Difference between revisions of "Agra"
Revision as of 05:02, 26 November 2012
Agra has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra's days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.
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, mosque, temple or palace. 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.
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.
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.
Service to Agra's Kheria Airport (IATA: AGR ICAO: VIAG) is seasonal. As of November 2008, the city is served by Kingfisher Airlines and Air India Regional, who both fly on the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur tourist triangle route. The flight time to either is less than an hour. Travelers have had trouble with extreme lateness, and for that reason a hired car may be a safer (and probably cheaper) alternative.
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), travelers 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 10AM, 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. There are three stations in Agra:
For local sight seen in Agra, it is better option to hire taxi on Full day bases (8 Hour 80 Km).
12002 +BHOPAL SHTBDI NEW DELHI 06:15 AGRA CANTT 08:12 01:57
12280 +TAJ EXPRESS H NIZAMUDDIN 07:10 AGRA CANTT 10:07 02:57
14212 +INTERCITY EXP NEW DELHI 17:40 AGRA CANTT 21:50 04:10
12191 +NDLS JBP SUP NEW DELHI 14:05 AGRA CANTT 17:10 03:05
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, organize tour is available from Delhi.
Delhi to Agra by road - New highway is being constructed from Greater Noida to Taj Mahal City. It should take 2 to 3 hours & could be very popular among tourist as the road condition matches all international standard.
Also train number 2965 from agra cantonment to Jaipur at 5:40 PM. The train arrives at 10:15 PM. ₹300 AC chair.
A Day's Excursion from Delhi to Agra
It is easy to visit Agra as a comfortable day trip by train from Delhi. Rise early in the morning and hop on to an AC chair car seat on the Bhopal Shatabdi (6:15AM) at New Delhi Railway Station (conveniently close to the backpacker hangout of Paharganj). Breakfast is served on the train (included in the fare), usually an omelet with a couple of slices of bread and coffee or tea. Arrive refreshed in Agra and, depending on your budget, either rent a car for the day or use rickshaws to get around. A visit to the Taj, followed by Agra Fort does not take a great deal of time. Add a visit to Akbar's tomb and/or itmad-ud-daulah (auto-rickshaw or taxi required), and you will still have time for a comfortable lunch and some r&r before catching the return train at 8:30PM where you can dine in the comfort of your seat (dinner is included in the fare). With a hired car, it is even possible for the hardy soul to swing by for a visit to Fatehpur Sikri for the complete Agra visit!
A number of buses connect Agra with Delhi. It takes around 4-5 hours to reach Agra by bus. There are basically three interstate bus stands:
Note: Do not prey 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 it's not.
By Private Bus
Variety of private bus services are being facilitate visiotrs to get comfirtable journey of Agra from Delhi. Reference of Private buses can be taken from www.travelindiaonline.in
A reliable way of booking your cab is to book it online. There are a couple of other sites where you have the luxury of choosing from a variety of options -Travel India Online, Krishna CabstaxiGUIDE.in, Savaari.com,Clearcar Rental Pvt Ltd, GetMeCab.com and www.cabgurgaon.com.
You can either book a taxi from hotel or directly book one outside the railway station. There is government authorized taxi stand. ₹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. Rental is available from the following companies, eCabs Enterprises Car Rental and Hertz.
It is possible to hire a car with a driver (a big car for five persons from/to the Delhi airport costs ₹3500). But beware! If you need to get from Agra to the airport in order to catch a flight, be sure to allow 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).
if you come from jaipur to Agra or Agra to jaipur, you will have better choice to have breakfast or Lunch on very good heritage Rajputana Midway near Village Pipalkhera(Mahua)
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.
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. Please ensure that you carry antacid tablets in case you are not habitual to the spicy foods
As a guide, an auto rickshaw from Agra Cantonement station to the Taj Mahal is about Rs 80 (at least in off season); and a cycle rickshaw from the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort is Rs 40.
An air conditioned taxi for the day should cost around Rs 1200. They will charge slightly more if you want to go to Fatehpur Sikri as it's a bit further out. Be warned that the drivers will probably try to make unscheduled stops along the way at marble and textile shops for which they receive commissions. Firmly tell them that you're not interested in shopping - though this might not get you anywhere so try to just go with the flow - you won't be pressured into buying anything but if you have a tight schedule it can be annoying.
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. Eg ₹50 for Red Fort
Current prices (June 2012) are: Rs 750 (for foreigners) 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 500mL bottle of water and shoe covers. Make sure you pick them up when you buy your ticket. For Indians, its Rs 20.
Official guides are available for Agra for INR 900 (approx US$ 20) for a half day (including Taj Mahal & Agra Fort). Contact 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.
