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Sunday, February 12, 2017

48 Hours in Agra

Wah Taj Boliye! Agra, the once capital city of the mighty Mughal empire is where the monument of love, the Taj Mahal is located. Located by the river Yamuna, Agra is more than just a home to the Taj Mahal. It is home to three UNESCO world heritage sites, stunning parks, many other architectural wonders from the Mughal times, a delicious food culture and a vibrant street life.

A jaw dropping view of the Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh, Agra

It is a city that you have to visit. It could either be as part of a relaxed holiday or a rushed weekend trip from Jaipur or Delhi. I have explored this city many times and each time I have experienced something different. If you have 48 hours in Agra, these are my top recommendations!

Sunrise or Sunset at the Taj Mahal

Wah Taj Boliye, Agra

For most, a visit to Agra is just to visit the Taj Mahal. I completely empathize with this craze as I absolutely love this monument too. Such has been my craze that I gape in wonder every time I see the beautiful Taj Mahal. The best time to see and experience the Taj Mahal is either at sunrise or at sunset. If you are visiting during the foggy winters, sunset is recommended. At this time of the day, crowds are lower and the light is better, thus allowing you more time to take those amazing portraits in front of the Taj Mahal.

The view as you enter the Taj Mahal campus

It is best that you book your ticket in advance online so that you can avoid standing in queue at the ticket counter. It is always nice to understand the history of the monument so that we can connect with it better. As I prefer to move at my own pace, I usually opt for an audio guide, but if you wish you can opt for a government approved guide.

A different view of the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Do remember that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. And that the east entrance is the one with the fewest people.

Siesta at Mehtab Bagh with the special Taj View

A Mehtab Bagh Taj Mahal Moment, Agra

The Persians loved their gardens and specialized in it. This brilliance with gardens and water gardens permeated into the Mughal style of architecture too. Persian styled Baghs or gardens can be found all over Agra. The famous one is the Mehtab Bagh, located on the bank of the Yamuna river opposite to the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan built this gorgeous garden just to enjoy amazing views of the Taj. You can also enjoy this view by taking an autorickshaw to the other end of the old city.

Taj Mahal as seen from Mehtab Bagh, Agra, India

If you are visiting during the rainy season, this place is perfect for those sunset shots of the Taj Mahal with reflections in the Yamuna and for other seasons, this place is ideal for that afternoon siesta with a surreal Taj Mahal view. May be, you could also read a book here. The best part about this place is that it is so blissfully quiet and a far cry from the Taj Mahal campus which is always bustling and buzzing with people. 

Amaze yourself at the Red Sandstone Beauty of Agra Fort

Local ladies gossip session in front of an ornate door, Red Fort, Agra, India

Housing many palaces, stunning carvings, gorgeous marble work and a bird’s eye view of the Taj Mahal, the red Agra Fort is where I would go straight after an early breakfast. An UNESCO world heritage site, the Agra fort, which looks very similar to the Red Fort of Delhi is so well preserved and hence is a special treat to the eyes.

The mighty Red Fort of Agra

Right from the massively decorated entrance doors to the slow climb into the palaces and to the place where Shah Jahan used to live and watch the Taj Mahal, this place is full of historical wonders.

You have to see the Baby Taj

Intricate on the Baby Taj of Agra considered to be a smaller version of the Taj Mahal

Locally referred to as the Baby Taj, the Itmad-ud-Daulah tomb, located on the bank of the river Yamuna is a khazana of sorts. Built by Empress Nur Jehan (wife of Mughal Emperor Jehangir), for her father Ghias-ud-din-beg is possibly one of the prettiest tombs from the Mughal era.

Gorgeous carving and painting on the walls of Baby Taj, Agra, India

This is a perfect place to spend those late mornings or early part of the afternoon where you can enjoy its white marble, pietra dura, inlay work and amazing lattice work in a relaxed fashion.

