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Revision as of 11:51, 24 February 2007

Agra is called the City of Taj

Agra is a city in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from the Indian capital city of New Delhi. Agra is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. There are three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby.

The city has little else to recommend it. Pollution is rampant (both industrial, in the form of smog, and human, in the form of raw sewage and trash). There is no doubt that tourism is the major industry of the city. Tourists have to live with the touts and hawkers who swarm like bees around them 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.


Contents

Understand

History

Agra, Once the capital of the mughals has a rich historical background, which is amply evident from the numerous historical monuments in and around the city. Agra has as many as Three World Heritage Sites namely Taj Mahal, Agra Fort & Fatehpur Sikri. The earliest reference for Agra comes from the epical age, when Mahabharata refer Agra as Agravana. In the sources prior to this, Agra has been referred as Arya Griha or the abode of the Aryans. The first person who referred Agra by its modern name was Ptolemy. Though the heritage of Agra city is linked with the Mughal dynasty, numerous other rulers also contributed to the rich past of this city. Modern Agra was founded by Sikandar Lodhi (Lodhi dynasty; Delhi Sultanate) in the 16th century. Babar (founder of the Mughal dynasty) also stayed for sometime in Agra and introduced the concept of square Persian-styled gardens here. Emperor Akbar built the Agra fort and Fatehpur Sikri near Agra. Fatehpur Sikri remained his capital for around fifteen years after which the city was left isolated in mysterious circumstances. Jahangir beautified Agra with palaces and gardens despite spending most of his time in Kashmir with which he was passionately attached. Agra came to its own when Shahjahan ascended to the throne of Mughal Empire. He marked the zenith of Mughal architecture, when he built the Taj in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. In his later years, Shahjahan shifted his capital to the new city of Shahjahanabad in Delhi and ruled from there. Shahjahan was dethroned in 1658 by his son, Aurangzeb who imprisoned him in the Agra Fort. Aurangzeb shifted the capital back to Agra till his death. After the death of Aurangzeb, Mughal Empire could not touch its peak and many regional kingdoms emerged. The post-Mughal era of Agra saw the rule of the Jats, Marathas and finally the British taking over the city

Climate

From April to Mid June, temperatures are scorchingly hot, and the monsoon rains deluge the city in July and August. In winter, especially December and January, temperatures can dip to near-zero and quite often the city is blanketed in thick fog. The best time to visit the city is from Mid January to April and from September to Mid December.

Get in

Agra lies at a distance of 200 km from New 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 like Goa, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Chennai, Udaipur, Jaisalmer etc.


By plane

As for February 2007, there are no scheduled services to Agra's airport.

By train

Agra Cantt is the main railway station and lies southwest of the Taj and Agra Fort. The station is very close to both Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. There are frequent trains to Delhi as well as other parts of the country.

Agra Fort railway station is right next to the Agra Fort, but is infrequently serviced by the interstate express trains. But you will find trains to eastern part of the country (Kanpur, Kolkatta, Gorakhpur etc) from here.

There is another station by the name of Raja Ki Mandi which is in the heart of the City.

Many trains go from Delhi to Agra, with a journey time of nearly 3 hours. The best of them is the Bhopal Shatabdi, the fastest train in India, which leaves New Delhi at 6:15 AM and can bring you back at 10:40 PM. The journey to Jaipur takes around 4 hour by train no. 2988 which leaves Agra Fort Railway Station at 6:25 PM and reaches Jaipur at around 10:20 PM.

There is also a special luxurious tourist train - 'Palace on Wheels' from New Delhi which covers Jaipur, parts of Rajasthan and Agra.

By bus

Besides the trains,Aeroplanes, there are a number of buses which connect Agra with New Delhi. It takes around 4-5 hours to reach Agra by bus. There are basically three interstate bus stands, one interstate bus stands located at transport nagar is only for other state's bus services except U.P. Roadways.Taj Mahal is 12 kilometers far from this bus stand. Idgah Bus Stand is main bus stand located in the heart of the city. taj mahal is 8 kilometers far from Idgah Bus Stand. Third bus stand is famous with the name "Bijlighar Bus stand" located near Red Fort Agra. Taj Mahal is 6 kilometers far from this bus stand. several kilometers west of the Taj and southwest of the Red Fort is the primary bus stand for intercity travel.

