Can you recall that after 14 years away.
Fourteen (14) years!
And before we even stepped foot in India, our troubles began.
For those of you just catching up, here’s what happened:
- I’m going to India – Incredible India!
- When the airline lost my luggage on the flight to India – Incredible India!
- Lost and Trapped in Delhi – Incredible India!
Because if India doesn’t break you, it’ll make you stronger!
So what happened after that?
Or any European country for that matter!
I’ll talk about that in a completely different post!
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE TAJ MAHAL IN AGRA. AND
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET THERE!
LET’S GET A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY!
Agra is one of the most populous cities in Uttar Pradesh, and the 24th most populous in India!
Agra was first mentioned in 1080 AD.
Not long after, the Golden Age, otherwise known as the Empire of the Mughals, began and took influence from 1556 to 1648.
Agra was then known as Akbarabād and remained the capital of the Mughal Empire. This was the period of religion, economic stability, art and architecture with palaces, gardens, rivers, towers and forts such as the Agra Fort, a stone military city such as Fatehpūr Sikrī, and of course, the building of one of the most iconic monuments in the world built in sorrow and to the memory of a most beloved wife – the Taj Mahal.
After the decline of the Mughal Empire, the city came under the influence of Marathas and was renamed Agra, before being taken over by British rule, otherwise known as Queen Victoria, the Empress of India, or the British Raj, in 1803.
India remained a British colony until Indian Independence in 1947!
Agra is a major tourist destination because of its many Mughal-era buildings, most notably the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, the tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah or Baby Taj, and Fatehpur Sikri or Fatehpūr Sikrī, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Agra is also part of the tourist trail known as the Golden Triangle, which includes Delhi and Jaipur.
WHY GO TO AGRA?
As if you have to ask!
Well, Agra is in India!
It’s entwined with civilizations, history and culture, that goes back centuries!
It boasts numerous architectural jewels and a world heritage that make parts of India enviable.
And UNESCO locations filled with buildings, marked by world history of thousands of years, that made me practically salivate when I saw them!
Agra is near Delhi.
It’s pretty cheap by West European standards.
And in 1992, Princess Diana did that famous bench moment!
If you’ve seen it a million times before, then by all means, don’t bother.
But if you haven’t.
You ought to see why a man took years.
To build a monuments in sorrow and to the memory of a most beloved wife!
Are you listening people?
A monument that has lasted almost 500 years!
HERE’S SOME FUN FACTS!
- The Taj Mahal was built by the grief-stricken emperor Shah Jahan whose wife – Mumtaz Mahal – died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child!
- Mumtaz Mahal was Shah Jahan’s third wife
- Her name means “Jewel of the Palace” or “Chosen One of the Palace”
- Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632
- The name Taj Mahal means “Crown of Places”
- It’s an Islamic tomb
- There are 99 names of Allah inscribed calligraphically on the side of Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb
- It took approximately 20 years to build
- 20,000 workers were used to build it
- And 1000 elephants!
- The Taj Mahal complex also has additional mausoleums, a mosque, a reflecting pool and large garden
- In fact, there’s a piece of land outside the official area – Mehtab Bagh park – and if you’re short on budget, you can actually see the Taj Mahal quite well from there and take photographs and videos to your heart’s content!
- The Taj Mahal is 561 feet tall
- The material used to build it is white marble
- It has a large white dome surrounded by four smaller domes. The large white dome in the center is approximately 115 feet tall
- It’s colour appears to change, depending on the time of day or whether there’s a sufficient amount of moonlight!
- There were about 28 different types of precious and semi-precious stones inlaid into the burial tomb of the Taj Mahal
- During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, most of the precious stones were stolen and stripped from the walls
- Over 200,000 tourists from around the world and up to 2 – 4 million local Indian tourists, visit the Taj Mahal every year!
- It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- It’s also one of the “New” Seven Wonders of the World
- The four pillars around the main dome are slightly slanted so that if the pillars were to collapse,the tomb would be protected!
- It was believed that once work on the Taj Mahal was complete, Shah Jahan had the hands of skilled expert workers, chopped off. It was probably true, as many monarchs around the world equally did the same …!
