Having spent two weeks in Delhi and Noida, it was time for us to escape the big city for a moment – hoping to find some rest in the slightly smaller city of Agra. We booked a train for Friday at 6am, and after a short trip of only 2 hours we arrived in Agra. We were curious about travelling by train in India, but the first experience was very good! For 750 rupees p.p. (bit more than 10 euros), we spent 2 hours in a relatively clean train, and we received a big bottle of water, cookies, tea, and a light breakfast.
When we arrived at Agra the tuktuk driver from the homestay we had booked beforehand was already waiting for us. It was a small drive to the guesthouse, but the differences between Delhi and Agra were immediately visible. First of all, it was colder in the morning! Secondly, it felt much smaller, as there are no big high ways in the city at all. Furthermore, we noticed that Agra is more agricultural. We saw less cars, but even more tractors, motors, rickshaws, horses and donkeys. Also, it seemed like Agra is the potato capital! We have seen dozens of tractors and trucks with potatoes. While driving outside of the city you will find many people working hard these days to harvest all the potatoes.
We slept in a homestay which is run by a very friendly family. After having checked-in and a bit of rest, our driver of that day was waiting for us. We arranged a driver because our destination for the afternoon – the elephant sanctuary – was a bit far. However, as we would be passing Akbar’s tomb on the way going there, he proposed to make a touristy stop there as well! And we did not regret that. Akbar’s tomb truly is a very beautiful place. The big entrance gate is one of the most beautiful we have seen so far. It’s made from red sandstone, beautifully decorated with white marble decorations, and four minarets towering into the sky. It was impressive, and that was only just the entrance gate! 😉 The place inside was very big and green, with a large field where deer are grazing. In the middle of that the actual mausoleum of Akbar is located.
Akbar – also known as Abu’l-Fath Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar– is said to have been one of the greatest Mughal emperors. During his rule, the Mughal empire tripled in size and wealth, and he established many political, social, cultural and economic institutions and laid the foundation for a multicultural empire. He died in 1605.
The entrance of his mausoleum is literally breath taking. Although the walls and ceilings are not in the best condition anymore, you can still see the beautiful coloured decorations. Can you imagine how this looked like when they just built it, it must have been extremely beautiful! The tomb of Akbar is located a bit deeper into the mausoleum, however this is not so special as there are no decorations there at all. Also, Akbar’s tomb is actually empty now, as it has been plundered by Hindu rebels in 1691. However, you still notice that Akbar has a very special meaning to the people. All men – including Stephan – have to bow for his tomb and some leave money as an offer.
After having wandered around Akbar’s Tomb, we continued our journey towards the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre of Wildlife SOS. Our blog of that visit can you read here.
When we arrived back in Agra we visited a nice rooftop terrace from which you have a view on the Taj Mahal. Not bad to have such a view while enjoying a nice cup of Masala Chai! 😉
The next morning, we were going to see the Taj Mahal from close-by. We arrived there at 6.45am, hoping that it would not be busy yet, but unfortunately we were not alone! Our patience was tested as it took very long before we could get in and we got a bit annoyed by that (tip for anyone who wants to visit the Taj: apparently it is not that busy during the week! So, avoid Saturdays and Sundays, but be there some other day early in the morning. On Fridays the Taj is closed though.), but after 45 minutes we were finally ‘free’ and walked towards the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal truly is a beautiful building. It is very big, all built up from white marble, and has beautiful engravings. The gardens are well maintained and there is actually water in the pond (at other places the ponds were empty). You cannot enter the mausoleum with your shoes, so therefore you need to wear shoe covers. Inside the mausoleum you will find the tombs of both Shah Jahan and his most favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, for whom the Taj Mahal is built. This part is very busy, so we must admit that we did not observe it very well. Though the beautifully decorated marble screen around the tombs definitely was the eye-catcher.
Fun fact: did you know that the dome of the Taj Mahal will soon be receiving a special mud-pack treatment? Although it still looks relatively white, apparently it slowly turns yellow and black by – not a big surprise – the severe air pollution India is suffering from. At this moment they are restoring the minarets.
After breakfast, we still had an extensive planning for that day. First we visited Agra Fort, which has been the main residence for the Mughal emperors until 1638 – when the Mughal capital was shifted to the Red Fort in Delhi. We liked Agra Fort much more than the Red Fort in Delhi though, as it is way better preserved and the gardens are well-maintained. The site is relatively big and it was a bit of a labyrinth for us while walking through it, but nevertheless it was beautiful and worth the visit!
Next we visited the ‘Baby Taj’, ‘Jewel Box’, or Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, which we would definitely recommend to visit! As the name says, this tomb is way smaller than the Taj Mahal, but we believe the engravings and decorations are much more extensive and beautiful. Also, it was not so busy when we were there, which was nice for a moment!
Afterwards, we visited a garden at the other side of the river from which we could also see the Taj Mahal. However, for that garden you have to pay (ofcourse, for tourist nothing free in India!), but if you take the small road next to that garden it will also lead you to the river with the same view (for free!). Although we came there to have a view on the Taj, our attention was mostly attracted by the ruins in the ground. We also saw some guys doing…. something. (We honestly don’t know. They were just sitting there.) One of the guys spoke a bit of English and explained us that those ruins are the foundations of the Black Taj Mahal. It is said that Shah Jahan (the man who built the white Taj) planned a mausoleum for himself in black marble across the Yamuna river, so that both a white and black Taj Mahal would be facing each other. However, he has not completed this black Taj as the Yamuna river flooded twice while building, and afterwards Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb. Many people say that the story of the Black Taj is a myth though, so we are not sure if these foundations really belong to the Black Taj, but we like the story anyway!
Our final day in Agra we used to visit Fatehpur Sikri. This old city has been established bij Akbar – the one who’s beautiful tomb we visited the first day – and served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 – 1585. The place was actually abandoned afterwards, due to a lack of water and because it was too close to a city with whom they were often at war. Right now, you can visit the palaces and pavilions (not free), and the big mosque (free) which is still in use! The palaces and pavilions were beautiful, however we have to admit that after visiting the Red Fort and Agra Fort it all started to look a bit similar… There were many buildings, all made of Red Sandstone and the gardens were also nice.
Personally, we liked the mosque the most. You can enter the mosque at all time and there is no entrance fee, but be aware of the scammers walking around! We were immediately approached by a very young boy (probably 12 years old) who provided a sari to Stephan to cover his legs, and then ordered us to follow him. “I am not a guide, I don’t ask for money, I work here.” He was very convincing, but a bit forcing as well. We decided to follow him though, and he did tell a lot of interesting things about the mosque. However, afterwards he brought us to the small marble-souvenir shop, which belonged to his family! He asked us to buy something from them, and we – not so good at saying no – of course bought something! :’) Well, nice souvenir though. We need to bring something for the family as well, right?
So, that was our weekend in Agra whereby we have seen all the big tourist spots. It was a bit too busy afterwards, but at least we have seen it all! As we are still in Delhi until May, maybe we can go back another time to spent a relaxed weekend at Agra, as it’s not that far away! But first, we will visit Rajasthan! Tomorrow evening we will take the night train to Bikaner, and from there we will continue to Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Pushkar & Jaipur. Very much looking forward to it as it’s said that Rajasthan is one of the most beautiful provinces of India. In our next blogs we will tell you if we think that’s true!
Love, Heleen & Stephan