Agra

Located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in India, Agra is famous for the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is also home to several other historical sites and landmarks, including the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, both of which are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In addition to its historical and cultural significance, Agra is also known for its handicrafts, particularly leather goods and marble products.

Getting There

Agra is connected to both New Delhi and Jaipur by road and by train. I recommend getting into Agra in the early afternoon from either New Delhi or Jaipur by road, and staying overnight before travelling onward.

Where to Stay

Agra offers hotels for all budgets. If you are looking for a decent budget hotel, Hotel Crystal Inn will place you within walking distance of the Taj Mahal. If you’re keen to stay at a more upmarket place, I would definitely recommended the ITC Mughal. I have stayed at both hotels, and if I were to do it again, I would stay at at the ITC Mughal in a hearbeat.

Getting Around

Agra offers plenty of transport. However, I recommend getting your own vehicle with a driver. Your hotel will be able to set you up.

Recommended Itinerary

Agra can be toured in a day as a day trip, but it is best done with an overnight stay, either from New Delhi or Jaipur. All monuments in Agra are open from sunrise to sunset.

In addition, the Taj Mahal is closed on a Friday. There is a functioning mosque on the grounds where Friday prayers are held for Muslims.

I recommend the following itinerary:

Day 1:

  • Agra Fort
  • Taj Mahal at Sunset

Day 2

  • Taj Mahal at Sunrise
  • Mehtab Bagh
  • Sikandra
  • Fatehpur Sikri

Day 1

When you get into Agra in the early afternoon, make Agra Fort your first stop.

It is two and a half kilometres down the road from the Taj Mahal, upstream on the Yamuna, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I found the Agra Fort is much larger than New Delhi’s Red Fort. Unlike the Red Fort, where several Mughal structures have been torn down by the British, Agra Fort still has most of its Mughal architecture intact.

The fort opens at 8:00am. The entry fee for foreign nationals is INR250 (about US$5) and INR10 (about US$0.20) for Indian Citizens.

The fort is a true walled city. The history behind the origins of this fort is somewhat unclear – having been lost in time. The first mention of this fort in historical records is from 1080AD. The fort passed into the hands of the Mughals following the battle of Panipat in 1526, and along with it, the vast treasures that were held within, including a diamond known as the Kohinoor. At the time, it was the largest known diamond in the world. It has since been cut, and part of it now rests in the crown of the monarch of England and is part of the British Crown Jewels.

Allow yourself around 2 hours to fully take in Agra Fort.

From here, make your way to the Taj Mahal. Bear in mind that the Taj Mahal closes at sunset. Allow yourself sufficient time to get to the Taj Mahal before it closes its gates.

The Taj opens its gates to visitors at 6:00am every morning. While its grounds remain open to 7:00pm, entry to further visitors closes at 5:00pm. It is closed to visitors on Fridays as the mosque within its grounds is used by the local Muslim population for their Friday morning prayers.

One can also view the Taj Mahal at night two nights before, on, and two nights after a full moon, except during the month of Ramadan. The grounds are open between 8:30pm and 12:30am for a viewing in the light of the moon. These tickets are sold 24 hours in advance from the office of the Archaeological Survey of India on Mall Road in Agra and are in high demand.

Entrance to the Taj Mahal is dearer than other Indian monuments. Foreigners are charged INR250 (about US$5) for entry during the day, and INR750 (US$15) for night time entry. Indian nationals are charged INR20 (about 40 US cents) for daytime entry and INR500 (about US$10) for night time entry.

The Taj Mahal has been affected by the local pollution. While the Archaeological Survey of India has been conducting intense restoration, the Government of India has implemented a strict emissions control zone of approximately 10,000 square kilometres around the site.  As a result, fossil-fuelled vehicles are only permitted to within a kilometre of the entry gates to designated car parks.

From thereon, one may either walk (about 10 minutes), or use the services of a cycle rickshaw or an electric tuk-tuk. The round trip usually costs about INR200 (about US$4).

As one approaches the Taj, it is commonplace for local touts and souvenir sellers to want to chat you up, and offer to be helpful. My recommendation is that you walk straight past them and head past the entrance gates as quickly as you can, without engaging in much conversation.

Day 2

Start your day by visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise.

Lots of tourists have the same idea about visiting the Taj at sunrise. Nonetheless, it is relatively quiet at this hour. By 10:00am, this site will be teeming with tourists.

Once done here, make your way across the Yamuna to Mehtab Bagh.

Access to the Mehtab Bagh site costs INR100 (about US$2) for foreigners and INR5 (about 20 US cents) for Indian nationals. Legend has it that the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan had planned to build a replica of the Taj Mahal across it on the opposite banks of the Yamuna. The site at Mehtab Bagh has what appear to be foundations of this project that never came to realization. This is the perfect spot to capture a view of the Taj Mahal in its entirety.

From here, make your way to Sikandra.

Sikandra is the Tomb of the third Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great. It is open from sunrise to sunset. Entry to the site is priced at INR100 (about US$2) for foreign nationals, and INR10 (or about US$0.20) for Indian nationals.

Among the tombs of the Emperors of the 16th through to the 18th centuries of India, Sikandra is among the most elegant, best preserved and most well maintained.

Similar to Humayun’s tomb, Sikandra is a complex that is surrounded by massive gardens in the traditional square Mughal layout, with the tomb placed at the intersection of the paths that divide the gardens into four quadrants.

The gardens are home to the native deer of the region which freely roam among the well-manicured lawns.