Effective April 2011, the Archaeological Survey of India introduced an official self guided audio tour facility of international standards for visitors. The tour allows visitors to experience the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort at their own pace, with authentic and factually accurate information. Visitors may avail of the audio guide facility from the official audio guide booth near the monument ticket counters. Prices for audio guide services are ₹105 (approx US$ 2) in English & Foreign Languages (currently French, Spanish, Italian, German) or ₹63 in Hindi & Indian Languages.
Reviews for the audio guides have been very positive on Tripadvisor and other travel websites and this is the recommended way to see the two Agra monuments. Recently, smartphone application and iPod tours have become available, including the official Taj Mahal app offered by AudioCompass  - the same company that provides the audio guides.
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.
If you are taking a camera, beware that because the Taj is white your camera may underexpose your photos. If it is a film camera you will not find out until it is too late. Overexposure by 1 or 2 stops is recommended.
The Taj is open from 6:00 AM to 7:30 PM 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 (but note that the gates won't open until at 6AM at the earliest - often a few minutes later, so don't bother getting there at 5AM), 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. You can also get very good views from Mehtab Bagh (see Gardens section below).
To buy tickets, you can go to the South gate, but this gate is 1 km far away of the entrance and the counter opens at 8:00 AM. At the West and East gates, the counters open at 6:00 AM. These gates also have smaller queues in peak times as the big tour buses drop groups off at the South gate. 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 10am, but do not always sell out, so it can be worth looking into it when you arrive even if well after 10am. 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 flashlight, 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 full moon in all 5 days including full moon, the booking has to be made 24 hours in advance from Archeological Society of India office situated at 22, Mall Road, Agra. Ticket fare is Rs. 500 for Indian Nationals and Rs. 750 for Non Indians. The viewing hours for night viewing is from 8:30 pm to 9:00 pm and 9:00 pm to 9:30 pm. A visitor has to reach 30 mins prior to viewing hours for security check at Taj Mahal Ticketing counter on East Gate of Taj Mahal or he may loose his/ her chance. The Night View is not worth spending as the visitors are kept quite far from Taj Mahal nearly 200 Mts away and there in no light so it could hardly be seen during night hours at viewing hours. Cameras also do not give images with near zero flux can easily be avoided for night viewing.
The 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 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.
Agra has many shops selling various 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 enjoying 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. Also remember that in these globalized times, you can always order stuff you liked in 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 1000-10000%).
Mughal Bazar on the Taj East Gate road, about 2km from the East Gate is a better place to shop for your obligatory Taj Mahal figurine vs. the little stores nearby the gate. Much more relaxed and friendly with better prices for the same goods, and no petty lies to make a sale.
Many local markets are there: SADAR BAZAR..a sophisticated market, Raja ki Mandi market, Sanjay Place for all the offices, Shah Market for electronics. All 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 to 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 with the jewels: Lots of stones are fakes and the price is very high!
Agra specialities are petha, a type of very sweet candy, and Dal Moth, a spicy lentil mix. Both are also popular souvenirs.
Chaat. Agra is a heaven for any Chaat lover. Chaat can be of various types but there is one thing common among them all is that they are spicy and you will find crowd outside virtually every chaat stall, especially popular places like Double Phatak (near Sikandra) for Mangores. You'll find quality Bhallas and Panipuri at Sadar and Belangunj. Samosa and Kachori are found at every sweet shop that flood the city. Some typical chaat items are Aloo Tikki (made by roasting mess made out of boiled potatoes), paneer tikka (cubes of cottage cheese baked in a tandoor with spices), pani puri or golguppa (small round hollow shells filled with a potato-based filling and a spicy sweet blend of sauces), mangores, Samosaes, Chachori etc. If you want to savour the typical Agra Breakfast do remember to have a bite of one of those spicy Berahi and round it off with sweet Jalebies.
Sweets. There are quite a few good sweets shops all round the city. The best stores for buying the famous petha of Agra are at Hari Parwat, a short ride from Agra Fort. Amongst the well-known stores are Panchi's , Bhimsain BaidyaNath and The Pracheen Petha store. There are many types of petha available but, for the authentic experience, try either the plain one (ivory white) or Angoori Flavored (rectangular and yellow pieces soaked in sugar syrup). Other stores in Agra include: Bikanervala, Deviram, Munnalal Petha, Gopaldas, and Ajanta Sweets, Kamla Nagar. Do remember to round off your meal with a Joda(Pair) of Pan unique to the city.
There is also an abundance of Korean food at most restaurants.
There are several restaurants in the Taj Ganj area, catering for the many tourists staying around the Taj Mahal.
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.
Thanks to heavy competition, Agra's five-star hotels are pretty good value compared to most other cities in India.
Agra comes under Uttar Pradesh (west) circle as per TRAI. BSNL ,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.
There are several internet cafes / Cyber Cafes from where you can access the internet for sending email or uploading your digital photos.
Many cheap café's, such as the Taj Cafe also have free wifi for you to use.
Note: Do not prey 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 it's not.