Agra

Agra is the city of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from Delhi.

Agra has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri 40km away. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra's days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.

Besides these three sites, the city has little else to recommend it. Pollution, especially smog and litter, is rampant and travellers 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. That said, 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. For the vast majority of visitors, a single day in Agra is more than enough.

Understand

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 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. Agra fell too, and became the capital of the Mughals, whose rule over Agra was uninterrupted except for a brief period between 1540 and 1556. In 1540, Sher Shah Shuri overthrew Humayun became the ruler of much of North India, including Agra. After Sher Shah Suri's death his descendants proved unequal to the task of ruling the kingdom, and Hemu, a Hindu general of Suri became the effective ruler who would later crown himself King Hemachandra Vikramaditya just as the kingdom was facing an assault from the reinvigorated Mughals. In 1556, Hemu would be defeated and killed in the second battle of Panipat, and the Mughals regained Agra.

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. He also renamed Agra after himself, and the city was known as Akbarabad while it was in Mughal hands. 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 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 actual support for this theory, but even if it were true, it would have been unlikely to be eventuated. His son Aurangzeb was austere and pious, and had no time or inclination for the ostentation of his forefathers, preferring to spend his money on wars in South India. In any case, even during Shah Jehan's reign, which was the period when the Mughal empire was at its height, the construction of the Taj put a strain on the resources of the empire and caused a min-famine around Agra. Shah Jehan was eventually buried in the white Taj, next to his beloved Begum.

Shah Jehan, in addition to giving Agra its greatest claim to fame, was also responsible for beginning its decline, as decided to shift his capital to Shahjehanabad, which we now know as Old Delhi, in 1658. Though Aurangzeb ordered a move back, this too was short lived, as he moved his headquarters down south to Aurangabad to be focus on his wars. Agra declined, and so did the Mughal Empire. The city was eventually captured by the Marathas, who renamed it back to Agra. In 1803, it came under the British, who situated the Agra Presidency there, and when India gained independence, the city was incorporated into the state of Uttar Pradesh, and did not gain even the limited honour of being the state's capital, that distinction going to Lucknow, further east. It is now a tourist town, known for the Taj and a couple of other monuments.

Anyone interested in reading a novel based on the remarkable story behind the Taj Mahal's creation should consider Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath a Marble Sky is an international bestseller, has won multiple awards, and is being made into a movie by Hollywood. Other book (historical fiction) is The Taj by Colin De Silva.

Get in

Agra is 200 km southeast from Delhi and is one of the points of the tourist's Golden Triangle of Agra-Delhi-Jaipur. Agra is also very well connected via rail and road with other nearby cities and tourist destinations and thus suitable for a day trip from Delhi or as a stop among a larger itinerary.

By plane

Service to Agra's Kheria Airport (IATA: AGR) is seasonal. Currently, the city is served by Air India Regional, which flies on the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur tourist triangle route. Agra is one of the very famous cities in India and well connected through air route to all other major cities in India. The flight time to either is less than an hour. Hiring a car may be a cheaper alternative.

By train

Agra is on the main train line between the Delhi-Mumbai (Bombay) and Delhi-Chennai routes, and many trains connect Agra with these cities every day. Some east-bound trains from Delhi also travel via Agra, so direct connections to points in Eastern India (including Kolkata) are also available. There are close to 20 trains to Delhi every day, and at least three or four to both Mumbai and Chennai. Agra and Delhi are notorious for their thick winter fog which reduces visibility to almost zero. If travelling in late December or early January (the fog season), travellers should be aware that, because of the reduced visibility, all trains slow down and travel time goes up. The Bhopal Shatabdi, for example, may arrive in Agra well after 10:00, and might return to Delhi well after midnight. From a safety point of view, it is always preferable to travel by train during the winters. Driving in fog on the road is very risky.

Train tickets can be booked online through India Railways paying by debit or credit card. Once one is at Agra station could hire UP tourism conducted tours on air-conditioned luxury coaches. Also, organized tours are available from Delhi. If you travel during the high season, you must book your tickets a few days to a few weeks in advance if you wish to make it a day trip, i.e. traveling early in the morning and coming back at a reasonable time at night.

Stations

There are three stations in Agra:

This is one of the historical railway stations of Agra because there was a spacious, octagonal Tripolia Chowk which existed between the Jama Masjid and the Delhi gate of the Agra Fort. This Tropolia was destroyed in order to create the Agra Fort Railway Station, which was also the first Railway Station of Agra and also one of the oldest in the country.

Lines

Also train number 2965 from Agra Cantonment to Jaipur at 17:40. The train arrives at 22:15. ₹300 air-con carriage.

By bus

There are several buses to Agra originating from Jaipur, Delhi, Ajmer, Lucknow etc.