TAKE ME THERE?
As you all pretty much know by now, I’m a great believer in train travel so we travelled by first class Gatimaan Express train from Delhi (Hazrat Nizamuddin) to Agra (Agra Cantt).
Yes, we did!
We had planned just 16 days in India – three (3) days in Delhi, two (2) days in Agra, three (3) days in Jaipur, two (2) days in Pushkar, three (3) days in Udaipur and three (3) days in Mumbai!
You can of course, just do a day trip Delhi – Agra – Delhi.
However, we wanted to spend at least 2 days in Agra, so we opted for the express train to Agra, and a really nice hotel!
And as I always advocate, be smart, use all the weekends, and make it work!
The tickets from the train station for three first class seats cost ₹4,485 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €58.00 / $65.00 / £50.00.
In short, €19.30 / $21.60 or £16.60 per person!
With a full meal!
You can rent a car or go by taxi of course, but after the horrible night train experience that I had 14 years ago, I really wanted to put that ghost to rest and strangely, travel by train once again!
We opted to use an Indian agent recommended to me by an American expat blogger who was living in Goa at the time, so for peace of mind and ease of travel, we worked with an Indian agent who booked every train that I asked for, with my exact specifications, four (4) months ahead of time.
If you have any questions about him, just ask me.
In order for us to do this from Germany, I opted to pay his agency fee of ₹5,135 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €66.00 / $74.00 / £57.00 and for extra security, I paid $83.60 via PayPal or $27.80 instead!
In short, I paid a I-can-get-a-stressfree-refund-if-it-doesnt-work-out-difference of $18.60 or $6.20 dollars per person, which I’m comfortable with ‘cos I had been to India before, and the stress of organising things when you’re on a solo Indian journey can sometimes make your hair or skin, turn grey!
If you’re on a tight budget then there are many other trains that also go to Agra, but be aware that the fastest routes are usually sold out pretty quickly!
And it was a very nice 1.4 hour journey.
And a newspaper!
Take a look for yourself!
I mean, we were paying prices such as ₹219 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €2.80 / $3.10 / £2.40.
In fact, we even paid ₹85 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €1.10 / $1.22 / £0.95 in a proper taxi vehicle.
With seat belts!
This would never in a million years happen, if we had “negotiated” rides ourselves.
In fact, I vividly remember trying NOT to pay ₹500 (INR – Indian Rupees) in 2005, for a ride that we discussed would be ₹200 (INR – Indian Rupees) to simply go to the book market that was a 10-minute ride away, and which ultimately took 2-hours as the rickshaw driver took me from shop to shop for “commissions” instead!
I was so frustrated!
Here’s my link!
I’M TRAVELLING SOLO, IS AGRA SAFE?
It can be.
Most people are really nice, eager to help and respectful.
In fact, I was surprised at how many people actually asked if they could take photographs with me.
And if they asked, I would usually accept.
Local Indians don’t often see Western tourists and their way of greeting and excitement can be over-whelming.
Take a look at this video taken by German YouTubers – The Nile Brothers (Nick and Lenny)
It’s crazy, these fellows were travelling together, and they’re blokes!
Indian men can be over-enthusiastic and creepy by the constant staring, touching, peeping and inappropriate questions.
It’s awful that as strong independent women today, if you’re travelling solo, YOU have to watch how you come across, rather than the obvious use of common sense and if-you-don’t-have-permission-or-clearly-worded-stated-consent, don’t touch.
It’s as simple as that.
In the spirit of #MeToo, both men and women in Western nations are working towards this.
This blog isn’t the place to debate the battle of the sexes, it’s about how to get the best experience you possibly can, when you travel.
Whoever you may be.
Regardless of your sex, gender or sexual orientation.
Here’s what to do:
- Be firm and stand your ground
- Insist that they don’t take photographs or videos of you without your permission
I was travelling with my husband and my teenage son and when we were together, there was a respectful distance, but when I wandered off to make my own photography, the peeping and candid photography would begin!
I was firm.
I stated clearly that I didn’t want to be photographed and if I did, it usually involved a woman or children, rather than random lone men!
