ATELIER de Hoteles are structurally designed with materials and decoration that evoke an elegant and contemporary ambiance. Similarly, each of the menus offers guests a selection that reinterprets the most important culinary traditions of each culture in a ground-breaking and innovative way.

About:                     

ATELIER de Hoteles is an innovative and ground-breaking Mexican hotel chain born in 2015, with contemporary Mexican art setting it apart and acting as the common denominator in its concepts, which include strategy, passion and commitment. ATELIER de Hoteles offers in its four brands, ATELIER, ESTUDIO, ÓLEO and MET, relaxed luxury with the highest in service standards in its properties, currently located in the Hotel Zone and Playa Mujeres, both in Cancun, Quintana Roo, and with openings planned in the near future for the most important beach and business destinations in Mexico.


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You need to visit Ecuador now

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This is no joke. You need to visit Ecuador now, right this minute, it’s a matter of life and…nah. The truth is, we live in a time where options are limitless and when it comes to travel, there are SO MANY incredible international destinations it gets overwhelming to make a choice. Sometimes you just need a convincing argument, or an easy-to-understand cost benefit analysis to conclude, “Yep, that’s definitely worth it.”

What’s the point in travelling to de-compress if simply choosing your destination causes you to stress? (That line is going in my next rap single, please don’t plagiarize.) Here are a couple legitimate reasons to book your next trip to Ecuador.

Quilotoa Lake Ecuador
A group of friends gaze upon Quilotoa Lake, while a rainbow appears above the Ecuadorian Andes.

Reasons why you should visit Ecuador

Fill in the blank with something that isn’t sexist: Ecuador is like a ____. Pretty, cheap and easy.

If you want three simple, yet highly convincing reasons to visit Ecuador, here they are. Let’s start with the first and, in many cases, the most convincing:

Ecuador is CHEAP. Please note that by “cheap”, we’re talking western hemisphere levels of affordability, not Nepal or Vietnam.

Compared to other bucket-list Latin America countries, like Costa Rica, Mexico or Chile, Ecuador offers a comparable quality of service for a lower dollar figure. Among some of the incredible things to do in Ecuador, you’ll visit places like the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon.

If you’re travelling here from the United States or Europe, you’ll be pleased to discover several cheap, and usually direct, flight options to Ecuador. From the U.S., you can find flights from Fort Lauderdale, FL with Jet Blue for as cheap as $380!

Once here, you’ll also find that bus travel is C-H-E-A-P. I’m talking $1.00 per hour of travel cheap. However, there are pros and cons to this, make sure to read the last section of this blog.

Cotopaxi Volcano ecuador
A traveler visits the Limpiopungo lake inside Cotopaxi National Park. Cotopaxi Volcano is visible in the background. Photo by: Viaja la Vida travel bloggers.

Ecuador is PRETTY. Spectacular, in fact. This is highly subjective statement that can be proven true by simply asking anyone that’s traveled here. Now, don’t ask them about the markets, because things can get pretty ugly there, especially in the animal section, but ask them about Ecuador’s beauty GENERALLY.

You’ll find that there’s a consensus: Ecuador isn’t just beautiful, but diverse, which only adds to its beauty. In a day’s drive, you can go from the Amazon rainforest, past 5,000+ meter volcanic peaks, and down through the coastal cloud forest to the glimmering beaches of Mompiche (or another coastal village).

Where else in Latin America can you do this? If you can think of a place that isn’t Ecuador, please mention it in the comment section below. Seriously, I challenge you.

Ecuador Pacific Sunset
The sun sets in the Pacific Coast. This is a common image all year long because of Ecuador’s location on the equator. Photo by: Juan Pablo Verdesoto.

Ecuador is EASY. The reason you can visit such diverse geographic regions in one day is because Ecuador is relatively small (no bigger than Colorado State, for example). Its neighbor, Peru, offers similar geographic diversity but across 5 times the geographic area! It’s gonna take more than one day to drive from the Amazon to the Pacific Coast, that’s for sure.

Over the years, a significant increase in tourism has incentivized many Ecuadorians to invest in English language acquisition. While speaking and/or learning Spanish in Ecuador is highly encouraged, you’ll find that many locals (especially the younger generations) know their way around English and will be able to help you.

A final reason why Ecuador is an easy travel destination is related to its currency, which happens to be the US dollar. That’s right: greenbacks rule. If you’re coming from the United States, you have one less headache to deal with because in Ecuador, currency exchange is not a thing.

Wanderbus Ecuador
A traveler enjoys the Ecuadorian road aboard the Wanderbus. Photo by: Juan Pablo Verdesoto.

What is the best way to travel around Ecuador?

If you’re like most travellers to Ecuador, you’re probably considering bus travel. Makes sense: buses are readily available between every city and, depending on distance, cost around $1.00 per transit hour. However, safety and convenience tend to be an issue as bus terminals are where travellers are at their most vulnerable from petty theft, and are often difficult and expensive to reach (particularly at odd hours of the night).

For those that prefer to avoid bus terminals (despite the attractive bus prices), another approach to bus travel in Ecuador is available: hop on-hop off bus companies like Wanderbus Ecuador. Wanderbus will pick you up from central locations in town and take you to Ecuador’s top (and often difficult-to-reach) destinations, ensuring safety, access to like-minded travelers as well as an English-speaking guide. The flexibility of hop on-hop off travel is especially attractive if you don’t have a set itinerary and like to keep your options open.

If you haven’t quite decided on your next international destination, make sure to take a closer look at Ecuador, where you’re sure to get more bang for your buck.



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