From Delhi

There is a newly built highway between Delhi and Agra, however since this highway has a toll, most buses do not take it. Rather, they take the local roads, which makes the trip significantly longer than the express trains (4-5 hr). It is possible to make it by bus and minibus to Agra by the smaller roads, however you must ask around where the buses to Agra depart from, preferably from a trusted local or the staff at your hotel/hostel. Be aware that Indian "bus stations" are most of the time either large pavement areas situated under flyovers, very crowded and without no further indications of which bus goes where or stands of private bus companies, which will offer a more comfortable trip at a higher price. This option is for the ones who feel adventurous, as your journey can be halted by a sudden breakdown of the bus or a road closure due to a local protest or other form of gathering. Note that this is by far the cheapest way to get to Agra, as it should not cost more than ₹60 the normal "bus" and ₹200 for a more coach-type bus.

From Agra

There are three interstate bus stands:

If you wish to travel with these buses which are government run, you must insist to your rickshaw driver that he gets you there. If you only ask for the buses to Delhi, he will probably take you to a private bus company, from which he gets a cut. It will be slightly more expensive for you and these buses tend to stop at random places and drop you at random places as well, as these buses are not direct.

By taxi

You can either book a taxi from hotel or directly book one outside the railway station. There is usually a government authorised taxi stand, however it may be hard to find and the locals present at the station (looking for gullible tourists) will not help you find it. ₹950/day for 8 hours. It maybe more costly to book through hotel as hotels do have their in the fares. It is better to negotiate with the driver directly or book trough some online car rental portal.

Cars are not allowed near the Taj Complex, but the rest of Agra is easily discovered by car.

By car

NH2 Highway: The primary access to the highway is along Mathura Road in Delhi but, if coming from South Delhi or Delhi Airport, it is easier to take Aurobindo Marg (Mehrauli Road) and then work up to NH2 via Tughlakabad. While the highway is divided, it is important to keep an eye out for trucks, cars, and bullock carts heading the wrong way. It is possible to hire a car with a driver (a big car for five persons from/to the Delhi airport costs ₹3,500). But beware, if you need to get from Agra to the airport in order to catch a flight, ensure you have plenty of time for the trip, as traffic conditions may increase the drive time significantly. Also, it is wise to know your driver. There are situations when he may take over five hours to cover the distance, and you cannot force him to drive any faster than an autorickshaw (tuk-tuk).

Get around

Tongas, electric buses and electric tempos are readily available, and the best way to get to the Taj where no cars are allowed. Auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws are available every where, remember to agree on fares clearly in advance. In case you are a foreigner, please ensure that you bargain everywhere and bargain hard! Generally things are available at 40% of the initially quoted fares. In recent time, Tempos are replaced by Auto-rickshaws, which mainly run on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas).

UP State Road Transport Corporation runs some non-air conditioned and air conditioned buses but those run only on specific routes. The best way to experience the city is to take a walk on the Mall Road (Sadar). The street is full of handicraft and leather goods shops. You will also find plenty of food items quite unique to the city. Indian palate is generally very spicy. Have some antacid tablets in case you are not used to spicy foods.

As polluting vehicles are strictly banned around Taj Mahal, one need to rely on Tanga (Tonga) or electric autos while travelling in the range of Taj Mahal. Camels are also available. As a guide, an auto rickshaw from Agra Cantonement station to the Taj Mahal is about ₹80 (at least in off season); and a cycle rickshaw from the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort is ₹40. You can also walk between the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, in about 30 minutes.

See

The Taj Mahal

Agra's top two sights by far are the incomparable Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. When planning your sightseeing, take heed of the convoluted entry fee system: for Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Itmud-ad-Daulah, Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri, you must pay a ₹500 levy to the Agra Development Authority in addition to the prices mentioned below. Once paid, the levy is valid for all sights, but only for one day. However, If you are not going to the Taj Mahal or happen to turn up on a Friday, then you do not have to pay the ₹500 levy but a smaller one if you are going to the other sites e.g. ₹50 for Red Fort.

Prices

Prices (June 2012) are: ₹750 for Taj Mahal (₹250 entrance + ₹500 levy) and ₹300 for Agra Fort (₹250 entrance + ₹50 levy). One gets ₹50 discount when presenting ticket for Taj Mahal at Agra Fort. The Taj Mahal entry fee also includes a 500 ml bottle of water and shoe covers. Make sure you pick them up when you buy your ticket.

Official Guides

Official guides are available for Agra for ₹900 (approx USD20) for a half day (including Taj Mahal & Agra Fort). Ask at your hotel for details. Any guide that charges less than that is probably an unlicensed tout. Most unlicensed touts have fake IDs and focus more on taking you shopping rather than on presenting accurate information.