By car

From Delhi

Driving on the National Highway 2 is a pleasing experience and it takes nearly 2.5 hours to reach Agra which is around 200 KM from Delhi.

From Jaipur

A distance of around 255 Km can be covered in around 4 hours on National highway 11.

From Gwalior

A distance of around 120 KM, takes around 2 hours on the National highway 3 (Agra- Mumbai Highway)

From Lucknow / Kanpur

From Lucknow take National Highway 25 to Kanpur a distance of around 90 KM. From Kanpur take NH2 to Agra a distance of 286 KM, a journey of around 5 hours from Kanpur and Around 6.5 Hours from Lucknow

See

Agra's top two sights by far are the incomparable Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.

Taj Mahal

One of the Three world heritage site in Agra, Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built in Agra between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, the Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage.

Tourists from all over the world visit Agra not to see the ruins of the red sandstone fortress built by the Mughal emperors but to make a pilgrimage to Taj Mahal, one fo the world’s most famous architectural wonders, in a land where magnificent temples and edificies abound to remind visitors about the rich civilization of a country that is slowly but surely lifting itself into an industrialized society.

The postcard picture of Taj Mahal does not adequately convey the legend, the poetry and the romance that shroud what Rabindranath Tagore calls "a teardrop on the cheek of time". Taj Mahal means "Crown Palace" and is in fact the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tomb in the world. It is best described by the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, as "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’s the way to appreciate it.

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.

Different people have different views of the Taj but it would be enough to say that the Taj has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. As an architectural masterpiece, nothing could be added or substracted from it.

Despite being one of the most photographed edifices in the world and being instantly recognisable, its physical presence 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.

If you're taking a camera, beware that because the Taj is white your camera may underexpose your photos. If it's a film camera you won't find out until it's too late. Overexposure by 1 or 2 stops is recommended.

About Taj On a platform 22' high and 313' square. Corner minarets 137' tall. Main structure 186' on a side, dome to 187'. The mausoleum is 57 m (190 ft) square in plan. "The central inner dome is 24.5 m (81 ft) high and 17.7 m (58 ft) in diameter, but is surmounted by an outer shell nearly 61 m (200 ft) in height."

When to go: The Taj is open from 6 AM to 7:30 PM every day except Friday. Entry costs Rs. 750 for foreigners and Rs. 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.

There are night viewing sessions on full moon days where you are allowed to observe the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort at midnight and later allowed to visit the monument in the complex and observe the marvellous and divine creation under the full moon. Night visits are only possible on the nights of a full moon and the two days before and after (so five days in total).

Location: 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.

Security: Security is tight, so leave behind any pocketknives, as well as chewing gum, cigarettes, or anything that could mark the building. Cell phones are not permitted inside the main enclosure area: you have to check them in first at a booth nearby. Do this before you get into the VERY long line to get in.

Agra Fort

The fort is similar in layout to the Red Fort in Delhi. It is also constructed mainly from red sandstone and was started by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1565 and added to by Emperor Shah Jahan who ended up a prisoner in the fort which has a beautiful view of his masterpiece, the Taj Mahal, on a clear day.

Akbar, king at 14, began consolidating his empire and, as an assertion of his power built the fort in Agra between 1565 and 1571, coeval with the construction of Humayun's tomb in Delhi. The Agra fort retains the irregular outline of the demolished mud-wall fort of the Lodis.

Agra Fort, Agra TravelThe lofty battlements o the new fort cast its protective shadow over the far stretching mansions of court that nobles and princes built along the riverfront. The magnificent towers, bastions and ramparts and majestic gateways symbolized the confidence and power of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar.

The fort contains splendid palaces both in red sandstone and white marble built by two generations of prolific builders Akbar and later Jehangir and Shahjahan. Of the nearly 500 Akbari buildings built in the Bengal and Gujarati traditions only a few have survived, arrayed in a band on the riverfront.

