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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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Top packing hacks for all your summer 2019 festivals

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summer festival travel packing

Summer is almost here and with it the prospect of lazy summer festivals and camping with your friends. It is a time for making memories, laughing a lot, listening to great music and soaking up the sun.  

What you definitely don’t need is arriving to find you don’t have half of what you need. Without good planning your great trip can suddenly become a thing of nightmares, with sleepless nights, sunburn, dehydration and blisters.

So to make sure you can sit back and enjoy the atmosphere get out a pen and paper and start your packing list now. Remember that you will have to carry it across the campsite so you need to pack light. Here are some tips on what absolute essentials you will need

Don’t underestimate the power of sleep

Sleep deprivation is part and parcel of any camping or festival experience, but you do need to give yourself the best chance to avoid the complete exhaustion that stops being fun. First things first, you need a tent. That goes without saying, and you can get some great one person options that are super lightweight.

Second up you need something to sleep on, a roll mat is easy but not all that comfortable, and an air mattress can be bulky and a pain to inflate. So consider the halfway option of getting a thermarest. These fold really small, need very little inflation, but give that little bit more comfort.

Pick up a sleeping bag and travel pillow too, but when it comes to keeping warm at night you want to layer up your clothing so you make sure you don’t freeze or overheat. Choose clothes that you can wear in the evening, but also to sleep in if you get cold. You are roughing it so make each item of clothing work extra hard to earn its place in your packing. You can’t go wrong with a good pair of tracksuit bottoms or yoga pants – warm and comfortable.

Take good care of your feet

While fancy fashionable sandals might seem like a great idea, the reality is you will be on your feet for hours and walking a lot across different ground. And if it rains you will very quickly find the ground is churned up into a muddy mess.

So you need to make sure you have good comfortable footwear, which doesn’t necessarily need to be ugly. You can browse all the available options on Buyviu US, including those all important wellies that will be your saviour if the heavens open.

One other thing you should not skimp on is socks – especially if your feet get wet or if it is cold at night. Think like a soldier and keep your feet clean and dry.

Take a decent medical kit for little emergencies

This will save your life. Because you can guarantee the pharmacy provision when you are in the middle of nowhere will be limited and expensive. So be prepared by taking your own.

You should think of all the ways you can be uncomfortable and pack accordingly a good place to start is painkillers, antihistamines, blister plasters, suncream, stuff for a bad stomach, and even some rehydration sachets with electrolytes for a little boost and replenish lost vitamins.

Get a decent rucksack with lots of compartments

Finding things inside a tent in the dark (top tip – remember a torch) is hard enough already. This is why a really good rucksack with multiple compartments for different things. This was you can easily find what you need when you need it without emptying out the entire contents every single time.

Prepare well and you will be all set to have the time of your life and creating memories that will laugh a lifetime. Summer here we come.

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The Best Handmade Souvenirs from Spain are Just a Click Away

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travel spain souvenir

Artisan decorative figurines are one of the most common purchases among the tourists who visit Spain and want to get something special as a souvenir to remember their stay. Spain’s craftsmanship is known throughout the world for the enormous talent behind it, and for years it has prompted tourists to visit the country and purchase ceramic figurines as souvenirs or to complete a previous larger collection of antiques.

But the people fond of arts and decoration who want to get pieces for their collections can’t always come to Spain to buy them. Indeed, lot of tourist can’t bring craft souvenirs back home because they do not have enough room in their suitcases, or because they want to keep traveling before returning to their countries and they can’t carry them around safely. Luckily, shopping is easier now thanks to the Internet, and customers can get products made in other countries from anywhere in the world. What used to require to go to a specific place, look around and ask for prices, and then proceed with the purchase, now is as simple and convenient as entering a website, click here and there and waiting at home for the product to arrive.

The craftmanship field is not foreign to this new concept of shopping. Some companies, especially in the souvenirs’ field, have noticed the needs of the modern public and have wisely approached a niche as specific as this one. For  this reason, there are online companies such as Toledogifts which are dedicated to the sale and distribution of these decorative figurines through the Internet. The e-commerce technology offers numerous facilities for the sale and distribution of handcrafts online, which makes posible several websites such may offer plenty of options and fair prices.

Toledogifts has brought internet solutions to a sector as traditional as ceramic and porcelain figures, craftsmanship in general. It is no longer necessary to travel to buy collectibles or anything like that, now all you have to do is go to their website and proceed through the catalog to choose what you like. Their online store stands out for its variety and professionalism. They sell high quality handmade products crafted by Spanish manufacturers, and they ship to any part of the world, allowing the customer to confortably receive the products at home, forgeting plane incoveniences.

The first thing that stands out in this company is its catalogue. Scrolling down the webpage, the user can find a wide range of the most popular craft products from every Spanish region. Thanks to the number of filters and options available -essential tools to speed up the search and, of course, the purchase-, you can easily find what you are looking for.

Toledogifts complies with the standards of online stores to ensure consumer satisfaction. Besides high quality products, they also offer the best delivery service. They take care of shipping in the shortest possible time and ensuring, above all, the proper protection of the pieces so that they are not damage during in the journey. Also, they always guarantee that the price is as close as possible to their real value.

Amog the different great products that can be found on this website, the unique damascenes from Toledo stand out. Damascene is defined as the art of inlaying gold on a soft iron base. Damascenes take their name from the city of Damascus, because it is craft technique which originated in the Syrian capital. Their origins are remote -there are vestiges of more than 1500 years old, and pieces have been found in different civilization, but the Imperial City of Toledo became the world’s largest producer of damascenes.

