Taj Mahal in Agra is India’s most popular and most visited destination in India but there are many other places to see in Agra. It is around 250 Km from India’s capital Delhi and very well connected by Indian Railways as well as by road. Though it is just 4 hours drive from my home, I visited it only 3 times till today. Agar is most popular due to the Taj Mahal, which is one of the 7 wonders of the world but other than that there are some other interesting places in the city.
Most people visit Agra for short duration and me personally don’t like the pushy touts all over the city from railway stations to bus stands, markets and around Taj Mahal & other popular monuments. The best way to visit Agra is to ignore these touts and don’t pay attention to them. I still remember when I first time visited the Agra, we stopped at toll point before entering Agra and two guys starting knocking at the window of my car with different offers. They told us all stupid things like we are going in the wrong direction, there is a rush and we may not be allowed inside the Taj Mahal and so on. Fortunately, I was traveling with a seasoned driver who been to Agra many times and he told them I am not going to visit Taj Mahal as I am on a work trip. It was very irritating to encounter these touts some 40-50 Km before the Taj Mahal. After that incident, I learned and ignored everyone approached me in the city for different sightseeing offers. I always recommend everyone to ignore them politely instead of making a conversation.
There are some interesting places to see in Agra I had a day trip or stayed for a night in Agra. I personally recommend two days in Agra.
We start early morning from Delhi to beat the traffic. There are two routes for Agra, one is from NH 2 which is a busy road but with the lesser toll on the way, now there are many flyovers on the way so less stoppage time. Another route is from Yamuna Expressway which goes from Noida to Agra and there is very less traffic on this road but you have to pay 415 INR as toll tax for a car. I personally prefer NH 2 because there I have better options on the way for food as well as washroom break.
If you start around 6.00 AM then most probably you will reach Agra by 10.30 AM.
I always prefer to go to Taj Mahal in the early morning because it is less crowded at that time so on the first day we visited Red Fort, Tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah, Mehtab Bagh and markets of Sadar Bazar & Kinari Bazaar in Agra.
We first visited the Agra Fort, which is also known as Red Fort due to the color of stone used for its construction. It was a stronghold and capital of Mughal rulers till the time Shajahan shifted its capital to Delhi from Agra. This fort was the walled city in which royal family and nobles of the court lived.
Agra Fort is semicircular in shape and lies parallel to the Yamuna River. Some of the important places to see inside the fort are Diwan I Am, Diwan E Khas, Jahangir Palace, Delhi Gate, Weeks Edwin Gate and it’s decorated gardens. Delhi gate is the grandest of all the doors built around Agra Fort. The fort was mainly built with Red sandstone though there are some monuments made of white marble. The audio guide facility is available in the fort and I personally prefers this to a guide. The Taj Mahal is visible from a window in the fort and it remains crowded with people looking out. We spend approximately 1.5 hours in Agra Fort before going to the market for lunch and for buying souvenirs.
The old markets of Kinari Bazar and Sadar Bazar are the oldest in Agra, just keep in mind that you should bargain the price before buying anything or do window shopping like me. Shopkeepers may call you and offer you a discount if you are not interested then keep walking or just give a smile and move on.
After lunch and roaming around in market we went to Tomb of I’timād-Ud-Daulah. The tomb was commissioned by Mughal emperor Jahangir’s wife Nur Jahan in memory of her father, I’timād-Ud-Daulah. This was his title which meant pillar of the state. Unlike the earlier Mughal era tombs which were made of red sandstone, this built with marble. Its marble walls were decorated with the semi-precious stone like lapis, onyx, and topaz. The interior decoration and the inlay work done here was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Due to this similarity, it is also known as Baby Taj. The marble latticework done is the main highlight of the tomb. Like other important historical places of Agra, this is also situated on the banks of Yamuna river. If you look at the tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daula from distance it looks like a jewel box set in a garden.
From Tomb, we went to Mehtab Bagh. It is located opposite to the Taj Mahal on the other side of the Yamuna River. The garden is perfectly aligned with the Taj Mahal and it was built as a pleasure garden for viewing of Taj during the night. Over the centuries due to floods in Yamuna river and extracting material by locals from the Mahtab Bagh, it turned in to ruins and was neglected for decades. In early 1990’s Archaeological Survey of India recognized it as one the last few gardens made by Mughals and they started the restoration work on it. Now, this is one of the most popular places to view Taj Mahal around sunset from across the river. On the days when the weather is clear and there is no haze, it looks beautiful from across the Yamuna river.
There is another place I like to go to watch the sunset in Agra with Taj Mahal in the foreground. It is not opposite the river but the view from here is also spectacular.
Agra had developed a lot in last few decades due to tourist influx but still, there is nothing much in terms of nightlife. So, I always prefer to spend a quiet evening. Either I go to a nice place for dinner or spend time in the hotel relaxing.
On the second day after a good night’s sleep, I got up early morning for Taj Mahal visit. It is better to reach early to beat the crowd and secondly it gets hotter during the day even in winter months.
Taj Mahal opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. It was built by Shan Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaj Mahal. It is believed that 20,000 workers built it in 20 years. There is another popular story associating with it, according to it after completion of Taj Mahal emperor ordered to cut the hands of workers so that they can not make another monument like this. I will not go more into the history and workmanship of Taj Mahal because there is so much talked about it.
