There’s really only one reason to visit Agra. I’m not saying that there’s only one thing to see there, but everything else really just pales in comparison.
You know what I’m talking about, the Taj Mahal; truly one of man’s most beautiful creations. After you’ve seen the Taj, is there really anything else to visit in the city?
Actually, there is. Though none quite as breathtaking, Agra touts several sites of interest to those visiting.
Agra Fort is a very beautiful mix of architectural design and building materials. Trading the red sandstone for white marble within the fort, Shah Jahan, gave instructions for the interior of the fort, which his grandfather had begun with the sandstone on the outside. From the Eastern outer wall, a fantastic view of the Taj can be seen, which was important to Shah Jahan, as he had built the Taj for his deceased wife.
The Tomb of Akbar is another great site to visit. It is believed to have been the inspiration for the Taj Mahal and houses the tomb of Emperor Akbar the Great, which he helped design and commenced himself.
We had the pleasure of hanging out with “Khan,” our auto-rickshaw driver for the day. Though depressed about the recent split with his girlfriend, he was quite knowledgeable about the city.
Khan took us to a great spot for a view of the back of the Taj along the opposite side of the Yamuna River. You can walk down a road for free and see the view, a little off center, or you can pay 100 Rupees to enter the Moonlight Garden area for a better view. Inside the garden is the ruin area of the mythical “Black Taj” which some believe Shah Jahan had in mind to build across from its counter part, but didn’t get the chance. The black “foundation” can be seen inside the garden. Griffin took a look, but I took a pass.
We started out early and met up with Khan outside our guesthouse at 5:30am. He dropped us off within walking distance as no polluting vehicles are allowed within 500 meters of the gate. When we arrived, the lines were already long. Griffin went to get the tickets and I went to stand in line. As it turned out, the line for tickets was more time consuming than we thought. Entry is expensive at 750 rupees per person, or about $15 U.S.. Indian entry is less than $1! As part of your ticket, you’re given a bottle of water and shoe covers for walking around the museum area of the Taj. Nice.
We finally were allowed inside after a very thorough pat down in gender segregated areas. My Clif bar was confiscated and Griffin was forced to go to an off-site locker location for tripod contraband… twice.
By the time we got inside, the sun was already pretty high in the sky, but the crowds had not yet turned up. We took our picture on the iconic bench alongside Princess Diana, and spent a lot of time admiring the intricate marble designs and gazing at the beauty of the structure itself. We walked around the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtez Mahal and remembered how special and important love is.
We were lucky to be there around the time of a full moon, which meant the Taj was open for a night viewing. The cost is the same as a daytime viewing, but you’re only allowed to visit for 30 minutes. To be honest, we were kind of disappointed by the night viewing. For some reason, it was only open until 9:30 instead of the 12:30 time slot we were hoping for. The moon was not very high in the sky therefore not really casting any light on the Taj. We were surprised that there are no lights illuminating the Taj! Gates block off the entry and you can only go as far as the red sandstone gate. Photos were next to impossible because of the low light and the fact that no tripods are allowed. It was still beautiful and now we can say we’ve seen the Taj Mahal at night, but it’s not really worth the time and expense.
While India may be “intense” to say the least, the Taj Mahal makes it all worth it. I highly encourage anyone to visit Agra and be reminded of love both past and present.
Hotel: We had the privilege of staying at a great hostel in Agra called Friends Paying Guesthouse. This is a family run place where the kids lend a hand in serving the guests with a sweet smile. The rooms were spacious and clean and they really went out of their way to make everyone feel welcome. The price was right at $4.50 per person per night. All the guests were treated to a wonderful meal of Mutton Biryani in celebration of a religious festival while we were there. Griffin witnessed the “mutton” being transformed from a goat, if you know what I’m saying.
Transportation: Transportation around Agra is cheap, as in all of India. Khan was with us for the entire day of touring for a total of 650 rupees or about $14 U.S. We took a train from New Delhi to Agra and continued on to Jodphur. For more information about train travel in India, check out seat61.com.
Daily Budget: As always in India, the daily budget it pretty low. The total, for two people, including train to Agra, transportation within the city, hotel and all meals was $23.97 U.S. for 4 nights and 5 days.
Tips: Tripods ARE allowed at the daytime viewing of the Taj Mahal, but only with previously obtained permission from the Archeological Survey of India. Otherwise, leave them at your hotel because they WILL find them. Tripods are NOT allowed for any reason at the night viewing. Neither are video cameras. Food is not allowed and the guards ate my blueberry Clif Bar.
Your tickets to the Taj serve as discount coupons for other area sites. In other words, they will charge you more without the Taj Tickets. The actual price is printed on each entry ticket, but they will jack it up if you don’t present your “coupon.” So, keep it and keep it with you. They are only valid on the day of use at the Taj.