There are three different styles of damascenes: the traditional and genuine Arabic modeling, where the gold or silver thread is highlighted with chisels; the Renaissance style introduced in the 16th century and which represents floral, animal or landscape motifs; and also the new model called “vistas”, in which the city of Toledo is represented often centred on motifs of Don Quixote, so logically rooted in these Castilian-La Mancha lands. The pieces are beautiful and not so easy to find outside Spain, which makes them perfect for picky art collectors.

Other best-sellers of the webpage are artisan ceramic plates and porcelaine figures. Porcelain is considered a luxury material and is widely worked by artisans in Spain given its moldability property. Porcelain’s composition is kaolin, which provides the distinctive with pigmentation after it’s baked, feldspar and quartz. An artisan creates a clay figures inspired in the given design, providing it with the details that will be seen in the final figure. Afterwards, the artisan takes molds of and pours liquid porcelain in them. When the consistency is adecuate, molds are retired and the artisan will paste, polish, sculpt and bake the final figure.


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Top 10 reasons to visit Iceland by car

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Iceland car travel

For a long time Iceland was a well kept travellers secret. It was not the typical choice of holiday, but now this wonderful country is becoming more and more well known for that holiday of a lifetime and a chance to see and do things that you can’t do anywhere else in the world.

And there really is only one way to really experience this wild country properly and that is using car rental in Iceland to explore it for yourself. It is far better, and far cheaper, than trying to take day excursions with the other tourists and so many great adventures can be had this way. Here are the top reasons why touring Iceland’s roads absolutely should be your next holiday without delay.

1.The people are really, really nice

This is absolutely true. Icelandic people are very proud of their beautiful country and very keen to show it at its best to visitors. Other places in the world are known for quite a surly reception, but this is absolutely not the case here. You’ll notice it the second you head of to the car rental in Keflavik Airport. The conversation is easy, and english quite widely spoken which can make travel easier. Of course once you are out on the road exploring for yourself you should absolutely get chatting to the locals as you explore, they often know the best places to visit or eat that simply aren’t available on google or tripadvisor. Local knowledge is key for getting off the beaten track.

2.Iceland is really easy to navigate by road

Iceland is not a huge country, and there is one huge road that traverses most of it for about 190 miles. It is known as the Golden Circle. So this means that you have a great point of reference for when you are exploring. You can easily slip away from the main road to explore into the countryside, and then hop back on the Golden Circle to get to your next location. The roads are pretty well kept here – even the gravel ones, so you don’t need to worry too much about the terrain when choosing a hire car. Unless you are planning to get really off road that is.

3. The night sky is a thing of beauty

The night time is truly beautiful, especially in winter when the nights are much longer. With so little light pollution and the chance to see the aurora borealis this is a sight few people actually get to experience for themselves. Of course to really get the best of this opportunity there is really only one way to do it, instead of a car look at camper rental in Iceland instead and stay out all night. This is especially useful in the summer when the nights are very very short. This way you have all night to enjoy it while snuggled up warm in your sleeping bag.

4. The unspoiled beauty of Iceland

Of course the other great thing about Iceland camper rental is that by getting out of the towns and into the beautiful countryside you can see Iceland how it should be seen as a beautiful, scenic natural landscape. Imagine being able to camp somewhere so inspiring and free from the intervention of man and waking up to the freshest air and sounds of nature.

5. Visiting the villages gives you a real taste of Icelandic life

Most of the population don’t live in the major cities of Reykjavik, Isafjordur and Akureyri. Most life in smaller communities dotted around the country, and bearing in mind how friendly the people are, it is a chance to really embrace a different culture and take part.

6. Get out there and try the amazing fresh food

The great thing about hopping from village to village on your tour is the chance to try real local food. It is not too dissimilar to Scandinavian food, and there is of course plenty of fresh fish available, as well as lamb. You have probably heard of Skyr, the Icelandic cheese a little like yoghurt. Well here it is made into all types of delicious dishes you absolutely have to try.

7. Iceland has so many different landscapes

It is almost magical the different landscapes you can see. From grassy fields with Icelandic horses, to snow covered tundra, from magnificent coastlines to moonscapes and lava fields it is really something quite special and like nowhere else on earth. With your car you can experience all this, jumping out to hike on foot and get close to nature, before driving to what might seem like a completely different world at your next location.

8. You can watch the landscape change before your very eyes

There are volcanoes in Iceland, and the geology is formed on an every moving tectonic plate that is actually causing the country to grow in size by 2 cm every year. Its impressive and by driving up to the Lake Myvatn area you can see where steam is being vented from the heat under the earth’s crust. The volcano fields are also very beautiful, and give a strange quality to the landscape, almost like you have landed on the moon.

9. Take your binoculars with you, the bird watching is fantastic

With very few predators on Iceland, bird populations are able to thrive here. There are so many varieties, and depending on the time of year there is a chance to see many migratory birds too. It is not just birds you have a chance to see, you can also opt to go whale watching too at certain location. Heading out by boat to cruise alongside the magnificent animals.

10. You will feel like you have had the most amazing adventure

There is nowhere in the world quite like Iceland. Heading out on your road trip with nothing but a map and an open heart will help you discover wonders only shown to the few brave enough to get off the well travelled path. You’ll create memories hear that will last a lifetime.

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