The fort is auricular in shape and its colossal double walls rise 20 m in height and measure 2.5 m in circumference. The fort is encircled by a fetid moat. The lofty battlements of the Agra fort cast its protective shadow over the far stretching mansions of nobles and princes built along the riverfront. The magnificent towers, bastions and ramparts and majestic gateways symbolized the confidence and power of the third Mughal emperor.

The fort contains splendid palaces both in red sandstone and white marble built by two generations of prolific builders, Akbar and later on by Jahangir and Shahjahan. Of the nearly 500 Akbari buildings built in the Bengal and Gujarati traditions, only a few have survived, arrayed in a band on the riverfront.

Other sights

  • Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra (10 km north of Agra on the Agra Delhi highway). The tomb of Akbar lies here in the centre of the large garden. Akbar started its construction himself but it was completed by his son, Jehangir who significantly modified the original plans which accounts for the somewhat cluttered architectural lines of the tomb. Four red sandstone's gates lead to the tomb complex: one is Muslim, one Hindu, one christian and one is Akbar's patent mixture. Akbar's mausoleum is open from sunrise to sunset.
  • Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb. Empress Nur Jehan built Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb, sometimes called the Baby Taj, for her father, Ghias-ud-Din Beg, the Chief Minister of Emperor Jahangir. Small in comparison to many other Mughal-era tombs, it is sometimes described as a jewel box. Its garden layout and use of white marble, pietra dura, inlay designs and latticework presage many elements of the Taj Mahal.
  • Mariam's Tomb, west from Akbar's Tomb on Agra-Delhi highway. Constructed by Jahangir in the memory of his mother Mariam Zammani a title bestowed upon her,. The grave is made of white marble. Though this building is in a ruined condition, yet it has in its vicinity, a Christian Mission School and a church. It is also said; Akbar himself made that it in the memory of his Christian wife.
  • Jama Masjid. A large mosque attributed to Princess Jahanara Begum, built in 1648 during the reign of the father Shah Jahan. Notable for its unusual dome and absence of minarets.
  • Chini Ka Rauza. A memorial dedicated to the Prime Minister of Shah Jahan, Allama Afzel Khal Mullah Shukrullah of Shiraz, notable for its dome of blue glazed tiles.

Gardens

  • Soami Bagh, 10 km north of Agra. The white marble samadhi of the Radah Soami religion is currently under construction. It was started in 1904 and is nor expected to be completed until sometime next century. You can see pietra dura inlaid marblework actulally being worked on. Soami Bagh is 2km north of Agra and can be reached by bus or cycle.
  • Ram Bagh. The first Mughal gardens, built by the first Mughal Emperor Babar, 500 m North of the Chini Ka Rauza.
  • Mehtab Bagh, directly across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal. These botanical gardens give you an opportunity to view the Taj at a remove from the crowds of tourists. The trip takes about 30 minutes from the center of town by autorickshaw and will cost about Rs 200. Entrance to the park is Rs 100 for foreigners. Alternatively, 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.

Do

Go for siteseeing for the whole day and in the evening have dineer in world class restaurants of Agra.You can even go for shopping in evening to * Sadar Bazaar, [1].

Buy

Foreign Travellers:

Agra has many shops selling various stones 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.

Beware of being overcharged. Do not let anyone lead you to a shop, lest the price go up to cover their commission. Bargain hard. Be prepared to walk away - you can nearly always get the same items in another shop. The Guide and Drivers who take you around have a commission rate of nearly 50% - yes half the money that you spend in Agra lines the pockets of these touts. Be very wary of the promises these people make. Also remember that in these globalized times, you can always order stuff you liked in your visit over the internet after you return.

Agra is famous for it leather Shoes and other leather goods and there are few very good manufacturers all round Agra.

Domestic Visitors: Agra's Petha and Dal Moth are famous through out India dont forget to eat the stuff while you are there. The foreign travellers generally find these local delicacies too spicy or sweet to be palatable.

