Agra is the city of The Taj Mahal, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, about 200 km from Delhi, the capital of India. The city has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri roughly 40 km away from the city.
There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra’s days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.
The sites are some of the wonders of the world and no trip to India is complete without at least one visit to the Taj Mahal.
Photo: The Taj Mahal made entirely from the ivory white marbles / CC0
Story of Agra
While Agra’s heyday was as the capital of the Mughal Empire between 1526 and 1658, the city was founded much earlier. The earliest reference to Agra is in the ancient epic, the Mahabharata, while Ptolemy was the first person to call it by its modern name.
The modern recorded history of Agra begins around the 11th century, and over the next 500 years, the city changed hands between various kings, both Hindu and Muslim.
In 1506, Sultan Sikandar Lodi, the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, moved his capital from Delhi to Agra. His son Ibrahim Lodi was the last ruler of the Lodi dynasty, as he was defeated in 1526 by Babur, the first Mughal ruler, in the battle of Panipat. Afterward, Agra became the capital of the Mughals, whose rule over Agra was uninterrupted until the British rule of India.
Story of Taj Mahal
Mughals were great builders. Babur built the Aram Bagh (garden of relaxation) modeled after the garden of paradise, where he was eventually buried after his death.
His grandson Akbar refurbished the Agra Fort and built the Fatehpur Sikri, an entire city just on the outskirts of Agra.
Akbar’s grandson Shah Jehan would give Agra its most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, which is the mausoleum of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj is constructed in ivory white marble. It took 20 years to construct and is now universally known as a monument to love.
Legend has it that Shah Jehan wanted a replica of the Taj constructed in black marble that would be his final resting place.
There is no support for this theory, but even if it were true, it would have been unlikely to be undertaken.
Photo: Mosque inside the Taj Mahal Complex / CC0
Things To Do In Agra
The Taj Mahal
Photo: Romantic Sunset at The Taj / The Art of Travel Partners
Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Indian Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaj.
Taj Mahal means Crown Palace and it is one of the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tombs in the world. It’s fair to state that The Taj is one of the finest masterpieces of Indo-Islamic architecture and one of the world’s great heritage sites.
Photo: The Magnificent Taj / The Art of Travel Partners
For a detailed listing of things to do, please read The Taj Mahal Travel Guide.
Agra Fort is similar in layout to the Red Fort in Delhi, but considerably better preserved, as much of Delhi Fort was razed by the British after the Mutiny. As much a palace as a defensive structure, it is also constructed mainly from red sandstone and much white marble in the palace section of the fort.
Photo: Agra Fort /The Art of Travel Partners
Emperor Akbar, king at 14, began consolidating his empire and, as an assertion of his power built the fort in Agra between 1565 and 1571, at the same time as Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. Emperor Shah Jahan added to the fort and ended up a prisoner in it. The fort has a beautiful view of his masterpiece, the Taj Mahal, on a clear day.
You can get to the Agra fort by Rickshaw from Taj Mahal in about 10-15 min. There is an entry fee.
Eating and drinking inside the Fort are not allowed.
Pro Tip: There are also audio guides available at Agra Fort which you can rent (for a few dollars) for English and as well as other languages (German, French, Spanish, Hindi, Bengali, etc.)
The Mughal garden, Mehatab Bagh is opposite the Taj Mahal. There is an octagonal pool that is placed at the center of the garden, which lets visitors see an amazing reflection of Taj Mahal during moonlight.
The garden was originally built in 16th century by Emperor Babur and it is also referred to as “Moonlight Garden”.
These botanical gardens also give you an opportunity to view the Taj without the crowds of tourists.
Photo: Local kids playing in Mehtab Bagh / CC0
Walk past the entrance and straight to the sandy banks of the river: the view of the Taj is every bit as lovely (perhaps more so, since the barbed wire fence surrounding the gardens will be behind you), although you may have to deal with aggressive touts.