Early Morning Visit to the 16th Century City of Victory

Durwaza of Itmad-ud-Daulah's Tomb or Baby Taj, Agra

An hour away from Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, was built by Akbar in the 16th century and it remained the capital of the Mughal empire for about 10 years. Surprisingly it was abandoned, but today, it exists as a UNESCO world heritage site that comprises of stunning entrance ways, well preserved palaces, one of the largest mosques in India and beautiful courtyards. Out of the two sunrises that you have, I would recommend one for the Taj Mahal and the other for Fatehpur Sikri.

Go for a Quiet Walk at Sikandra

Indo-Islamic architecture of Akbar's Tomb at Sikandra, Agra

If you feel like a good long walk amidst stunning red sandstone marvels in Agra, Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra should be one of the top options. Lush lawns with many grazing blackbucks, screeching parakeets and a secular campus, Akbar’s tomb, located in the center of this Sikandra garden is full of lovely nature and beautiful architecture.

Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra, Agra

Started by Akbar himself and completed by his son Jehangir, this place is full of marble tombs of Akbar’s family, colorful pathways and ceilings with inscriptions and a sense of calm in busy Agra.

Read a Book at any of Agra’s Off-Beat Parks

What a place to read a book - Taj Mahal in the background, Agra

Located enroute to Mehtab Bagh are many public parks that don’t hold any importance to the tourist, but I think that they are fantastic places to relax and read a book while watching locals and the Taj Mahal from a different perspective. These off-beat parks don’t charge any fee, are not crowded with tourists and offer a stunning view of the Taj.

Stunning view of the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

If you get lucky, you could even play a game of cricket with the locals at one of these parks.

Shopping Time

Entrance to Akbar's Tomb at Sikandra, Agra, India

While the days in Agra are usually spent in exploring its architectural marvels that stay open only till sunset, a good part of the evenings can be devoted to shopping. From souvenir shopping at Mughal Bazaar on Taj East Gate road to shopping for leather goods at Sadar Bazaar and from shopping for spices at Rawatpara market to specialized marble product shopping at Gokul Para near Raja Mandi, evenings at Agra can be spent quite fruitfully. Even if you don’t wish to buy anything, these places are full of color, vibrant mood and local flavor, thus offering a wholesome local experience.

Indulge in Chaats and Sweet Petha

Amazing intricate work everywhere inside Red Fort, Agra

A trip to Agra is not complete until you whet your palate with Agra’s iconic chaats and sweets. Starting with the spicy berahi to delicious samosa, kachori, Aloo-tikki, jalebis, paneer tikka and golgappa, Agra’s famous chaat items are available all across the town. You could either taste them while exploring the attractions of the city or during your evening shopping walks. And do remember to take some iconic petha back home as a souvenir. The best petha can be found at Hari Petha, Panchis, Bhimsain Baidyanath and the Pracheen Petha store. 

Where to Stay:

Carvings on the walls of the Red Fort, Agra

As most people who visit Agra wish to see the Taj Mahal, it is recommended that you stay close to the Taj. In fact, most of the hotel properties are located around the Taj. On my recent visit, I stayed at a homestay called Pearl of Taj, which is located near the quiet Taj East Gate.

How to Reach:

Rose ringed parakeets are omnipresent in and around Red Fort, Agra

Agra has an airport, but it is poor in terms of connections and tickets are more expensive than other cities. Delhi and Jaipur are possible airport alternatives. Delhi has more connections and Jaipur works out as a good low cost hub. Train connectivity for Agra is excellent. It has 2 train stations – Agra Cantt and Agra Fort. Do remember that while searching for trains. Road connectivity is also excellent, though during the winter months, foggy conditions can pose quite a problem.

Other Sightseeing Options:

A foggy view of the Yamuna river from one of the rooms in Agra Fort

If you have more than 48 hours in hand, you can choose from the following:

1) Birdwatching at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (60 kms frm Agra)

2) Wildlife Boat Safari at National Chambal Gharial Sanctuary (70 kms from Agra)

3) Temple towns of Mathura and Vrindavan (50 kms from Agra)



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