In one instance, an Indian chap wouldn’t take no for an answer and kept following me about, so I turned around swiftly and demanded his camera.
He was so shocked that he gave it to me, so I deleted his pictures, handed him his phone back and walked off!
- Watch and take care of your belongings
- Dress conservatively
- Don’t wander around late at night
- Be aware of body language as sadly, it’s all too interpreted as “flirty” or “available”
- Keep your drinking to a reasonable level ‘cos India isn’t the place to “go on a bender and get pissed!”
- Use Uber
- If you don’t feel safe, get yourself out of there as quickly as possible and if that’s not an option, go straight to the nearest shop, restaurant, hotel, or group of people and ask for help
- Do your research on local scams
- Don’t let a low-budget be the reason that you’re booked in a hotel that is dodgy as hell!
- Take your time, spend a euro/dollar/pound or two more, and book a slightly better one
And to be honest, I wouldn’t let my driver (a complete stranger), arrange my accommodation either, use booking.com and book your own!
Here’s the link!
IS IT GOING TO BE CROWDED?
Well, it’s India!
But it’s not as crowded as you might think!
And in many of my photographs, there’s quite a lot of space without any bother at all!
So don’t let anyone say that the Taj Mahal / Agra Fort / Fatehpur Sikri is far too crowded.
Because it isn’t!
You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn unless you really want to.
Why would you want to?
Of course, the Taj Mahal is a world-class UNESCO sight and EVERYONE should see it, but it isn’t any more or less crowded than the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Time Square in New York, would be.
We got to the Agra Fort at about 13:30, really took our time wandering around, taking photos and videos, etc. and started walking towards the ticket entrance at about 15:30!
We went in October, and there were very few tourists around as it wasn’t yet “the season!”
In fact, we practically breezed into most places that required an entrance ticket because as “high value ticket holders,” the tariffs were priced much greater than “general value ticket holders!”
In fact, considering the fact that the Taj Mahal is a paid-for UNESCO sight, the number of people who were there, is considerably less!
And there were plenty of spots to take photographs, in which absolutely no-one was anywhere near!
HOW MUCH ARE ENTRANCE TICKETS?
THE TAJ MAHAL:
- Entrance tickets for foreign tourists cost ₹1,100 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €14.00 / $16.00 / £12.00 for adults
- ₹600 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €8.00 / $9.00 / £7.00 for students
- ₹540 (INR – Indian Rupees) for foreign tourists from other Asian countries
- And absolutely nothing at all for children under 15 regardless of where they come from!
- In contrast to local tourists who pay ₹50 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €0.65 / $0.75 / £0.55
- Entrance tickets for foreign tourists cost ₹610 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €8.00 / $9.00 / £7.00 for adults
- ₹600 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €8.00 / $9.00 / £7.00 for student
- ₹90 (INR – Indian Rupees) for foreign tourists from other Asian countries
- And absolutely nothing at all for children under 15!
- Local tourists pay ₹50 (INR – Indian Rupees)
- Entrance tickets for foreign tourists cost ₹650 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €9.00 / $10.00 / £7.50 for adults
- ₹600 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €.00 / $.00 / £0.00 for students
- ₹50 (INR – Indian Rupees) for foreign tourists from other Asian countries
- And absolutely nothing at all for children under 15!
- Local tourists pay ₹50 (INR – Indian Rupees)
There is an additional charge of ₹200 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €2.60 / $3.00 / £2.30 to both foreign and local tourists, if they want to visit the main mausoleum.
For this you get a bottle of water, shoe covers and speedy entrance to the monuments.
It was brilliant.
Men and woman are separated of course, but the amount of time it needed to get us all in was a mere few minutes.
In fact, if you’re a foreign tourist AND paid the “high value ticket” fee, ensure that you insist or being allowed into that queue rather than the ordinary queue.
Don’t be shy as you’ve paid for it.
If you have
sharp elbows manage to find the right queue, you’ll breeze through the lines and be at security control, in a matter of minutes!
Don’t panic and have a virtual heart-attack when you see this photograph below!