A 10 day festival of art, craft, and culture at Shilpgram, near the Taj Mahal. This is an annual event usually held in February or March.
Pro Tip: Do not rely on private luxury buses and travel agencies as they are very expensive and may drop you to your destination late. They’ll also tell you that the bus is direct to the destination but in reality, it’s not.
Ram Bagh (Aram Bagh)
The first Mughal gardens, built by the first Mughal Emperor Babar, 500 m North of the Chini Ka Rauza.
Located 10 km north of Agra, the white marble samadhi of the Radha Soami religion. Construction started in 1904 and is not expected to be completed until sometime in the next century.
Visitors can see pietra dura inlaid marblework actually being worked on. Soami Bagh is 2 km north of Agra and can be reached by bus or cycle.
Fatehpur Sikri ghost city is a UNESCO world heritage site about 40 km from Agra.
Photo: Fatehpur, a UNESCO Site / The Art of Travel Partners
Built in the 16th century by Emperor Akbar, the “City of Victory” was the capital of the Mughal Empire for a brief decade and later abandoned due to inadequate local water supplies and proximity to the Rajputana areas in the North-West, which were increasingly in turmoil.
It includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid. Full of well-preserved palaces and courtyards, it is a must see for anyone visiting Agra.
Entry to the site (even to the yard) is only without wearing footwear.
Note: The vehicle parking is about a kilometer away but the good news is the Agra Development Authority (ADA) runs buses to the site entrance.
Bharatpur is about 56 km from Agra and houses the famous bird sanctuary in which you can see thousands of rare birds including Siberian Crane. The Lohagarh Fort remained invincible despite several attacks by the British.
Just 32 km from Bharatpur is the Deeg Palace. This strong and massive fort was the summer resort of the rulers of Bharatpur and has many palaces and gardens.
Lath Mar Holi
Nandgaon springs into action every year around March for the festival of Holi, when many tourists flock to the city for the famous “lath mar holi”.
Nandgaon was the home of Shri Krishna`s foster father, Nand. On the top of the hill is the spacious temple of Nand Rai, built by the Hat ruler Roop Singh.
National Chambal Sanctuary
Located 70 km from Agra, it is a natural sanctuary and the home of the endangered Indian gharial (a relative of the crocodile) and of the Ganges River Dolphin (also endangered).
How Many Days
Besides the top three sites as mentioned above, the city has little else to recommend it. For the vast majority of visitors, a single day in Agra is more than enough.
Pollution, especially smog and litter, is rampant and visitors are pestered by swarms of touts and hawkers at every monument, besides the inner Taj Mahal which, once you are in, is free of scams and touts.
How To Get Here
After arriving at the Delhi International Airport, you can take a train to Agra. There are around 20 trains every day connecting the two cities. Besides the train, there are also buses that will transport you between the cities.
Do not trust travel agencies or luxury buses because many of them are frauds. If you do not like public transportation, then you can hire a taxi to take you from Delhi to Agra.
Best Time To Visit
India is in the tropics, which means it witnesses scorching summers and freezing winters. For those who prefer to avoid extreme temperatures, the best time to visit will be between November-March.
During these months there is little to no rainfall, and the temperatures are pleasant. December and January can be cold, but if you are from a cold country, the temperature will still seem mild to you.
The below safety tips will work everywhere in India. Practice common sense and you’ll be fine.
- Don’t leave cash or any valuables in the hotel room. Cross check all hotel, restaurant and lounge bills for errors.
- Never pay anyone for anything upfront, including taxi drivers.
- Beware of pickpockets.
- If you are purchase anything on that street side that says branded or pure leather, beware that most likely these items are cheap replicas of the original and not likely to last long.
- During the winter season, the weather of Agra is unpredictable and temperature may go as low as freezing; be well prepared.
- Some unscrupulous dealers of carpets use the classic ‘bait and switch’. If you buy something, insist on carrying it yourself else what arrives in the post might not be what you bargained for.
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December 22, 2018 7:06 pm