Agra is a city located in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India, some 200 kilometers away from Delhi. It is famous for the magnificent Taj Mahal that is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. However, there are many other places of interest located in this medieval city that has been a witness to many historical events. No trip to India is complete without a visit to this place that houses the Taj Mahal and other monuments and palaces of historical importance. The city itself has lost most of its charm; partly due to the shifting of the Mughal Empire to Delhi and partly due to negligence on the part of the government. Even though it is a second tier city that is plagued by pollution and filth, the monuments and palaces have been well preserved and protected.
How to reach Agra
Located 200 kilometers or approximately 100 miles from Delhi, this city is one of the important points in the tourist’s triangle of Agra-Delhi-Jaipur. The city is well connected by Air to Delhi and there are regular flights by Kingfisher Airlines and Air India Regional. The city is also well connected to other major cities in India by railroad. There are daily trains from cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai since this city lies on the main train line on Delhi- Chennai and Delhi-Mumbai routes. There are almost 20 trains from Agra to Delhi everyday and the city itself has three railway stations. Moreover at least four trains connect this city to Mumbai and Chennai on a daily basis. The city is also connected to Delhi by road and it takes around three to five hours to reach this city from Delhi by using roads. The city is connected to Delhi by National Highway number 2 and is connected to Jaipur and Lucknow by NH 11 and NH 2 respectively.
Getting around Agra
Getting around the city is easy as there are a limited number of tourist attractions in Agra; furthermore, rickshaws, taxis, and cycle-rickshaws are ubiquitous. Car rental agencies are also available and charge approximately INR 1000 per day for 12 hours. However, if the booking is done through a hotel then the expense may increase. Moreover, traditional gas burning vehicles are not allowed near the Taj and people have to use electric rickshaws and other electric transport to reach the monument.
What to see in Agra.
The top two attractions of Agra are the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort; many people just come here to see the Taj Mahal. However, there are some other attractions that the city has to offer including the fort, various tombs, gardens, and temples. It is easy to spend a complete day absorbing the beauty of Taj Mahal and it will take a couple of days to take in all the attractions that this city proffers.
The magnificent mausoleum was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. The literal translation of Taj Mahal is ‘Crown Palace’ which was given because of the name Mumtaz Mahal which means ‘Ornament of the palace’. The breathtaking structure of Taj Mahal is made up of white marble and has intricate carvings and passages in Arabic from the Koran. The edifice was completed in the year 1653, almost 21 years after the foundation was laid for the mausoleum and 22 years since Mumtaz Mahal died. The exterior calligraphy was created by a Persian calligrapher named Amanat Khan. The name is still present beneath the writings of the Quran – Written by the insignificant being Amanat Khan Shirazi. The interiors were once adorned with precious and semi precious stones which were later defaced and plundered by many people including the British.
The Agra Fort is only 2.5 kilometers away, northwest of the Taj Mahal and was the home of almost all the Mughal emperors in India. The fort was also a prison for Shah Jahan in last eight years of his life when his son Aurangzeb put him under house arrest. It is open to visitors and it is possible to roam around inside it to admire the intricate architecture and the breathtaking view of the Taj Mahal. The fort is completely intact and well preserved so it is possible to see where Shah Jahan spent most of his time. The House of Lords and the House of Commons is one of the main attractions apart from the balcony from which the Taj Mahal is clearly visible. Unlike the Taj, the fort is made of red sandstone and has many monuments, mosques, and gardens inside it.
Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar and is now a declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The architecture of Fatehpur Sikri is the epitome of Mughal art and has been given significant importance by many contemporary architects and artists. There are numerous buildings inside the palace including mosques, tombs, small lakes, the house of private audience and the house of public audience. The largest gateway in the world called Buland Darwaza (gate of magnificence) is located here in Fatehpur Sikri. The gate is 53.63 meters high and 35 meters wide; made up of red sandstone and white marbles inside, the gateway has a typical Mughal look. Another unique structure is the Panch Mahal (five storied palace) that provided a place for the royal ladies to rest and enjoy the breeze and the stunning view of the city from the top. The house of the famous grand vizier of Akbar, Raja Birbal is also located here; Birbal was known for his close proximity to Akbar due to his sharp wit and wisdom.
Tomb Of Akbar
The tomb of the Mughal Emperor Akbar is also located near Agra and is spread over 119 acres of land. The tomb is located at a place called Sikandara and was constructed by Akbar himself according to Tartary tradition. It was later completed by his son Jehangir upon the death of Akbar. The tomb is located on grounds that are precisely 690 m square in area and has four gates with central water channels representing the four rivers of paradise. The tomb itself is a four tiered pyramidal structure with a false tomb in it; the real tomb lies in the basement as is the case with any Mughal tomb. The edifice is built using red sandstone and white marble in some places. Surrounded by a wall that is 105 meters square, the tombs architecture pre-dates that of the Taj Mahal which has some similarities with this structure.
This is a garden located five kilometers from the Taj and is one of the oldest Mughal gardens in India. Constructed by Nur Jahan, the wife of Jehangir the garden is also called Aram Bagh, roughly meaning a garden for resting. It has many fountains and water bodies and was also the place where Babur was temporarily buried before being relocated to Kabul in Afghanistan. However, most of the original garden is in ruins and only some part of it is still preserved.
Where to stay in Agra
Usually it is possible to take in all the attractions that the city has to offer in one day and there is no need for an overnight stay. However, if you plan on staying here to enjoy the beauty of the Taj for an extended period of time then some of the better hotels are Tridant Agra [Ph: +91 562 2331818], Mansingh Palace Hotel [Ph: +91 22 66181940], Oberoi Amarvilas [Ph: +91 562 231515 (recommended)], and Hotel Clarks Shiraz [Ph: (+91-562) 2226121 – 27]. It is possible to get cheaper and budget accommodation in Agra but it is not recommended since the service is usually not impeccable.