Here are some tips for visiting Taj Mahal –
* Taj Mahal remains closed on Fridays.
* Arrive as early as possible, 6.15 AM is a good time.
* The vehicles are not allowed within 500 meters radius of Taj Mahal, so either walk or take a battery operated cart or rickshaw if you don’t want to walk.
* To skip the long ticket queues, you can buy tickets online from official website of ASI it will save a lot of time and hassle.
* Ticket cost for Indian nationals is 40 INR, SARCC countries are 530 INR and other foreign national is 1000 INR.
* Recently government had added one more ticket if you wanted to go inside the main mausoleum.
* Do not carry big bags, carry only essentials because security will stop you at the gate if you have big bags.
* There are lockers outside and you can keep stuff in these by paying a nominal fee but remember these lockers are open.
* Eatables, ciggies, lighter, matchsticks are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal compound, you can carry only one water bottle.
* If you are foreign national then you don’t need to stand in long security queues for security checking and you can enter bypass the queue for security check.
* There are separate queues for Male and Female visitors.
* Foreign tourists get a water bottle, shoe cover and a leaflet about Taj Mahal.
* You can also hire an audio guide if you are not interested in having a guide, it is available in many languages.
* There are 3 entry gates for Taj Mahal i.e. East, west and south gate. Out of these south gate is least used by tourist due to its location and connectivity with the city.
* It is always crowded inside the Taj Mahal compound, so keep your belongings safe.
* Click photographs faster because there is always someone looking for a less crowded place with a better view.
* Here are some tips for traveling to India. These tips are more relevant for female travelers as I wrote based on my personal experience.
We went in the morning but it was still crowded and security checkup line was a line. Still, we were able to spend some good time inside Taj Mahal and able to see all places properly. We returned to our hotel around breakfast time.
We rested for some time in the hotel as we have not planned too many things for this day.
After some rest, we checked out from the hotel and went to Akbar’s tomb, which is also known as Sikandra. It is one of the less popular among places to see in Agra. The tomb is 200 meter from main national highway NH 2 leading to Delhi and Jaipur.
Akbar started construction of this tomb for himself but he could not complete it during his life. Later on his son, Salim completed the tomb.
The tomb was made of red sandstone and marble with inlay work similar to other Mughal era monuments. The tomb complex and gardens around it are covered with high walls. There are small canals around the garden but these days canals remain dry due to the scarcity of water. We entered from the main gate made of red sandstone. There was a broad paved causeway leading towards the tomb. We can not get down from causeway into the garden area because it is written on the board of does and don’ts. At the end of the causeway is the four-story tomb of Akbar.
The most interesting thing about Akbar’s tomb complex is the antelope, monkeys, and peacocks. They roam around freely in the garden area. It was such a nice feeling to see all this.
Fortunately, Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra had no crowd and it was very peaceful.
After spending some time at Sikandra we proceeded for Fatehpur Sikri which is 36 Km from Taj Mahal.
As we came down from NH 2 and drove on a small road leading toward Fatehpur Sikari. Suddenly a group of 3-4 men tried to stop our car by waving hands. Our driver was well versed in the area, he honked loudly and also waved them to clear the road. He told us these are guides/touts and wanted us to hire them. We reached the Fatehpur Sikri’s parking area and again a couple of men again approached us declaring themselves as the guide. They insisted us to hire them for the tour, we declined them politely. They chased us for some distance but fortunately, we passed them without any hassle. I had read some unpleasant stories about touts troubling people but thankfully, we didn’t face anything like that except some excessive pursuing.
We climbed the stairs and entered from grand Buland Darwaza. It is a big compound made of an elevated rock. Akbar built the city of Fatehpur Sikri and it was capital of Mughal Empire for a brief period before shifting to Agra. It is believed that Akbar shifted his capital from Fatehpur Sikri due to the scarcity of water in this area.
The important places in Fatehpur Sikri are Jama Masjid, Tomb of Salim Chisti, Diwan I Am, Diwan E Aam, Ibadaat Khana, Naubat Khana, and Panch Mahal. There were some stalls in one part of it selling fashion items like trinkets, fashion jewelry, and garments.
While we were roaming around in the compound a small kid of 10-12 yrs approached us. He told us that he is also working as a guide, It was very surprising. We were not interested to hire a guide moreover someone so young but my friend wanted to help him so we asked him to accompany us. He roams around with us for 15-20 minutes and told us some interesting & funny stories about different places in Fatehpur Sikri.
The most interesting story is about Tomb of Salim Chisti. He was a saint and stayed with his disciples in Fatehpur. During his stay, Akbar visited him and requested him to pray for a male heir to his throne. Salim Chisti blessed him and 3 sons born to Akbar. He named his first son Salim after the saint. There were many people paying the respect to the saint and seeking his blessings. Local people believe if you ask for something, the saint will fulfill your wish. Fatehpur Sikri is a nice place except for touts pushing you for different things.
From Fatehpur Sikri, we returned back to Delhi but if someone wanted to do Golden triangle then it is advisable to go to Jaipur.