There’s also a special queue just to the side. Follow the signs!
Here’s my video:
ANY TIPS OR TRICKS?
- Don’t let scammers take control, there are no entry fees for children under 15 years, regardless of whether they’re foreign or Indian!
- If your children look mature or are tall for their age, take a school I.D. We used this pretty much everywhere as our son was 16 years old and looked like 20!
- Be assertive, you might have to use sharp elbows in order to get through the throng, but you don’t need an agent to simply buy your ticket. Follow the signs!
- There’s a separate queue for “high value ticket holders” / foreigners, you’ve paid for it, so don’t be shy to use it!
- You can buy your ticket at the ticket counter or online via: www.tajmahal.gov.in
- To buy your entrance ticket to visit the world renowned Taj Mahal, you MUST show your passport or government approved identity card. Don’t forget!
- Don’t give anyone anywhere a single penny for anything at all, except at the ticket counter. Just follow the signs!
- Use the Taj West Gate. It’s easy to find, simply follow the signs!
- You are entitled to a bottle of water. For free! Make sure it’s completely sealed!
- You can of course, bring your own bottle of water
- If you are a “high value ticket holder” / foreigner, you are entitled to shoe covers free of charge! Make sure you get them as shoes aren’t allowed at the inner sanctum and you’ll end up in your socks or bare-footed on a very hot and dirty floor!
- If you are a “high value ticket holder” / foreigner, you are entitled to a tourist guide map of Agra and battery bus and golf cart services free of charge, which we didn’t see or get!
- The Taj Mahal is closed on Friday. Every Friday
- Honestly, it’s perfectly walkable, but if you have small children or mobility issues, then rent a horse and carriage!
- Books, food, wine, toys, helmets, torches, toffee and flowers are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal!
- Bags are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal so either leave it at the hotel, securely locked in your car / taxi or in the locker, which is provided near the gates!
- Drone cameras are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal
- Tripods are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal
- Shoe racks are available just below the main mausoleum free of cost
- Photography is not allowed inside the main mausoleum but I observed that practically every second Indian tourist completely disregarded this and were taking pictures
WHAT IS AGRA LIKE?
It doesn’t have a reputation for being the prettiest place in the world.
In fact, as a city, it’s quite ugly.
However, you can overlook this by virtue of the fact that Agra is of historical and architectural interest.
And you know how much I adore history, culture, art and architecture.
It’s also part of the tourist trail known as the Golden Triangle, so if you’re short on time or have never been to India before, then I absolutely recommend Delhi – Agra – Jaipur – Pushkar and Udaipur, as the absolute minimum.
In that wise, we spent 24 hours not only visiting the Taj Mahal but also:
- The Agra Fort, which is amazing
- Fatehpur Sikri or Fatehpūr Sikrī, which is just wow!
- And we really wanted to visit the tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah or Baby Taj, a but we simply didn’t have enough time!
All of these fantastic buildings are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
And for that, all is forgiven!
I DON’T SPEAK HINDI.
Not. A. Problem.
It’s amazing how many languages a typical Indian speaks.
Most speak a minimum of three (3)!
Hindi and English are the only two official national languages, and by far the most widely spoken language in India, but if you speak Bengali, Gujarati, Urdu or Punjabi, you’re good to go!
AM I GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT?
It’s up to you!
I’M ON A BUDGET. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
India isn’t as cheap as you think.
I mean, it can be reaaaaally cheap, but you’ll literally get what you pay for.
So unless you want to sleep on a rat-ridden, cockroach-crawling, dirty bedsheet, water-in-a-bucket sodden filthy room for ₹100 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €.1.28 / $1.45 / £1.10, or spend the rest of your holiday / break / finding yourself / adventure / spilling out your guts in the bathroom (if you can find one) because you drank tap water / ate food at a dodgy corner/ etc, cough up for a little more “quality!”
We knew that Agra might prove more difficult finding “moderately priced” boutique / historical traditional mansions, otherwise known as a Haveli, so we opted for a proper hotel instead.
We were hoping for at least the basics and were shocked and amazed at just how good our five-star hotel – the Tajview, Agra, previously known as Gateway Hotel Fatehabad Agra (Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces) – actually was.