Audio Guides

In April 2011 the Archaeological Survey of India introduced an official self-guided audio tour (₹105 in English & foreign languages or ₹63 in Hindi & Indian languages) which allows visitors to experience the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort at their own pace with authentic and factually accurate information. The official audio guide booth is near the monument ticket counters. Apps for self-guided tours are also available for iPhone and Android.

Taj Mahal

Rules and Regulations at the Taj Mahal

Security is tight and rules and regulations are very important and must be followed at the Taj Mahal. There are many rules to be followed at the premises of the monument to maintain the holiness of the monument and other rules are mostly for the maintenance and protection of the monument. Remaining rules and regulations are to be followed for the protection of all the tourists visiting the Taj Mahal.

•Arms, ammunition, fire, smoking items, tobacco products, alcohol, food, chewing gum, headphones, knives, wire, mobile charger, electric goods (except video camera) such as camera tripods, MP3 and music players are prohibited inside the Taj Mahal complex.

•Playing cards, games, dice, etc. may be prohibited depending on the guard.

•Mobile phones are allowed but must to be kept switched off. Mobile phones are banned for the night viewing of the Taj Mahal.

•Eating and smoking is strictly prohibited inside the Taj Mahal complex.

•Lockers are available at the gates to keep your belongings (of course, at your own risk). Memorise the number on your luggage ticket before you return it to the guard, who, incredibly, may proceed to tear it into tiny pieces, throw it away and then stare blankly at you as the other guard asks for your ticket.

•Avoid carrying big bags and books inside the monument as this may increase your security check time.

•Video camera (handicam) is allowed up to the red sand stone platform at the main entrance gate of the Taj Mahal complex. There is a charge of ₹25 per video camera.

•Photography is prohibited inside the main mausoleum, and visitors are requested not to make noise inside the mausoleum.

•Tourists must co-operate in keeping the monument neat and clean by making use of dustbins.

•Avoid touching and scratching the walls and surfaces of the monument as these are old heritage sites that need special care.

•Tourists are advised to hire official audio guides available at the ASI ticket counter or to use only approved guides and photographers who exhibit their identity cards.

•Tourists are allowed to carry a water bottle inside the monument. Shoe covers, 1/2 litre water bottle and Tourist Guide Map of Agra are provided free with the foreigner's entry ticket for the Taj Mahal.

•Wheelchairs for disabled persons and First Aid Boxes are available at A.S.I. Office inside the Taj Mahal complex. A refundable charge of ₹1000 is to be deposited as security before wheelchairs are made available for the disabled.

•Video cameras are permitted after the security check during night viewing of the Taj Mahal, though extra batteries are prohibited.

•The Taj Mahal is a religious site. It is best to dress conservatively when visiting the Taj Mahal complex, not only because the Taj Mahal itself is a mausoleum, but also because there are mosques inside the Taj Mahal complex.

Grand Entrance Building to the Taj Mahal Complex
Gate to the Taj Mahal Complex showing intricate work and Quranic passages in Arabic
Agra Fort, as seen from the Taj Mahal

Please note that the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday

The   Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife. Taj Mahal means Crown Palace; one of the wife's names was Mumtaz Mahal, Ornament of the Palace. The Taj is one of the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tombs in the world, one of the masterpieces of Indian Muslim architecture and one of the great sites of the world's heritage.

The Taj Mahal has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called it a teardrop on the cheek of eternity, while the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, said it was Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor's love wrought in living stones. It is a celebration of woman built in marble and that is the way to appreciate it.

Although it is one of the most photographed edifices in the world and instantly recognisable, actually seeing it is awe-inspiring. Not everything is in the photos. The grounds of the complex include several other beautiful buildings, reflecting pools, and extensive ornamental gardens with flowering trees and bushes, and a small gift shop. The Taj framed by trees and reflected in a pool is amazing. Close up, large parts of the building are covered with inlaid stonework.

There is an apocryphal tale that Shah Jahan planned to build an exact copy out of black marble on the opposite side of the river. His plans were foiled by his son, who murdered three elder brothers and overthrew his father to acquire the throne. Shah Jahan is now buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal.

Because the Taj is white, your camera may underexpose your photos. Overexposure by 1 or 2 stops is recommended.

The Taj is open from 06:00 to 19:30 every day except Friday. Entry costs ₹250 (plus levy of ₹500) for foreigners and ₹20 for Indians. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds, and plan to visit the Taj at least two different times during the day (dusk and dawn are best) in order to experience the full effect of changing sunlight on the amazing building. It is also utterly stunning under a full moon.

To buy tickets, you can go to the south gate, but this gate is 1 km far away of the entrance and the counter open at 08:00. At the west and east gate, the counter open at 06:00. Alongside the ticket counter, you can also purchase a self-guided audio tour (allows two to a device) for ₹100 in English and foreign languages and ₹60 for Indian languages.

