Agra is a city in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from the Indian capital city of New Delhi. Agra has become one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world because of the magnificent complexes at the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. Other than these two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the city has very 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 sunrise and sunset at the Taj.
Agra lies at a distance of 200 km from New Delhi. A large number of trains ply from New Delhi to Agra. The journey time is nearly 3 hours. Besides the trains, there are a number of buses which connect Agra with New Delhi. Driving on the National Highway 2 is a pleasing experience and it takes nearly 3 hours to reach Agra.
Agra is also very well connected via rail and road with other nearby cities.
There are a couple of flights from New Delhi to Agra operated by Indian (formerly known as "Indian Airlines") and Air Deccan.
There is also a special luxurious tourist train - 'Palace on Wheels' from New Delhi which covers Jaipur, parts of Rajasthan and Agra.
The Taj is a mausoleum constructed by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to hold the remains of wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was built over the period 1631 to 1653 and richly deserves its status as one of the wonders of the world. Despite being one of the most photographed edifices in the world and being instantly recognisable, its physical presence is awe-inspiring. The Taj is located pretty much in the middle of town. Expect a line to get into the grounds, which include several other beautiful buildings, the reflecting pools, ornamental gardens with flowering trees and bushes, and a small gift shop.
Plan to visit the Taj at 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.
Traveller Tip: The Taj Mahal has three gates through which a tourist can enter. The western gate, eastern gate and the southern gate. The western gate is the main gate and from where most the tourists enter the Taj. A large number of people turn up to see the Taj on weekends and public holidays and entry through the western gate may take hours. The southern and eastern gates are relatively empty and can be tried in such days.
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.
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.
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.
The first Mughal gardens, built by the first Mughal Emperor Babar, 500 m North of the Chini Ka Rauza.
Important Note: If you are a foreigner, there is a pass you can buy that gives you discounted entry to all three of the above. Annoyingly, they are not sold (or at least not well advertised) at all the sites.
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.
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.
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 (and possibly safer) 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.