A trip to Agra

Located on the bank of river Yamuna, Agra is a historic city having one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Taj Mahal, which makes it a must-visit for everyone. Apart from housing the permanent residents, Agra entertains a number of people on vacations throughout the year. I fell in love with this beautiful city for its Mughal grandeur, numerous monuments and different events round the year!

Agra has tropical weather conditions – very cold in winters with temperature going down to 3 degree Celsius and very hot in summers with the mercury reaching 45 degree Celsius. The best time to visit Agra would be February, October and November due to moderate temperature.

Agra, a historical town, houses a number of monuments and heritage sites. It was the capital city under Mughals during Akbar’s regime. Well-connected with the neighboring cities of Jaipur and Delhi, Agra has a decent railway station and a domestic airport, with direct trains and flights to and from all major cities of India. The best way to reach Agra would be by rail but the Delhi-Agra highway is too beautiful to miss! One can hire a taxi; use one’s own vehicle or just get into a Volvo. Halt at one of the numerous dhabas on the way or spend some quality relaxing time at the Dubchick resort which in itself is an exquisite place. Generally, it takes around an hour to reach Agra by air, 3-4 hours by train and 4-5 hours by road from New Delhi.

Due to a large tourist influx, Agra has a number of hotels with a day’s fare ranging between Rupees. 200-50,000. Amar Vilas, one of the best hotels of India, is close to the Taj Mahal and offers ample options for complete indulgence, guaranteeing a relaxed holiday. Other 5-star hotels include the Jay Pee Palace and the Mughal Sheraton. All these hotels provide a sneak peek into the Mughal era through their grandeur, architecture and the extensive cuisine. But if one is looking for cheaper alternatives then there are enough two-three star hotels which are equally hospitable.

The major attraction of Agra is the Taj Mahal. The beautiful monument in white marble is an enrapturing sight! Shah Jahan had built it for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The actual graves of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are located deep inside, beyond public access. The monument took 22 years to complete and it is believed that Shah Jahan chopped off the hands of almost all the 20,000 labourers involved, so that such an amazing edifice could never be built again. Taj Mahal has one of the finest carvings of the world, beautiful inlay work, fountains and gardens, with a direct view of Yamuna River from its backside. Truly, it is the most romantic place of the world, with gentle breeze brushing your hair as you stand on its balcony, facing the Yamuna and admiring the splendor, cherishing the moment…

There is an underground corridor linking Taj Mahal and Red Fort in Delhi which the Mughal rulers used. But now it is sealed. The Agra fort, which is an attractive monument in red, is yet another tourist hot-spot. Shah Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb, captured him in Agra Fort where he used to spend his time staring at the Taj Mahal which is directly visible.

Another important place to see is the city of Fatehpur Sikri, which is about forty kilometers from Agra. Fatehpur Sikri has the magnificent ‘Buland Darwaza’ – the largest gateway of the world, about 175 feet high. As one stands underneath it and looks up, one realizes the grandeur of the Mughal era. The locals believe that if you tie a holy thread at the dargah of Sheikh Salim Chisti in Fatehpur Sikri, your wish is fulfilled. Honestly, the interior of the dargah, has an eerie but relaxing effect on the soul and it instills  you with a silent faith for a positive future. Just outside the main complex of Fatehpur Sikri is the Panch Mahal, Jodha bai Mahal and Hawa Mahal. There, one can actually see the place where Tansen sang as he lit up ‘diyas’ through his ragas! Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri and Agra Fort are in the UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. Apart from these monuments there are many other historical places which one can visit while in Agra like I’timad-Ud-Daulah, Akbar’s Tomb( Sikandra), Swami Bagh Samadhi, Mankameshwar Temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva), Guru ka Tal gurudwara, Keetham Lake, Ram Bagh and the Mughal Heritage Walk.

Apart from the historical monuments, Agra also offers options for shopping and clubbing. Sadar bazaar, located in the cantonment area is one the major markets of Agra which is beautifully decorated during festivals and celebrations. One can shop from the numerous outlets – both local and branded. I still remember its mouth watering ‘chaat’ and the beautiful marble emporium! The city is well known for its shoe industry, leather products, carpets and marble works. Beautiful souvenirs in marble are available all over the city. The Agra Club is a nice place to relax in the evening, to have a drink or just party. If one is looking for some light fun, then one can visit the malls near Taj Mahal. The annual fest, ‘Taj Mahotsav’, is a 10 day extravaganza characterized by a wide variety for shopping traditional Indian stuff, fun rides, cultural shows, art exhibition and music-dance-drama performances by renowned artists and celebrities.

The people of Agra are very humble and simple. They celebrate all the festivals, of all the religions together. Habitual of living in harmony, there is hardly any civil strife in the city. The best thing is that it is far away from the noise, chaos, traffic and alarming pollution level of the metropolitan cities. When you speak with a native of Agra, you realize their simplicity. They are aware of the global problems but are happy in their own world with their own dreams to follow. Proud of their cultural heritage, they try to follow all norms to protect and preserve the historical sites.

With so much to offer – historical sites, a sneak peek into the Mughal era, clubs, hotels and malls – all under one roof, Agra is a must visit. If not for the white wonder – Taj Mahal, then for some peace and relaxation, for just getting acquainted with the fascinating history of the Mughal empire, for understanding the incomprehensible techniques of their architecture or for living the uncomplicated lifestyle of a small town for few days in order to steal some quite moments which you will cherish all your life.

Mahima Taneja