The Taj is located pretty much in the middle of town. Expect a line to get into the grounds. There are three gates. The western gate is the main gate where most tourists enter. A large number of people turn up on weekends and public holidays and entry through the western gate may take hours. The southern and eastern gates are much less busy and should be tried on such days.

There are night viewing sessions on the nights of a full moon and the two days before and after (so five days in total). Exceptions are Fridays (the Muslim sabbath) and the month of Ramadan. Tickets must be purchased 24 hours in advance, starting at 10:00, but do not always sell out, so it can be worth looking into it when you arrive even if well after 10:00. Tickets only allow viewing from the red sandstone plaza at the south end of the complex, and only for a 1/2 hour window.

Make sure to wear mosquito repellent.

It is a good idea to bring a torch, because the interior of the Taj Mahal is quite dark even during the day and to fully appreciate the details of the gem inlays, you need a good light.

Taj Mahal can also be seen during night 2 days before and 2 days after the full moon. In all 5 days including full moon, the booking has to be made 24 hours in advance from the Archaeological Society of India office situated at 22, Mall Road, Agra. Ticket fare is ₹500 for Indian Nationals and ₹750 for Non Indians. The viewing hours for night viewing are 20:30 to 21:00 and 09:00 to 21:30. A visitor must arrive 30 min prior to viewing hours for security check at the Taj Mahal Ticketing counter at the East Gate. The night view is likely not worth spending the money as the visitors are kept far from the Taj Mahal (nearly 200 metres away) and there is insufficient light for viewing or photography.

Entering the palace within Agra Fort

Agra Fort

The Taj and the Yamuna River from the ramparts of Agra Fort

  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 as palace as a defensive structure, it is also constructed mainly from red sandstone.

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 fort by Rickshaw from Taj Mahal for around ₹25-30. Entry to the fort is ₹250 plus a levy of ₹50 if you have not already paid the ₹500 fee for Taj Mahal.

There are left luggage services at Agra Fort where you can stow your bags at no cost. A fine of ₹5,000 applies if you lose your luggage ticket.

There are also audio guides available at Agra Fort which you can rent for a cost of ₹100 in English and other foreign languages (German, French, Spanish, etc.) or ₹60 in Indian languages such as Hindi or Bengali.

Gardens

Temples

Other sights

Mariam's Tomb
The antechamber to Akbar's tomb at Sikandra

Do

Buy

Agra has many shops selling stone products, from jewellery to small boxes and plaques with inlay work resembling that on the Taj. The best of these are wonderful, and even the run-of-the-mill ones are rather pretty. Agra is also famous for its leather goods. Consider spending time in Sadar Bazaar for some shopping and cheap food.

Beware of being overcharged. Do not let anyone lead you to a shop, lest the price go up to cover their commission, typically 50%. Be very wary of the promises these people make. Bargain hard. Be prepared to walk away, you can nearly always get the same items in another shop or order items you liked during your visit over the Internet after you return. Expect to encounter petty and greedy shopowners who will resort to every lie in the book to make a sale (with initial markups of 1,000-10,000%).

There are many local markets: Sadar Bazar. a sophisticated market, Raja ki Mandi market, Sanjay Place for all the offices, Shah Market for electronics. All of these markets are situated along the M G Road. Hospital Road Market and Subhash Bazar for clothing situated near Agra Fort railway station. Rawatpara market is for spices of all origin. Besides these there are many branded showrooms situated along the M G Road.

Many wholesale marble products are available at Gokul Pura Market near Raja Mandi (this place is near M. G. Road) which can be easily reached by auto rickshaw, the prices of any product is nearly 25% of that in the retail market.

Be careful when buying jewels. Lots of stones are fake and the price is comparatively very high.

Eat

Agra specialities are petha, a type of very sweet candy, and Dal Moth, a spicy lentil mix. Both are also popular souvenirs.

Restaurants

Drink

Most hotel staff will be happy to find you a cold bottle of Indian beer for around ₹70-100, but there is virtually no nightlife in Agra outside of cultural shows at some of the larger hotels and restaurants. After getting off the streets of Agra and into your hotel, you will not want to go back anyway.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Thanks to heavy competition, Agra's five-star hotels are pretty good value compared to most other cities in India.

Stay Safe

Connect

Farehpur Sikri Complex

Agra comes under Uttar Pradesh (west) circle as per TRAI. BSNL and Airtel are the two main providers of terrestrial telephone lines in Agra, while BSNL, AirTel, Vodafone and Idea provide GSM (triband) and Reliance and Tata provide CDMA services.

Internet

There are several Internet cafés for sending email or uploading digital photos.

Many cheap café's, such as the Taj Café, offer free Wi-Fi.

Go next

Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri
Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri

Note: 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.


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