You’ve survived Delhi and the chaotic arrival with hysterical rickshaws at Agra station. Congratulations! You can now relax and visit Agra, a city revolving around one of the wonders of the world : the Taj Mahal. But Agra has a little more to offer if you are willing to spend a couple of days here. Here are our suggestions:
– the Baby Taj : also called Itmad-ud-Daulah’s tumb, this beautiful testimony of Mughal architecture was built before the Taj Mahal and served as an inspiration. The designs on the walls are even more subtle than those you can see on the Taj. Taking a walk in the gardens along the Yamuna river is the best thing to do in Agra, especially on a Friday when the Taj is closed. This place is way less touristy than the Taj and definitely worth a visit. We almost liked it better than the Taj.
– Mehtab Bagh Garden : the best place to watch the sunrise or sunset on the Taj, from the other side of the Yamuna river. The legend says Shah Jahan wanted to build a Black Taj here, right in front of the beautiful white mausoleum he built for his wife. This garden is a really nice spot to take pictures more peacefully than inside the Taj itself.
– the Lal Qila : Agra’s fort in endless, you will need half a day to see all of it. It is a great example of Mughal architecture in terms of building as well as gardens. You can really picture how it was to live there at the time. After the visit take a right and don’t hesitate to visit the market which is very lively and authentic.
– Eat at Joney’s place : we haven’t been but some friends have and recommend this small, cheap and renowned local restaurant.
– Stay at Taj Castle Homestay : family-owned, reasonable price for a white marble clean room, walking distance to the Lal Qila and the Taj Mahal which equals to luxury in Agra as it will prevent you from having to negotiate with rickshaws. We ate homemade panjabi food, cooked with love by the women of the family and nothing can beat that.
Needless to say, if you are in Agra you must visit the Taj Mahal. It is a very touristy place with more Indians than foreigners. Be prepared to wait in line to buy tickets first and then to enter the monument (unless you give money to a shady corrupted guide who will make you beat the queue). Be patient if you want to take a picture of yourself with the Taj because you won’t be the only one. It is really beautiful and magical to visit the Taj Mahal in person and more impressive and interesting that in pictures. Keep in mind that it is a Muslim mausoleum, built out of love, where Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz are resting in peace, show some respect and dress appropriately. Don’t forget to visit at least one the two mosques that are near the Taj and you can also have a look at Kaserat Bazaar, the market that is at the gates of this incredible world wonder. Enjoy!