Eat

Mughalai

  • Capri, Hari Parvat
  • Achaman, Bhagwan Talkies
  • Satkar, Bhagwan Talkies
  • Solitare, Hari Parvat
  • Kwality, Deewani
  • Petals, Sadar
  • Panchratan, Sanjay Place (Serve pure Jaini Food Not even Onions Good for navratras)
  • Aahar, Sanjay Place

South Indian

  • Dasa Prakash, Ballugunj (near Sadar) and Sanjay Place
  • Laxmi Villas, Sadar
  • Udippi, Sadar

Chinese

  • Mandarin (Hotel Agra Ashok), Sadar

Cafes & Bakeries

  • My kind of place (MKOP), Sanjay Place & Sadar
  • Dreams, Hari Parvat
  • Cafe Coffee Day, Sanjay Place & Sadar

Western Food

  • Pizza Hut, Fathebad Road
  • Pizza Corner, Sadar
  • Domminos, Sanjay Place & Fathebad Road
  • McDonald's, Sadar

Typical Agra Food

  • Ram Babu Parathas, Sikandra & Belangunj
  • Chimanlal Puri, Johri Bazar
  • Ajanta Fast Food Restaurant,Kamla Nagar, 3295384.

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

Some typical chaat items are Bhalla (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.

You will find chaat almost everywhere in Agra but some of the must visit places are Double Phatak (near Sikandra) for Mangores, you will find quality Bhallas and panipuri at sadar and belangunj. Samosa and Chachori are found at every sweet shop that flood the city

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

Drink

Most hotel staff will be happy to find you a warm bottle of Indian beer for around 70-100 rs.

There is virtually no nightlife in Agra outside of cultural shows at some of the larger hotels and restaurants.

Sleep

Budget

  • Hotel Pawan
  • Taj Khaema
  • Hotel Kant
  • Hotel Amar Yatri Niwas

Mid range

  • Hotel Regency - 1,500 -3,200 R per night.
  • Hotel Amar
  • Hotel deedar-e-taj
  • Hotel Mansingh Palace
  • Hotel Zee
  • Hotel Dada Int
  • Hotel Shivam Palace - tel.09831031895
  • The Mayur Tourist Complex It is just next door to the taj view hotel and serves excellent mughali food
  • Grand Hotel
  • Atithi Hotel

Splurge

  • Agra Ashok, Fathebad Road
  • Clark's Shiraz , Fathebad Road
  • Holiday Inn, Sanjay Place
  • Howard Park Plaza, Fathebad Road
  • Jaypee Palace, Fathebad Road
  • Oberoi Amarvilas, Fathebad Road. The best (and most expensive) hotel in Agra.
  • Sheraton Mughal, Fathebad Road, tel. +91-562-2331701, [2]. One of Agra's top hotels, built like a Mughal-style palace with views of the Taj. Large pool. Rooms from US$160.
  • Taj View, Fathebad Road
  • Trident Hilton, Fathebad Road, tel. +91-562-2331818, [3]. Solid Hilton quality, but poor location. Outdoor pool, gym. Rooms from US$89.

Get out

Fatehpur Sikri

A ghost city about 40km west of Agra. Private taxi cars can be hired on the street or your hotel will be happy to arrange a trip. Note that the trip will be much more affordable with a group of 3-5 per car.

It was built by the Mughal Emperor Akhbar between 1571 and 1575 as the capital city of the Empire but was abandoned. It is well worth the trip to see the restored city with its huge entrance gate,numerous palaces, mosque and mausoleum. There are "public" and "private" sections of the city.

An important thing to keep in mind is that numerous "guides" will accost you as you enter the complex, trying to convince you to make use of their services. As guides, they are mediocre, and at the end of the "tour" they will try to steer you to their "shop" to buy trinkets at inflated prices. Use them if you wish, but make sure you are ready for the hard sell at the end.

Bharatpur

Bharatpur is about 60 KM from Agra and houses the Famous bird sanctuary in which you can see thousands of rare birds including the Sibarian Crane. There is the Lohagarh Fort, which remained invincible despite several attacks by the British. Just 32 kms 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.



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