Uttar Pradesh, passing Krishna’s birthplace enroute, towards Agra is pleasant. Driving down on you own, of course, is the most convenient way of getting there — the highway is excellent. But then there are buses as well that ply this route at frequent intervals. If you’d rather not drive, book a taxi.
A big plus about traveling to Agra is how easily it fits into a weekend schedule. Leave Friday afternoon and you’re there by the evening. By Sunday afternoon, after a leisurely lunch, you’re ready to head back to Delhi.
Most of the monuments can be seen in a day and a half. It’s a good idea to stop over at Sikandara, Akbar’s tomb, on the way in. His mausoleum in red sandstone is gorgeous, especially when seen against the pink and gold hues of the setting sun. The imposing gate is inlaid with mosaic, marble and Arabic inscriptions; the four minarets in white marble is reminiscent of the minarets of the Taj.
|Visiting Taj Mahal at a weekend is good idea
Once you reach Agra, just chill in your hotel room and prepare for a busy, busy day ahead. During summer, the best time to visit the Taj is in the early hours of the morning. The other option is to visit it in the evening. Of course, nothing prepares visitors for their first sight of the Taj. A feeling of complete serenity washes over you as you gaze down the Cyprus-lined avenue to what is considered one of the seven wonders of the world.
Within and outside this breathtaking testimony of Shah Jehan’s love are inscriptions from the holy Quran and intricate inlaid work in semi precious stones brought from all over the world. Cornelian from Baghdad gives the Taj an ethereal glow on a moonlit night. Every paise of the Rs. 500 that you spent on the ticket, you realise, is worth it.
Your next stop should be Agra Fort. The Fort houses the living quarters of Shah Jehan and his various begums and daughters. The Diwan e Khas, Sheesh Mahal and Khas Mahal are lavish and ornate in white marble, embellished with glass, gold and pietra dura.
If you want to do some shopping here, well, you’re in the wrong place, unless marble boxes and Taj Mahal replicas are your thing. If you’re a mithai freak, sample the Panchi petha that Agra is famous for. Or you could spoil yourself silly with glass bangles and delicate animal toys.
Legend has it that when Akbar wanted an heir, he walked barefoot from Ajmer to Khwaja Salim Chisti’s hermitage in Fatehpur Sikri. His Hindu wife, Jodhabai soon gave birth to a child, Mohamed Salim who later ascended the throne as Emperor Jehangir.
Akbar subsequently transferred his capital to Sikri, completing this palatial city in five years. But a water shortage forced him to move back to Agra. Both Chisti’s tomb and the palace buildings are breathtakingly beautiful.
Agra is great indeed, never mind the summer.
How to reach
By rail: Shatabdi Express, Aircon Chaircar: Rs. 275. Travel time is 2 hours
Taj Express: Ist Class fare is Rs. 275.
Travel time is two & a half hours
By bus: 5-hour
journey. Ticket price starts at Rs. 75
Where to stay
Clarke Shiraz: Rs. 5800 (deluxe double). Rs. 4500 (ordinary)
Taj View: Summer package (till Sept. 30) includes 2 days/3 nights. Price: Rs. 5300. Alternatively, 1day/2 nights package is for Rs. 3000.
Ranch Ratna: Rs. 780 for AC double room.
Agra Club: Rs.600 (deluxe double)
What to do
See the Taj and Agra Fort
Buy petha and glass bangles
Drive to Fatehpur Sikri