There are two things to see in Agra and two things only, the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, and unfortunately for Agra Fort, it plays the poor cousin to the Taj. The Taj Mahal is one of the most significant structures in the World in terms of its recognisability. I knew what colour it was, what the silhouette looks like and even a bit of the back story. All before I even knew exactly where it was located.
I was undecided on if I should make the trip to Agra to literally look at just one building. I almost didn’t make it when my plan to go the first time was literally derailed by a cancelled train out of Delhi. But with one full day in India left, before flying out of Delhi International I took a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, the jewel of India.
Arriving in Agra
I had by this stage done some actual research and found that Agra Fort would be well worth visiting too. So I had an agenda, two significant sites, one day and a commute from Rishikesh to Delhi, via Agra. That is about 600 kilometres. I took an overnight sleeper bus from Rishikesh to Agra which got me into Agra early in the morning, around 7:00 am. The bus stop, like most in my Indian bus travel experience, was the side of the main road on the outskirts of the city. Also, like every other place I have alighted a bus in India, it is and an ideal place for tuk-tuk drivers to converge. Which is fortunate as my plan was to go directly to the Taj Mahal, beat the rush and view the famous Masouleum in the morning light and cooler temperatures.
Arriving at the Taj Mahal
Another passenger split the tuk-tuk with me and we paid about 300 rupees all up. I had my pack with me so I got off at the West entrance, where there is a left luggage stand. This is an awesome service and not just for a few bags of shopping you might not want to lug around all day. I have a 55-litre backpack, and the attendants didn’t blink an eye. It was stowed away and I was issued a ticket to retrieve it later and left the luggage stand uninhibited and free to explore. Step One done.
The next step in the process is to go to the ticket counter. I walked straight up, paid my entry fee and received my bottle of water (included in the fee) and proceeded to the main entrance. I think this is probably unusual. The set up would indicate that the lineups can sometimes be hundreds of metres long, another reason I chose to get the Taj as early as possible. Tick for Narelle.
The Taj Mahal and Grounds
Once through the main entrance, visitors find themselves in a huge courtyard, the size of about four football fields. It is here when visiting the Taj Mahal you get the first glimpses of the World’s most famous building. The scale of everything at the Taj Mahal has a dwarfing effect, and it was through a huge arch where the masses were converging. In the distance, it appeared and I recognised it instantly. So this is what all the fuss is about? Yes, it, is. And like the crowds of visitors fall in line to make their way through the initial archway, the crowds seemed to fall in line with the expected behaviours when visiting a place of beauty, historical significance and a resting place of Indian royalty. Even at this early hour, buy now 8:00 am plenty of people had arrived to see what all of the fuss is about. But as literally hundreds of pictures are being fired off simultaneously by hundreds of iPhones and cameras it was very calm and orderly as thought the Taj Mahal had some kind of calming and drugging effect for all those under its spell.
Once having entered through to the next section of the grounds long ponds hundreds of meters in length draw the pedestrian traffic along. The gardens become an oversight and the cracked paths and faded paint ignored in their shabby disrepair because there, just a few minutes walk away the Taj Mahal awaits. So stunning, so beautiful, so glorious. I was rapt. A truly beautiful structure and so impressive in its size. The size is matched by the huge estimates of up to 70,000 people visiting India’s most famous attraction daily, and I found it very easy to understand why. What history tells us is the Taj Mahal is the product of the mourning Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal was his monument to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal where she was laid to rest.
It is easy to spend a couple of hours here wanding around the buildings (there is actually more than only one big white building) and exploring the gardens. Perfectly preserved at nearly 400 years old the Taj Mahal is truly awe-inspiring and in my option very deserving of the honour of being one of the World Wonders.
From outside the grounds of the Taj Mahal Agra Fort is a walkable distance at just shy of three kilometres. I, however, took one of the electric tuk-tuks that service the well-trodden transit between the two sites as I had my pack to lug to the next stop. On arrival at the Fort, I was again able to check my bag and get on with my sightseeing. By this stage, close to noon the crowds had gotten thicker, the traffic heavier, lines longer and definitely hotter.
Agra Fort was once the home to the Mughal Emporers of the day until the early 1600’s when the capital of India moved from Agra to Delhi. Once inside the imposing red sandstone walls now serve as a reminder of the scale at which things were constructed. In an era marked by invasions and battle, where power was symbolized by grand palaces and the grander of forts the Agra Fort is the grandest of all.
The dividing line between the ruler and the ruled was made abundantly clear in the building of this fort. From the exterior, the high fortress walls and towers in the deep rich red truly look impenetrable. Once inside large green expanses of grass open up and visitors can wander through imagining what life must have been like in the 17th century under the protection of Mughal warriors. With its own sets of Mughal Gardens and fantastically beautiful detail, contrasting with the dozens upon dozens of staggeringly tall columns and perfectly symmetrical arches, Agra Fort is an absolute must-see alongside the Taj Mahal when in Agra.
So that was my very full day in Agra. And a very exhausting day after an overnight bus ride, early start and many miles underfoot. Finished up with another bus into Delhi and onto the airport. But I am so glad I decided to squeeze Agra into my itinerary. The Taj Mahal was more beautiful than I imagined and Agra Fort is awesome, with a lot of ground to cover and explore to get the full experience.
Check out all of my favourite images from the day I spent in Agra here