I had been planning for years to visit Agra, mainly to get to see the beautiful Taj Mahal. I finally made the trip this summer. We spent only one night here and so there isn’t that much to write about beyond the basic and must do Agra sightseeing.
Though I must admit, I was expecting Agra to be a much larger megapolis, guess I was wrong. It still has the heart of a typical Indian town.
Isn’t this the most obvious reason the world visits this city. We chose to hire a guide for this visit. Our driver, who was with us for the entire duration of our North India tour managed to get a guide for us who joined us much before we reached the final destination, making the ticket booking etc very easy.
The car leaves you at the booking entrance from where you need to go ahead on an electric vehicle. This is done to preserve the integrity of the monument’s marble. The entire process was very well handled with enough English speaking assistance, (for those who may not understand any Indian Language).
The monument itself is an architectural beauty. As you walk through the main entrance the Taj seems suspended in Air with nothing the background to interrupt your line of sight. I however found the crowds and the insane selfie obsession killing the serenity of the place.
There are a number of people who try to get you to take photos in front of the Taj. The only thing they do is take your image and then superimpose it on a perfect Taj backdrop. I chose to stay away from this.
You are given two plastic bags per individual and you have to wear these over your shoes to avoid taking in dirt into the monument. I however found that by the time I came out the bags had torn, defeating their very purpose.
The queue to enter was long and winded through the whole building. There is a VIP queue giving direct access and those tickets are priced at around Rs 700. The tombs itself are right as you enter and the crowd here is also huge. There are a lot of security guards egging you on and making sure that you get out quickly. Again, this takes away from the magnificence of the place. I remember visiting the Taj over 25 years ago and we were allowed to go down to the lower level, where the real tombs are. These are now out of bounds. The tombs at the main level are replicas of the lower level tombs.
We took around 1 ½ hours to complete the whole tour. There is also a Taj by moonlight tour that you can book online only. This needs to be done at least 24 hours in advance and is only open for 4 days in the month, around the full moon day. You also need to note that the Taj is closed on Fridays. We missed this even though we were there on a full moon night. Again you need to remember that this allows you only upto the viewing platform in the garden and not right upto the monument. There are only 400 people allowed every night – 8 groups of 50. Each group gets only 30 minutes starting at 8.30 and closing post mid night.
Every tour guide will try his best to take you to one of the numerous marble workshops around Agra. We went to one such workshop where you can see the artisans busy at work. The showrooms are huge and there are artifacts starting from around Rs 1000 to well into 5 digit numbers. These places are worth a look, just to marvel at the art, however you may find them a tad expensive.
Our second and last destination in Agra was the Agra Fort. We again got a guide here and he showed us around the fort. The place is beautiful and open and the crowds are more dispersed as there are a lot of areas of interest.
What awed me the most was the scale and the engineering finese that was exhibited with such beauty. I think this is a must do whenever you visit this city.
I feel I could have given this itenarary some more time as I would have loved to walk the market streets and sample the local fare. I also feel that you need to add a few hours to your total plans since the crowds are tiring.
Hiring a local guide helps, however the guides themselves are so caught up in finishing their prepared spiel that they get insulted if you want to move faster. Its best if you give the guide a heads up on how much detail you would like to get into each time.