It was amazing!
And the irony was, it was actually the cheapest hotel we had in India as we only paid ₹9,214 or €117.00 / $133.00 / £101.00 per night (including the tax) for two premium rooms king bed superior rooms with a view of the Taj Mahal (members rate) at ₹4,607 or €59.00 / $66.50 / £51.00 per room!
We were upgraded to two SeleQtions Suite Tajview King Bed rooms worth ₹28,000 or €359.00 / $405.00 / £310.00 per night or at ₹14,000 or €179.00 / $202.00 / £155.00 per room!
Our rooms were marvellous and absolutely faced the Taj Mahal at every angle.
We also had a very comfortable bedroom, a large living room, and an enormous bathroom.
Honestly, I wished we had been able to stay longer than just 2 days!
We were really impressed and actually spent 24 hours of our time doing absolutely nothing but pampering ourselves at the beginning of our trip!
We used the spa and booked the ultimate couples massage whilst our teenaged son spent the afternoon in a private coaching session of archery and rifle shooting.
We had cocktails on the rooftop skydeck and really spent the time rejuvenating and enjoying the beauty and 100% service that is India!
Let me just say that the staff were very attentive to our needs and wishes.
The food wasn’t glorious but the service was impeccable!
We probably spent €250+ for additional services, but it was worth every penny!
Book ahead to get good prices.
I’M LOOKING FOR SOMETHING A BIT DIFFERENT. ANY IDEAS?
Too many to write at the moment.
WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORT POSSIBILITIES?
Uber is fantastic in India.
If you’ve never used Uber before and you would like to. As a first-time customer, if you use my code – victoriaa12504ue – you’ll get €5.00 off your first ride. It’s like riding for free!
To hire the car where the driver would wait for us for the day, cost us no more than ₹500 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €6.40 / $7.25 / £5.52!
And even for a Premier InterCity city-to-city pre-booking taxi hire for a journey of 153.95 km that took 4 hours and 51 minutes, was the ridiculously cheap price of just ₹1,399 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €18.00 / $20.00 / £15.50 and that was BEFORE the 20% discount for a first intercity ride price of ₹1,119.20 (INR – Indian Rupees) or €14.40 / $16.00 / £12.50!
I couldn’t believe it myself.
The Taj Mahal is closed on Friday.
Oh, and try not to get scammed!
We all loved it!
Because, Game of Thrones!
Or am I?!
For many international visitors, India isn’t a destination that immediately comes to mind, but if you’re feeling adventurous, want to push boundaries, willing to get out of your comfort zone, yadda yadda, make it a point of duty to spend a few
months weeks, in as many places as you can manage.
WOULD I COME AGAIN?
This wasn’t my first trip to India and it probably won’t be my last.
India isn’t for everyone but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Let’s do it!
IF INDIA DOESN’T BREAK YOU, IT’LL MAKE YOU STRONGER ‘COS INDIA IS HARD!
And for those of you who are over 30 (ahem!).
This blog and the next couple of
months weeks, is for you.
India isn’t easy, but if you want to go there.
And of course, if you’re really nervous, I offer a consultancy, and can help you organise or advice you on many parts of your trip to India!
For more info, click here!
Who doesn’t like an exciting adventure?
Well, follow me over the next few months, and find out!
So what are you waiting for?
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE TAJ MAHAL IN AGRA. AND WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET THERE! – INCREDIBLE INDIA!
This article isn’t sponsored, and all opinions and thoughts on Agra, the Taj Mahal, and Agra Fort, are utterly, my very own!
That’s it for now.
See you soon!
Watch this space!
Please note that there are three affiliate link companies connected to this post! Every time one of these services is used, booked, and paid for via my link, I get a little percentage, but at no extra cost to yourself!
A win-win for all!
Note! I never travel without insurance as you never know what might happen.
I learnt my lesson in Spain. And obviously, in countries like Qatar, where technically the risk is higher, I can’t imagine going that far beyond WITHOUT INSURANCE. No siree! You can get yours here, at World Nomads!