Agra, undoubtedly, is India's Mecca for tourists. Any foreign tourist's visit to India is incomplete without marvelling at the beauty of the Taj. Given the equally irresistible tours to the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, one realises how miserably short 36 hours are for exploring and absorbing all the flavours that are truly Agra's.
As a large chunk of foreign tourists land up in New Delhi, an onward journey to Agra can be ideal because of its proximity to the capital. Agra, located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is about 200 kms from the capital and offers comfortable travel options. It takes less than an hour to reach Agra by air while. More than a dozen trains connect the Deihi-Agra route with travel time varying from 2 to 5 hours. One of the most-convenient, inexpensive and fascinating ways to reach Agra is to hop on a seat of an air-conditioned chair car of Shatabdi, which starts from the New Delhi Railway Station early morning.
Once in Agra, stop over for a quick check-in at your hotel, get on board a rented car or an auto rickshaw and head straight to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal, which is literally the Jewel in the Crown. Vehicles running on fuel are not permitted from a particular distance of the Taj so the best way to reach there is either by hiring a camel / horse carriage or boarding vehicles run on batteries. Normally, the monument is open from 6 am to 7 pm every day except on Fridays. To get entry, one needs to pay entrance fees depending on whether one is an Indian national or a foreigner.
As the Taj unfolds in front of your eyes, one can't help but marvel at this 17th century mausoleum resting on the banks of river Yamuna, which stands as a reminder of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's intense love for his beauteous wife Mumtaz Mahal. But the Taj is best captured at dusk and dawn; the full effect of sunlight and moonlight on this architectural grandeur has to be seen to be believed! Better yet, catch the stunning view on Buddha Purnima or full moon night. Words fall short to describe its unmatched beauty and grandeur!
After spending your fulfilled hours at the Taj, grab a quick bite at any luxury or five star hotels or the budgeted accommodation and cheap eateries are dotted along the way. Coming to Agra and giving Mughlal food a miss is simply not on, as it is the best place for authentic Mughlai dishes Around 3 pm, visit the Agra Fort which was built by Akbar in 1565 A.D. It is another piece of bewilderment In the evening, you can shop till you literally drop dead in the comforts of your hotel accommodation.
The next day or the remaining 12 hours can be utilised in visiting Akbar's tomb at Sikandra. You could start around 9 am after having breakfast in the hotel itself. Interestingly, the tomb was started during Akbar's lifetime and completed by his son Jahangir in 1613. The tomb is appreciated for its three-storied pyramidical shape sans the domed roof. Then visit the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah on the banks of river Yamuna. Empress Nur Jahan had built this tomb in the memory of her father. After another hearty meal at around 1 pm, you can embark on the tour of Fatehpur Sikri (the City of Victory). Emperor Akbar built this imperial city between 1571 and 1584 and it currently falls in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. Jama Masjid, built in 1571, is the most sacred building in been built on the highest point. One of the largest mosques in India, it has a sprawling courtyard and towards the corner on the right side is the Jammat Khana next to which is Zenana Rauza, the Tomb of the Royal Ladies. As the sun sets, you realise that your trip is drawing to a close. Check out from the hotel way ahead of the clock striking 8. It's time to head towards the station or the airport for your return journey to Delhi. With dinner served on the Shatabdi, you'll realise how comfortable the journey is by rail. On your way back, the longing for yet another visit keeps you occupied. Indeed, a trip to Agra is a must to truly understand the grandeur associated with the Mughal Empire.
FAMOUS TOURIST PLACES OF AGRA
Taj Mahal or Crown of Palaces is a white marble mausoleum, built by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan as a memorial to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. A world-renowned wonder, Taj Mahal looks the same from all the four sides and is widely recognized as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage". The Taj Mahal is phenomenal not in the beauty alone but in the deep planning and design that went into its making. This enchanting mausoleum started in 1631 and it took 22 years to complete with the help of an estimated 20000 workers. (It remains closed on Fridays).
The great Mughal Emperor Akbar commissioned the construction of the Agra Fort in 1666, A.D. although additions were made till the time of his grandson Shahjahan. The forbidding exteriors of this fort hide an inner paradise. There are a number of exquisite buildings like Moti Masjid - a white marble mosque akin to a perfect pearl; Diwan-I-Am, Diwan-I-Khaas, Musamman Burj - where Shahjahan died in 1666 A.D. Jahangir's Palace; Khaas Mahal and Shish Mahal. The massive Agra fort is 2.5 km long and is considered as the predecessor of the Delhi Red fort.
The beautiful and deserted medieval city built by Akbar the Great in the 16th century to serve as the capital of his vast empire. The complex consists of religious, residential and administrative buildings. The Mosque is considered a copy for the Mosque at Mecca and is extremely elegant, containing elements of Hindu and Persian design. Housed here is the Shrine of Sheikh Salim Chisti one of the greatest of Sufi saints of the Muslim world.
Itmad-Ud-Daula / Baby Taj
Often described as 'jewel box', sometimes called the 'Baby Taj', the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah is often regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal. This exquisite marble tomb was made by Emperor Jahangir's queen, Nurjahan, in the memory of her father Mirza Ghias Beg during 1622-1628 A.D. Built entirely in white marble and inlaid with semi-precious stones, this mausoleum on the bank of the Yamuna River, exhibits a strong Persian influence.
Mehtab Bagh is located on the left bank of river Yamuna opposite to the Taj Mahal. The garden complex is a huge square measuring approximately 300m X 300m and in straight alignment with the Taj Mahal. The excavation has revealed a huge octagonal tank on the southern periphery: baradaris or pavilion on the east and west: a small octagonal tank at the center and a gateway at the northern wall. The garden provides excellent views of the Taj Mahal.
The Ram Bagh (in Hindi) and Aaram Bagh in Urdu), is the Oldest Mughal Garden in India, originally built by the Mughal Emperor Babur, the founder of Mughal Dynasty in 1528, located about 05 km northeast of the Taj Mahal in Agra. It is said that Babur was temporarily buried here before being taken to Kabul in Afganistan. The garden is a Persian garden, where pathways and canals divide the garden to represent the Islamic ideal of paradise, an abundant garden through which rivers flow.
It is the mausoleum of Emperor Akbar. It represents his philosophy and secular outlook, combining the best of Hindu and Muslim architectures in a superlative fusion. Completed in 1613 A.D., it is one of the well preserved monuments. The entrance is decorated with marble inlay work around the arch, and the inner surface of the dome of the tomb is decorated with images of flowers, geometric designs and Islamic calligraphy.